Upcoming Classes Celebrate Irish Music & Dance

Irish Set Dancing in Open House near the Folk School Vegetable Garden

Do you love the sounds of Irish music? Do you dream of playing a reel or dancing a jig? We have some great upcoming classes to immerse you in the spirit of Ireland! Gain confidence to join in the fun of traditional Irish music and dance in your community and abroad.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day is the wildly fun weekend class, Irish Set Dancing. If you are familiar with American square dancing, Irish set dancing is like the Celtic cousin waving from across the Atlantic. Both Irish set dancing and square dancing are descendants of quadrilles, so they are a little similar. Jim Morrison is an excellent teacher who will break down the moves and figures patiently and clearly. The music is jumpin’ and lively and will keep you in the St. Patty’s spirit for the rest of March.

Anglo concertina (left), bodhrán (right)

Two upcoming music classes,  Get a Good Start on Concertina! and Bodhrán: Intro to Irish Drumming will introduce you to an Irish instrument, even if you are a complete beginner. Like an accordion, a concertina is a bellow-driven, free reed instrument. The Anglo concertina (which is shaped like a hexagonal box with buttons) is the specific instrument Aaron Olwell will be teaching in his class. Students will learn to play melodies and chords and to learn tunes by ear. A bodhrán (pronounced bow-rawn) is a handheld drum beaten with a tipper, a short wooden stick. The bodhrán is always played vertically, resting on the musician’s knee. Instructor Andrew Kruspe will focus on instrument background and practical application, giving student a good balance of historical and cultural, along with lots of playing time. Both classes cover fundamentals, Irish rhythms, and will give you the confidence to join in a beginning Irish music session in your town.

Fiddling in the Music Studio

Already play the fiddle and looking to expand your repertoire to include Irish tunes and rhythms? Tom Morley’s intermediate weekend class, Irish Fiddle: Intro to Fun Irish Trad Tunes, will provide the tools, skills, and tip to play Irish-style music. We also have a Folk Harp Gathering week-long class led by Lorinda Jones & Sue Richards geared toward continuing and intermediate harpists who want to gather, share, play and learn together. This class is during Scottish Heritage Week, but this beautiful, fairytale-like sounding instrument has its roots in ancient Celtic culture, trickling down to both Scottish and Irish cultures.

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Let’s Dance

Dance gets your body moving and your brain thinking. This timeless form of movement also connects us with others, and awakens our sense of playfulness. Come learn to clog Appalachian-style, delve into contra dance, and try your hand at calling a dance – plus much more. Explore this year’s lineup of dance events. We’ll see you on the dance floor!

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Kick Your Heels Up for Clogging

Folk School Cloggers perform on the Fall Festival Barn Stage
Folk School Cloggers perform on the Fall Festival Barn Stage

With the arrival of 2015, exercise, learning, and self-improvement are on all our minds right now. A clogging class at the Folk School is a great way to learn something new, all while getting your heart rate up at the same time. Clogging is unique because you move to the rhythm and also interpret the music to create percussion with your feet… we like to call clogging “old-time aerobics” up here in the mountains.

Come learn more about these traditional percussive dance styles in three exciting weekend clogging classes scheduled in 2015:

Emolyn clogs on the Fall Festival Stage with Jamie Laval
Emolyn on the Fall Festival Stage with Jamie Laval

Appalachian Clogging
Emolyn Liden
(February 27-March 1)

Start a joyful hobby that is great exercise, too. Join Emolyn, who has been dancing her entire life, to learn a variety of percussive steps and short group routines to wonderful, live fiddle music. You’ll soon be dancing to your heart’s content! The only requirement is a basic level of fitness to stand and be active for a couple of hours at a time.

Emolyn is a Brasstown native. Exposed constantly to traditional music and dance, she started clogging and contra dancing at a very young age and has not stopped pursuing her love of different forms of dance. She has danced with the Cane Creek Cloggers of Chapel Hill, the Green Grass Cloggers of Asheville, with fiddler Jamie Laval, and with Cape Breton step-dancing team, The Twisty Cuffs. Enjoy her blog at www.emolynknits.blogspot.com.

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If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out with Aubrey Atwater

Atwater_BIOUsing clogging, music and storytelling to charm Folk School audiences since 1996, Aubrey exudes a talent, grace, and humor unique to only the most tenured and talented of performers. Aubrey returns to the Folk School this September to teach two dynamite classes: Singing with Clawhammer Banjo (Sept. 8-13) and Clogging (Sept. 13-15 – Weekend). She is also scheduled to perform in special Thursday night concert, Sept. 12, 7 p.m. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to learn to play, laugh, sing, and dance with Aubrey this fall!

I recently checked in with Aubrey to talk to her about her upcoming classes, the Folk School, tunes, heroes, dance moves, folk music, the Phoebe, and more! Here’s what we talked about:

CP: You teach quite regularly at the Folk School. How did you find the Folk School? When did you teach your first class?
AA: I got the idea to apply to the folk school in the mid-90s when I saw that one of my dulcimer player mentors, Lorraine Hammond, from Boston, was working there. I got in touch, sent materials, and was invited to teach my first class in 1996. I thought I had died and gone to heaven-what a unique, beautiful, nurturing, and exciting place! Teaching a 30+ hour dulcimer class felt daunting back then for my younger self. I was nearly quivering on the plane as I travelled to the Folk School. I have learned a lot over the years teaching at the Folk School. The luxury of time in the week-long class has been a great opportunity to refine and expand my teaching.

