Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy – A Reflection

ITMA is delighted to present a special reflective documentary on Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy (SSWC) that shines a light on the impact and value of this special summer school.

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Image: Mick O'Brien, Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, 1990s. Photograph: Peter Laban

This lengthy audiovisual documentary will have its premiere online at 8.00 pm (GMT+1), 18 July on www.itma.ie and on ITMA’s Facebook and YouTube channel. Watch it here.

ITMA is very proud to be in a position to help fill the void created by the cancellation of the 48th SSWC in light of Covid-19. Since its inception in 1973, Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy has had a hugely positive influence on the development of Irish traditional music, song and dance. For thousands of traditional musicians, the first week of July is the highlight of the musical calendar.

This online documentary film will reflect on:

  • Willie Clancy’s (1918–73) personal philosophy of music, his advice to learners, his artistic vision and how this has influenced the ethos of the summer school.
  • The reasons why SSWC is held in high regard by tutors and leading performers as an exceptionally rich environment for passing the tradition on from one generation to another.
  • The impact SSWC has had on thousands of students who have attended the school over the years.
  • The phenomenal growth of the school which has expanded since 1973 to the point where it now consists of 8 distinct instrument schools in addition to multiple singing and dancing workshops. Despite Covid-19, over 1000 students signed up to free online classes in SSWC 2020.
  • The role of family in passing on the tradition at SSWC.
  • The social life associated with, and the artistic inspiration that arise from, informal gatherings at SSWC.
  • How SSWC manages to celebrate Clare music while embracing regional styles from other parts of Ireland. International students from distant places such Russia, Cuba and Japan recognise SSWC as providing an unrivalled opportunity to learn from master tutors and performers. Increasing numbers of students seek the integrity, artistic values and core focus that the school provides on an annual basis.
  • In light of Covid-19, the things that regular attendees of SSWC will miss most in 2020.
  • Tutors who have passed away recently who could not be mourned and remembered by the community in the traditional manner.
  • What the future holds for SSWC.

ITMA is home to the largest collection of Irish traditional music, song and dance in existence. This tribute captures a variety of perspectives from the traditional arts community, and reflects on and articulates what makes SSWC so special to so many people. ITMA is very proud to have established and developed a long-standing involvement with SSWC. With so many of the finest tutors, tradition bearers and performers participating annually in a wide and varied programme, the Summer School has proven to be an exceptionally rich source for ITMA field recording. The amassed audiovisual recordings of solo and ensemble instrumental playing, unaccompanied singing, step-dancing and set-dancing, and lectures, are an invaluable traditional music archive of national importance.

This documentary draws on the work of award-winning photographers such as Tony Kearns, Jacques Nutan, Peter Laban and Colm Keating. Archival footage of past masters of the tradition such as Micho Russell, Tommy Peoples and John Kelly are complimented by contemporary interviews and performances by many of Ireland’s leading traditional musicians including Edel Fox, Paddy Glackin, Noel Hill, Siobhán Peoples, The Friel Sisters, Louise and Michelle Mulcahy, Cormac Begley, Brían Mac Gloinn of Ye Vagabonds and many more. The organising committee of SSWC, the Arts Council of Ireland, NPU, TG4, RTÉ and RnaG provide insights into the esteem in which the school is held. Families who have very long associations with the summer school for many generations are featured including: the McCarthy, O’Brien/O'Donohue, Potts, Kelly, Glackin and Mulligan families. Rare footage filmed in 1965 of Willie Clancy playing the uilleann pipes in his house in Miltown Malbay, as well as previously unheard audio recordings of Clancy playing the concert flute and lilting are among the many highlights of this documentary.

ITMA are very grateful to their funders: The Arts Council of Ireland for its Multi-Annual Funding, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Department of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht for digital preservation funding in 2019, and for the OPW for housing ITMA at 73 Merrion Square. ITMA is also very appreciative of RTÉ Archives for permission to use selected footage and for their continuing support.

Selected Quotes

He's an iconic figure in the music, and the values he espouses as a traditional musician in terms of the language, the cultural impact of our music. Willie's influence was already very, very important prior to his death. The fact that his memory is preserved through such an influential school, I suppose, it’s testament to that influence. – Seán Potts

It was the first sort of gathering where competition really wasn't part of it. It was about learning. It was about connecting with older musicians. – Paddy Glackin

Younger players will come along and be able to, as it were, sit at the feet of the masters…And I think this is why it's so successful. I think to use an expression, it's the real deal. – Jerry O’Reilly

Year after year, when you're involved in the classes, you meet musicians at a very, very young age, and you're still meeting them into their teens. Their skill set, their love of the music, their repertoire of tunes, it's all grown. And the music community is really like a family.—Deirdre Comber

Small things like sitting casually in the front bar at Queally's and Micho Russell suddenly turned around and offered to teach you… he actually gave me his version of a tune…it came from nowhere, came out of the blue, and just that typical type of generosity. – Paul McGrattan

I suppose the main ethos, as I understand it, of the school is to preserve and to share what we have in West Clare, it's all about the traditional music… I've been thinking about it…the original committee, there was a kind of a combination of the local experts, if you like, and people who had moved into the area, the likes of Muiris and Harry, who saw the value of what was here. – Deirdre Comber

I learned music for the pure love of it, and I think people who are really serious about it will do the same, no matter whether they are playing on television or before the open hearth. – Willie Clancy (1972)

To the parents of would-be musicians today I would say that it is important to encourage the younger folk. We have to rely on them to keep our music alive. – Willie Clancy (1972)

Willie Clancy’s advice to young musicians:

Get a grasp of the Gaelic tongue and develop a love for it. Go to the Gaeltacht and the old people who have it and learn it. I feel that a knowledge of our language is essential if you are to express the true spirit of our music, and, as the saying goes, “Don’t settle for the skim milk when the cream is at hand.” Apart from that have patience; learn to walk before you run. You might have a flair for the music, you might think you’re good at it, and you might be tempted to plunge ahead without perfecting your technique; well it might be in your head but your fingers will let you down. So, start playing early and develop your technique with patience, practice and perseverance. – Willie Clancy (1972)