Cooped up by the winter blahs? Have a hankering to shed that feeling? Why not try shaking a leg to some high-intensity fiddle music from Cornwall’s own country dance band, Relatively Sound?

Cornwall’s monthly Saturday night dance is the revival of a town tradition sparked some 20 years ago by singer-songwriter Lorraine Choiniere Hammond, a Cornwall native. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lorraine taught the basics of fiddle music to the classically trained violinist Rachel Gall, who in turn inspired Jane Prentice (and eventually her concertina-playing husband, Jim), guitarist Kathy Lyon, and pianist Debra Tyler to practice with regular jam sessions. In time, Rachel declared the fiddle music good enough for the group to hold a dance. The music makers acquired a name—Still, the Homegrown Band, town hall was made available, Debra Tyler’s nonprofit Motherhouse agreed to become the sponsor, a caller was recruited, and Cornwall’s regular dances were born.

Relatively Sound evolved out of Still, the Homegrown Band during Cornwall’s Covid interlude, with Jim’s brother Mike Prentice (bass) and his wife, Shaila, (snare and Irish drum) joining the Prentices, as well as Ren Nickson on guitar and bouzouki. The band plays both 200-year-old New England traditional Scotch-Irish folk tunes, as well as new melodies that are constantly evolving. Key to a successful dance is the caller. Dances sometimes feature such legendary callers as New Hampshire’s Dudley Laufman. But when 2024’s first serious snowstorm kept West Hartford’s Jim Gregory from the January 6 dance, Rachel Gall stepped in to direct the small crew of dancers who showed up at Cornwall’s town hall despite the snow.

New England barn dances have been an important community activity for generations. According to Jim, his mother, Maureen, claimed that when she was growing up in the 1930s and ‘40s, dances in Cornwall and neighboring towns were so frequent that she could go dancing five nights a week. Reluctance to look awkward shouldn’t keep anyone away. We’ve all been there—even veteran caller Paul Rosenberg, who was so shy that at his first contradance he spent the whole time hiding in the rest room. Band members estimate that newcomers account for about one-fourth of the dancers on any given Saturday night. All levels of experience, and all ages are welcome.

Making sure everyone is included in the fun is the special province of “dance ambassador” Bill Lyon, Kathy’s widower. One Halloween night several years ago a group of young punksters who’d come in search of Dudleytown caught sight of the lights in town hall and turned up in full regalia—studs, chains, and all. Sure enough, Bill lured one of the girls onto the dance floor, and soon everyone was dancing. The group even came back to the dance a month later.

For regular updates, consult the Motherhouse Facebook page. Also check out the Cornwall Historical Society’s webpage devoted to its 2018 exhibit, “Ballads and Barn Dances: Cornwall’s Homegrown Music.”

Paul De Angelis