A Little Donegal in Vermont

by Katrina VanTyne

oisin mcauleyLast summer I was lucky enough to go to this fiddle school in Glencolmcille County Donegal, Ireland (feel free to check out the posts from my trip to Ireland). The style of Donegal music is very similar to the Cape Breton style of music which is probably why I love it so much. It’s fast, gritty and makes me just want to get up and dance. A Donegal player’s repertoire consists of more than just jigs and reels and an occasional hornpipe, they play all sorts of different types like polkas, mazurkas, highlands, barn dances, waltzes and more.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many true Donegal players in this area. Occasionally though, we are lucky to have some great players pass through town and share their knowledge. This coming weekend is one of those times.

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Music and Dancing, Like Peas and Carrots

Learning music isn’t just about learning the tunes. Anyone can memorize notes. But when it comes to traditional Donegal music, knowing the dances can help tell the story of the tunes, making it easier to feel the music and help it sink in.

At the Donegal Fiddle School I attended in Glencomcille, learning the dances was an important part of learning the music. For a half day on Thursday, we had no fiddle classes. Instead we had dancing lessons in preparation for the Ceilidh dance that night.

In Donegal music, most of the dances are couple dances because they were done in kitchens where there wasn’t much room. Here are a few examples of the dances we learned:

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Fiddle School in Ireland

Glencolmcille

Really is there any better place to learn Irish music than in Ireland? I think not. I’m currently in Glencolmcille, Ireland at the Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí fiddle school, studying the Donegal tradition of fiddle music. I’ve been to some beautiful places but this is by far the best place to spend a week learning fiddle tunes.

I’m surrounded by beautiful mountains, the bright blue sea and a bazillion goats and sheep who seem to have no problem making their way up and down the mountains feeding on grass and singing their native song called “Baaaah, Baaaah, Black Sheep.”

It’s Tuesday and in my class alone I think we learned over 7 tunes so far. And by “learned” I mean I recorded them for later. My brain can only fit so many tunes at a time.

My little house is conveniently situated right next to this lovely cafe and not far from where my classes are. Turns out there is a concert there tonight as well and some of the musicians will be staying in my house. I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting any sleep tonight or possibly for the rest of the week.

The fiddle school is organized well. The first day consisted of registering and auditioning so they can place each student in the right class according to their level of ability. I am not sure their method on how they decide who goes where but with me they were dead on. Though I think i know the tunes I know well, it does take me a while to learn a tune.

The teacher I got, his name is Mick, is a great teacher (and fiddle player). When he teaches he takes a small part of the tune and plays it over and over until everyone learns it. Luckily there are only 7 people in the class so we get lots of attention.  I seem to be the slowest learner. I like to think that I’m just saving the tunes for later. Some seem to come easier than others to me. Mazurkas and Highlands are a bit tough because we don’t play many around where I live. I hope I can fine tune the ones I learned so I can bring them home and do them justice.

Because we are in such a remote area I don’t have a lot of access to wifi so I’ll try to write more when I can. In the meantime here are some photos for your enjoyment: Continue reading