music man

He was many things to many people. To me, he was sometimes synonymous with the dance community that changed how I move through the world. He was also his own. It’s hard to imagine he is no longer with us. I wonder who we will be now that he is gone. I remembering meeting him at the bi-monthly dances he hosted at the Greenfield grange. Perched on his chair at the front of the small stage, he played fiddle and called dances that people loved and lamented and loved to lament. It takes a certain kind of person to believe so deeply in a certain kind of tradition to risk a certain kind of standing. I am grateful for the witness he was, even as my love language calls for a balanced stance that swings. And still, in his insistence that some of us know the history of these movements we step into together, he nurtured something bigger than any one person or preference.

This beloved was a gifted artist in so many ways. He hand lettered and illustrated the beautiful flyers that promoted his dances, and chronicled each gathering in books he kept at his feet. Sitting out at the top, you could thumb through pages telling stories of those who came before. Waiting to find your way back into a dance takes time. Sometimes the measure of 8 bars takes years to master. And he was a master teacher. It means something that what he leaves behind is a community of people who know how to call themselves together. No matter the occasion – New Year, May Day, a random Friday night, each and every birthday – we know what to sing. May you, too, have a long, long life!

In the worn-down places where bone and rosin meet, his body stood tallest. And it’s neither easy nor uncomplicated, this truth where right-ness becomes righteousness before to dust we return. And still, his commitments kept him with us for longer than he might have otherwise managed. When I think about (t)his light, three moments come to mind:

There was that Dance Flurry in the early aughts that wasn’t. A heavy snowstorm hit Saratoga Springs while thousands were traveling in for a weekend of dance and connection. When the electricity went out, event organizers began triaging what could be triaged. Never mind the pending cancellation, he grabbed his fiddle and made his way to the center of a ballroom. There, he planted himself among those of us not yet ready to call it quits, playing acoustically while shouting calls to a room that had to get so very quiet in order to move together. I am still in awe of the way he held court that night, reminding us that we are the power we need. On the up bow, he held us suspended while snow fell all around.

Then there was that night at the grange when he turned to my recently relocated partner and said, “You should call here.” This newcomer had called some dances before and was still learning the patter that has matured to ensure equal parts groaning and grinning. I’m not sure why this elder extended generosity to an unknown dancer from down South. But he did. And that invitation was both opening and initiation. I remember the combination of butterflies and pride that kept me on my toes that night. Our household keeps this memory alive in the framed print of the hand-drawn flyer that celebrates what it means and takes to open not only a door, but to gift a place and a practice. I hope to honor all that he saw from stages all across this country. He did not always see or hear everyone. But sometimes, he looked into a crowd and grew community – one beat at a time.

The last time I saw him in person he was navigating the final chapter of a slow and steady and almost-unspeakable decline. He could no longer talk, but his fiddle sounded just like him. I spotted him standing alone on a corner in Montague Center. Fiddle on his shoulder, he was a one-man cheering section for a local road race. His fingers did not falter as they played reel after reel, jig after jig. I can’t remember the last time we spoke, but what remains is the sound of his music – unmistakable and irrepressible. And also his calling – and the way he played so many of us home.

In memory of David Kaynor

June 10, 2021