Traditional Song Week Classes – July 3-9, 2022

Songs have been the backbone that has stabilized the cause for freedom and fueled the quest for civil and human rights 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, songs have been, and remain a marvelous vehicle for inspiring awareness and change. In conveying information, inviting collaboration, participating in direct action, and experiencing and inspiring personal transformation, this is a legacy to be continued. This class, with Reggie 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)

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.

I started learning what my family called ‘them old love songs’ as a five-year- old. No one said I had to learn them, or pressured me to listen to and sing back, one at a time, twenty-seven verses. First, as a child I loved the stories of knights and ladies riding on snow-white steeds, or what all could take place in “her father’s great hall,” or why a bird perched in a willow tree would speak to a woman who had “just murdered your own true love.” The stories were fantastic, mysterious, believable and I heard them every day. The people I learned from were born in the 1890s and early 1900s and had learned them from their parents and grandparents – generation after generation. The words aren’t a problem. They’re written down in more collections than you can shake a stick at. But, if the story was the initial reason my mind chose to learn, it was the way they sang that took my heart over fifty years ago: the odd phrasing, the choice of words and the way they put those words together. This is what I hope to share with you in this class. I promise you, the songs are wonderful, but what will keep you singing is the way I’m going to teach you to do it. I’ll provide you with the words; the rest I’ll help you with, and those that really “get it” by the end of the week will help me carry this beautiful, ancient tradition a bit further down the road.

This class is all about singing the many “meeting-house” gospel songs , mostly by ear and full-voiced – “off-the-porch-strong” as Aunt Inez would say – that I grew up hearing in the churches in and around Sodom, NC. You’ll be familiar with most of ‘em, ones like “I’ll Fly Away,” “Where the Soul Never Dies,” and “Build Me A Cabin,” to name a few. We’ll also work together on some shape-note songs, but the majority can be found in The Baptist Hymnal. Please bring a copy if you have your own, but handouts will be provided as needed. And don’t go worrying about harmonies; trust me, you’ll find the one that works for you. These old hymns really do rock right along, and there’s a power to them that’ll grab your heart and spirit from the get-go – no collection plate needed. But don’t expect to sit or even stand in one place as these old hymns will, quite literally, move you. (No class limit)

CHILD BALLADS (Cathy Jordan)
In this class we will delve a little farther into the song collection of Francis James Child who put together 305 ballads which 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, revenge, romance and revenge. We will also follow the journey of these songs from Europe to the new world with versions by Dylan, Leadbelly, Joan Baez and others. Join me for a continued macabre journey of discovery into the world of the Child Ballads.

LOVE SONGS (Cathy Jordan)
This class will look at Ireland’s vast array of love songs, some with a happy ending but more without. These songs can come in many forms and the love expressed may not only be directed toward a person but sometimes a place or perhaps an ideal. Join me for a look at these beautiful songs that leave their mark on your heart.

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. After learning song leading and Community Sing organizational techniques, participants will be encouraged to bring in songs and try out their song leading talents on the class. You will sing every day and leave on Friday inspired to take what you’ve learned back into your community. (No class limit)

(Matt Watroba)
Bringing your songs and performances alive is all about choices. In this interactive class, Matt will show you the choices great performers make to get the most out of their songs and time on stage. 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. stage fright, 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 your music. (Class limit: 12)

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.

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. (Class limit: 14)

SONGS IN IRISH (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is steeped in the song tradition of her native County Donegal. This class will give an introduction into the rich Gaelic song tradition of that area. As you learn the songs, she will guide you phonetically through the lyrics and explain their meaning. (Class limit: 20)

BALLADS IN ENGLISH (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
Mairéad’s English ballad repertoire comes mostly from her family and neighbours. These songs would be collected when people had to emigrate to make a living and were brought back home and sung at house parties and gatherings. (Class limit: 20)

The Carter family is one the most influential groups in music history. In this class we’l learn to sing 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 we’ll 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.

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)

Learn to accompany yourself on swing songs with rhythm guitar. This is a guitar-oriented course, but other instruments, and even no instruments, are welcome to those who want to sing some western swing. A song will be learned each day, and rhythm guitar techniques and chords will be revealed.

Join me for a journey through some of the song traditions of Scotland. We will warm-up with easy-to-learn verses, mouth music and fun ditties, also singing our way through a number of old ballads, songs from working communities, Burns songs and more recent compositions.  Along the way, we will also uncover song origins and the true meanings underlying “Auld Lang Syne”, “Loch Lomond”, “Both Sides the Tweed” and other well-known Scottish songs.  As time allows, we will listen to some old recordings that reveal connections between Scottish and American songs and by the end of the week you will be singing confidently in Scots! Lyric sheets are provided but we will learn by ear and sing together unaccompanied. (No class limit and plenty of new material for 2022)

Why do some people sing well into their 70s and 80s and others develop vocal polyps, chronic hoarseness and stop singing altogether? Judy Collins is 81, Willie Nelson, 87, Tony Bennett is 94 and Kris Kristofferson just retired, at 85 years old. Singing is athletic, using mostly unseen muscles and cartilage in the throat, ears and abdomen that need to be kept flexible and strong. This workshop reviews tools and information to keep your voice healthy and sound your very best whether you’re singing in front of 10,000 festival attendees or for YOUR great-grandchild.

Beginning a lyric on a blank page or humming a fresh new melody is easier when you bring your imagination and playfulness. A song can be written with only one chord, to the beat of your heart or added to the sound of marching feet (“You ain’t got no friends on the left, you’re right …”). And often, playful songs last the longest, composed in-the-moment and engrained in our memories because of their usefulness, their joyful simplicity. Lullabies are a perfect example, with the oldest known lullaby surviving 5,000 years of use. Commitment to writing works best when it is consistent, made easier with simple exercise on regular basis. So, let’s get writing!

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.

IF YOU TALK, YOU SING (Kathy Bullock)
African and Caribbean Songs. From South African Freedoms songs, to Ghanaian praise and worship, to Jamaican folk songs and games, we will celebrate music from various areas of the African diaspora. Covering both traditional and popular forms, we will sing songs, learn the accompanying movements, and share the stories as we enjoy the musical and cultural connections (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)

This will be a traditional Master Class, normally offered on the university level 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)



(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. Portions of Fiona’s interviews will be broadcast on NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock.)

Join us for a musical conversation between broadcaster Matt Watroba and Swannanoa Gathering Director, Jim Magill. Hear about the beginnings of the Gathering and the Community Sings Jim would organize with his wife, Beth. Q&A included.

Join us for a musical conversation between broadcaster Fiona Ritchie and Irish singer, guitarist, bodhran player Aoife Clancy. Hear about the legacy of the Clancy family, Aoife’s own song repertoire reaching from Ireland to Appalachia, and her time with Cherish the Ladies. Q&A included.

Join us for a musical conversation between broadcaster Fiona Ritchie and John McCutcheon, singer-songwriter and master of many instruments. Hear about John’s long and varied musical career, his socially-conscious songs, and how his work as a storyteller feeds into his performances and songwriting. Q&A included.

Join us for 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. Q&A included.

Join us for a musical conversation between broadcaster Matt Watroba and Anne Hills. Hear about Anne’s amazing and eclectic career as a singer, songwriter, actress, and poet. Q&A included.