Patrice Pakiz, Erik Sessions, John Goodin, Pat O'Loughlin and Ted Hodapp (caller) at Glen Echo Ballroom in Washington DC. (Submitted photo; those pictured are not listed in order)
The Elks Lodge in Decorah is hosting its annual Contra dance and Contratopia concert Saturday, Jan. 25, featuring calling by Ted Hodapp.
The concert is at 7 p.m., and the dance begins at 8.
Contratopia is a contra dance band composed of two musicians from Minnesota and two from Northeast Iowa.
DN: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Pakiz: A musician, although with my practical bent I started out in college as a music therapy major. I abandoned that because I thought being a band director would be more fun and I wouldn't have to work at creating a job for myself.
Hodapp: A scientist - working for 3M or Bells Labs.
O'Loughlin: I wanted to be an architect.
DN: How did you get started in music, in general?
Pakiz: Sitting on my grandpa's lap while he played piano, hearing him sing "Down in the Valley," (still one of my favorites), singing harmony with my mom while washing dishes (there's something to be said for mindless jobs shared). One of my most vivid memories is of Grandpa setting an accordion on the kitchen table, showing me how to finger a C major scale and then pulling and pushing the bellows so I could play it like a piano. The oboe came later after I did really well on a band instrument "test" after which the band director said "Here. Play this." I don't think I knew what an oboe was before that.
Sessions: I have played classical violin music since I was a little kid, but was inspired by local dance band fiddler Bill Sherbourne when I was in high school. I learned "Devil's Dream" and "Turkey In The Straw" from a Mel Bay tune book, and played in a short-lived dance band as a senior. I studied classical music in college, but really found my niche exploring folk music and instrumental dance music.
Goodin: On Feb. 9, 1964, I watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and knew immediately that I wanted to be involved in that kind of fun.
Hodapp: I had friends who played accordion and concertina, and I thought this seemed like fun. I was just getting involved in dancing, and playing a bit of music seemed like a normal extension.
O'Loughlin: I started playing banjo as a senior in college.
DN: In Contra dance music, in particular?
Pakiz: Through working for Pat O'Loughlin's brother, whereby I got roped into recording some English country dance tunes on oboe for a dance workshop and eventually branched out into contra dance on piano.
Sessions: I played with a number of dance bands in the Twin Cities during and after college, and found that I had a knack for the up-tempo tunes required for contra dances. The reels and jigs mostly come from the Celtic and American traditions, and I love "bending" the styles and making them fit my playing and the band that I'm working with. With Contratopia, I have the pleasure of working with very creative musicians with wide musical backgrounds. More than half the tunes we play are written by members of the band, which is very unusual in this genre.
Goodin: Back in the '80s, in Indiana and Kentucky, I played at a few contra dances but it wasn't until Erik Sessions invited me to go up to Minneapolis and play a dance with him (sometime in the '90s) that I met Patrice and Pat and we started building Contratopia.
Hodapp: It was part of the folkdance scene when I started dancing.
O'Loughlin: I saw a film on contra dance on Public TV and decided to form a band.
For the complete interview see Thursday's Decorah Journal