October 9, 2020
It’s incredible to believe that it’s 7 months since Andrew Kellett mooted “How could we keep RSCDS members in touch with each other and engaged in dancing at this strange time?“ From one email Dance Scottish at Home was born.
DSAH is led by a small editorial team – Ian and myself with Peter Knapman – holding a weekly meeting attended by Andrew and Committee Convenors with Clare and Debbie from the office. We run through what’s proposed, then it’s over to us to produce the content. Hopefully this gives an insight to what has been going on in our remote home offices.
DSAH – The Newsletter - Angela
As I write this, the weekly process for Issue 22 is beginning – preparing ideas to discuss at the DSAH meeting on Tuesday. Peter has been working on “What’s Behind the Name?” diligently researching areas of Scots history and culture.
“What’s Behind the Name?” grew out of Thirty Popular Dances Volume Two – the concept of going behind a dance title to find out about a place, a person, a period of time is fascinating and we knew there were lots of avenues to explore for weekly articles.
This archive led section sits alongside other firmly established features while surrounding content adapts to embrace feedback from readers and highlighting events. Topicality is important – I explore social media, and reflect on Scots history events, connecting us to our historical roots. Finding material without copyright issues takes us time.
Over the weeks some elements have grown – I asked Stan Grycuk, RSCDS Aberdeen, to help with puzzles knowing Stan had the right mind for the task. And he hasn’t disappointed, providing anagrams and finding a web programme for jigsaw puzzles. The Jigsaw provides not only entertainment and hours of puzzling but also introduces new member names and places to readers through the Jigsaw League. Wee reminder - All timings are welcome, fast or slow! We are grateful to Diana Hastie and others who send in puzzles and respond to repeat requests.
At the first planning meeting we discussed the ideas to attract members and the wider dance community to read this weekly mail out – but it was only when starting to collate the content that I realised “Ah, someone needs to link the material and react to what our readers send in” – that’s become my job!
My approach has been influenced by my work as a BBC Television Producer, working on magazine programmes and daily content. Research, content writing, meeting script deadlines, proofreading webpages – professional tools that have played their part in DSAH.
We are constrained by technology – MailChimp has fixed settings which impact on how articles look, so Peter has become expert at fitting photo sizes to the format and checking text and layout is key.
Most importantly DSAH is about entertainment and connecting the community, consciously avoiding the pandemic and localised changes. We are aware of groups working hard to keep dancing, but DSAH is a place where everyone can connect and not worry that they are alone.
The At Home Podcast - Ian
When DSAH was first discussed, I was keen there should be musical input into the weekly newsletter and a Podcast felt the best way to achieve this. I have to admit that at first I had no idea as to what this entailed, let alone how long each episode would take to put together or how many people would listen. However, I have an interest in recording and had produced and edited a couple of my own band’s recordings. Of course, what would make this far more challenging was the social distancing which would mean musicians would be unable to come together to put down any tracks we might wish to use. Encouraged by “Tunes in the Hoose” from Shetland, I was surprised at the audio and video quality that musicians were able to produce from iPads, phones and laptops. I was also encouraged by the enthusiastic response from fellow musicians at their willingness to contribute either as individuals or with their bands. As I write this article, Podcast 22 is in the mixing stage and to date we have had 22 different combinations of musicians as well as some solo spots. We are lucky that all who have contributed have been so willing to share their experience and talents. I have also been lucky to have Graham Berry’s expertise to help with the mixing and editing. Luke Brady started us off with “Albums of the Week” where he picks out salient features and characteristics of tracks drawn from the RSCDS CDs, and this has led to many guest presenters sharing their favourite albums which has broadened the range and style of material. Jim Lindsay and Mo Rutherford have also prepared some interesting pieces on musicians from the past. The quiz has become a popular feature with many listeners contributing. Judging by comments and feedback it has become quite competitive in some households! Who would have imagined that the RSCDS recordings could have produced so many permutations of themes?
To produce 45-50 minutes of Podcast takes about 24 to 48 hours preparation. Firstly I gather the material together, I then write the script, record the voiceover and remove any extraneous sounds captured - not helped by the building work going on next door, passing trains and army helicopters that regularly use our village as a turning point when they are engaged in exercises on Salisbury Plain! The draft mix is usually ready by the Thursday morning ready for comment from the DSAH production team before final edits and tweaks take place on Friday morning in readiness for release on Friday afternoon.
There have been one or two close moments when the technology has crashed leaving me with no option but to start again. I haven’t missed a deadline but it has been close!! Despite my previous experiences of recording, this has been a huge learning curve but entirely enjoyable and I have also made some new musical friends. We average around 950-1000 listeners to each edition and the repeats are also proving popular. Lastly, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Podcasts - too numerous to mention individually but each and every one is a crucial element to their success.
Online Classes - Angela
Having attended daily online Yoga classes and meetings, I was confident technology could deliver a weekly virtual class. Planning then took a couple of weeks:
- 19:00 BST could work for Europe and provide a daytime event in the Americas. For other areas recording the class was essential.
