Amanuensis

 

a·man·u·en·sis

/əˌmanyəˈwensəs/

noun: amanuensis; plural noun: amanuenses

a literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.

 

I had the pleasure and honor of working with Rodney from 2015 to 2018, during an amazing outpouring of 180 new tunes. Part amanuensis, part indexer, part project manager, and part co-editor with Sande Gillette, we worked toward readability and consistency in formatting the tunes. Anticipation was high as each new email arrived, and I looked forward to entering Rodney’s handwritten tunes into music software. 

What can I say about this amazing talent? What qualifies me to tell you what is so special about Rodney’s playing and his tunes? If you haven’t already heard his playing on CDs or at dances, get listening! The National Endowment for the Arts recognized him in 1983 as a “Master Fiddler” and the State of Maine honored him as Musician Laureate [check this]. I recognize his playing by the 8th bar of a tune: His virtuosity, his ornamentation, his variations on each tune, and the way his playing lifts my feet off the floor with each step of a dance. 

In 2005, Rodney Miller and his band Airdance played at my first-ever dance weekend, Northwest Passage Dance Camp, at Camp Namanu in the foothills west of Portland, Oregon. I was a newish dancer, and a baby fiddler, having played mostly wind instruments until then. The music, the dancing, and the jamming into the wee hours in Uncle Toby’s Cabin were delightful, and Rodney’s playing was front and center. He taught several of us his recently composed Cloud 9. I found the tune to be compelling, and although it was years beyond my fiddling ability, it continues to hold my interest now, many years later. Sande Gillette transcribed the tune, and in 2006, it was released on the Airdance recording of the same name. 

Fast forward to 2015, Rodney was on faculty at Fiddle Tunes, in Fort Worden, Washington. I attended every one of his workshops throughout the week. We worked on his recently composed set, Kickstart / Trip to Nowhere / Scenic Express. Sande Gillette was also there, transcribing the tunes Rodney taught. I entered a few of Sande’s handwritten transcriptions into music software (iWriteMusic for the iPad), and offered, and was given Rodney’s permission, to email the tunes to workshop attendees. 

That was the beginning of a great adventure. Rodney would email handwritten transcriptions of new tunes to be set in the music notation software. Next, Sande would proofread my work, and we three worked toward consistency in the notation, relying primarily on the conventions of Susan Songer and Clyde Curley in The Portland Collection books.

I love Rodney’s playing; one perfect set of triplets and I know his sound. I’ve traveled long distances to dance to his playing (even – more than once – to the UK, for the Contra Holiday in Medieval England). If you are fortunate, you may have enjoyed sitting in a jam with this superb musician, gentleman, and kind human being who just might offer an encouraging word or a look, to inspire the community musicians gathered around. I confess to being a Rodney Miller fan! 

I am honored to think I played some part in this creative blossoming, with nearly 200 new tunes composed in just a few years. There are many tunes here, like Cloud 9, which were once beyond my playing ability, but inspired me to keep playing and developing as a musician. You will find a trove of simpler tunes, accessible to beginning players, as well as tunes with great complexity in melody, chord progression, and rhythm.  

I hope you enjoy discovering, playing, listening to, and dancing to these lovely tunes, and I hope we all will enjoy the pleasure of Rodney’s playing for many years to come. 

Melissa Coffey, amanuensis

Fiddle, whistle, Irish flute, and Saxophone player

Seattle, WA 2020