Quick Contents: Pipe and Tabor, Violin/Fiddle, Oboe, Voice, Sheet Music.

Ishmael with viola

Mission Statement: To provide compelling music for dancing, particularly English Country Dance, New England-style Contradance, and other dance forms.

"Your music makes me feel like ... like I want to get up and dance!"
—D. Sands

Ishmael plays regularly for English Country Dance in Harvard Square and throughout New England, with Boston Delight, McMarIsh, Pardise Bird, and other bands, vintage dance with Commonwealth Vintage Dancers' Ad Hoc Waltz and Quadrille Band, and also for contradances, Colonial, and Civil War era dance for reenactors and celebrations, and waltz workshops.

He performs Early Music on stringed and wind instruments, and vocally with the Cantabile Renaissance Band, Ensemble 44, and the Boston West Gallery Quire, and played for the formerly monthly renaissance dance with "Renaissonics and Friends". He has substituted on violin with Seven Times Salt, and on five string fiddle and winds with the Woods Hole Village Band, The Rum Soaked Crooks, The Delight Consort, and Paradise Bird. As half of Anne and Ishmael he provides fiddle accompaniment to a singer of Scots ballads. He sometimes appears in concert with The Beans, on voice and instruments..

As a tenor, he sings with Norumbega Harmony, the Boston West Gallery Quire, Neely Bruce's Festival Harmony and other concert choirs, church choirs, and choruses throughout New England and Quebec.

Ensemble 44 Rehearsal 2022


2022 December 30, English Country Dance, Harvard Square, with Jean Monroe, 19:30

2022 December 14, with Kendall Square Orchestra at First Church Cambridge, 19:30.

2022 November 12, violin and voice with Ensemble 44, our Orpheus program, Saint Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem, Massachusetts 19:30

2022 October 27, Thursday, with Kendall Square Orchestra at 7:30pm, First Church Cambridge

2022 September 23, Friday, Paradise Bird at Harvard General Store

Performances with Ensemble 44
2022 September 30, Friday, 8pm at Lindsay Chapel, First Church in Cambridge
2022 October 01, Saturday, 8 pm at First Parish in Lincoln
2022 October 02, Sunday, 7:30 at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salem

2022 March 17, Saint Patrick's Day music at Harvard General Store with Paradise Bird

2022 March 31, violin with Kendall Square Orchestra at First Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts

2022 May 23, violin with Kendall Square Orchestra at Boston Symphony Hall

2022 February 11, Valentine's Day music at Harvard General Store with Paradise Bird

2019 performances with Ensemble 44 of music inspired by Saint Cecilia.

2019 November 10 — English Country Dance in Concord, New Hampshire
2019 November 29 — English Country Dance in Harvard Square

Spring 2020, Ensemble 44, Renaissance and Baroque era works about Jonah and the whale.

2020 March 14, Irish music for Saint Patrick's Day, General Store, Harvard, Massachusetts

2020 April 25-26, New England Folk Festival

2021 June -, Ensemble 44 virtual Boston Early Music Festival fringe concert

2021 December 10, English Country Dance, Harvard Square, with Jean Monroe


Video of quartet on recorders and voice. Polyphonic setting of Entre vous qui aymes, ca. 1530. Performed June 2018.

Listen to duet composed by Dider LeBlanc around the year 1580; Susanne un jour recorded multi-track by Ishmael playing viola and tenor recorder (July 2017).

Ensemble 44 at St. John's Church
Playing baroque violin with Ensemble 44 for a concert of Renaissance works inspired by the bible story of Susanna and the Elders. November 2017. Photograph by Ajda Snyder


There really is more to conducting than just standing in front of musicians and waving your arms. The conductor must study and understand the music in order to discern the composer's intent, then convince the ensemble to support that interpretation with unanimity, and to listen to the rendition so to fix what might need more practice or refinement, then to lead a performance sounding in a way which is at once both familiar, and exciting.

Rehearsal, leading, and directing in performance regularly for singers, instrumental ensembles, dance bands, and mixed vocal / instrumental groups. As an instrumentalist and singer, performance experience includes bowed and plucked strings including violin, viola, and string bass, woodwinds including single and double reeds, brass instruments, and percussion. This familiarity with instrument technique, tuning and range is valuable for getting the most out of an ensemble, and guides arranging and orchestration.

"Your conducting was so good that you should go off and form a group of your own, in your choice of genre."
—C.H., 2011.07.03

Pipe and Tabor

Not only with the fiddle, but also with Pipe-and-Tabor, an ancient combination, sometimes called whittle-n-dub. It was popular during Elizabethan times. The pipe has only three holes so that it can be played by the fingers of one hand, leaving the other hand free to beat the drum.
Listen to a tune.
By using upper overtones of the pipe it is possible, with only the three holes, to obtain a diatonic scale with a range of an octave and a third. In some places a large side drum is used, which is hung from a baldrick or off the waist - also common is a smaller lightweight drum which can be hung over the wrist or thumb. Basque people also make use of this combination, with a drum called the txixu, and a three-hole pipe tuned to a minor scale.

Then and Now.

The Black Jokers have been known to dance in a variety of meteorological conditions not suitable for the wood or gut strings of a violin - such as a summer parade route over fresh blacktop pavement when it was 102F in the shade; drizzle, pouring rain, or snow; or in a howling wind well below freezing in January. In contrast, there are three hole pipes made of brass and plastics that are unaffected by heat, cold, or wet, and the tabor in the illustration above right ( a Remo PTS, with customization ) contains no natural ingredients.

