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Patter Calling - origins

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Patter Calling - origins


Patter calling is a style of square dance calling in which the caller speaks the words or chants them on a musical pitch, hopefully in harmony with the tune. The classic form of patter is rhyming couplets. Typically the caller supplements the dance directions with extra words to make the call lines fit the four-beat musical phrases; these words can border on nonsense syllables, but more often they convey the flavor of the ranching, farming, or logging life:

"Old cow kicked and the yearling bawled,
Swing that opposite across the hall."

"Corn in the crib and wheat in the sack,
Meet your partner and turn right back."

"Up the elm and down the pine,
You swing yours and I'll swing mine."

The practice is commonly associated with southern Appalachian or traditional western squares, but even such staunch New England callers as Ralph Page used patter - though Page admitted (in The Country Dance Book, 1937) that radio barn dance bands had influenced New England calling.

In the MWSD world, patter calling has evolved into "hash calling," where the dancers don't know what is coming next, and it's common for MWSD callers to follow a patter call with a singing call, where the calls more closely fit a musical phrase. 

In time, this site will include much more on that subject; for now, here are some thoughts about the origins of patter calling.

Viewers may enjoy watching a video of caller Kathy Anderson discussing patter. There are many examples of patter on this site, in both the audio files and video footage; the earliest example currently in our collection comes from West Virginia caller Ernest Legg, recorded in 1928.


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