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The Scarlet & Black

The Too Many Strings Band reflects on Iowa State Fair experience

Contributed photo
Contributed photo

By Rojina Sharma

The S&B sat down with Professor Sandy Moffett, Theater, Professor Robert Cadmus, Physics and Professor Mark Schneider, Physics to discuss their recent performance at the Iowa State Fair with their band, the Too Many Strings Band. A Grinnell favorite, the Too Many Strings Band is a mainstay at Saints Rest and other spots around town. Continuing their streak of performing for a larger, state wide audience, the Band traveled to Des Moines to perform at and take in the Iowa State Fair.

S&B: Can you tell us a little about your band? (How it came to be, where you normally perform, what kind of music you play?)

TMS: We’re often referred to as Too Many Strings, but we want to refer to ourselves as a string band. So it’s the Too Many String Band. I think it started as just kind of a once-every-other-week-get-together-and-sing-along-with-each-other. I do pin most of this as happening sort of around 1996 or so that we started actually playing.

We play at the Mayflower [retirement] home, which we enjoy a lot because there’s an enthusiastic group there and they’re quiet and they pay attention. We do that three to four times a year. We also play at Windsor Manor, typically once a month. One thing I’m happy about is that we don’t get paid for any of this kind of stuff. Often people want to get rid of some of their money and we divert it all, usually, to the Heifer International Project. So I like to think we’re a little philanthropic organization, as well as a musical organization. We’ve played at weddings, we’ve played at funerals, we’ve played for a Red Cross fundraising once. We play at all of the retirement centers from time to time. We do ad hoc performances on campus, maybe two, three times a year depending on who wants to have us. We also like reunions. That’s one of our favorites.

S&B: Why did you decide to perform at the Iowa State Fair?

TMS: We just thought it’d be fun. We’ve performed there for five years, and we’ve been on two different stages, but for the last three years, we’ve been on something called Pioneer Hall, which is an indoor venue with lots of other stuff going on. It’s not a big deal. I mean, we weren’t playing in a huge stadium with thousands of people and lights coming down. First year we did have to send in some recordings so that they could vet us to decide whether we were going to be a complete embarrassment.

S&B: How was this performance at the state fair different from your performances on campus and around town? What was the best part of the experience?

TMS: One of the things that’s nice is they have sound people there who make sure you actually can be heard over all the noise that’s going on. That’s nice. Generally, people are sitting in an audience whereas in a lot of other places we play, other stuff is going on. When we do fundraising things, it’s often associated with a dinner or something where we’re kind of background music. So people were actually there listening to us. And they also had an open space in front and people got up and danced, which was great! But we also like intimate things where the people are close and sort of involved and maybe singing along. I think we tend to like those more than ones where you have a big space with a whole big audience who are out there some place. And if you have people close, you don’t even need all that electronic help.

S&B: Will you perform at the State fair again?

TMS: I think we’ll probably do it every year, as long as they’ll have us.

S&B: Do you have any upcoming performances that you are excited about?

TMS: On Sept. 11 there’s going to be an event in … the Community Arts Center. There’s not going to be a concert or anything, just people who are going to be joining in and singing along. Students will be enthusiastically welcome to that!

S&B: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the band and your music?

TMS: It’s just been a real gift to be able to do this, and to continue to do this for as long as we have. It’s always fun. Anytime I talk to people about doing this, I talk about how wonderful music is because you can continue to do it, at any level, all your life. Back in the old days, music was something people did in their living rooms and their front porches, and they didn’t worry about whether it was perfect. They just did it for fun. We’re trying to represent this older way of just having fun. We play a lot of original songs that Sandy and Betty have written. A lot of their songs have to do with small town Iowa, and even the ones that they didn’t write have a tendency to gravitate toward Grinnell-type songs, which is why I think we fit into the state fair well. We also sing songs like “Strangest Dream” and “Promised Land” and “Deportee” that talk about the problems we have in the country and the injustices that need to be sung about. Rarely do these songs have a particular political orientation, but they always have a human rights orientation, and these are things we all feel pretty strongly about.

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