Glenn F. Pease: Old-Time Barn Dance Caller
Calling Changes

No one in Glenn's family was particularly musical but his mother and her brothers did learn several poems which they had heard recited at Grange meetings and Mabel taught them to her grandchildren. Dad may have called on this habit of memorization when he began to attend dances and wanted to learn the calls.

My mother says that Dad was calling for dances before they were married in 1928, although she doesn't think he was calling on a regular basis at that time. He apparently called for dances after Grange meetings in Wentworth, N.H., although Glenn said that the Grange Master, Charles Robinson, did not think the floor would stand the dancing, which it always did. Ma does remember Dad telling her that he was at a dance in Wentworth, New Hampshire, where "Honest John" was being called. Dad sat in the back of the hall, just listening and memorizing the calls and said that by the next dance, he could call it himself. Dad also worked for a few months as a town cop in Orford, at The Hayloft, and may have picked up some calls there. These dances weren't really wild but were not sedate affairs either, as the excerpts from Glenn's diary attest -
    Thursday, July 22, 1937: "Went to the Dance. Took a fellow to Lebanon,
        got home at 3:45 am. He bit my arm."
    Friday, July 23, 1937: Went down to Lebanon with Eugene Cross [police
        chief] cost the fellow $76.67. Got in a load of hay."
    Sunday, July 25, 1937: "Went down to the corner Warren gave me a billy."
It took me a minute when I read this to realize that the "billy" was a billyclub which his neighbor had given him, I expect to pick on him about the incident at the dance. I found a metal 'police' star in Dad's bureau but not the billyclub!

His nephew, Leslie Donnelly, played saxophone for area dances and Dad often went with him, becoming a good dancer. Even in his 60s, Glenn [at 5'9" and over 250 lbs] gliding around the floor doing a Viennese waltz lent renewed meaning to "light on his feet".

In the Forties, Walter Horton had been giving square dance lessons in Fairlee, Vermont, just across the Connecticut River from Orford, and discovered that he couldn't call and direct dancers around the floor at the same time. He hired Dad to help him, where Walter would call changes and Dad would be down on the floor, directing those dancers who were having trouble with the figures. My brothers, Howard, Gerald and Francis, went with him and learned to square dance. Later on, Dad also gave lessons, for in 1950 or 1951, when I was four or five, I remember going with him to the Wentworth Town Hall and being the youngest person there learning to square dance.

In any event, my earliest memories of Dad and dancing involve seeing him and my sister, Irene, then a teenager, polka around our big farm kitchen to radio music from "Don Messer's Jubilee". This show came on in the early evening, either Friday or Saturday, over WDEV in Waterbury, Vermont, which must have picked up the feed from the Canadian Maritimes, from where the show originated. [Note: An audio tape of 'Don Messer and His Islanders' playing polkas and waltzes is available from Holborne Distributing Company, Mount Albert, Quebec.]

Glenn on Stage
Glenn calling at a dance at the Warren,
N.H. Town Hall, 1952. L to R: Floyd "Bud"
Ray on drums, Irving Cushing on accordion,
Glenn Pease, Glen Youngman on Piano
By the late 1940s, Dad was calling changes on Saturday nights in East Thetford, Vermont at Huntington's Pavilion, a small quonset-hut shaped dance hall. Jimmy Packard was the band leader and other members included Ralph Truman, who played the big bass and Walter Smith on piano. Dad, Howard, Gerald, Francis and Irene all piled into the cab of the farm truck and went to the dances. [My mother almost never attended dances and then rarely danced, although she and Dad would sometimes waltz.] Glenn was also calling in Warren during this time, as I have a photograph of him on the stage of the Warren Town Hall in 1952, with a band of Glenn Youngman playing piano, Les Donnelly on sax, Floyd "Bud" Ray on drums and Irv Cushing playing accordion. Bud and Irv would later play for years with Pat McIssac's band when Dad called changes with them. The Lake Tarleton Club in Piermont, N.H., a summer resort, hired Dad on occasion. I have menu/program from July 9. 1951, listing a 'CHAMPAGNE DANCE' and 'Later, Square Dancing With Caller Glenn Pease of Orford'.

