Updated Dec 5, 2023
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!
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1998