Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Swannanoa Gathering 2014

My favorite place to spend seven days of summer is a music filled camp called The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, North Carolina.

This year was my sixth in a row at The Swannanoa Gathering. I love everything about this camp and always look forward to attending! This year I volunteered for Donal Clancy's guitar class, playing melody for his students who were learning how to back tunes with accompaniment. I also took Brian McNeill's Scottish fiddle class which I took last year and loved the tunes he taught! One of my favorite fiddle players, Liz Carroll, was teaching at camp. So, of course I had to take her class!

Here is how my week went:


Before classes start, each member of the camp must pick up their information packets including class schedule and room keys. The camp is held on a college campus, so, dorm rooms are available.

Later in the evening members of the camp were given a little concert by all of the instructors. They played one set of tunes each, to demonstrate what types of tunes their students will be learning in their classes throughout the week.

After the staff concert, camp members grabbed a few friends and started a session. I asked my good friend John Whelan to play some tunes with me, and he did!


The first day of classes, yay!

It being my first time playing melody for an accompaniment, I was very excited.

Donal taught his class accompaniment for a certain key, and after the students knew the basics of the chords for that key he would add more complex variations.

After Donal's class, I went to Brian's class. We learned a Scottish air and a strathspey, very much like a reel with sharp, staccato accents. I always love Brian's classes because they are interesting and so much fun!

After a long, but very fun class, we ate lunch and I walked to Liz's class by myself. My mom had to do her volunteer work around campus.

I have taken classes from Liz before and really enjoyed them. I just had to take one this year! A group of friends I met last year happened to be in Liz's class with me this year. It was nice to see them and play tunes again.

After class, we had dinner and I walked with mom to a concert where half the teaching staff performed. However, I only watched the second half of the concert because my mom and I babysat Grainne Hambly and Billy Jackson's daughter. They both play harp and always perform together.

She enjoyed dancing while Cathleen, Rose and Matthew rehearsed.
There were two concerts. The other half of the teaching staff would perform later in the week. 

I absolutely loved the concert! The musicians were amazing. Afterwards, I played with John for a little while, then decided to go to bed.


This day was another day of waking up early and taking classes! Again, class was really fun! The guitar students learned all sorts of tips and tricks to playing a reel in a major and minor key, and everything from chords to strumming techniques!

Again, I went to Brian's class and learned a strathspey and a reel. He taught tunes he had composed himself so it was nice to hear new music.

After lunch, I went to my fiddle class. I love taking Liz's classes because she also teaches tunes that she's composed. Its nice to learn traditional tunes, but it is also nice to learn new tunes that some people may not have heard yet.

After class finished and dinner was over, I walked with mom and Dylan to the main building called Bryson Hall. Tonight was ceili night! If you're not familiar, a ceili is sort of an Irish version of barndancing or line dancing. Aside from dancing, I also played in the celili band with the instructors which I do every year.  It was a very boisterous time with lots of energy. Afterwards, I played more tunes with John, until midnight.


I had the same class schedule in the morning through the afternoon. Today was the second staff concert.

After dinner I walked with mom to the theater about 30 minutes before the show was scheduled to start.

The concert had lovely music from people such as Cathie Ryan, John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy and many more fabulous musicians. The concert was such a joy to watch and listen to.

After the concert, I again found John and played a few tunes with him, sharing tunes with different members of the session.


Thursday was one of my favorite days of Swannanoa. It was the day when all of the people on campus, and some of the townspeople, gathered for a barn dance. This dance is almost a fusion of a ceili/barn dance/ line dance. The fusion of Irish and Country Dancing is wonderful because the camp itself takes place in North Carolina, which is heavily influenced by country dancing, the camp's Irish music theme inspires the ceili dancing!

After another long and eventful day of classes and such. I went to the main dance area of the campus and waited for it to begin. I dance and play at different times during the night. I can never decide on playing or dancing, so, I do both! All of the dances are different -- I love it!

After about 2 hours, the dance finally came to an end. Although I was pretty tired, I stayed up for a long while playing tunes with some friends. If you haven't noticed already, this is usually how I end my nights.


The last day of classes! Oh no! Although I really wish it could go on forever, Swannanoa has to come to an end. On the last day of the week the classes showcase what they've learned. The Student Showcase features tunes, songs and stories. Although Donal's class wasn't performing, I still got to perform with Liz's class, as well as Brian's class, and also individually with my brother Dylan and our friend Daniel who plays an amazing banjo.

After deciding what to play with the classes, I went to a practice room with Dylan and Daniel to figure out what to play for the showcase ourselves. Then, I walked to Bryson Hall where almost all of the functions of the week had been held. As it came time for the showcase I rehearsed with Brian's class again and shortly after performed with both he and Liz's class. Both performances where so much fun, as well as my performance with Dylan and Daniel. Daniel and I played a solo and then went into a tune at the end all together with Dylan backing up the tunes.

When the showcase was over, I found my friend Rose and we played tunes all night long! A great way to end a great week. 

So long Swannanoa! Until next year . . .

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