Educational Programs

Folk Music Programs for Children & Adults

I almost fainted when you sang and danced and played the banjo at the same time! My mouth was droped (sic) open the entire time. -- 4th graders, Chaplin Elementary School, Chaplin, CT

Your show was on record the BEST show in the entire known universe. I could not believe the wondrous things you could do. The wheel amazing, the songs breathtaking, the riddles are perplexing. Your show has burned an everlasting image in my mind. I will NEVER EVER forget…THANK YOU. -- 7th Grader, Martin Middle School, East Providence, RI

I don't want it to be over! I loved it so much, it breaks my heart! -- Child weeping on the way out of the assembly, Mountain View, Arkansas, September, 2015

I just wanted to reiterate how wonderful your performance at Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) was this morning. You really connected with the students, the ushers, and the PPAC staff members. The musical, dance, historical, and educational aspects of your program were so well interwoven and entertaining! You, Elwood, John, Heidi, Cathy, and Kevin are absolutely delightful (it's so obvious that you're all friends!) and your combined talents are awe-inspiring.

Including Samuel, Evelyn, and Ruby May Miller added so much, too – the connection to the kids in the audience of the same age was great, and of course, we at PPAC were so pleased to have two Arts Scholarship recipients performing on the stage!

PPAC staff that saw a portion or all of your performance agree that it was one of the best Arts Showcase programs we've presented, and we will be anxious to have you back again!

Please extend my thanks and congratulations to all the talented members of the Atwater Donnelly Band! -- Cynthia Goldsmith, Executive Assistant & Community Outreach Coordinator, Providence Performing Arts Center

Your magic is still singing in the classrooms of JFK, Aquidneck, and Forest Avenue Elementary Schools. Two children were so inspired they brought in pennywhistles and wooden flutes and played 'Hot Cross Buns' on each to demonstrate the different 'VOICES'!!! Your performances were outstanding, reaching the hearts of us all. The beautiful arrangements, instruments, and voices allowed us to travel back to a simpler time, when music was so important and the core of life. The students LOVED listening to the verses, and were so surprised to find the stories in your songs. And, the clog dancing was beyond words. Amazing!

One teacher said, 'It was so obvious: they not only are excellent in what they do--singing, dancing, playing the instruments--but they LOVE doing it, and express that love, and the love of their families, as well. How wonderful to see that shown to the children.' Kevin [Doyle], when you told us about your 90 year old mother who taught you to dance, especially ...

So many teachers remarked about the goosebumps on their arms with the beauty of your music. In plain words, YOU GUYS ARE AMAZING!! Thank you again for this wonderful gift! -- Claire Johnson, Music Specialist, John F. Kennedy and Forest Avenue Elementary Schools, Middletown, RI

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for providing such a wonderful experience for our students and staff at Sowams School. Everybody truly enjoyed learning the dances, games and music that you play so well and which represents American Folk culture in our society.

We look forward to seeing you in the Spring for our Family Folk Dance! -- Amy Gusetti Art Instructor Sowams School Barrington, RI

They were so intuitive to the needs, abilities and attention of all groups, making their visit such a delight for all!

A great big BRAVO! -- Rachel Lalley, Sowams School

I don't usually have the opportunity to enjoy the special events that take place at Sowams School, but ... the day of your dancing workshops, I even got a few moments to join in the fun! What a great opportunity this was for the students. I hope we'll see you back here again.  

Keep singing and playing the music! -- Angela Fallgren, Sowams School

When an audience participates so early into the program and then so many smiling faces express delight with the performance, we all must say, "Well done!" Thank you for a professional concert which combined entertainment and information so effectively ... We know you have many admirers in the Danbury area now!--Jean Whitham, Danbury Public Library, Danbury, CT

  • What is folk music?
  • What did people do for entertainment before electricity?
  • What is your heritage?
  • How was folk music used in daily life and work?
  • What are folk songs about?
  • How did pioneers develop the mountain dulcimer?
  • Where did the banjo come from?
  • How do you play the Irish tin whistle?

These are some of the questions Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly explore in their enthralling programs of traditional folk music. They perform using the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, old-time banjo, Irish tin whistle, guitar, limberjack, harmonica, percussion instruments, and other surprises.

Drawing their repertoire from songs collected in New England, Ireland, Appalachia, Prince Edward Island, the Midwest, and other far-away places, Aubrey and Elwood explain folk music with moving stories and humor. Participation is emphasized as Aubrey and Elwood joke and interact throughout the show: they encourage folks to sing, dance, clap, use body movements, and even play instruments when possible.

Aubrey and Elwood both have strong backgrounds in education and have spent many years teaching children and adults. Along with their general folk music program, they offer a variety of special programs and enjoy working with people of all ages.

Programs Include ...

