Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week
By Ken Coles, Logansport, Indiana U.S.A.
I attended the Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week at Warren Wilson College
in North Carolina in July 2000. I was especially interested in studying
anglo concertina with Father Charlie Coen. The format at Swannanoa,
however, allows you to take several classes of 75 minutes each day, so I
also took a class where we learned songs in Scottish Gaelic (not easy!)
and one where Father Coen described life in Ireland during his youth.
There were lots of potluck lectures, concerts and jams as well. That
being said, however, the pace was more laid back than at Augusta, where
the events run about 21 hours a day and you may have four or five choices
in the evening. (I was able to make this comparison, as I went directly
from one to the other this year, though I was not at Augusta, at Davis
and Elkins College in West Virginia, for concertina.) Swannanoa is set
up entirely for the single music/dance/song group of less than 200, while
Augusta is at least twice as big, including lots of craft classes in
addition to one or two theme weeks, all at the same time. Wild all-night
jams seem to be the norm at Augusta, while at Swannanoa, if there
was any music at all at 2 A.M. it was a small group and not noisy.
How do they compare? I've gotten a lot out of my time at both programs
and hope to attend them again. You, however, might be more suited to one
or the other depending on your social habits and hours. The classes
offered also vary, and every teacher has their own style that may or may
not match yours. In recent years classes in anglo concertina have been
I'm sure these two programs are tired of being compared to each other,
and both are doing good work and should keep doing it their own way (in
my opinion) so here instead is a tongue-in-cheek comparison.
Scenery: Both are spectacular; very slight edge to Swannanoa, which is
practically on top of the Blue Ridge, the geologic heart of the
Dorms: One thing about Swannanoa I wasn't expecting: the dorm and the
classrooms were air conditioned! Very cushy! Other music weeks
I have been to were not. If you go to Swannanoa, take a mattress pad for
the sticky plastic mattresses they have there. Augusta can get hot so
take a fan, though it can also be cool weather. The kind of roommate you
get (if you don't bring one) is a crapshoot, but you don't spend much
time in your room anyway.
Food: For both, if you stay on campus (simple, cheap, but communal), you
get a choice of food in the cafeteria. I liked it fine, but then, I eat
almost anything. Vegetarians seemed pretty well covered, but if you have
something like a milk allergy the remaining choices in the cafeteria diet
can be monotonous.
Campus: It's cooler in the hills in the summer, but it is also quite
hilly [editorial note from Paul: wow, thanks for that insight Ken]. If you get a third-floor room at either program, you'll be in
Olympic shape by the end of the week. For some reason I get lost more
easily at Swannanoa, even though the campus is smaller.
Staff: Great in both cases. Some are famous musicians you will enjoy
getting to know, but others are unknowns chosen because they are good
teachers. Both programs do an outstanding job of supporting beginners,
folks with stage fright, etc. Augusta has had more years to perfect
things like scheduling time in student showcases, while at Swannanoa it
was a bit more catch-as-catch-can.
In sum, if you lack for a teacher or playing opportunities, a week at one
of these programs can be a great boost. It's more distracting and less
focused than something like Noel Hill school, but it's also very social