Column: The Lessons I learned From Harold Luce
Harold Luce performs during lunch with his band at the Royalton Senior Center in Royalton, Vt., on March 10, 2005. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
There can never be enough words to describe Harold Luce and his profound impact on traditional fiddling, and on me, personally.
I first knew Harold and his wife, Edith, through the Grange. My father knew Edith, as she grew up in Brookfield, Vt., just a short distance from our home farm in Williamstown.
I shall never forget my first music “lesson” from Harold in the mid 1970s, when my parents and I attended the Chelsea Grange annual pink, green and gold sash night. Harold asked all the youngsters in the audience, including me, if we’d like to come into the kitchen, where he gave each of us our very own percussive-type instrument (I seem to recall that mine was an upside-down aluminum kettle with string on the handles, which hung around my neck — a homemade drum, complete with wooden spoons for drumsticks). We marched around the hall, gleefully playing our “instruments,” returning to the kitchen and leaving them with Harold, then going back and sitting with our parents.
My first time meeting Harold as a fiddler was in 1991, when I started going to Open House dances, sponsored by the Ed Larkin Contra Dancers. At one of these dances, we were setting up to do Portland Fancy, a rectangular four-couple set dance. I was a green dancer, and my set was near the piano, and I was on the wrong side of my partner, when I felt the poke of a fiddle bow on my right shoulder and a gentle but firm command: “Get on the other side.”
From there, I ventured into the realm of learning to prompt (or call) the dance changes. I then mustered up the courage to try to learn to play the fiddle. I was nearly 24 at the time, and thought I was probably too old to start. When I asked Harold about it, he, in typical Yankee form, trying neither to build me up too much nor tear me down, simply stated: “Well, you never can tell.”
Luckily, I persisted with my lessons, and Harold taught me so much, both formally and informally, not only the fiddle, but also about calling, music and life in general. He was like another father to me. His sense of humor and good-natured joking always put everyone at ease.
I remember fondly the square dances he led in the 1990s at the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction, where he fiddled, called and managed the floor (and the band) all at the same time. He allowed me to sit in with him at these and other dances, where I picked up so many tunes and tried my best to emulate his fiddling style and his manner of teaching and calling the dances. He and fellow fiddler, Wayne Doyle of Chelsea, played so beautifully together, with Harold putting it such outstanding harmonies on his fiddle, especially for the waltzes.
In October 2007, Harold had congestive heart failure, and also discovered that he had two major arteries that were plugged. He was not able to fiddle and call simultaneously anymore, as he would cough intensely. I received a very emotional phone call from him one day, asking me if I would take over doing the square dances up in West Newbury, Vt., which he had been doing since 1998. Without any hesitation, I said I would, and I heard him sigh on the other end of the phone and say: “That’s good.” It was probably one of the hardest things he ever had to do, as he loved calling those dances so much. At the dances that I now lead, in West Newbury, Wentworth, N.H., and other places, I try to do things as he did, and it always seems that he’s right there with me.
I will always feel the influence of Harold Luce and his music on my life. It has lead me into so many different areas of personal growth and accomplishment that I couldn’t have imagined were possible. He shared with me some incredible gifts — patience, the love of old music and dancing, and his honest, but simple philosophy of life (enjoy yourself) — which I’ll continue to pass along to dancers, students, musicians and audiences as long as I’m able.
Adam R. Boyce lives in West Windsor.