  • General Program: Aubrey and Elwood introduce participants of all ages to traditional folk music and instruments. Interaction and questions are a strong part of the program.
  • Heritage: American folk music, like American people, is a fusion of many influences and cultures. Participants explore heritage as we travel in time and geography to different lands and learn about what makes up American folk music and dance.
  • Dance: Here is a delightful opportunity for participants to learn the traditions of square and contra dancing. As Elwood calls and teaches dances learned from the masters, Aubrey plays traditional dance tunes on the banjo. Aubrey also teaches sessions of freestyle clogging, also called buckdancing or flatfooting--a traditional style of dancing she learned in Appalachia that combines elements of African, native American, European, and British Isles step-dancing.
  • Instrument Playing, Jam Sessions, Singing, and Dance: Aubrey and Elwood offer a wide variety of workshops for guitar, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, Irish tin whistle, old-time banjo, harmonica, and percussion as well as jam sessions, vocal classes in harmony, ballad, group, and hymn singing, and dance classes for clogging, square and contra dance.
  • Winter Holiday Show: In celebration of winter, light, and American diversity, Aubrey and Elwood sing ancient and new carols and songs of Christmas, winter solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
  • Valentine's Day Show: Drawing from their extensive repertoire of traditional American and Celtic folk songs as well as original songs, Aubrey and Elwood present a lively, humorous, and participatory Valentine's Day concert leaving no stones unturned with regard to the beauty, humor, and peril of romantic love!
  • Celtic Music and Dance In America: During the last few centuries, millions of people have left Ireland, Scotland and other Celtic regions, many settling in North America. Explore the Celtic roots of American folk music and dance and the fascinating fusion with African-American, Native-American, and European influences of beat, melody, and story.
  • Funny Songs! Enjoy a session of humorous, silly songs and jokes. Aubrey and Elwood have designed one silly program for children and one with a little more risqué material for adults. Come sing and laugh!!
  • Songs of the Sea: Explore how music was used historically to aid in the work of sailors as well as to tell vivid stories of life on and off shore.
  • Mountain Songs of the Sea: Wait. What? In this delightful program, Aubrey and Elwood present traditional folk songs commonly found in the Appalachians and Ozarks that make reference to the sea. Come find out why and explore a fascinating expression of human migration.
  • Play Party Songs, Games, and Dances: Step back in time and go to a rural play-party! Aubrey and Elwood will present old-fashioned, interactive songs, dances, and musical games that are a part of our American heritage.
  • Images of Women in Folk Music: Learn about extraordinary "ordinary" women now and in history. Aubrey and Elwood present folk songs of love, adventure, and everyday life that connect to women's and other social issues. A moving and unique program for Women's History Month or any time of the year. 
  • Oral Tradition: Imagine a song or story passed from person to person for five hundred years! In this program, oral transmission is discussed and ancient folk songs are played. Participants are asked to think about oral traditions in their own lives such as family stories, jokes, jump rope rhymes, songs, etc.
  • Emigration/Immigration: This program focuses on the Irish people and their story of emigration. Immigration songs are sung and explained and the influence of Irish music and culture around the world is illustrated. The story of the Irish people is only one example of the many peoples in history forced to flee and emigrate to other countries. Participants are asked to think about if, when, and how their own ancestors came to the United States.
  • Ballads: Early Newspapers: Ballads are stories in the form of song used to convey important events and to entertain. For people who did not necessarily read or write, these songs were often an important means of relaying and receiving major news of wrongdoing, crime, love, war, celebration, or disaster. The ballads often tell us that, despite technology, people are still very much the same.
  • Preschool Program: Children ages 3-6 years can see, hear, and try unusual instruments as well as clap, sing, and dance to captivating folk songs for the very young.
  • Instrument "Petting Zoo": Participants can see, hear, and touch folk instruments including the very ones that Aubrey and Elwood use in their concerts. This is an intimate and multi-sensory opportunity to sit with the artists and talk about the instruments and the lives of performers. 
  • French Program: Since part of American history includes French and French Canadian settlement and immigration, here's another spin on American heritage and folk music: simple childhood songs in French as well as some French narration. Aubrey, who studied briefly in Paris during college, will teach students French phrases and songs.
  • The Anthropology of Folk Music and Dance: Music and dance are social behaviors used across the globe for communication, celebration, mourning, and worship. Learn how the universally human need to create music and dance is expressed across cultures and within our own in this traditional American folk music and dance performance.
  • Rural Songs: Explore nature and the relationship between human beings and the earth. How were people connected to the earth in the past? How do we relate to nature now? Hear songs of rural and farm life past and present.
  • Songs of Jean Ritchie and the Ritchie Family: Of all the primary source singers Aubrey and Elwood have had the privilege to meet, Jean Ritchie (1922-2015) is their greatest influence. From eastern Kentucky, Jean was one of the most important traditional folk singers in American music history. Join Aubrey and Elwood as we explore the life and history of Jean and the "Singing Family of the Cumberlands," delving into some of the 300 Ritchie Family songs.
  • Songs of Pete Seeger: Singing songs the iconic Pete Seeger wrote or made famous, we'll learn about his long life as a courageous activist and folk singer of great integrity. Enjoy his wonderful legacy through song!

See the Workshop Master List for details on these programs and more!

To schedule a performance or educational program,
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