THIS IS THE 2020 CATALOG :: 2021 WILL BE POSTED IN MARCH. Traditional Song Week Classes – July 5-11, 2020

(Unless otherwise indicated, all classes have a limit of 15)

Western North Carolina has a long history of shape-note singing. From the haunting melodies of William Walker’s Christian Harmony to the complex, moving parts of Stamps-Baxter Conventional Hymn Books, this class will be an exploration of the evolution of shape-note. You will be able to hear the differences through group singing. We will discuss a variety of singing styles that are most effective for each hymn and above all, have fun! Gospel harmony has always been an important part of traditional singing and you’ll get the chance to hear where Josh, along with many others, got their start in music. We will begin by learning the shapes, so no prior experience is required. Get ready to have lots of fun hearing some amazing harmony and experiencing it with a full group in four parts. (No class limit)

MUSIC THEORY (Josh Goforth)
Ever hear a song and wonder why it’s so pleasing to your ear? Have you always wanted to be able to sing in harmony without approaching it like a math problem? Have you tried to learn theory before and just didn’t find it interesting in the least or just way too difficult? Perhaps you are thinking, “Why do I need music theory as a traditional singer, shouldn’t it just come naturally?” Well, this class is for you! We will explore the advantages of visual and aural learning in traditional music. No experience or formal music training necessary! This is a good way to get pleasantly thrown into the deep end of music theory and ear training basics.

This class will be all about the singing and the song. This will be an opportunity for you to learn what you need to know to unleash the power of song in your community. Matt will share his experience as a song leader and community performer by teaching and leading a wide variety of songs in a wide variety of styles. Participants will be encouraged to bring in songs and try out their song-leading talents on the class. You will sing everyday and leave on Friday inspired to take what you’ve learned back into your community. (No class limit)

Bringing traditional songs alive is all about choices. In this interactive class, Matt Watroba will show you the choices great singers make to get the most out of a song. Participants will then be encouraged to apply what they’ve learned to the songs they choose to sing. This workshop promises to be a safe, friendly place where beginners and professionals alike will benefit from the wisdom of the instructor and the group. Phrasing, style and performance techniques are just a few of the areas this class will explore on the way to wowing any audience with the power of traditional music. (Class limit: 12

Our focus will be on proper breathing and body alignment, and overcoming tongue and neck tension which is paramount for free and easy singing. Bring music you’d like to work on.

We’ll be spending the week helping each other be better musical storytellers. With very simple interpretation tools and text exploration we can feel more confident in what we are communicating, and with calm acceptance of our fears and mistakes we can become genuine performers! Please bring pieces you’re passionate about to work on. (Class limit: 12)

Songs that build community and inspire action and courage have been the backbone of movements for freedom and justice here in the U.S. and around the world. From the spirituals and shouts of the Underground Railroad to the freedom songs of the Modern Civil Rights Movement, this legacy of giving voice, conveying information, inviting collaboration, and encouraging personal transformation remains one of the most effective vehicles for inspiring awareness, action and change. This class, with Reggie Harris leading the way, will explore the depth of this tradition from its roots in the African-American slave experience to its relationship with the issues of our present day. (Class limit: 20)

In the tradition of Jean Ritchie, Pete Seeger, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Woody Guthrie and others who have used traditional song frames to express personal and global concerns, this course will provide participants with a framework for writing from the old to the new. We will spend each day examining some aspect of traditional song and applying it to modern day situations, both personal and global. We will use what we know from the collective power of song to reflect on and address the events of our communities and our lives. Open to writers and non-writers alike, come prepared to discover new insights of creativity and connection. (Class limit: 20)

CHILD BALLADS (Cathy Jordan)
In this class we will take a look at the wonderful collection of songs known as the Child Ballads. In the late 19th century, Francis James Child put together this collection of 305 ballads from England and Scotland, as well as some of their American versions. These ballads are generally darker and spookier in content than other ballads, dealing with subjects such as obsession, jealousy, forbidden love, insanity, hallucination, supernatural deeds, lust, death, historical events, fate, deception, treachery, revenge, violence, omens… oh, and romance. Songs like “Barbara Allen”, “The Elfin Knight”, “Lord Randall” and “The Cruel Mother” are all part of this collection, with some songs dating as far back as 1600. Intrigued? Well join me in this class for a macabre journey of discovery into the world of the the Child Ballads.

