Updated Dec 5, 2023
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
Click on the image below to enlarge it.