April 8, 2015

The Swannanoa Gathering - Guest blog!

I can't possibly get to every harp event and there are a few that are on my, "one of these days, I'm going to get to ....." list.  Swannanoa Gathering is one of those events so I asked Mike Connors to tell you about it -

The Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week July 12-18, at Warren Wilson College nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville NC is an unsurpassed week long immersion with some of the world’s finest Celtic musicians. It is always the week after the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, also in NC.  I attend annually to study Irish harp with Grainne Hambly and Scottish harp with Billy Jackson. In addition to beginning and advanced harp classes, there are courses in fiddle, singing, dance, bodhran, flute, mandolin, guitar, accordion, whistle, uillean pipes, banjo, bouzouki, banjo, and concertina.  Students can register for up to four classes which meet every day, although I usually just take two so that I can have time to practice and learn to actually play some of the stuff while I am still there. Over the years in addition to harp classes I’ve had the chance to take a bodhran class, beginning pennywhistle with Billy Jackson, DADGAD guitar with Eamon O’Leary, bouzouki with Robin Bullock, and session guitar with Donal Clancy. Ed Miller teaches Scottish singing classes, and the biggest stars in Celtic instrumental and vocal music are there annually.  With the likes of Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, and John Whelan and too many other greats to list here (see the roster for yourself https://www.swangathering.com/catalog/cl/celtic-week.html) the faculty concerts, extra “potluck” afternoon seminars, after supper slow sessions led by the staff, and late night sessions create such an incredible experience that you will not experience much sleep-there is just too much music.

Afternoon slow session with Billy Jackson, Robin Bullock, and Brian McNeil
In addition to the quality instruction, the campus is beautiful, the food is outstanding, and the musical friendships that are created and renewed every year truly make this a gathering.  The sessions last late into the night. Imagine a hillside dotted with open air tents and dozens of music sessions happening at once-complete with a beer truck supplying local microbrews, wines, and a grill cook serving up food and snacks. There are fast sessions, slow sessions, big sessions, Scottish sessions, Irish sessions, Breton sessions, small sessions, alpha sessions, and song sessions. The faculty gets out and plays, with each other and with the students. I have witnessed Battlefield Band reunions, gotten to sit in a slow session and play the Kesh Jig set with members of the Bothy Band, and played music, shared tunes, and made lifelong friendships with people that share the love for this music.

The only thing that could keep me away from the Swannanoa Gathering would be a trip to Ireland and Scotland-which is where I will be during this year’s gathering, although I’m going to be back in time to visit Friday night and reconnect with friends and jam into the night. How ‘bout a tune?

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