See the Pipe & Tabor page for more details.

When I have not a fiddle handy, and the tune does not fit well on a three hole pipe (due to its one octave range) or the flageolet, (six-hole pipe, tin whistle, pennywhistle -- see the Chiff & Fipple pages for an introduction), I play recorder, either sopranino, soprano, or tenor. These tend to be quieter instruments which are marginal for street performance of Morris music, but work out well for Country Dancing (some tunes available) indoors.

Fiddle Redux

In 1961, at a young and tender age, I started to study the violin. Over the years I played in a number of school and community orchestras, with three summers at the New England Music Camp to broaden my musical experience. Then off to that famous music school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I managed to get a seat playing second violin in the MIT Symphony. This brought travel opportunities with concert tours to Montreal, Carnegie Hall, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Scarsdale New York (eh wot?).

After graduating from MIT and taking a real job I found it difficult to maintain the 6+ hours per week plus travel time required for orchestra rehearsals, so my social music participation languished until I was introduced to fiddling, folk music of the British Isles, and dancing (New England Squares and Contras plus English Country) in late 1976. I began to fiddle for barn dances, as well as providing occasional music for dances run by the New England Folk Festival Association and the Country Dance Society, Boston Centre. That led to Morris and life hasn't been the same since, although these days I don't do quite enough dancing.
Listen to a morris dance tune played on fiddle.

Depending on the style of dance and the other musicians in the band, (or solo for small, intimate barn dances) I play mostly fiddle, but use flageolet, recorder or mandolin for a change.

Ishmael, Bruce and John at Turtle Frolic

Current repertoire includes tunes for New England Contradances, English Country Dance (such as Prince William) and additional Revolutionary and Renaissance era dances.
I was impressed. You came in, sat down, and played the music. —Joshua Overby, 2022-08-20


While playing West Gallery music and trying to cover my vocal range (or is it merely C-string envy) the range of the viola, being a fifth lower than violin, fits very well. During the 2020s pandemic I joined the Kendall Square Orchestra, playing in the first- or second-violin sections for four concerts, then in 2023 got a seat in the viola section, to indulge in a different perspective of symphonic sound.

Like a violin, only larger.


I played Oboe, an agile double-reed instrument, for a number of years starting in 1967. While I played in a number of bands and orchestras, I never was able to qualify for District Band during my High School years. Though my embouchure and technique have languished over the years, I had become facile at the art of reedmaking and even taught oboe students for a time. There is some potential for making use of this experience if a shawm becomes available at an advantageous price! For now, most of my double-reed performance is on crumhorn and the Bonnie Rogers memorial tenor cornamuse (courtesy of the trustees of her estate) and borrowed shawms.


My voice falls within the tenor range; these days I sing mostly from The Sacred Harp and other shape-note music with Norumbega Harmony, and also English hymns in the West Gallery style with Bruce Randall's West Gallery Quire where I have the opportunity to sing or play viola -- or both simultaneously!
" West Gallery. It's like enriched uranium for the traditional musician. "

Of late dabbling with multitrack recording, here published is a 2005 rendition of Thomas Morley's Good Morrow Fair Ladies of the May in MP3 with a link to the sheet music, and a 2005 version of Bruce Randall's four-part setting of Wordsworth's poem To My Sister. Getting back to it after a while, here is Didier LeBlanc's Susanne un Jour, played on viola and tenor recorder.

New Adventures

playing music on the church steps
Ishmael the Fiddler playing tunes on a WiplStix travel violin in Newbury, Vermont, with Bill Holt, summer of 2004. Photo courtesy of R. Trial

You can see this instrument a bit closer in a video of tunes on the wipLstix backpacking fiddle.

Thanks to the Violin Making & Restoration Program students at North Bennett Street School we were able to try out their new duet instrument, a violiola designed and built to celebrate the program's twentieth anniversary and their command of the craft. It has both violin and viola fingerboards on one body, with one bridge, for two people to play; best for a compatible pair, as arms and bows cross.

NBSS violiola
Father and daughter playing the NBSS violiola (hybrid violin/viola with two necks on one body) in the violin-making workshop, November 2005.

Serpent and Fiddle duo
Serpent and fiddle, recorder, viola and voice at Boston Public Library, December 2007.

Five-string fiddle/violin/viola and serpent
Unusual pairing of five-string fiddle and serpent, playing duets with Laura Conrad at the Boston 2009 Walk for Hunger.
Recorder quartet performance 2018.

"You played the happiest music we've had all day."-J. C. Jones, 2009.11.07


Collaborated on chords for "Country Dances from Colonial New York, James Alexander's Notebook, 1730" by Kate Van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg.

Worked out harmony/chords, assisted with music editing, and engraved music notation for "New Country Dances from Maine 1795" by Kate Van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg.

While your leading style did not exhibit the wonderful flair
some of our friends have, you did a lot more than simply "keep time";
your direction was intelligible and sensitive and very helpful.
—R. D., 2009.03.27

Courses and Master Classes with Jacqueline Schwab, Kate Barnes, André Brunet, Eric Favreau, Rachel Aucoin, Sabin Jacques, and others.

Corrections, additions or comments?
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Original July, 1994.
Last modified: Sat Mar 11 21:47:37 EDT 2023 / ijs@serpentpublications