In this class we will take a look at the mechanics of the voice, how it all works, and how we can use it to its fullest when we sing. We will explore, sound, resonance, pitch, volume, tone, breath control and expression through a series of vocal excercises, scales, games, fun and, of course, lots of singing. Bring along a song you would like to sing or improve on.

The Carter family is one the most influential groups in music history. In this class we’ll learn the melodies of songs that have become standards in folk, old-time, country and bluegrass, and will learn a few that you may not have heard. We’ll also look at the unique way that Maybelle and A.P. Carter treated harmony and will learn their parts.

Harmonies in bluegrass are rooted in the gospel music that Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and others grew up with. Bluegrass sounds earthy, with a touch of old-time, but the harmonies are very tight with very little unison or notes that are not in perfect harmony. We’ll look at how harmonies are created in bluegrass and how great bluegrass harmony singers use simple chord extensions to create interest. Some basic theory offered, but we will spend most of our time finding harmony parts and singing standard bluegrass classics.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Calling all guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, ukuleles, dulcimers, whistles, drums etc. etc. to join together with voices to create beautiful arrangements of songs from diverse traditional song genres such as old-time country, Celtic, bluegrass, and gospel. We will take a song, learn to sing it, maybe put on some harmony, and then experiment with various possibilities of instrumental accompaniment. Note – this is not a class to learn how to play your individual instrument, but how to play and arrange your instrument and voice with others in a band setting.

SONGS IN IRISH (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
This will be a fun class for everyone. So many Irish songs don’t have a chorus but in this class we’ll be focusing on the ones that do. It’s always lovely to be able to join in the chorus of any song and with these songs you’ll be able to do just that. These songs are great for for sing-along nights, parties, get-togethers and singing sessions. All topics will be covered from love songs to battle hymns. Before each class we’ll have nice easy warm-ups and we’ll learn how best to look after your voice and keep it in good health while you sing your heart out. (No class limit)

BALLADS IN ENGLISH (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
We’ll journey to far-off lands in this class and learn of the many adventures of our Sailormen while they trawled the high seas, perhaps fishing, trading or heading into battle. And where there are Sailormen, the Servant Maid is never far away, getting them into or out of trouble. We’ll throw in a few sea shanties also which are great for harmony singing. Haul away! Warm-ups and cool-downs also included.

DUET HARMONY SINGING (Mark Weems & Julee Glaub Weems)
Learn some of the specific techniques and nuances of duet singing. We will work at choosing keys, finding parts, exploring different types of harmony, building harmony mathematically, blending voices, feeling and phrasing, learning to sing with different partners and developing listening skills. We will learn how to adapt harmonies to different songs and various genres such as Appalachian, Irish, gospel, and country. The initial classes will focus on singing with instruments, to hear the chord structures of the harmonies, consider how they affect the overall harmonic sound, and discuss the creation of tasteful arrangements. As the week progresses, we will work towards freedom from chordal structure in order to encourage experimentation with more diverse kinds of harmony. It is not necessary to read music, as we will be learning by ear. Bring a partner or find one in the class! Note: students should come to this class with some experience in singing melody. (Class limit: 14)

I grew up in a small community in western North Carolina where unaccompanied singing was as natural as breathing. My older relatives, Dellie Chandler Norton, Berzilla Wallin, Cas Wallin, Inez Chandler, Dillard Chandler and Evelyn Ramsey called the songs they sang ‘love songs’ even though they often ended in tragedy – Barbary Allen, Little Margaret, Young Hunting and Black is the Color, to name a few. I’ll provide the words to many songs the way I learned them and we’ll work on the ornamentation – the way my family members bent and held notes and this little ‘sigh’ they put on the last word at the end of certain lines. I would like to offer you the words, tunes, conversation and some of the ‘flavor’ of learning these ballads in much the same way I learned. Bring your recorder and a notepad. If you got questions you can visit my website at and send me a message – I would love to hear from you.