CP: Do you think anyone can learn to sing? Do you have to know how sing well to take your classes?
AA: YES to first question – I think anyone can learn to sing. Absolutely NO to second question – you do not need to know how to sing well to take my classes. This question reminds me of college when I took a few drawing classes at the Rhode Island School of Design. I realized that maybe I didn’t have a deeply inherent gift, but I learned the skill quite well. Some people can easily SING and it is beautiful, like when they are three years old. Some people don’t have the gift quite as well, but I have never ever denied someone who wanted to sing or learn to control the pitch of their voice better. I think of two students in particular over the years who considered themselves “tone deaf” and we worked together, trained, and over time, I heard each of them sing on pitch. There were tears. It was quite a moment, very moving!

Aubrey charms audiences of all ages!
Aubrey charms audiences of all ages!

CP: What came first for you, playing music or dancing? How did you learn clawhammer banjo? How did you learn to clog?
AA: I started playing piano by ear at about 5 years old, then my parents started me on piano lessons. I quit at 13 and then picked up the guitar at age 15. I had a defining moment that summer in 1979. I figured out how to play two simple chords to a Beatles song and then I sang along and voila! I could play a song and then I was off and running and have never looked back. It was a major turning point in my life.

From there I learned to play the tin whistle, mountain dulcimer and in my late 20’s, I went to Eastern Kentucky and started to learn clawhammer banjo and to dance. My friend Cari Norris taught me. She is the granddaughter of the legendary Lily May Ledford, leader of the first all-female string band, The Coon Creek Girls, in the early radio days, so I got to learn from a wonderful lineage of women. When I wasn’t with Cari in Kentucky, I’d commission her to send instructional recordings (cassettes!), and she walked me through tunes by ear that way. That same time frame, I learned a few clogging steps (aka Flatfooting) and then over time, I learned traditional freestyle clogging by imitating and collecting steps from percussive dancers I would meet on the road. It was a wondrous and quite traditional way to learn. More than ten years later, somewhere in my 40’s, I said to my husband Elwood, with some surprise, “I’m a dancer!” I had never taken dance as a child.

CP: Do you have a favorite tune right now?
AA: Yes, always. It is often whatever song I am learning at the moment. I am always having some kind of a love affair with a song. Two right now are: “The Jamestown Homeward Bound,” a 19th century seafaring song and “Mornin’s Come, Mariah’s Gone,” a Jean Ritchie song. Another song I have sung to myself all year is the beautiful hymn “Resignation” written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.

Pete Seeger is famous for saying a song can change the world and I believe that songs help heal our broken hearts. My father died last year and we lost a bunch of other old friends and family members nearly all at once. That one quiet and beautiful song has rescued me over and over again in the last year.

CP: As a musician who has performed multiple times at the Folk School, do you have a tune you always include in your set? How many times have you performed at the Folk School?
AA: I have performed at the Folk School about every year since 1996. It is one of my absolute utter favorite places in the world to play, teach and visit. When I am on that stage and looking at that roomful of smiling, warm, and, now, many familiar faces, I am in one of my happiest places. I often, but not always, play “The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife” at the end of my shows. It’s a silly, centuries-old song about the devil who comes up from Hell to talk to a dimwitted farmer about taking one of his family members back with him. The farmer says, “Don’t take my son, I need him on the farm. But you can have my wife.”  Then we see how things turn out for the DEVIL. It’s a very funny song, still, to this day!  Someone captured in on video last time I was there:

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New Music and Dance Coordinator Spotted at Peachtree Elementary

Peachtree Career Day

Martha Owen and David Liden were invited once again to visit Peachtree Elementary for their annual career day. They decided to invite their daughter Annie Fain Liden-Barralon to come with them because she does, in fact, have a career involving music and dance! “What a hoot,” said David, “she really does have a career in this kind of thing.” David and Martha are accustomed to singing for their supper (or in the case of Peachtree Elementary for a bag of goodies including peanut butter crackers and an apple.) Martha asked the kids, who ranged in age from 4-9 years old, do you know what an occupation is? How about an a vocation? Some kids knew that a career was a job you got paid for but no one had heard of an a vocation before…”Something you do all the time, if you can, because it is lots of fun, but maybe you don’t ever get paid to do it. Who likes to have fun?” Well, everyone of course. After Martha told a story and David played Fooba Wooba John accompanied by his jaw harp, Annie Fain had the kids up and dancing with their favorite clogging steps.


The trio was joined by Annie Fain’s son Jules Owen Luc Barralon who enjoyed the first song the most, “I had a little rooster by the barnyard gate…” from his seat in his carrier on Annie Fain’s back. Jules is now 1 year old and likes animal sounds very much. Annie Fain has stepped into the big-dance-shoes-to-fill of Bob Dalsemer, who carefully created and promoted the dance and music program at the J. C. Campbell Folk School for over 20 years. You can now find Annie Fain and her husband (a fellow musician) Géraud at the school hosting the Tuesday night dance contra and square dances from 7-8pm (free), Friday night concerts (free) and twice monthly Saturday night dances 8-11pm, $7. (We need to help and pay the band and callers! Some people try to make music their career after all. )

See www.folkschool.org for more information about the year-round dances, the Friday night concert series and the wonderful craft class program.

Martha Owen and David Liden
Martha Owen and David Liden