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Celtic music helps students learn their roots

Madison Mathews • Feb 17, 2012 at 8:06 AM

The distinctive sound of bagpipes is typically associated with the Celtic regions of Scotland and Ireland but on Thursday afternoon, the rural setting of Jonesborough provided the backdrop as the music of the highlands began to ring out from the Sulphur Springs School gymnasium.

Inside, students sat, clapped and stomped along with the members of the East Tennessee State University Celtic Band.

“When we say the word ‘Celtic,’ what countries do you think of?” said band director Jane MacMorran before the group began to play their tunes.

The students responded with enthusiastic shouts of “Ireland!” and “Scotland!”

Little did the students know, the music they were listening to had strong ties to the region.

“This is really important music for our area, our region. I think if you dig deeply into your family roots, you’ll find that you have some Scottish or Irish ancestry. There was a lot of settlement in Appalachia by the Scots and Irish,” MacMorran said.

That news came as a bit of a surprise for seventh-grader Abbie Rector.

“I would never really imagine Scottish music in the Bible Belt, but it is kind of cool how we learned that it all ties in and how there’s a lot of ancestry of Scottish people here. Like, I wouldn’t have thought of that,” she said.

But it was more than just bagpipes and ancestry the students were learning about. The students also learned about the various instruments commonly associated with the music of the Celts. The band consisted of six people, including MacMorran, playing a range of instruments from the fiddle, flute and guitar to the hammered dulcimer.

That was another aspect Rector took away from the afternoon performance.

“It’s kind of cool to know that there’s a whole bunch of instruments in it. You wouldn’t really think of a flute in it, but it goes along well with all the instruments and the fiddles. It’s cool how they had three of them,” she said.

The performance by the Celtic Band was the latest installment of Sulphur Springs School’s “Unity and Diversity” program — a program overseen by visual arts teacher Jan Allen.

Allen was awarded a $1,900 “Arts Build Communities” grant through the Tennessee Arts Commission to bring the program back to the school for a second year in a row.

Her goal with the program is to promote the benefits of broadening the cultural landscape for students. Students spend weeks studying the art, literature and music of a specific culture leading up to each performance.

Some of the past sessions have included performances by Native American tribes, traditional Indian dancers and dancers with the ETSU Mountain Movers Dance Company. Next week, students will witness a performance by hula dancers with Hawaiian Entertainment.

With so much emphasis on state standards, Allen said the program is a great way to get students to go beyond the book.

“If they just study it in a book, it’s not the same as actually getting to see it, so to me, for a bagpipe to be in front of them is amazing,” she said.

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