These are the songs I grew up singing in the many different Baptist churches in Sodom, North Carolina. You’ll recognize many of them – “I’ll Fly Away”, “Build Me a Cabin”, “Where the Soul Never Dies”, “Farther Along” and “Palms of Victory” are but a few. This class will ROCK! You can sing melody or find a harmony. I’ll provide the words and music but we’ll sing them without accompaniment. That’s how I learned them because we couldn’t afford a piano. Come to this class ready to sing and sing some more! I love teaching this class! If you need to get in touch with me please visit my website at and send me an email. (No class limit)

We’ll learn western songs from folk songs to singing cowboy movie-era songs. A song will be learned each day; instruments are welcome but not necessary. (No class limit)

This course will be for relatively advanced guitar players who want to enhance their use the instrument as an accompanying “voice” to the songs they are singing. This will include the use of bass runs, playing harmonies to sung melodies, and creating moods or feelings on the guitar that reflect the songs being sung. Participants will be asked to prepare a song of their choosing for us to reflect on, and I will provide my own set of songs and accompaniments as the week proceeds.

Join me for a journey through some of the song traditions of Scotland, old and new. We will warm-up with easy-to-learn verses then sing our way through some old ballads, songs from working communities, Burns songs and recent compositions. We will explore the work of song collectors and discover what connects songs on both sides of the Atlantic. Lyric sheets are provided but we will learn by ear and sing together unaccompanied. (No class limit and plenty of new material for 2020)

THE WOMEN GATHER (Kathy Bullock)
2020 marks the 100th Anniversary of women achieving the right to vote in the U.S. In commemoration, this class will sing songs and learn stories from the women’s suffrage movement, and songs about women’s ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, both here in the U.S and in other parts of the world. Join us as we listen to, celebrate and sing about these powerful and inspiring journeys, as we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, and sing with gratitude and hope about the past, present and future. (No class limit)

GOSPEL CHOIR (Kathy Bullock)
Come Share the Joy! Join us as we sing gospel and spirituals in the African American tradition. From nineteenth century folk spirituals through twentieth and twenty-first century traditional and contemporary gospel songs, we will celebrate music of the African American sacred tradition. This experience is a joyful, inspiring, celebration of life, spirit and community. (No class limit)

The class takes its name from the iconic collection by Carl Sandburg, first published in the 1920s. It will feature songs from that collection, and also play-party songs, ballads, new songs that sound like they are from the tradition, and folk songs, both famous and ones that ought to be. To quote Sandburg, “The American Songbag is a ragbag of strips, stripes, and streaks of color from nearly all ends of the earth.”

Award-winning songwriter Joe Newberry enjoys writing songs that sound like they come from the tradition. This class will help you focus on making your good songs even better, or get you started if you only have a trunk-full of ideas. The workshop will use examples of different types of songs – ballads, narrative, chorus/verse, free-form – with an eye and ear toward simplifying the words to uncover the heart of the song. Through wordplay and writing, writing, and more writing, the song in your head can become the song on your lips.

evel and to colleagues in the arts, focusing on the role of and history of the artist through the ages and up to the modern world. We will be covering history – from the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal to the ancient Greeks and those ugly Romans, the Dark Ages, the medieval troubadours and their role in spreading the news, the Renaissance, and why syphilis gave rise to the “artist as lunatic” perception. We’ll pay attention to fear and its effect on us as creative persons, the poetry and consciousness of wood, what to do when the well runs dry, the importance of both craft and talent, and the impossibility of living up to your ideals. There will be quotes and song illustrations as well. Students will be asked to read 3-4 short stories about artists before class begins. If you haven’t received the short stories three weeks before classes begin, please email me at for copies of these. (No class limit)

THE IRISH FOLK BOOM OF THE ’60s & ’70s (Dáithí Sproule)
This era really was a popular revolution in song in Ireland and brought forth a wide range of songs which lived on the lips of the general public and often entered the Irish hit parade. Many are still popular with Irish ballad groups, while some other great songs have been forgotten. We’ll sing a variety of wonderful songs and learn something of the history of the great bands and other acts who made it a legendary period.

