The Portland Megaband performs in Portland, Oregon at the annual
PCDC Portland Megaband Benefit Dance, and at many Northwest Folklife Festivals.
The all-volunteer musicians of the Megaband come from all levels of skill - from near beginner to professional.
The Megaband welcomes applications from anyone playing an acoustic instrument who is willing to attend all the rehearsals and play with enthusiasm.
Proceeds of the Megaband Benefit Dance support scholarships for PCDC dancers and musicians.
History of the Portland Megaband
The Portland Megaband began on New Year's Eve, 1996 when no regular bands were able to play for the Portland Country Dance Community's New Year's Eve dance. PCDC elected to try a big band concept which had been successful in other areas of the country, and recruited Sue Songer to see if she could bring together a large number of musicians to play for half of the dance. Twenty-five musicians at all levels of experience responded to a query of interest in this event, and so with this group, the Portland Megaband was born.
Since that time, we have progressed from playing half dances to full evenings. We have moved from rehearsing in band members' homes (where we could not all fit) to having a regular rented rehearsal space at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church. We have grown from 25 to more than 70 members, and our playing has become tighter and more sophisticated with each gig. The band has remained open to anyone willing to come to the rehearsals and people of all ages and experience and on all kinds of instruments have played with us.
At the present , we play one full dance a year and Folklife every other year. We have occasional other get togethers during our "off season."
What does the Megaband Benefit Dance support?
The Portland Country Dance Community and the Portland Megaband sponsor a yearly benefit dance to raise funds for members of the Community. The benefit funds are available to PCDC members in the form of scholarships to help offset the costs of dance camps, musician camps/workshops and caller workshops. For more information about applying for a scholarship, contact PCDC.
To the prospective Megaband member
The Megaband is an all volunteer (i.e. unpaid) contra dance band open to musicians at any level of experience on any acoustic instrument, and ability levels range from beginner to profession musician. We have been in existence since 1997. Since then, we have played 9 times for Portland Country Dance Community benefit dances and 4 times at Folklife. We will play Folklife in 2005. For the past several years, we have played the second Saturday PCDC dance in March. Every time we have played, it has gone very well--the dancers have loved it and all the musicians have had a blast. So far, we have always been able to achieve a cohesive, tight sound. The first time we played, there were 25 of us. In March 2004, we had 71 musicians and more than 500 dancers! The band is organized and directed by me (Sue Songer). The more experienced contra dance musicians are miked when we play. We have had 23 mikes in Portland and 17 at Folklife.
Music and rehearsals:
About 4 months before we play the PCDC dance, I mail out the set list. We draw from the tune books The Portland Collection: Contra Dance Music in the Pacific Northwest (Vols. 1 & 2), from tunes that band members or I have learned since the publication of The PC, as well as from tunes written by band members. The tunes that are not in The Portland Collection books are posted on this web site in a format that is easy to download and print out. In years past, Betsy Branch and I have recorded a practice cd with all of the sets played clearly slightly below dance speed. We sell this to band members at a very low price, and they have found it very useful for learning the tunes. We begin weekly rehearsals about 2 months before the dance (in January). Each rehearsal lasts 2 hours and is held on Sunday afternoons from 3 - 5.There is one required rehearsal the Sunday before the dance that is lasts from 1 - 5. In the rehearsals, we work mostly on playing as a group and getting the right "feel" for the music. Musicians who are new to the band should plan on attending at least 5 of these rehearsals. I think that everyone finds them to be fun, and the end product is very rewarding.
In addition, band members often host informal rehearsals to work on the tunes.
This band is email run--virtually all the communication happens by email. If you do not have email, please phone me (503-293-1446) so we can discuss the other alternatives for communication. If you should change your email address, don't forget to let me know. Otherwise, you might never hear from me again.
The PCDC Megaband dance is held on a mid-March Saturday each year at the Smith Ballroom at Portland State from 8:00 pm until 11:00 (figure 6:30 pm to midnight for the band). We will play about half of the same sets that we played the last year--I don't know yet which sets will change.
How to sign up:
All new band members come into the band through a waiting list. If you would like to play in the band, please get back to me at if you have email or by phone if you don't have email with your name, address, phone number, instrument, and approximate level that you play (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and I will put you on the waiting list for next year. There is a cap of 75 on the sign up slots for the dance. Former members will sign up first (we must do it this way since the band is very dependent on the experienced members being able to carry the newer ones along), and then it will be opened up to those on the waiting list. So far, almost everyone who has been on the waiting list has been able to play. But if we have more people on the waiting list than spaces available, there will be a lottery for admission to the band. Also, I encourage you in the strongest of terms to go to the contra dances and join in some of the playing opportunities listed below to get acquainted with contra dance music and gain some experience playing it.
Other opportunities to play:
The Megaband will have a potluck picnic and jam session next summer, and, if you have put your name on the waiting list, you will be invited to this. It will give you a chance to learn more about us as well.
Etienne Scott hosts monthly teaching sessions of contra music from 7 to 9 PM on the first Thursday of every month at 1014 SE 50th Ave, Portland. Tunes are taught by ear by contra dance musicians George Penk and Dan Compton. Cost is $5. Etienne can be reached at 503-232-5089 for further details.
There is a contra dance (and other dance) music session at It's a Beautiful Pizza, 3342 SE Belmont, on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month 8:00-10:30 pm. Contact Rob Hoffman, 503-452-8780 / , for further details.
PCDC hosts an open mike/open caller contra dance on the 5th Sat of every month that has a 5th Sat. Contact me for further details about that.
I have both an email list and a US mail list that are of interest to many musicians. These lists announce workshops for musicians, house concerts, and other small concerts or sessions. If you would like to be added to these lists, please let me know. Messages from either are infrequent--maybe one a month from the email list and 1 or 2 a year from the US mail list.
I'll be happy to answer any questions not covered here--either by email or by phone. Hope to see you when we begin our rehearsals again.