        By the nineteen forties, Glenn must have achieved some repute as a caller, as he was involved in a demonstration of the traditional dance, "Honest John", at the Fifth Annual New Hampshire Folk Festival in Gilford, May19-20, 1950. The notice in the New Hampshire Folk Federation's Service Bulletin, Volume 1, Number 3, is as follows:

Glenn on Stage
Glenn calling 'Honest John'
at the New Hampshire Folk
Festival, May, 1950

  It is with great pride that the Festival committee
  presents the Orford Group under the leadership of Mr.
  and Mrs. Walter Horton in a traditional form of 'Honest John'.

  Those readers who subscribe to Ralph Page's Junket
  are familiar with the background and history of the dance
  as far as he was able to trace it, for like many traditional
  dances, its beginnings are not too well known.
  the Festival Committee feels certain that many
  groups will want to include this lovely dance in their
  repertoires as it is danced by the Orford Group.
  Glenn Pease, Orford will be the caller, R. Martin
  of Piermont, the fiddler, and the Walter Hortons of Lyme
  the head couple. Since the middle section of the music to the
  dance is 'tricky', Mr. Martin is coming to the Festival for
  the prime purpose of playing the music for 'Honest John',

        My mother remembers Dad saying that at a dance in Fairlee, he wanted to call "Honest John" but the band couldn't get it just right. Remembrance "Mem" Martin [who may have been there as a cop, as he was the town constable in Bradford, Vt. for many years] said that if he could borrow a fiddle, he thought he could play the tune the way Dad wanted it. They were glad to let him try, he did play what Dad wanted, and this was how he came to accompany the Orford Group in "Honest John" at the Folk Festival. The demonstration at Gilford must have been well received, as the Group was asked to demonstrate the dance at the New England Folk Festival that fall or winter in Boston. Dudley Laufman, dean of the barn dance callers in New England today, remembers seeing them perform when he attended the Boston Festival as a teenager. Dad also called "Honest John" at the Orford Bicentennial Ball in 1964, with Walter and Ethel Horton, George and Leona Smith, Chet Pierce and Ruth Prescott, and Norman Woodward and Gertrude Prescott demonstrating the dance. I don't ever remember hearing Dad call "Honest John" but did enjoy dancing it at the Wentworth Town Hall a few years ago, with Dudley and Jacqui Laufman ["Two Fiddles"] playing and Dudley calling.

        Ralph Page, perhaps the premier caller and popularizer of old time dancing [squares and contras] in New England after World War Two, wrote in his "Junket" sometime in the late Forties or early Fifties:

        In Orford, N.H. we found an extremely interesting variant of this
        second part of Honest John. Everybody up that way, on both sides
        of the Connecticut River say that only the Orford dancers do it this
        way. It is VERY VERY slow. The set that we saw dance were excellent
        dancers, and it was ceremonial in character. It was solemn and stately
        and we caught a breath of sadness about the dance. It was truly 'out
        of this world' and like no other American dance we have ever seen.
        . You have a beautiful variant, Orford. Please keep it. Don't yield
        to the blandishments from across the river to speed it up. There is
        plenty of room in the square dance world for both variants of Honest
        John; especially yours.

        Page included the music as danced by the "Orford group" and lists the calls as noted below. I also have an article from Vermont Life magazine, Winter 53-54, which includes a picture of the group of dancers who performed 'Honest John'.
The Dance                                                            
     [Sung] The head two give right hands across                                        
Take your steps in time
Left hand back the other way
And balance four in line
[Spoken]   Swing your corners. Swing partners
     [Sung] The head two couples promenade
Right across the set
Then right and left right to your place
The same two ladies chain