This class will be devoted to the challenge of finding sensitive and appropriate guitar accompaniments for traditional songs, which, of course, originally developed in the absence of any accompaniment. Dáithí will present options and a variety of approaches to a range of beautiful songs and will welcome a collaborative approach. Although one of the original developers of DADGAD guitar tuning, Dáithí will look at other tunings too.

In this class we will delve into the songs of brothers, mothers,and unrequited lovers. We will sing some of my favorites from E.C. Ball (VA), Hazel Dickens (WV), The Dixon Brothers (SC), Charlie Poole (NC) and others.

We’ll nurture the songwriter in us all by exploring creativity and ways of taking our first glimmer of inspiration, encouraging our muse, and how to turn that into an expressive and finished song.



Community Gathering Time

Note: A highlight of the day’s schedule is when we gather together each day after lunch for these special events. No advance registration necessary.

Join us for a great big western ‘Howdy’ from our favorite cowboy. Hear about Ranger Doug’s dedication to the rich traditions of cowboy music, from tributes to prairies and rivers, to campfire songs and ballads of the range. Ranger Doug learned to play guitar during the 1960s folk movement and gigged with Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys. We’ll hear how his accompaniment style evolved from those beginnings into the rhythm guitar that became the heartbeat of Riders in the Sky.

Come and sit in on a musical conversation between broadcaster Fiona Ritchie and Irish fiddler and singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Hear about Irish language songs from Donegal, along with the region’s distinctive fiddle style, and how it all feeds into the music of one of Ireland’s best known bands, Altan.

Hear about life on the road as a travelling musician. Fiona Ritchie chats with Cathy and Dáithí about taking their music to global audiences as they share songs that are beloved throughout the world.

Western North Carolina has a wealth of musical history and heritage passed down through generations of phenomenal musicians. Laura Boosinger and Josh Goforth breathe new life into the songs and stories of these pioneers of traditional mountain music. From old-time fiddle tunes and ballads to heartfelt songs and mountain swing, come experience the full breadth of Western NC traditional music at its finest.

Find out how to spread the joy of singing for pleasure rather than performance, hear songs that are guaranteed to get people of all backgrounds to join in, and learn secrets to overcome your own inhibitions in singing sessions. Join broadcaster Fiona Ritchie for a conversational musical encounter with traditional singer and song collector Len Graham of Northern Ireland and teacher, performer and radio broadcaster Matt Watroba. Portions of the interview will be broadcast on NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock.



Children’s Program

We offer a full-day program, taught by Melissa Hyman, for children ages 6-12. Children must have turned 6 by July 1st to participate. No exceptions please. Bathroom independence is a non-negotiable prerequisite. Maximum age is 12 on July 1. Some older children (age 12-16) may be able to work as junior counselors. Please email Melissa ASAP if interested in a junior counselor position, even if you’ve discussed it with her before: Evening childcare for ages 3-12 will be provided at no additional cost.

This year, our theme is MAD SCIENCE! Welcome to the Swannanoa Science Lab, where we are dedicated to better understanding the world around us… and always have an amazing time doing it! We’ll be wowed by surprising and fascinating hands-on experiments. We’ll explore exciting scientific concepts together through arts & crafts, music and games. We’ll even come up with our own scientific hypotheses, and design simple experiments to test them. It’ll be another unforgettable summer of friendship, water balloon fights, scavenger hunts, and discovery… we hope you’ll join us! With the help of our very talented music teacher Kevin Williams, we will write our own original song and perform for the whole Gathering at the student showcase on Friday. We’ll also have visits throughout the week from Gathering staff, who will teach and perform just for our kids. Weather permitting we’ll continue our traditions of shaving cream hairdos and slip-n-slide madness; we’ll definitely have movie night, messy games, and other old favorites. Please bring at least one swimsuit with you for cooling-down activities like running in the sprinkler. Get ready for a week celebrating curiosity, exploration and wacky fun! There will be a $30 art/craft materials fee for this class, payable to Melissa on arrival.