Alabama Folk School turns ‘Irish Folk’ for a weekend part 2

a colorful camp swing

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about Camp McDowell where I was one of the instructors who helped turn the Alabama Folk School into an ‘Irish Folk School’ for a weekend of music, dancing and craftwork.

The weekend flew by as I spent 4 workshop sessions together with my class.  I introduced the players to a number of ‘classic’ Irish tunes, including jigs (‘Saddle the Pony’ and ‘The Lilting Banshee’) and reels (‘The Maid Behind the Bar’ and ‘The Merry Blacksmith’). All the participants could read music and so we learned the melodies from sheet music, which allowed us to quickly get the tunes going. Then we discovered how adding the right slurs and bowing techniques could really add that authentic Irish sound. I also taught these budding Celtic fiddlers two tunes by ear (‘The Lilting Banshee’ and ‘The Silver Spear’) and I think that was the most fun of all. Several students told me later that they did not think they could memorize a tune and that this was the first time they had been successful at playing not just one, but TWO tunes by ear in one day!

Irish Trad tunes from Tom Morley & Rick Cunningham

The workshops were of course the main focus of the Alabama Folk School weekend session. But all the folks at the camp got a lot more than that! Henri’s Notions, One of Alabama’s top Celtic bands, stopped by on Saturday night and put on a great concert for about 100 camp participants and other visitors. Multi-instrumentalist Rick Cunningham (a mainstay on the Alabama Celtic Music scene) and I played some tunes together to open the show (and Katie Cox showed off some fancy footwork) and then later on we all sat in with Henri’s Notions and it was great fun. And as if that wasn’t enough music for one evening, after the concert we played long into the night, a ‘mighty’ Irish traditional music session that made everyone feel as if they had been transported to a pub in Dublin to be sure.

Folk School fiddlers in concert

The big event came on Sunday after all the workshop sessions were over. We all met at Strough Hall and showed what we’d learned together. I was mighty proud of my fiddlers as they played ‘The Silver Spear’ by memory and got everyones’ toes to tapping! Rick Cunningham brought in the Celtic Mandolin students that he had been working with, and both groups joined in together for a rousing version of ‘The Lilting Banshee’. Katie Cox, one of the most well-respected Irish Dance instructors in Alabama, led her class through some fancy dancing as well. After the presentation, we all said our goodbyes and headed home, tired from 48 hours packed with activities, but happy in the knowledge that we passed our love of Irish music and dance along to a new group of folks.

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell offers a wonderful series of programs throughout the year. I hope you’ll check out their website and sign up for a class sometime soon! And I look forward to going back as well to ‘fiddle away’ some time in the beautiful NW Alabama hills!

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