Geneseo String Band plucks onward with square dances, handwritten music

When lecturer of music James Kimball arrived at Geneseo in 1976, he created the Geneseo String Band, an organization that continues to bring twanging tunes with on and off-campus performances. The band encompasses a variety of different instruments including the fiddle, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, violins and guitars. The band also incorporates piano, flutes, clarinets, piccolos, tin whistles, washboards, spoons and tambourine.

According to Kimball, having so many instruments sometimes necessitates training musicians to play something completely new to them. For instance, he said, a string bass player is created from a guitar player.

Kimball added that, although the band has a variety of instruments, String Band focuses largely on a “wide variety of mostly folk types” of music.

The band specializes in folk, country dance and old-time dance music. The band has also been known to play swing dance music or Irish tunes.

Kimball said that when he first arrived in Geneseo, “colleges were falling in love with country dancing.” From early on, Geneseo String Band played at both country and square dances.

Kimball went to dances in the rural countryside of Western New York to learn the old dance music that interested community members. Every year, the band plays these old favorites at the dances it hosts but continues to add new pieces as well.

“When we do a dance, we still get people coming in from the countryside, as well as students so we get this wonderful mix,” Kimball said.

The band has also made connections with the greater Irish community, especially in Rochester. String Band learned many Irish tunes by ear, playing in Irish pubs including Kelly’s Saloon on Main Street.

Much of the music String Band plays is handwritten. The band has about 1,500 songs to choose from, and it continues to add to its repertoire.

Kimball said he chooses most of the music, but students bring in music they are interested in playing as well.

The String Band has some scheduled upcoming performances. On Saturday Sept. 21, the band will play at the Harvest Moon Dinner at the Free Soil Farm. On Nov. 15, the band will play at Alfred University’s Intervarsity Club, a show it performs at annually.

String Band will play its first on-campus square dance of the year on Nov. 2 in the College Union Ballroom.