FolkWorld article by Sean Laffey:

Continental Celts, Part VI

More than one Donegal German
The Frankie Kennedy Winter School

The Winter School was set up to commemorate flute player, teacher and member of Altan Frankie Kennedy who died in September 1994. Three days of the almost week long celebrations are given over to instruction on a range of instruments, melodic, harmonic and percussive, with special afternoon concerts each day in the Ostan Gweedore in Bun Beag and night time gigs at Dunlewey's Ionad Cois Locha (the Lakeside Centre). All held seamlessly together by Gearoid Mooney, his mobile phone and a big team of willing helpers. I attended the first three and a half days of the school from Friday 28 December to Monday 31, neatly avoiding the huge influx of box players on New Year's Eve and a hangover on New Year's Day!

Winter school it was and school habits die hard, so off I went with my copybook, topper, packed lunch and a Foley bouzouki, junior infants weren't in residence, instead I joined the DADGAD Guitar class (run by the amiable Aidan Brennan, from the Susan McKeown band). Luckily I was not the only zookist winging it as Dirk Spitta from the band Red Herring (who are based in Kiel, Germany) was there too, playing a simply magnificent Pendennis instrument ( - check them out sounds like a Sobel, feels like a Fyled and costs about €1200). We were given six-stringed chord charts and Dirk and I countered by making up suitable four stringed inversions, (thinking stuff this traditional music). Elsewhere we could here the distant sounds of tunes were being worked through and goatskins being lambasted.

Hake Steinberg, photo by Sean LaffeyAfter about two hours of fret work, I took myself off in search of tune enlightenment. What struck me was the variety of the teaching styles on offer, it seems every tutor and each instrument has its own almost arcane pedagogy. Conor Byrne, taking the whistle class had photocopied large hand written scripts of ABC notation for the Peeler's Jacket and his prodigies were getting along famously with the intricacies of the piece. Paul O'Shaughnessy was giving a fiddle lesson to a group of around 15, he had the notes all written out in standard notation. In one of the lower rooms Séamus Kane was giving bodhrán lessons, backed by a fiddler and a good supply of CDs to batter along to. The trend it seems in bodhrán building is to go for deeper rims, narrower diameters and small tippers. Seamus makes his from old fiddle bows "After 200 years of perfecting them, they know all there is to know about a two finger grip." He told me. Tippers are getting separated too; Rolf Wagels from the band DeReelium (the whole band were playing sessions in the Ostan every night) has a bundle of sticks held together with a rubber band, this combination adds a snare effect. Seamus has tippers with slots in the ends to encourage pupils "to play on the rims" (he gets a great sound by baking the cipins in a microwave). Anne Grealy who now lives in Germany was playing her luminous green bodhrán with a hairbrush!

Master Tuition by Marcus O'MurchuJust off the main souvenir area, Marcus O'Murchu (one of the three flute tutors, Harry Bradley and Cathal McConnell were the other two) was giving a master class in flute technique. TG4 dropped in to film him, a quite and very positive teacher he brings out the best in each pupil, a hand is placed just in front of the embouchure to check the wind path, he tells them to roll the flute slightly from one octave to the other to maintain a pure tone, "don't be afraid of the upper octave" he suggests to Charlie Whitaker from Newcastle (England). He introduces me to all the members of his class, it's a caring touch, and it tells us the students matter as much as the music. The students were Sheila Friel from Glasgow (her grandmother was from Rannafest), Charlie Whittaker (Newcastle on Tyne) Raphael Meehan (Letterbarrow, Donegal), Hauke Steinberg (Kiel now living in Dublin), Emma Murphy (Dublin) Joe O' Grianna (Rannafest) and Nadia Blanchfield from Vancouver Canada.

The weekend continued with more classes more sessions, more Germans, including the very affable and extremely tall Harald Jüngst of the band Sheevon and Rudi Hinrichs who is actively promoting Donegal in Germany through his web site, Afternoon recitals included wonderful fiddling with Francis and Mairead Mooney (this is Altan country after all) and a special appearance of Peter Ostroushko from the US. I even had a chance to catch Paul Brady, Paddy Glackin and Donal Lunny doing a cut down version of the Liberty Bells in the Lakeside Centre.

School you know is the best years of your life, would I go back to again, would I recommend it to you, what do you think!!!

Photo Credit: All photos by Sean Laffey
(1) Frankie Kennedy Winter School (2) Hauke Steinberg, (3) Master tuition by Marcus O'Murchu

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