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
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.
Written by Ryan Thomson, 1996