        From the mid-50s on, most Saturday nights saw Dad out calling changes. I have a picture of him from this time, calling from the stage at the Orford Town Hall, with Glenn Youngman on piano, Les Donnelly on sax, "Bud" Ray on drums and Pat McIssac on sax. Also at about this time, Dad began to work regularly with Pat, who organized the band and secured playing dates. "McIssac's Band, Glenn Pease calling" was a familiar poster for the next three decades in the Baker River valley of central New Hampshire. Regular members of the band included Pat, who played sax [and piano for square dances], Edna Simpson on piano, Floyd "Bud" Ray on drums, and Earl "Joe" Libby on fiddle, with Irv Cushing on accordion for some of those years. Winters often found the band playing at the Warren Town Hall, a typical small New Hampshire hall, with room for about four sets of square dancers at time. We sometimes squeezed in more but four was comfortable. They frequently played here in the summer as well, as I remember stopping at the Viking Cabins in Wentworth for an ice cream on the way home. Dad would also buy a pint of ice cream for Ma, who would get up at 12:30 when we got home and eat it all. They also played at Stinson Lake, in Rumney, New Hampshire, on Friday nights during the summer, where Dad remembered some couples rushing to get there from the Boston area, stopping at the dance first and checking into their cabins later. Ma says that just recently, a person came up to her at a Senior Dinner and spoke about how he loved to watch Dad and my sister, Irene, dance together at the Stinson Lake dances. Ma says that Dad received two dollars a dance at first [good money for those days] and was earning twenty-five per evening when he got done.

        My most vivid memories of Dad calling, however, focus around the Painted Barn in Wentworth, NH. Now demolished, this old barn was located just west of the stream which runs along the South Wentworth road where it branches off from Route 25. Once, I'm sure, the working barn of a prosperous farmer, by the late 1950s Dorothy Brown had made it the perfect site for a quintessential New England barn dance. Situated end to the road [Route 25] and about five feet off the pavement, its big barn doors were wide open on warm summer nights, allowing music from the band on the stage at the far end of the hall to stream out to the passing cars. Bench seats lined both long walls and a snack counter had been built into the former stable on the east side. There were still six or eight twelve-inch-square, floor-to-ceiling beams left in the barn, arranged symmetrically around the floor. The square areas between these beams made just the right space for one set of dancers and the beams even gave a post to push off from in order to get a promenade going right along! I think there was room for three sets wide and four longways of the barn. There was a fine floor, with the little dance wax which Dad scattered around each night adding to its danceability.

        Dances at the Painted Barn were from nine to twelve on summer Saturday nights. Many people have fond memories of arriving a little past nine and hearing the fox trot or polka [perhaps "Red Wing" or the "Beer Barrel Polka"] as they got out of the car and started for the door. These dances were almost scripted, with many of the same tunes and dances played in much the same order each week, although I doubt that anything was written down. The first few dances were round dances, waltzes, polkas, fox trots, etc., and then about 9:30, Pat would move to the piano, Dad would go to center stage, and "Choose your partners" would ring out. Glenn didn't use a microphone much until the 60s, but there was never any problem hearing him. As teenagers, we liked to get four couples our age in a set, so we could swing fast and promenade twice around while other sets were going once around. There were many "regulars" at these dances and they often danced in the same sets week after week. Sometimes, groups of counselors from area summer camps would attend the dances and we locals liked to laugh at them trying to dance and swing, in sneakers, no less! On these occasions, it was not uncommon for Dad to come down onto the dance floor, directing the befuddled couples through the dance, all the while calling the changes.
        Three squares would be called, usually coming from the following selections: "Honolulu Baby", "Just Because", "Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous", "Wearing of the Green", "Comin' 'Round The Mountain", "Jingle Bells", "My Little Gal", "The Fairest Gal in Town", or "First Two Ladies Cross Over". These were the old-time dances, with simple, repetitive calls, each couple proceeding around the set in turn, repeating the same figures. If one knew how to swing, do-si-do, allemande left, allemande right, ladies change and grand right and left, a person could get along fine. If there was a particularly enthusiastic crowd and if we just stayed on the floor in our sets after the third dance, we could sometimes get Dad to call one more square, but three was the norm.
        After the first squares were over, a few round dances followed, with tunes such as "Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy", "You Are My Sunshine", "She Wore A Tulip", "The One Who Has My Heart", "Release Me", "My Blue Heaven", "Side By Side", "McNamara's Band", and "Pennsylvania Polka". At about 10:15-10:30, Dad would call for the line dance, "Lady of the Lake". This usually stretched the length of the hall, with twenty-five or thirty couples participating. After "Lady of the Lake" came intermission. Dad, Pat and the band retired outside, while many of the dancers did the same. Some folks also listened on their car radios to the Country Music Jamboree from WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia.
        By 10:45-11:00, after a few more round dances, the second set of three squares was called. The dancing might be a little more ragged or "fluid", depending on the "fluid" of choice during intermission. I don't remember a problem with drunkenness at these dances, at least not on the floor. There was certainly drinking outside but there was a cop on duty and Dot Brown, owner of the Painted Barn and organizer of the dances, was clearly in charge. Much of this behavior would not [and should not] be tolerated today but that was a different era and drinking a few beers during the Saturday night dance was common. Finally, just a few minutes before twelve, Dad or Pat would announce the last waltz and so the dance ended at midnight, usually with "One Who Has My Heart", which Pat speeded up to polka-pace for the last few bars. Dad would typically dance one or two polkas or fox trots during the night and if he spied a particularly good dancer in the hall, would prevail on Pat to play a Viennese Waltz. He and his partner and a few other couples would dance in a setting which couldn't have been less like the salons of Strauss's Vienna but with a skill and pleasure which was fun to watch.

