Life of the Party

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I f you want to find an African drum circle, learn to play the Irish penny whistle or the Indian hurdy gurdy, brush up on your New England contra or square dancing, get a few gardening tips, celebrate a change of the season, write a poem and/or create a clay pot, Dr. William Fischer—call him Bill—is your man.

His dreadlocked brown hair, long grey beard and reverent approach to living call to mind labels he eschews: “hippie,” or “flower child.” The reality is that the 71-year-old is just supremely comfortable in his own skin—skin that’s been weathered by sun and earth as he prowls barefoot across the grassy acres of his winding Bethany homestead. After decades as a clean-shaven, three-piece-suited physician treating patients in New York City and later Connecticut, where he dealt with dying and death every day while working for the first hospice in the country (Connecticut Hospice, in Branford), Dr. Bill has returned to nature. These days he can most often be found in a t-shirt and shorts.

He says he doesn’t bathe often, but he doesn’t seem to need to, and in any event it doesn’t keep the crowds away. With his wife Mickey Koth, a renowned fiddler who plays with “Wry Bred,” he opens his sprawling eleven-room home—actually two barns fused together, address 312 Litchfield Turnpike—to host BMADs, Bethany Music and Dance parties, usually on the last Friday of the month but sometimes on a different Friday. From 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m., people of all ages, seniors on down to tots, show up at will with potluck offerings in their hands and celebration in their hearts. Spontaneous and not-so-spontaneous jam sessions full of people playing jazz or folk or Celtic or classical music are liable to pop up in any room of the house, even the bathroom.

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The monthly shindig, which typically attracts around 250 people spread out around the house and grounds, includes a designated two-hour dance from 10 p.m. to midnight. Dr. Bill, a well-respected square and contra dance caller, who travels all over the northeast and beyond, shouts out the steps to Virginia reels (a type of folk dance) and spiral dances (another type). He especially loves to coax newcomers out on the barn floor and watch them gain their rhythmic footing, smile and just have fun. As the “grand host” of what he terms a “great big group music lesson,” one that sprouts and evolves organically without any pre-scheduling, he “runs around like a wild man” facilitating things.

In addition to his monthly song-and-dance parties, he also hosts a May Day event, centered around a maypole, on the first Sunday in May. This daytime event, where hundreds attend, includes singing and dancing, lots of ribbons and a unique “Crone Ceremony,” when an old person hobbles in and crawls under a tarp to symbolize the dying of winter, only to emerge in a “delicious big Spring costume,” embodying the budding new season.

Right now, Dr. Bill is busy with two new projects: organizing drummers for Terra Tractus: The Earth Moves and “CreateHereNow,” a statewide initiative using drum circles to help revitalize community spirits. Even so, he found time to host a Summer Solstice Party this past Saturday, welcoming the new season with fun, food and a giant bonfire. With drum in hand, Dr. Bill called upon the spirits of the season as golden sparks of fire spiraled up into a dark sky.

If you missed that event, there’s another one tonight: the next BMAD. A tour alone of Dr. Bill’s eclectic, arts-filled treasure trove of a house would be worth the price of admission (at least if there were a price of admission). In addition to the bands you’ll find in the doctor’s office, the great room, the old hay loft, the blue grass room, the firewood room or the bathroom (just don’t disturb the kitten in Hazel the cat’s room), and in addition to the food offerings causing tables in the kitchen to groan, guests tonight will feast on dummies, skeletons, puppets, dolls, masks, teddy bears, tigers, clay people, plants and a long list of other objets d’art, many of them gifts from friends and visitors over the years, some of them made by Dr. Bill himself.

He estimates that he’s hosted almost 250 BMAD and seasonal events since 1991, only missing one month’s celebration in all that time. If you should attend tonight, keep an eye out for the line of cars parked along the Litchfield Turnpike, close to a colorful rainbow mailbox marked “312,” perched atop a corroding antique stove. Once parked, you’ll hear sounds of laughter and music and chatter, and you may find that in this frenetic and often isolating life, these community-laden remedies are just what the doctor ordered.

Bethany Music and Dance celebrations hosted by Bill Fischer
312 Litchfield Tpke, Bethany (map)
www.bethanymusicanddance.com

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

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