Gaelic Roots is one of the best organized, most authentic sources of instruction in Irish music and dance available to folks in the continental United States.
by Eric Armstrong
Gaelic Roots has to be one of the best organized, most authentic sources of instruction in Irish music and dance available to folks in the continental United States. It caters to absolute beginners, to advanced performers, and to all levels in between. Even if you have never picked up an instrument before, you'll find competent, friendly instruction at the camp, and gain valuable exposure to some the best artists in the world, because the camp is staffed by some of the most competent and professional musicians and dancers on earth.
The camp is held at Boston College, about 10 miles outside of Boston proper, and is organized by Séamus Connolly. Students stay at the BC dorms, and have access to BC's wonderul dining facility, as well as the pool and athletic facilities.
The camp covers Irish music, step dancing, ceili dancing, and set dancing. (There is word that next year's camp will cover the traditional Seanos ("shen-ohse") dancing, as well. Keep your fingers crossed.) The instructors are all from Ireland, or else are so steeped in the tradition as to be indistinguishable from those that are.
The camp tends to use Irish teaching methods, so there is a strong emphasis on repetition and learning by ear. The success that method was evidendenced at the student recital, when the beginning tin whistle class gave a remarkably good rendition of not one, but several tunes -- to thundering applause!
The classes were arranged so that there was one 2 hour class in the morning, and another in the afternoon. Each class follows its own thread, so you can either focus on your speciality or pursue multiple interests. After the morning and afternoon classes, a set of one-hour activities were offered. So you might chose to participate in a a slow or fast music sessions, a lecture, a singing class, Irish language instruction, or a set dancing class, before going off to eat lunch or dinner. (Most of these activities were "self-contained", but some of them spanned a couple of days.)
In what was perhaps the most brilliant move of the festival, and one I have never seen at any other camp, the middle day (Wednesday) was effectively "a day off". Having that day off allowed those who had the energy to practice what they had learned and put it into long term memory. And it gave those who didn't have the energy a much-needed day of rest. Positively brilliant.
Most evenings saw a concert, followed by a dance. The dances included both ceili dances and set dances -- most of which had been taught during the week.
The concerts tended to follow a fairly recognizable format. It would start with a collection of supremely talented musicians sit on stage. They start to play a set of tunes. Out come some dancers, who put on an incredible show. One such couple was Sharon O'Brien from Lord of the Dance, and Michael Ryan, and they were exquisite. Then, one musician after the other performs a totally awesome solo. One of the best: Matt Cranich playing a haunting slow air that will be on his next CD. At the end of the concert, the musicians would all join in on a final set, and the dancers would return to wow the crowd. To call sucn an events "magical" would hardly describe it! It was deliriously enchanting.
One of the more memorable performances was put on by Maureen Cullhane's dancers. Having just attended to the All-Ireland competitions last year, I can attest that this Boston-based troupe is indeed championship caliber. They were exquiste in their precision, and flawless in their execution as they floated through their peformance.
In what may have been a further moment of brilliance on the part of the organizers (or perhaps was extreme coincidence) I noticed that my roomate in the dorm was predominately a dancer, who was dabbling with the music (as am I). Meanwhile, the two next door were fiddle players. Coincidence or brilliance? You be the judge. But it was one heck of an awesome camp!
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