- At home no-one has the perfect floor surface; furniture or pets can get in the way. The timing needed to allow a variety of content balanced with managing people’s safety.
- RSCDS Summer School lists seemed a good place to choose teachers, supplying a wide range of styles and locations – but who knew how many dancers would sign in?
The first Wednesday was scary – the number of participants kept shooting up! I never thought I would teach a class of 1,000 but the positive reaction meant we increased capacity and since then we haven’t looked back.
The insight is that I’m in rural Perthshire – Graham and I live in a small hamlet outside Glenfarg, which means we sometimes have unreliable broadband. So, each Wednesday I line up RSCDS tracks while Graham signs in as back-up on his laptop, using his mobile phone connection. Thank goodness we both enjoy technical and logistical challenges.
For me, it’s the equivalent to running a weekly class – I prepare with each teacher over the previous weekend, checking settings, lighting and sound; then on the Wednesday I’m ready for those early birds who are eager to get dancing, I support the teachers as much as possible, ready to answer questions with dancing books and the Manual to hand. Graham admits that, in his years of playing for dances and classes, he’s not the best at knowing names - now he looks out for who and where dancers sign in, helps put together the Online Dancing Map and makes sure every class has the support needed – and now knows a lot of names.
The time teachers give is much appreciated – extensive preparation and welcoming the RSCDS into their homes. I also know who to ask for help moving furniture!
Summer Celebration - Angela
In June, Anne Taylor raised the idea of a Virtual Summer School – so Ian and I, with David Queen took on the challenge, with David Queen.
Putting together a proposal for a week of activities, we wanted the content to offer the range available at RSCDS events, including international schools which could not take place. Classes were possible but what would make these different; step dances, music workshops, dance talks, what could the international schools offer? Ideally, we wanted 75 minutes of content each night.
In less than 6 weeks, the one-page proposal became reality and while delivering weekly DSAH content, Ian and I got to work – contacting teachers and musicians, recording material and researching footage.
As a Children’s TV producer, I normally work with a team – I’m not talking the size of a film crew or even EastEnders, but the team would include an editor who crafts the show while I keep an overview. Here that wasn’t an option!
Instead I downloaded video software, and got to work – I started editing, balancing soundtracks, creating graphics and exporting videos. Every minute available was spent finessing content and each day a new package with viewers’ images was created.
The Step Classes were recorded – even Janet will admit that had challenges as she doesn’t have internet at home, but we made it! Then they were packaged, making sure that Muriel Johnstone’s bespoke recordings could be heard at their best.
Briefings with teachers and hosts needed the same attention as the weekly class as everyone played their part in the event. Then each evening, I was on the computer keyboard, sharing the content and managing queries.
Of course lessons were learnt – Ian and I would both admit that large external computer drives are essential; my Mac was really struggling by the Saturday and it’s a good job that between Graham and myself we had 4 computers. That night, I was relieved that Match of the Day wasn’t hovering to get onto Zoom.
The Musicians’ Workshops – Ian
The musicians’ workshops were a direct result of requests from musicians who usually attend the St Andrews Summer School music courses wishing material to work on over the summer. Having already instigated a small collaborative project involving 23 musicians from literally all over the world using previous music course sets, it seemed a good idea to use some of the material prepared for the now cancelled 2020 music course. Enlisting the help of Gillian Stevenson on fiddle, we designed three two-part workshops covering the basics for playing Jigs, Strathspeys and Reels. Each genre consisted of an easier set and one which presented challenges. The first part of each workshop broke down the style, offering hints and tips on how to practice and achieve the right stylistic features to produce music that would inspire dancers. Being some 600 miles apart this presented Gillian and me with challenges as to how we would put the workshops together. Initially I sent Gillian master tracks containing piano and accordion - these formed the basis of our work. Having worked together on three previous summer schools we already knew what each would cover.
I edited together the videos and audio files and the workshops went ‘live’ on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week. We were keen to involve others and hit on the idea of composer spots where eminent Scottish dance musicians talked about a specific composition - how they composed, their inspiration and particular musical features that the tune(s) contained. Mo Rutherford, and Ian and Cameron Muir contributed whilst Susan MacFadyen, Scott Band and Graham Berry explained how they put particular sets of tunes together, giving participants the opportunity to play along with them. The amount of time and preparation that went into all of the sessions was immense but well worth it given the staggering statistics of the viewings and feedback we received which exceeded all of our expectations. These materials are also the basis of another collaborative project which will have finished by the time that you read this article. All the materials will be available in the music section of the RSCDS website.
End Thought - Angela
Overall DSAH has been an unforgettable experience – I’ve still been working full-time but I have also managed to perfect other skills away from the computer with Banana Bread, Scones, Gnocchi and more being regularly produced. It’s also been fantastic to connect with so many dancers around the world, collaborating with Ian and Peter across all the content to create something that has made such a difference at such an unusual time.