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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Celtic music is "happening" at ETSU

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | February 23, 2016

The East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Old-Time and Country Music program is exploring the Celtic roots of the music of Southern Appalachia. The Celtic music program is led by Jane and Will MacMorran and offers individual instruction and Celtic band classes. Students can also study in Scotland and Ireland through exchange programs and the Appalachian Scottish Irish Studies program summer program. Future plans include additional courses that explore Scottish and Irish music, language and culture.

"East Tennessee State University is becoming a happening place for Celtic music," Jane MacMorran, program director, says.

"The ETSU Celtic Pride Band is made up of students with extensive backgrounds in bluegrass, country and old-time music who have been swept away by the energy, beauty and creativity of Celtic music," MacMorran says.

The ETSU Celtic Pride Band is directed by Will MacMorran and includes Aynsley Porchak, an award-winning fiddler from Ontario, Canada; Avery Welter on bass and vocals (Pennsylvania) and Angel Edgemon on mandolin and vocals (Tennessee).

Celtic band students have performed in Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as at the Tennessee state capitol in Nashville.

Plans are under way for the ETSU Celtic Pride Band Summer Tour to Scotland during July. The band has been invited to play at Speyfest, one of Scotland's premier traditional music festivals. The Celtic Pride Band will also perform at the International Society of Music Education conference in Glasgow. Other performances are still being considered.

Students in the program regularly have the opportunity to hear Celtic guest artists and work with them in workshops. Recent guest artists included guitarist John Doyle, Irish fiddlers Kevin Burke and Liz Carroll, Celtic Fiddle Festival crossover fiddler April Verch and Scottish musicians Alan Reid and Rob van Sante.

"One of the goals for the Celtic music program is to attract accomplished Celtic musicians from all over the country and the world to ETSU," MacMorran says. "Tiffany Boucher came to ETSU this past fall as a transfer student from the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. She is making a great contribution to the Celtic scene at ETSU."

Boucher is a musician from Montana who started playing classical piano at age 5 and classical violin at age 6. When she was 14, Boucher began competing in fiddle contests and learning Irish tunes. She was the 2010 Montana State Fiddle Champion (junior division), the 2011 Montana State Fiddle Grand Champion and placed fourth in the junior division at the 2011 National Fiddle Contest.

Throughout middle school and high school, she performed for a variety of events including three invited performances at An Ri Ra, an international Irish music festival in Butte, Montana. Boucher studied Irish music and dance in Ireland at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick for two years before transferring to ETSU. She has been featured on radio, television, film and numerous recordings including two of her own. At ETSU she plays fiddle in the Irish band, Antrim Road.

"Our exchange agreement with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (in Glasgow)has provided opportunities for students on both sides of the Atlantic to learn more about the music they play," MacMorran says.

This semester ETSU student Rheva Myhre, a Celtic fiddler from Spokane, Washington, is spending a semester at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland studying Scottish fiddling, piping and dance. Fall semester 2016 will find bass player Angel Edgemon at the RCS studying bass and Celtic guitar.

ETSU Celtic bands host exchange students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who come to ETSU to learn more about bluegrass and old-time music, while also participating in Celtic bands. One of them, Alexandra Frank, finished her undergraduate studies at RCS and returned to ETSU to complete her Masters degree.

Dr. Thomas G. Burton of the ETSU English Department originated and developed the idea for a studies program examining the cultural and historical connections of Appalachia with Scotland (and later with Ireland) in the early 1980s. In 1989, ETSU and the University of Edinburgh entered into a formal exchange agreement, which provided for the exchange of faculty and students, research materials and the shared use of research facilities.

From 1988 until 1996 the program was known as the Appalachian-Scottish Studies Program. The name changed to its present form (Appalachian Scottish Irish Studies Program) in 1996 to denote its expanded mission of adding the cultural and historical connection between Ireland and Appalachia. Dr. Burton served as director of the ASIS program from 1988 until his retirement in 1996. Jane MacMorran has served as director since 2008.

ASIS proposes a cultural quest: to search for deeper knowledge and clearer understanding of the relationships between Appalachia and its major cultural progenitors, Scotland and Ireland. "The study of Appalachian, Scottish and Irish cultures as separate cultural traditions is certainly a worthy pursuit in and of itself," MacMorran says. "However, because large numbers of Scots-Irish immigrants settled in Appalachia, it is also imperative to study the effects that these cultures have had on each other. In the ASIS program, students and faculty discuss and celebrate the similarities and differences among these three cultures."

ETSU maintains formal exchange agreements with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the University of Limerick. Additional study abroad educational partners include Orkney College, the University of Glasgow, and Ulster University in Northern Ireland.

On campus are the Archives of Appalachia, which house the Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Studies Collection, a valuable resource for students, faculty, and the community. This extensive collection focuses on the various components of the academic studies program examining the history and culture of Appalachia, Scotland and Ireland, and their interrelationships.

Materials document course work, lectures, field trips, student papers or projects, notes, schedules and other aspects of the program. Documentation is found in manuscript, records, audio and video recordings and photographs. The material provides insight on such subjects as folklore, storytelling, culture, and oral traditions, Appalachian and Gaelic language and literature, traditional music, migration patterns, Ulster, and other aspects of Appalachian, Scottish and Irish history and culture.

University courses include Scottish Ethnology, Scottish and Irish Literature, Appalachia in Scotland and Ireland, Scots Irish in Appalachian, Scotland's Music, Celtic Band, Individual Instruction in Celtic Instruments, as well as numerous Appalachian Studies courses which include components on Scottish and Irish history and culture. The Department of Literature and Language, as well as the history department also offer courses with Scottish/Irish content.

ASIS recently established the Burton Scholarship for Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies to honor Dr. Burton and to promote international opportunities for students. The scholarship gives financial assistance to students wishing to register for the study abroad course. Fundraising efforts have included a Robert Burns Night Dinner and Single Malt Scotch Tasting. For more information about these events, contact MacMorran at or 423-439-7992.

>> Study abroad opportunities abound at ETSU

Topics: Music

Celtic Pride Band members Aynsley Porchak (fiddle), Kristy Wilkins (vocals), Avery Welter (bass ), Will MacMorran, guitar and band director.