Over the years, I have come in contact with folks who have traveled as tourists to Ireland; and I have known folks who have lived as expatriates or who have done an extended work assignment for several years in that emerald green land. Most folks who have ever trod that special place yearn for a chance to return to the land of the shamrock.
It has been said that those of us who reach generations back into the Appalachian hills will feel an ancestral pull should we visit Ireland. Geologists say the US eastern Appalachian Mountains share a similar look and feel with the hills and valleys of Ireland and Scotland. Anthropologists have written that the Appalachian area of the US immediately seemed like home to the Scot-Irish migrants of the 18th century. Even today in this homologized 21st. Century times, those of us in tune with the Americana string music that is rooted to the music of the Appalachians recognize its Celtic influence that reaches back to Ireland.
I mention all this as introduction to a unique experience that might be of interest to fiddle players who also have a yearning to take a trip to Ireland or vice versa. We recently received a reach-out from an Irish fiddler and instructor of traditional Irish fiddle playing who has put together a bed and breakfast package in rural Ireland that some of you dear readers just might find to your taste. This package includes two hours of intense fiddle instruction each day; afternoon treks into the Irish countryside; and nightly immersion in the local Irish music culture supplied by some of that region’s best traditional players. This experience is offered by Burren Fiddle Holidays in County Clare, Ireland; and is the brain child of Ms. Laura Ugur. (The name is derived from the nearby Burren National Park.) I contacted Ms. Ugur recently to learn things that might whet your desire for a unique adventure abroad.
Laura Ugur grew up in a small village in west Cork, Ireland. At age nine, she started fiddle lessons taught to her by multi-instrumentalist and former Boys of the Lough band member, John Coakley. This instruction fostered in her a love of traditional Irish music and knowledge of the music of the Sliabh Luachra region, which is a rural area where the counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick meet. Laura continued study of the fiddle and traditional playing through her youth. In 2008, she entered the University of Limerick where she studied Irish Music and Dance earning a BA with first-class honors in 2012. Laura now lives in county Clare, Ireland and plays traditional Irish fiddle with the best traditional musicians in the country. Here is Lara’s summation of her journey, “I have always loved music–particularly Irish trada fiddle. Since I graduated with a degree in Irish Music and Dance, I have been thinking of ways to play music full-time. I moved to beautiful county Clare because it is known as the traditional music county of Ireland. In county Clare, there are music sessions (often several) every night of the week. On weekends, there are multiple sessions even during the day.”
Laura Ugur set up Burren Fiddle Holidays in 2016 to teach traditional Irish fiddle playing to individual students and timed to match the student’s schedule. Lara says that she knew that there were summer schools and workshops at smaller festivals available around Ireland; however, the timing of these festivals did not match the schedule of everyone traveling from abroad, and the number of attendees at these schools and workshops could be quite large; so she decided to offer on-site music training and make it accessible throughout the year, with classes tailored to suit the individual student.
Ms. Ugur offers five-day sessions; two-day weekend sessions and one-day sessions each coupled with a stay in an old Irish farmhouse. Plus, if you can not make a trip to Ireland, Laura will bring the Fiddle Holiday to you via the internet through the video chat site: Skype®.
The on-site lessons consist of intense two-hour training sessions each morning; followed by afternoons free to explore the villages and countryside and hike in the Burren National Park; and capped each evening by listening to and playing with some of the best traditional players the region has to offer.
I wondered how difficult it was to get Burren Fiddle Holidays started and how she let the world know what she had in mind. Ms. Ugur replied, “It was not difficult to get started. I had all the elements: fiddle skills; love of traditional music and teaching; a place to teach; and a double room in a traditional Irish farmhouse to offer through Airbnb® as accommodations. I originally got word of my Fiddle Holiday project out there using (the internet site) Facebook®. Networking and word-of-mouth have also been very important.
One On One
It is important to note that Laura is the sole teacher. Her lesson and accommodation package is for musicians wishing to take one-on-one fiddle training (or one-on-two, if a fiddle playing couple wishes to participate). In the case there is a group request, Laura teaches those classes in the farmhouse and arranges accommodations close by. If someone expresses a desire to take classes on a different traditional instrument other than the fiddle, she will organize the accommodation and look for a teacher among her contacts.
As to the skill level a prospective student must have, it is good to note that Laura Ugur has 19 years of playing and performing experience thus she is an experienced and conscientious teacher. She teaches at all levels from beginner to advanced, on both a weekly and single-day basis. She is as comfortable teaching adults as she is children. Laura teaches students to play by ear. She encourages students to use a recording device to record tunes and maybe video record playing techniques. She encourages her students to memorize the tunes so that the student will be able to enjoy playing in a session setting. Her feeling is that fiddle playing is an oral tradition.
B& B Coming Soon
I asked Ms. Ugur how many classes she teaches and she replied, “The number of classes I put on depends on whether they take place over the week or weekend. I do some regular fiddle teaching also, so each week is different from the next. I oversee the bed and breakfast where the students stay as well as serve as the music instructor. As the bed and breakfast option involves only one double room, it is manageable to do this.”
Well, my mountain music, fiddle playing friends, are you ready to schedule that trip to Ireland that you have been putting off for so long? If so, get your passport up-dated, grab your fiddle case, and pack you duds because this is your reason to put that trip off no longer. Get started by learning more from the WEB site: www.burrenfiddleholidays.com or you can send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Edward Tutwiler