I wrote this piece for the Maine Fiddle Camp newsletter back in 2019. The story has also been forwarded to Sue Songer for "the book."
David Kaynor was a special surprise guest at the second August week at Maine Fiddle Camp in 2019. Most folks know that David has ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), an almost always fatal autoimmune disease, the symptoms of which are never the same.
David can't swallow (that means eat in the normal way, he nourishes himself through a feeding tube) or talk. David CAN play the fiddle (as well as ever as far as I can tell), he can walk, drive an automobile, etc....and has adapted to be able to communicate through electronic means involving his smartphone, a text-to-voice app, and some times a foldable portable keyboard and Bluetooth speaker.
David, a native of western Massachusetts, is one of my oldest and dearest friends (over 30 years) in the crazy world of traditional music and dance. He is one of the finest traditional fiddlers I know of and a GREAT contra dance and barn dance caller and choreographer. I consider him my contra dance calling mentor. David has a Maine connection too. His family has a seaside cottage in South Harpswell where we have had many a tune session over the years. David was involved with some of the early Downeast Country Dance Festivals, and has called at dances in Maine from time to time for 40 years or so. BUT for 25+ years, we had never had David at Maine Fiddle Camp. That changed in 2019 thanks to a suggestion by Bethany Waickman. So...in August 2019 David showed up at Fiddle Camp!
I had talked to David at Fiddle Hell last fall, before his disease had been diagnosed, but after he knew something was wrong. He had trouble talking and his words were slurred, still he called the evening “contra” dances at Fiddle Hell with ease and with the usual humor, sensitivity and accuracy. In our conversations, David said he was pretty sure his contra dance calling days were over. He had trouble speaking spontaneously, that is to say he had to think about everything he was to say and work hard at getting it out of his mouth on time. Not a great situation for a dance caller. David, already aware of what was to come it seems, confided to me that he had hoped to “go out in a blaze of glory” as a dance caller, but that didn't seem very plausible at this point. Not knowing what was actually going on, we both sort of shrugged and went on with the weekend.
So...now...Maine Fiddle Camp, second August week 2019. David arrives Tuesday AM amid a flurry of text messages. Doug meets him in the ballfield and delivers him to Camp, where we settle him down in a “glam tent” and get familiar with the new communication method. We muse at the strange “English” (sort of) accent his text-to-voice app has and plan the day. Some specialty workshops, some jam sessions, a guest slot on the main stage, a Maestro Bistro slot, basically what would be expected of a “special surprise guest.” Still, I have in my mind that David, my contra dance calling hero and mentor, should, through his electronic paraphernalia, call a dance in the evening or at least teach a dance, which is the hardest part anyway, and I would be there to back him up if needed. So I proposed this to him and he agreed.
Tuesday evening, we set up for the barn dance on the main stage. Dave had his bluetooth speaker and portable keyboard set up and I put the callers mic up to the speaker. It came through perfectly...no problem there...The stage was packed the dance floor was sort of “normal.” I think I called the first dance and David played fiddle.
Next it was David's turn. Keep in mind here, I have it in mind that he would teach the dance and somehow I would “channel” him to actually call the dance. That quickly became totally unnecessary as David, typing furiously on his portable keyboard, taught then called the dance. His timing was PERFECT and the only problem was the app not knowing how to pronounce some words, like “dos a dos” came out “doss ee doss.” David corrected on the fly, it got better, he corrected again and everyone cheered, all while he continued to call the dance. There was the normal Dave Kaynor precision, humor, and FUN!
At one point I looked over at him and he was definitely working at it, eyes on the dancers, ears on the music, fingers on the keyboard. The result was amazing. I never had to step in and help and he went right on to call a second dance. There were a LOT more dancers on the dance floor too!
After I commented that those typing lessons in junior high school sure finally came in handy, David nodded. Hah...I also suggested he might have a future in this dance calling thing (and maybe a “blaze of glory”?) Well maybe. I think there were ten or twenty folks, with their mouths hanging open in amazement, videoing all of this and if anyone could forward me a file or a link, I'd love to get it on the MFC website.
Late Tuesday night was an amazing Scandinavian tune session behind the dining hall that David led, and Wednesday more workshops, until it was time for him to leave. A bunch of us accompanied him to his car, hugs all around, laughter and tears, “see you next year,” Dave hopped in and drove away. Who knows what the future will bring, but a LOT of love was shared in those two days and we all hope David will be back next year!