Harper James Ruff to teach at ACGA Fèis

James Ruff with Anne Lorne Gillies at the 2016 US National Mòd.
James Ruff with Anne Lorne Gillies at the 2016 US National Mòd.

Last year, James Ruff won the men’s gold medal for Gaelic song at the U.S. National Mòd. This year, he will return to Ligonier, Pennsylvania, to lead a special harp workshop at the inaugural ACGA Fèis, a one-day program of workshops in Scottish Gaelic culture.

Ruff will lead a workshop Sept. 22 on the role of the clàrsach, the wire-strung harp, in Scottish Gaelic and Irish tradition. The workshop will combine a discussion of the clàrsach in Gaelic culture and songs from the harping tradition, as well as technical advice on ornamentation and technique suitable for wire-strung and nylon-strung harps alike.

“We’re delighted to welcome James to our first ACGA Fèis and back to the U.S. National Mòd,” Liam Ó Caiside, a member of the Mòd and Fèis committee, said.

“James’s workshop is particularly appropriate for this inaugural educational event about Gaelic culture. The harp is perhaps the oldest instrument associated with the Gaels of Scotland and Ireland. This special workshop will offer insights to harp players and those who simply have an interest in Gaelic tradition alike,” he said.

Since 2005, Ruff has researched and performed Scottish Gaelic songs accompanied by the wire harp.  He has performed at festivals and music series such as Boston Early Music Festival Fringe, Gotham Early Music Scene Midtown Concerts in New York, Beacon Hill Concerts in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Stone Church Arts Concert Series in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and the Vassar College Concert Series in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Ruff has studied Scottish Gaelic song with Kenna Campbell, Mary Ann Kennedy and Christine Primrose, and early harp techniques with noted Irish harpist Siobhan Armstrong.  He has spent two summers studying at the Scoil na gClàirseach Harp School in Kilkenny, Ireland.  He enjoyed a month researching & studying early Gaelic Song in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 2012, funded by a grant from Vassar College.

In 2016, he won First Place/Men’s Division and Highest Overall Score in Gaelic Song at both the North Carolina Provincial Gaelic Mòd and the U.S. National Gaelic Mòd. He was also a finalist in the Silver Pendant Gaelic Song Competition at the 2009 Royal National Mòd in Oban, Scotland.

The ACGA Fèis is a day-long series of workshops on Gaelic song, language, music and culture preceding the U.S. National Mòd. The Fèis is a non-competitive event focused on learning and instruction. The Mòd is a series of competitions in Gaelic language arts, including song, poetry and storytelling.

In addition to Ruff’s harp workshop, the Fèis will feature workshops on Gaelic song by Margaret Stewart and Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald, both of Lewis. Stewart and MacDonald will judge the US National Mòd competitions. The Fèis will also feature a “Cèilidh 101” session that will teach tunes to musicians of all types, and other special events.

Check back here for more information on registration, lodging and costs for the Fèis and the Mòd. The events will begin Thursday, Sept. 21, and run through Sunday, Sept. 24.

Margaret Stewart, Murdo ‘Wasp’ MacDonald to Adjudicate 30th Annual US Gaelic Mòd

Famed Scottish singers Maighread Stiùbhart (Margaret Stewart) and Murchadh Dòmhnallach (Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald) will be adjudicators at the 30th annual U.S. National Mòd, a three-day festival of Scottish Gaelic song, poetry, storytelling and music this Sept. 22-24 in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

Margaret Stewart, photo courtesy Euphoria Photography
Margaret Stewart, photo courtesy Euphoria Photography

This is the first time in several years that the Mòd will feature two adjudicators, and An Comunn Gàidhealach Ameireaganach is delighted to welcome Margaret and Murdo to the event for the first time. They will also be featured at the first ACGA Fèis, held Friday, Sept. 22.

Both Margaret and Murdo hail from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Western Isles, and Scottish Gaelic is their first language. Margaret was brought up in Coll Uarach (Upper Coll), to the north of the town of Stornoway. Murdo is from Siadar a’ Chladaich, on the west coast of Lewis.

“We couldn’t have found a better duo to join us for the 30th annual U.S. Mòd and our first ACGA Fèis,” said Michael Mackay, chair of the event. “Margaret and Murdo both bring us a deep, rich background in Scottish Gaelic song, language and music that is literally unmatched.”

Murdo "Wasp" MacDonald
Murdo “Wasp” MacDonald

Both Margaret and Murdo have won top awards at the Royal National Mòd in Scotland. Murdo won the gold medal for traditional or sean-nòs singing in 1989 and Margaret the women’s gold medal in 1993. Margaret has performed around the world and has recorded three highly acclaimed albums, and collaborated on many more, particularly with Gaelic singer and piper Allan MacDonald.

In 2008 she was voted “Gaelic Singer of the Year” at the Scots Trad Music Awards and in 2011 was appointed “Musician in Residence” at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s Gaelic College on the Isle of Skye. She has adjudicated competitions at the Royal National Mod in Scotland.

Murdo is best known for his singing, but he is also a highly regarded melodeon player. Both his parents were fine singers and he learned many songs from them as well as others in his community. His father and uncle both played the accordion and he began to learn at age seven.

He won the Traditional Gold Medal at Scotland’s national Mòd in 1989, and his sean-nòs or old-style singing has gained acclaim in Scotland and abroad. He has led workshops in song and music at home on Lewis and elsewhere, recently focusing on the bards of Siadar a’ Chladaich.

In addition to judging the Mòd’s poetry, storytelling and song competitions, Margaret and Murdo will both present workshops during the ACGA Fèis. That will give Gaelic enthusiasts even more opportunity to learn from them and interact with them during the long Mòd weekend.

The US National Mòd, launched in Virginia in 1988, features competitions in Gaelic language arts, starting Friday evening, Sept. 22, and running all day Saturday, Sept. 23. The Fèis on Friday will feature workshops on Gaelic song, culture and instrumental music.

More details on the program for the twinned events, and registration, will be available shortly on this website and at https://usmod.wordpress.com. Contact US National Mòd Registrar Liam Cassidy at willbcassidy@gmail.com to reserve a space or for more information.