California Revels 
Creating Community Through Celebration
California Revels Newsletter
Oakland, CA
July 2011
in this issue...
2nd Annual Abbots Bromliad
The 26th Season of Reveling
Photo Feature: Abbots Bromley Dance 1900
From the Artistic Director

2nd Annual Abbots Bromliad Announced


Last year California Revels produced the first Abbots Bromliad in Oakland's Joaquin Miller Park. We weren't sure how the celebration would be received and were delighted when nearly 200 people showed up to take part in or watch the dance unfold.  We have had many requests to repeat the day and are marking the 2nd Annual Bromliad on Monday, September 5th. Same time, same place. All Abbots Bromley and traditional English dance enthusiasts are invited to join the California Revels in a day of good food, good music, good dancing and  another celebration of the Abbots Bromley antler dance.

Every Wakes Monday, the dancers in Abbots Bromley, England take up the traditional horns for their legendary 16 kilometer trek of dancing through countryside and pub yards. Last year Wakes Monday happened to fall on Labor Day in America.This year it's a week later but we will continue to use Labor Day for our celebration. 


We are calling for dance teams and individuals to come together for a day of picnicking, dancing and music, which will culminate in the Bromliad - a mass dance of the Abbots Bromley antler dance featuring even more people than danced last year (144 of 'em along with 25 musicians!). And while we are dancing in Oakland, two new Bromliads will be performing with Portland Revels and Puget Sound Revels.  Someday there may be horn dancers from coast to coast on Labor Day! 

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance


This free event will take place in a beautiful glade in Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland on Monday, September 5th. Picnickers can arrive any time after 11:00 AM. Bring the kids, a blanket and your favorite foods and beverages. There will be music and Morris dancing (teams cordially invited) as well as called group dancing. Then at 1:00 PM, we'll set up for the largest Abbots Bromley serpentine ever. The fun continues until 4:00 PM. Show up and be a part of dance history!


This is a free event, but we'd like to know who's coming, so register now on our Facebook invitation.  Or check our own website for updated information.


Would you like your very own pair of antlers for the Bromliad? We have a few pair for sale on our website. $20 per pair (enough for one deer) includes tax.

Revels Events for 2011


Celebrating our 26th Year of Revelry!



Calendar of Events 

September 3 & 4 - Revels Solstice Ensemble appears at the 145 th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games in Pleasanton.

September 5 - The Abbot's Bromliad. Back by popular demand! This event was the talk of the town in 2010. Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland. See the above article for details. 

September 11 - Revels will make our first appearance in the Solano Stroll Parade! We will also staff our usual booth across the street from Andronico's Market.

October 1 - Oaktoberfest in the Dimond District. Come sing along with us.
December 4 - Yule at the Zoo, Oakland Zoo.
December 9-11 & 16-18  The 26th  Annual Christmas Revels: A Celebration of the Winter Solstice at the Oakland Scottish Rite Theater.

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Photo Feature: Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers 111 years ago.
Abbots Bromley 1906


The players of an Abbots Bromley Horn Dance circa 1900. Photo taken from Sir Benjamin Stone's Pictures - Festivals, Ceremonies and Customs. Published by Cassell & Co. London. 1906

From the Artistic Director

Artistic Director's Report


Dancing the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

(Editor's note: David Parr is on vacation this month. The following is a re-print of his column from November 2008.) 
Most revelers, when they tell friends about the Christmas Revels, include the moment when the stage goes almost dark, and men carrying deer antlers prance about the main floor. Of course they're describing the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, a ritual moment that has become closely identified with our celebration of the Winter Solstice. The dance consists of a line of dancers in walking gait, weaving into repeated serpentine and facing figures, punctuated by light clashes of the hand-held antlers. There are six deer dancers, and four costumed "supernumeraries". These accompanying figures are dubbed Hobby Horse, Bowman, Fool and Maid Marian (or man/woman). They are accompanied by a melodeon and a triangle player, although in Revels we customarily employ a recorder.


Like so many traditional celebrations, the Horn Dance (or more properly, Antler dance) has a long and ultimately obscure history. The earliest, albeit questionable, report of its performance is at the Bartholomy Fair in Staffordshire, England in August of 1226. Today the Horn Dance takes place annually on Wakes Monday, a date falling in early September. The antlers, large sets from caribou or reindeer, mounted on small carved deer heads are kept in the parish hall of the St. Nicholas Church in Abbots Bromley. There are six sets - three painted white and three painted blue (actually brown, but the earlier coat of blue paint shows through). How these antlers came to this parish is a mystery. In the 1970's, one of the white sets was damaged, and while being repaired underwent carbon dating which showed it to be over 900 years old. Since there were no Reindeer in England in 1065, the horns are presumed to have come from Scandinavia.


The horns are the property of the Abbots Bromley parish council and never are allowed to leave the Parish (a smaller, lighter set of red deer antlers are used for practice and for guest appearances elsewhere). After collecting the horns from the church at eight o'clock in the morning, the Horn Dancers perform their dance at locations throughout the village and its surrounding farms and pubs, a walk of about 10 miles (or 16 kilometers).

Abbots Bromley horn dance 2000

In Revels we perform the dance as notated by our old friend, the songcatcher Cecil Sharpe. He recorded that the dancers all came from only one or two families in Abbots Bromley who had passed the steps and patterns down from generation to generation for as long as anybody could remember (that phrase again!). Also, the melody that had come to be associated with the dance shared a similar heritage. It was a tune that the elderly village wheelwright, a man named Robinson had learnt from his grandfather, who played it end of the eighteenth century. And so the bouncy little jingle that we associate with the dance came to be called "The Wheelwright Robinson's Tune".


It is interesting to note that in modern day Staffordshire, there are a variety of tunes used with the dance, and the performance has no particular association with the Winter Solstice. As the ritual has come to be "owned" by many communities outside of Abbots Bromley, celebrants have added their own special grace notes to the stepping and costuming. Some dance it on Mayday morn and it has become a staple of traditional music camps where it is commonly danced by women and children. I think this speaks to the power of this ritual and the durability of tradition. It can be successfully reshaped by each group of celebrants as they embrace its essence and tailor the performance to make it their own.


In the California Revels, we have reserved its performance for the darkest point in the Solstice show, where its haunting power is allowed to take hold through the almost hypnotic interweaving of the figures and tune. The ten men who dance it here employ a slightly vaulting step that is noticeably different from the way it is performed even in other Revels cities. Our fool plays the triangle, a boy dances the archer, and Maid Marian is invariably a robust, bearded man.


Of course the question arises, usually at a safe remove from the magic of the performance itself, concerning the meaning of it all. Why has this dance been performed over all of these centuries? What is it supposed to do? The answers to these questions are rife with speculation. Some feel the dance is supposed to guarantee success in the hunt, others point to a historical conflict between villagers and a surly gamekeeper, others posit a linkage through the Robin Hood allusions to the Green Man, and still others ferret out the Christian iconography of the stag figures.


There is no logical answer to the question of the meaning of the Abbots Bromley dance. It is a riddle whose solution is best left to intuition. One explanation is as good as another - and ultimately as wrong. It is a mystery that fares better in the realm of experience than understanding. Each of us feels the power of this ritual and we respond from a place that is deeper than the conscious mind can fathom. It is primitive magic and the awareness of the moment draws us together in a wild and powerful way.



                            - David Parr Artistic Director


All of David's past columns can be found on the California Revels website under "Dragon Fumets".