        One particularly poignant dance at the Painted Barn was in the fall of 1957, a benefit dance for our family. Our house had burned to the ground in early September and this was one of many ways in which the whole community helped us to rebuild. The Barn is gone now, torn down when Route 25 was upgraded in that area. Pat McIssac told me that the barn, or parts it, were now utilized at the AnnaLee Dolls complex in Meredith, but there is no building there just like the Painted Barn and I have not been able to find anyone with specific information about how it was reused.

        In the mid-70s, Dad was still calling with Pat's band, as I have an audio tape of a dance in Warren in late June of 1974 or 1975. This was taped by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Regan of Lyme, with their reel-to-reel recorder set on the corner of the stage. The Regan's were "regulars" at any dance with Glenn and Pat's band and theirs is the only recording we have of these dances. It is somewhat difficult to hear the calls but they can be made out if one is familiar with them. A copy of this tape [on cassette] is archived in the Traditional Music and Dance section of Lamson Library at the University of New Hampshire. Several of the calls in the appendix to this article are transcribed from that tape.
Glenn on Stage
Glenn calling squares with Old Time Vermont
Fiddlers, at his 1980 retirement party held
at the Orford Congregational Church Vestry

        Glenn began to experience a series of small strokes in the late 1970s and had to give up calling, as well as resigning as an Orford Selectman [he had served for thirty-nine consecutive years]. He did call one last set of changes in February of 1980, in the Town Hall in Orford, on the occasion of a retirement party for himself and Hazel Huckins, long-time Town Clerk. The Vermont Old-Time Fiddlers played and Dad called a of squares, while his four sons and their wives danced together in one set. Glenn died on October 12, 1989.

Glenn on Stage
Glenn and Theda's four sons and their wives
dancing as Glenn was calling, 1980

        For almost twenty years, there was no one in the area calling the old dances Dad had called and Pat's band rarely played. However, in the mid-1990s, Don Towle, pastor of the Wentworth Congregational Church, organized a series of dances to raise money for the town recreation fund. Dudley and Jacqui Laufman began to play for dances the first Friday of each month [October to June] and Dudley learned some of the old square dance calls, mixing them in with Two Fiddles' more common contras and reels ["Paul Jones", "Portland Fancy", etc.]. Pat McIssac and Joe Libby also play at these dances and Pat even brings his sax on occasion [Pat says he has no "wind" any more for playing a polka on the sax but I tell him that he can play just about as long as Judy and I can now dance one!] Lester Bradley from Campton also plays and calls on some first Fridays and he also calls some of the old changes.

        Traditional folk music and dance was a major feature of the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held on the National Mall in Washington, DC in late June and early July. Dudley and Jacqui and Lester and Dave Bradley were among several groups of New Hampshire bands and callers who somehow got people to dance reels, contras and squares, on a plywood floor, under a tent, in 100 degree, humid weather! The Festival was restaged at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds during the summer of 2000, where even more New Hampshire folks saw the fun of the old barn dances and New Hampshire again rang with "Do-si-do" and "Swing your partner" on a warm summer Saturday night.

        My wife Judy and I greatly enjoy the Wentworth dances and were among the sweltering dancers in DC. My mother, then in her 90s, sometimes came to the dances to watch and talk with friends, while my brother Gerald and his wife Rita [who met at one of Dad's dances in Dorchester in the 1970s] usually danced in the same set with Judy and I.

My mother has compiled a list of about 50 places where Dad called at some time.

Written by Arthur Pease, May, 2009