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Noel Hill Alumni: Advice, Please

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Maybe the answer is a simple "yes," but I'd appreciate hearing from NHICS alumni on a few points before I commit. I've read the reports of 1998 and 2000 classes on Concertina.net.


Some background: I mostly play Irish traditional music. I have played English concertina and button accordion for several years, and I can hold my own in amateur sessions. I took up anglo (C/G) late last year and really love it. I've been playing in a cross-row style, learned partly from the Niall Vallely CD-ROM and partly through my own instincts. I'm pretty happy with my progress so far.


I understand that Noel teaches his own system of scales, fingering, and ornaments, and that those are probably somewhat different from what I've been doing. (Although Paul's report said that Noel emphasizes the strong fingers, and I think I do that already.)

  • Have you retained Noel's 'system'? To what extent? Have you backslid into old habits or developed another approach that suits you better?
  • How crucial has NHICS been to your development as a player of Irish trad music?
  • Would I be almost as satisified if I stayed home (saving ~$1000 in tuition and travel) and practiced a lot for a week?

Edited by Michael Reid
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I eagerly await the answers also, although I am committed to going to the Midwest school this year.


I openly admit, though that 50% of why I'm going is to do the work under Noel Hill's tutelage to become a better player.


The other 50%? A week enjoying the fellowship of other concertina players! Seriously, if the price were the same and I had the choice to study privately for a week or go to one of the schools with group classes, I'd go to the school. The Squeeze-ins are prohibitively far away for me (right now), and I'm looking forward to being with "my people" more than I can express.

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:D Michael, you've asked some good questions. I have been going to Noel's class since its second year (1996) up at Bucksteep, and I believe that the class is very beneficial. Let me take your questions one at a time.


1. I almost exclusively use Noel's system and only stray from it when some of the fingering for a specific tune is hampered by using the NH system. Even Noel recognizes this fact and has you substitute different fingering when his normal pattern doesn't suit the tune. I was only into my 14th month of anglo playing when I first attended, so my habits weren't firmly in place and no backsliding resulted. I know others who with more experience did undergo a more difficult transition -- but they still seemed to regain speed, confidence and comfort with this system by the end of the first week of class. All said, Noel teaches a good system that takes advantage of your strongest fingers and this helps one get going and achieve results fairly quickly.


2. NHICS has been crucial to the development of my understanding and appreciation of traditional Irish music. Through both the classes, his concerts, and sharing with other students, we have been exposed to tunes we might have otherwise never heard, and Noel shares history about other famous traditional musicians that adds enjoyment and understanding to the class experience. Some tunes that are very common seem to have been homogenized by the "Irish super groups" that play them, so it is quite refreshing to hear these same tunes played in a sometimes totally different setting by an master traditional Irish musician.


3. Every year I really look forward to attending the class. Not only have I made great friends, but Noel's class really recharges my music batteries. While virtually every student will struggle to greater or lessor degree with an unfamiliar tune (2 per day), and we all seem to choke more or less when having to perform the assigned tune in front of Noel and the rest of the class, still the challenge is energizing. Each year I have left more inspired and with lots of new (to me) music on tape to attempt to learn over the winter. As is true in most endeavors, you get out of something what you put into it. So, in my view, an open and willing mind will get you a great learning experience that is far more valuable than its actual cost.


After many years in the Mass./NY class, I'll be at the Midwest class this time around and will be looking forward to new music and making new acquaintances! Hope to see you there sometime.


To quote an old TV ad: "Try it, you'll like it!"

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From my point of view the answer is yes. But not a simple one. I play mostly for private enjoyment and the technical challenges of the instrument. Noel really presents a system that provides fruit for lots of study. As he said last year, stick with it and 'the penny will drop'. After 8 months it is fascinating to see how the system fits the Anglo layout.


  • Would I be almost as satisified if I stayed home (saving ~$1000 in tuition and travel) and practiced a lot for a week?


Probably not. Although nightly sessions al la 'The Ice House' and 'The Porch' are not part of the program, I savored the opportunity to sit, undisturbed, in my favorite spot twice a day for a couple hours and really learn a new tune. And my mini-disk recordings of the Wednesday evening session, the Thursday concert and the Friday request hour (all of which Noel graciously lets students record for their own use) have provided many, many additional learning opportunities.




(2003 NY NHICS; 2001 Jackie McCarthy @ Augusta)

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