This post is written for The DarraghOHeiligh.ie website and blog. This site is focused on the Irish traditional music that Darragh plays with the aim of highlighting and promoting his music. More information regarding this site will be available shortly.
I’m just back after a really fantastic week in Achil. I attended the 26th Scoil Acla. It’s similar in a lot of ways to the willy Clancy week. A number of master musicians give up their time to teach tunes and technique to other musicians of varying degrees of experience. Someone like myself gets the opportunity to focus on learning new tunes and tightening up on technique and the beginners get the opportunity to play music with other people of the same level in a very friendly and helpful environment.
Scoil Acla is more focused on learning and music than other festivals I’ve been to of this type. This is probably due to the fact that Achil island is very rural. You really need a car to travel between the different venues and you are very lucky if you find a foot path.
Classes last about three hours with a half an hour break in the middle. There are classes for every Irish instrument you can think of I think.
When I got to Achil I was very worried at this remoteness because as I don’t drive for obvious reasons, it would mean that I had no choice but to rely on the people I was with. Fortunately, they couldn’t have been nicer so it wasn’t a problem. Still, people who know me will understand that I hate relying on people to get around. It took a while to get use to.
There were a few other things that took some time to get use to as well. I don’t want to seem big headed but I was well above the standard of the pipe classes in my opinion. It took me a few days to realise that I could still get something out of them. It was actually one of the friends I was traveling with who changed my outlook on the entire week with one simple statement. “It is what it is”. Yes. That simple. I decided after some thinking to make the best of it and from then on my outlook completely changed. I hovered around different classes for the rest of the week recording as many tunes as possible so I could learn them in my own time and I sat in on a class with my original Uilleann pipe teacher, Mick O’Brian. This was the best thing I could have done. He was very critical of my playing. That’s not to say it was bad, he just picked up on every possible thing that I could improve on. This is exactly what I wanted. He didn’t let me away with a thing! This meant that new tunes I learned were played exactly as he wanted with the technique he so expertly plays. It was really nice to push my playing and to find fault with the technique I have developed in the past twelve or thirteen years since my last lesson.
One thing I was surprised at was the lack of sessions in the afternoon. This was for two reasons. Firstly, because of the distance between each pub it was harder for sessions to start spontaniously. The second reason was that to my amusement, people were actually working on the tunes that they had learned in the morning. I was amused because at most other festivals people spend the morning learning and the afternoon meeting other people, playing music and socialising. I kind of admired the culture that has built up at Scoil Acla. Again, I think it is very related to the type of environment it is hosted in.
I met some lovely people over there. So many of the up and coming Irish musicians that I met were from other countries! France, Italy and even Japan had great representation. It’s so funny to introduce yourself to a lovely fiddle player or harpist at the end of a set of tunes to hear a foreign accent respond to your greeting.
I don’t think I’ll be back at Scoil Acla next year but I really enjoyed it this year! I really think every musician should be willing to go back for a lesson about every ten years. It’s a surprisingly rewarding experience to have new ideas to incorporate. No matter how good we think we are, there’s always someone who does something better. Someone asked me why I was bothering to take a class. My response was simple. The day I stop learning is the day I stop playing. No matter how experienced you are or no matter long your playing there’s always something new to try.