“I really feel that playing music with other people is a really special experience,” said Miriam Graham, a charter member of the Moab Community Dance Band. “And that’s what we do every week.”
The Moab Community Dance Band was formed in 2004 by Chris Layer, an acclaimed pipe soloist and flutist and previously the artist in residence at the Moab Music Festival. While he was in Moab, he started the band with a crew of local amateur musicians—including Graham—and when he eventually left, the band continued, becoming a staple of Moab’s contra dance scene.
Contra dancing is a form of social folk dancing, accompanied by live contra music. The music is lively and includes Irish, Scottish and French-Canadian folk tunes, typically anchored by a fiddle.
In the past, the band has performed concerts and hosted free community dances, including attending Moab Music Festival Community Showcase events and playing at the annual Electric Light Parade. The band’s dance events have been on pause since early 2020 due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the core group of the band has continued rehearsing, Graham said.
The band currently has seven members, a mix of charter members and new members, and is ready to grow: they’re recruiting new members. Anyone with interest in playing in a band is welcome to join, Graham said—almost every instrument can find a place in the band, she said, with the exception of brass instruments, which are typically too loud for a contra band.
In the years since Graham has been a part of the band, she’s seen its members become much better musicians, she said.
“I mean, we were pretty pathetic at first,” she said, “and now, we’re known in the community. Pre-pandemic, we had contra dances practically every month, and people would come in from the community and tourists would come too.”
Currently, the band includes guitar players; fiddle players; a member who plays the bodhran, an Irish drum, and the charango, a stringed instrument from South America; and an oboe player. Graham plays the Irish concertina, an instrument similar to a harmonica and accordion, and the penny whistle.
“The music we play is kind of international,” Graham said. “We play a lot of Irish reels and jigs, a lot of marches from around the world and waltzes.”
The band plays a mix of traditional music, modern music and some originals, she said.
In February, the band will host Jeremiah McLane, a piano accordion player and experienced music teacher to give lessons to band members—his musical background includes blues, jazz and Celtic- and French-influenced music. McLane has been to Moab before to perform with the band and to put on local concerts. He returns this year with the help of a grant and funding from the Moab Music Festival and Gear Trader, Graham said.
“We just think he’s a very excellent teacher and coach,” Graham said.
The band has been “such a positive thing” for its members, especially throughout the pandemic, Graham said. They practice every Tuesday evening, typically in Graham’s home.
“We have a lot of fun,” she said.
The band is recruiting—anyone interested in joining can call Miriam Graham at 516-376-8003.