Blas is a two week intensive music, song and dance programme offered by the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. This combines the familiar concept of masterclasses in instrument/voice specific technique and repertoire, as found in many summer schools, but with small class sizes and the unparalleled level of student interaction with tutors that this can offer.
Blas centres its teaching around the following instruments: flute, fiddle, percussion, harmonic accompaniment, and the disciplines of dance and song. These instruments and disciplines are provided as standard. Tuition in other instruments can be provided depending on the level of interest.
Blas runs using a teaching structure developed over many years and used by most summer schools in Irish music. It focuses its teaching around masterclasses given by leading experts and performers on a specific instrument. True to its name, Blas gives its’ students a taste of different styles with most students having more than two different masterclass tutors per study area (music/song). This means Blas teachers rotate every day or two days, giving students the chance to work with different masters of the tradition.
As Blas is an intimate summer school, individual instrument classes are usually no bigger than 6 or 7 students to one tutor. Blas tries to create an inclusive learning atmosphere and as such tutors dine with students and stay in the same accommodation apartment blocks. Some of the tutors also lead the evenings music sessions on campus on the nights when there isn’t a headline concert to attend.
All of this is supplemented by lectures, illustrated talks, workshops and other activities that help to give the broadest possible understanding of the tradition as well as advancing practical skills. Therefore the programme has ample content and contact hours that it can be accredited with three points (or 6 ECTS credits) towards an international degree course (but only to institutions that recognise University of Limerick summer school accreditation). This makes Blas unique within the world of traditional music summer schools in that the study of Irish traditional music, song and dance can count as a percentage towards a university degree education. Click on accreditation in the navigation above to learn more.
What to expect in a masterclass
The teachers of masterclasses bring with them a wealth of music and experience which is shared with the students in the class in an organic way rather than using set curricula. Actual methods are dependant on the given teacher of the class. Classes most often feature learning by ear through repetition of new tunes and songs broken up into small segments. This can be supplemented by written aids in standard notation and in versions of ABC (a highly individual basic notation system using the letters of the notes of the scale with tick marks and underlining to denote octave differences and note length).
Technique on the individual instrument featured in the class is usually taught through the medium of the tune rather than as a technical exercise of itself.
Students are encouraged to bring a tape recorder (or minidisk etc) to record the tunes and songs being learned in class so that an aural source can be used when practicing at home rather than relying solely on a written version. However, please note that permission to use recording equipment during class is at the tutor’s discretion and should not be assumed.