New book compiles the life and music of fiddler David Kaynor

Before his death on June 1 from a prolonged illness, David Kaynor had huge success in this region, the country and beyond. Yet Montague’s overwhelming array of violinist, teacher, and dance-master talent has perhaps been overlooked by many outside of a core group of musicians and dancers.

But a new book, published just weeks after his death on June 1, offers a collection of Kaynor’s life as a musician, as a fully engaged member of the community, and as a mentor for hundreds, if not thousands. lovers of traditional music and folk dance.

“David A. Kaynor: Living Music and Dance”, in addition to offering a detailed biography written by Kaynor himself during the last years of his life, includes choreography for 56 of his dances and scores for 77 of the tunes of the self-taught violinist. compound.

Many tracks, with names like “The Funnel in the Tunesmith’s Truck” and “Luke the Bear,” also noted complex harmonies.

What could be described as “The Complete Kaynor Catalog” also contains Kaynor’s instruction manual, “Calling Beginners by Beginners”, as well as his “Thoughts on Harmony” and “On Composition”. , as well as tributes from family and friends and descriptions of the many communities he inspired.

Even Kaynor’s painstaking calligraphic skill is exhibited in this book in the examples of intricate, handcrafted posters he created for several of his dances, following the ornate style of 18th and 19th century village dance masters.

“A book twice this size could not grasp the breadth and depth of its influence, not only in the general world of contra music and dance, but also in the personal lives of the hundreds of people it inspired, “wrote Susan Songer, Kaynor’s Portland, Ore., a music collaborator since the 1990s. Songer edited and published the 295-page book and came up with the idea within 24 hours of being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. .

“Putting it together was a huge challenge, figuring out how it all made sense and making it a cohesive whole,” she said.

The book is available online at


The 73-year-old’s three-year battle with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, first reduced his call for counter-dancing at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield in November 2018, then his violin. Yet Kaynor continued to lead the musicians he used to welcome and encourage as the Back Stage Band.

“After David lost the ability to speak,” wrote his longtime friend Susan Conger, “he continued to communicate with the musicians during his dances through facial expressions and hand gestures, continuing as he had done it for so many years to set an example of welcoming everyone on – and off – the stage.

The spiral-bound volume is also filled with reflections from some of the musicians, dance leaders and others who experienced the phenomenon of the violin raised by Wilbraham during his lifetime, which included stints as a store salesperson. of shoes, hotel clerk and special high school graduate teacher and swimming coach.

Many of them are a testament to Kaynor’s ironic, sometimes dry humor, ability to create harmonies, drive and constant encouragement, even from the most extreme beginners, to join us and make their best.

In an essay titled “About David’s Calling,” Erik Weberg, a caller from Portland, Oregon, writes: “As a caller, David is undeniably friendly to all the dancers… He has a conversation with friends. … While teaching, he reacts to what he sees and hears from the classroom. … David’s sometimes quirky teaching style is entertaining, but… In addition to teaching a dance, he also teaches the dance itself.

Kaynor’s voice, who was sadly silenced by ALS several months before her death, resonates in her writings throughout the book.

“The Connecticut River Valley is a rich musical environment,” he wrote. “Musicians abound in a wide variety of genres and levels of skill and involvement. Many regions are less fortunate. If, for lack of musicians, you find the recorded music acceptable, you might as well use it. … (But) I’d much rather dance to a fiery hand mixer, foot tapper, body slapper, pan banger or any other living person, who breathes, interacts and evolves rather than on a machine, whatever. the quality or class of the performances contained in the recording.

“There are no good or bad instruments,” he adds. “There is only good and bad instrumentalists. I can dance with more enthusiasm in front of an inspired and involved electric guitarist or synth player than in front of a distant fiddler, so skillful and steeped in tradition, who does not try to identify with the dance. … The musician who will strive to establish an evolving and interactive relationship with the dancers and the dance is the musician for me.

Musical journey

The autobiographical section of the book, which Kaynor began writing when he became housebound in 2020 and unable to play the violin, describes a Springfield family who began to sing in harmony around the nighttime dishes and organized parties. evenings of singing around the piano.

He also recounts his own journey from trumpet lessons as a boy to learning to play the banjo-mandolin on his own, even as he began to dance as a boy with cousins. in Maine. And the unlimited encouragement of a childhood swim coach would eventually inspire Kaynor to mentor musicians and dancers.

In the 1970s, he learned the guitar on his own and began playing and singing in bars in northern Vermont, before learning the violin himself. It was after returning to his family home in Wilbraham for a Masters in Consulting that he traveled to Europe in 1978 as part of a tour with the Green Mountain Volunteers. This led him to tour Sweden, where he returned to learn a whole repertoire of traditional tunes.

Kaynor also found that “the irregularity of rhythm or tonality” could reflect a “fundamental honesty of early music”, even with an intonation that had once seemed wrong to him.

“Some of these people,” Kaynor explained, quoting a Swedish friend, “have lost parts of their fingers in agricultural and forestry work; some played wind instruments with holes drilled in different places; some of them just heard the scales differently. We just want to play a few melodies like we think they did. It brings us back to their life and time. This makes them move forward in our own.

He moved to Belchertown in 1980 and began performing counter dances as part of The Fourgone Findings in Northfield with his cousins ​​from North Amherst Kaynor. Later that year the dancing started at the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, and he started playing there and later calling as well, with his own band and all the musicians who wanted to join us.

Kaynor, who moved in 1982, began conducting musicians at Montague’s annual May 1 celebrations that began in 1985. Soon after, as the dances began at Montague Grange Hall, he joined the Grange and was master of the Barn for 12 years. He also encouraged other dancers and musicians to join us and in 1995 he also joined the Greenfield Grange, sponsoring fundraisers, making the Chapman Street building accessible to people with disabilities, and bringing in others. improvements to both rooms.

Kaynor has also conducted violin orchestras in Vermont and locally and helped organize open and informal violin sessions on Monday evenings, while teaching at music camps in the Northwest, Appalachians, State of New York and beyond.

All, in the words of Fiddle Orchestra of Western Massachusetts co-founder Alice Yang, were guided by Kaynor’s tone: “’It’s safe here; it’s a place for everyone. … David once told me that fostering and leading community music is his life mission, his way of making the world a better place.

Kaynor, who was an avid runner, skier and swimmer, was determined to lead a full life even after ALS began to take its toll and he lost the use of his voice and the muscles he had. used to play. He was able to continue making music using his guitar and used keyboard-to-voice technology to speak and even to call out his last dances.

In his final months, gaze technology allowed him to continue typing using only the eye muscles, and even compose 13 tunes, some with harmonies.

“I was there at Maine Fiddle Camp when David called a dance using the iPad’s Bluetooth keyboard which activates his voice software,” Brattleboro fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger wrote in one of the book’s many touching tributes. “After so many years of hearing David teach tours and call dances, it was hard for me to hear David’s familiar phrases come out in a strange robotic voice. It hit me viscerally and I had to step away from the dance so I could cry myself. And then I realized… what an amazing gift he was giving us all… showing us not to let fear or difficulty or novelty keep you from doing the things you love, from living your best life.

Now retired, Richie Davis was a writer and editor for over 40 years at the Greenfield Recorder. He blogs at

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