Captain Fiddle Music

Ryan and Brennish

Thomson

 

 

Augusta Irish Week 1996

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Augusta Heritage Center, "Irish Week," 1996

By Ryan Thomson

Davis Elkins College, West Virginia, is the site for an annual gathering of students of Irish

music, dance, and culture. Folks of all age and experience levels sign up for classes on

topics including fiddle, voice, flute, piano, step dancing, harp, and more. Most of the

faculty, although of Irish background, live in the US. Many of them have traveled back to

Ireland to win prestigious awards in music competition.

The class format at Augusta includes both morning and afternoon sessions with a particular

instructor during the course of a week. Evenings are spent at concerts and dances featuring

faculty ensembles. Most participants stay in student dorms with a meal plan at the

cafeteria although there are camping and motel options. My favorite part of the day is the

informal music making in the evenings after the scheduled events. These late night

sessions commonly go to 3 or 4 am. Breakfast soon follows from 7-9 am, and so sleep is

sometimes neglected for serious music makers who don't wish to miss a meal.

My first Irish week at Augusta was spent in a workshop with Kevin Burke. I was in a small

class of enthusiastic fiddlers who collectively picked Kevin's brain for tips for playing rolls,

bowed triplets, and other tricks of the fiddling trade. A classmate brought in a camcorder

and we studied slow motion recordings of Kevin's fingering patterns. We spent an enjoyable

week learning an appreciation for the fine subtleties of Irish style fiddling. I still played

fiddle right handed at the time although I was soon to retire from playing as I became

disabled. As I became determined to learn to play the fiddle again, I decided to start out

where I had left off, in a serious study of Irish fiddling.

Last year at Augusta, my second year as a left handed player, I took an intermediate level

class with Willie Kelly and spent my week learning tunes in the style of County Clare

players. This year, having improved quite rapidly, I opted for Brian Conway's advanced class

in Sligo style fiddling. Both Willie and Brian are players of excellent technique who take

teaching seriously. Although I learned several new tunes in Brian's class, his emphasis was

more on bowing techniques than repertoire. I was very happy with the progress I made, and

other students seemed similarly satisfied.

Our class picture

That's Brian in the white T-

shirt. I've got my bow to the

fiddle above him.

At the end of Irish week was a

student concert featuring

selected pieces by each

class.

Augusta Heritage Center also

features other fine programs

of traditional music including

that of West Virginia and

other regions. I've been attending events at Augusta since 1977, and have covered the

gamut from celtic, cajun, swing, old time, and dance calling. My annual 15 hour drive(each

way) from New Hampshire is proof of my satisfaction with the Augusta experience.

For more information visit the web site at Augusta Heritage Center

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996