(6-29-99) -- For youngsters in Deirdre Goulding's step-dancing class, last week's Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival offered a chance to study under some of the brightest stars in the Celtic firmament.
One of their instructors, Donnie Golden, had taught Jean Butler of "Riverdance" fame, while Goulding herself had toured with an American company of the popular show.
"It's not everybody who gets to hang out with someone from 'Riverdance,'" said Kaitlin Hurst-Farrell, 10, of Groton, Conn., a pupil in the beginner's class taught by Goulding in the Gasson Hall Irish Room last week. Added classmate Laura Labert, 12, of Buffalo: "It's like meeting Barbra Streisand."
Similar praise was heard for other instructors at the Gaelic Roots festival, which drew some of the world's finest Celtic performing artists to campus June 20-26 to teach and perform.
Practicing on bodhrans, or Irish drums, under a tree on the Gasson lawn one morning last week, novices Richard Thornley of Edmonton, Alberta, and Gregg Thibodeau of Marblehead said they'd learned some of the protocol of pub seisiún drumming from master teacher Myron Bretholz.
"He's taught us how to come into a tune," said Thornley, "how to contribute and not impose."
"And not have a Guinness thrown at you," quipped Thibodeau.
Under a nearby tent, Al Ladd, of Colrain, Mass., practiced on a concertina and explained why he had come for a third straight summer to study under Tommy McCarthy, a master of the accordian-like instrument. "It's the ability to spend a week continuously listening to the playing of music," said Ladd. "The whole experience is something I couldn't come close to approximating."
Gaelic Roots, sponsored by the Irish Studies Program in conjunction with the Music Department, brought 370 students, instructors and volunteer staff from around the world to campus for a week's immersion in traditional Irish and Cape Breton music. This year's program was booked solid five weeks before the May 31 registration deadline, according to Irish Studies Music Program Director Seamus Connolly, while capacity crowds of more than 600 people attended each of two concerts at Robsham Theater on June 24 and 26.
The personal quality of instruction has been a key factor in the popularity of the summer festival in its third year as a week-long event, said organizer Connolly.
"The main thing that stands out, from the comments I'm hearing, is that all the teachers are great teachers," he said. "They mix with the students, taking them out on the lawn and working privately with them."
Instructors this year included step-dancer Michael Smith; accordionists Joe Derrane and Martin Connolly; fiddlers Liz Carroll, Brian Conway and Laurel Martin; tin-whistle players Mary Bergin and Tony Cuffe; bagpiper Iain MacDonald; whistle player and Chieftains founder Sean Potts and his son, Uilleann piper Sean Óg Potts; and balladeer Frank Harte.
Celtic sounds could be heard all over campus last week, from Irish fiddle music emating from under a tent near Gasson Hall to the skirl of bagpipes echoing through the six-level Commonwealth Avenue parking garage. In the Gasson Hall Irish Room, dancers in hard-soled shoes twirled like corkscrews to exhortations of "Step! And step!"
"I am blown away by it. It is so impressive," said staff volunteer Hugh O'Connor of New South Wales, Australia. O'Connor explained he had come to bank ideas for a similar university festival he hopes to mount back home. "If I can come halfway to the standard here, I'll be pleased with myself," he said.
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