Mary Lea - Bio

Classically trained from a musical family, Mary has been playing dance music professionally on the violin and viola since 1977. While her focus has been on contra, square, and English country dance music, she has also played extensively couple and quadrille music of the 19th and early 20th century, including polkas, waltzes, ragtime, tangos and blues. Intrigued by music of all kinds, Mary continues to explore repertoire from Europe and South America.

Mary playing a dance

Within a year of moving to Boston in 1977, Mary joined two local bands, one that played New England contra music, the other English country dance music. The former, Yankee Ingenuity, played at festivals, dances and camps throughout the U.S. and in England and represented the best of New England square and contra dance music and calling.

The other band is Bare Necessities, a quartet known here and abroad as the benchmark of English country dance music. Composed of two violinist/violists, Mary Lea and Earl Gaddis, a wind and guitar player, Peter Barnes, and pianist Jacqueline Schwab, this group has made its mark as a creative and improvisatory group that has brought new energy and ideas to the wonderfully varied repertoire of this dance tradition. The Bares have played at festivals, music and dance camps, weekend and special events throughout the U.S., Canada and England, as well as at a weekly local Boston series ever since forming in 1981. They have produced 18 CDs, of which 15 constitute a series spearheaded and produced by the Boston Centre Country Dance and Song Society.

Mary in Childsplay trio

Now living in Brattleboro VT, Mary makes weekly treks to the Boston area to play with Bare Necessities. She has also branched out to play with other groups over the years: Wild Asparagus (contras), Orient Express (international dance music), BLT (many kinds of music), MGM (English country dance), Dark Carnival and Crazy Quilt (all kinds of music) and Paradiso (music from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and France). She was also a member of the large eclectic string ensemble Childsplay.

Mary and Peter Barnes in Greece

Mary cobbles a livelihood together with teaching, which she loves and is good at, playing for dances, private events such as weddings and parties and the occasional concert, organizing concerts and dance weeks, plus teaching and playing at dance and music weeks throughout the country. When the gods are truly smiling, she joins her musical traveling buddy, Peter Barnes, to play for dancing on boats that ply the Nile or that tour the Galapagos or Greek islands.

Mary with macaw

Non-musical bio. Born in Washington D.C. where she lived until going off to college in Oberlin, Mary majored in history, joined the Peace Corps on graduating and served as a social worker in Senegal W. Africa for two years. Graduate School at U/Mass in International Education brought her to Amherst and opened her eyes to New England, where she’s been ever since. She taught elementary school for five years, then worked for six years as a founder and collective member of South End Press in Boston. At the same time, music began to consume more of her time and energy and eventually became a full-time endeavor. Her interest in world affairs, other cultures, languages, natural history have fueled her travels abroad to such far-flung places as Brazil, Tibet, China, Colombia, Venezuela, Queen Charlotte Islands and the Canadian north, to mention a few. Reading, gardening, films, bird watching, PBS, kayaking are some of her many interests.