Augusta Heritage Center Irish Week Report, 1998
by Ryan Thomson
I was on staff for the 5 weeks of the summer series this year so it was easy for me to
compare the various theme weeks of traditional music. The biggest change I've seen in the
Irish program is that it is now the most popular week to attend at Augusta, eclipsing even
the cajun or American styles weeks. Total cost is around $550 which includes all meals at
the college cafeteria, and a shared dorm room. Its also possible to pay only the $300
tuition fee, and stay in local bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, or motels.
Many of the Instructors are familiar faces from other Irish "music schools" such as the East
Durham, New York program in the Catskills, or "celtic week" at Warren Wilson College in
North Carolina. Daily classes consisted of instruction in: fiddle; banjo; flute; whistle; pipes;
singing; set and ceili dancing; playing in a band; piano; harp; and hammered dulcimer.
Several classes were filled to capacity well before the start of the program, so potential
students should contact Augusta early. The advanced Irish fiddle class, for example, filled
up two months early. I opted for an Irish piano class taught by Brendan Dolan and came
away with lots of useful playing tips. My staff duties included helping to set up the early
morning ceili and set dance class led by Jim Keenan from County Armagh. The class was so
much fun that I ended up joining in and dancing. By the end of the week, I had learned a
set dance which we performed for the assembled Irish week students at the Friday
afternoon "student showcase."
Multiple music jams and sessions continued in the Augusta tradition, and stretched each
night well beyond 3 am, providing lots of opportunity for students to play with others.
Impromptu ceili dances would spring up in the evenings on the large wooden porches
where session musicians would congregate after dinner.
Although the courses of instruction were focused primarily on Irish music, there was a well
attended fiddle class on Cape Breton music taught by Jerry Holland. There were no classes
in Scottish music, however, such as might be found at other "celtic" music schools. I did
notice a couple of highland bagpipers lurking about during the week although Its a bit hard
for a highland piper to merely "lurk, " since they could be heard for quite a distance out in
the woods away from the campus proper!
For more information visit the web site at: Augusta Heritage Center, Davis & Elkins College,
Elkins, West Virginia 26241
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1998