by Stewart Hendrickson

Last summer my wife and I traveled to Augusta Heritage Center’s 22nd annual Irish Week at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. Several things attracted us. It was organized by Mick Moloney, a leading folklorist and Irish musician whom I had met earlier on his Irish Folklore Tour, and it offered a class in Irish fiddle for myself, and hammered dulcimer for my wife. As it turned out, we were recognized as having traveled the farthest distance to get there.

Elkins & Davis College is located in a beautiful part of the Appalachians. Although it was hot and humid when we flew into Washington, DC, the weather was quite tolerable in the West Virginia mountains. The campus, situated on a hill, was quite pleasant with nice facilities. The most important part of any music camp is the food, and this year the food was superb with a new food service, greatly improved over previous years.

Classes for the week (July 20 – 25) included banjo and mandolin, button accordion, fiddle, flute, songs and ballads, guitar and bouzouki, harp, songwriting and accompaniment, uillean pipes, whistle, and dance. Other classes not specific to Irish Week, included Cape Breton fiddle, hammered and mountain dulcimer, old-time banjo and fiddle, Cape Breton dance, Celtic design and lettering, Celtic stonecarving, blacksmithing, fiddle and bow repair, and marquetry. Classes met for 2 hr sessions in the morning and afternoon, and each participant signed up for one particular class. Additional mini-classes were available, including bodhran, Ceili Dance, Ceili band, Cape Breton stepdance, concertina, Irish history and culture, Irish songs and ballads, and bouzouki.

After breakfast a typical day began with an early slow session, morning classes, an after-lunch Irish Week group session, afternoon classes, mini-classes after dinner followed by a concert or dance, and then informal sessions and jams into the wee hours of the next morning. More than enough to fill the day!

My intermediate-level Irish fiddle class was taught by Patrick Orceau, a talented young Irish fiddler who immigrated from his native France to New York City in the 1980s. There were 11 students in his class – a nice size. Patrick is well steeped in the traditional Clare/East Galway style and was a student of the Irish fiddler Paddy Canny. A patient teacher, he taught us two reels and a jig, with considerable emphasis on ornamentation and style.

Stewart Hendrickson is Chemistry Professor Emeritus – St. Olaf College, Research Professor Emeritus  University of Washington, and in his new career, an unemployed folk musician (voice, fiddle, guitar; Reprinted from The Victory Review, November, 2003.