The History of Mountain Collegium

Workshop founder George Kelischek. 

Photo 2016, courtesey of George Kelischek

Mountain Collegium, a weeklong workshop of early and folk music and dance, was the inspiration of George Kelischek, an instrument builder who began his wood-working career as an apprentice cabinetmaker in post-war Germany. He worked as journeyman for several master makers, including Moeck, and became a master violinmaker in 1955. His passion and skills led him first to New Brunswick, Canada, and finally to Georgia in 1960, where he started the Kelischek Workshop for Historical Instruments, now located near the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.

In 1972, George and Rosemarie Kelischek held the first Mountain Collegium in Brasstown with two faculty – George himself and Arnold “Arnie” Grayson – for  community members and a single paying student. Both the Kelischek Workshop for Historical Instruments and the Mountain Collegium grew quickly, so that by 1975 the Mountain Collegium had outgrown the Kelischeck’s Brasstown home. Mountain Collegium moved to Young Harris College in Georgia, which hosted the early music, folk music, and dance workshop from 1976 through 2002. The workshop was structured around 3 to 4 daily classes with evenings given over to country dancing, a faculty concert, and the “Big Blow and Bow,” as it is now known, when all participants and faculty gather to read and perform larger works. While located at Young Harris, the workshop ended with a gala party and fireworks display hosted by the Kelischeks.

In 2003, the workshop Board of Directors moved the workshop to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, where it remains today. Workshop Directors after George Kelischek include Robert Castellano (2004 – 2006), Pat Petersen (2007 – 2010), and Jody Miller (2011 – present). In 2007, Martha Bishop became President of a new board of directors, followed by Dwayne Heisler, and Gail Ann Schroeder (2012 – present). The workshop has continued to grow in size and complexity, and Mountain Collegium re-incorporated in 2010 as a non-profit 501(c)(3). Mountain Collegium now has over 70 participants annually along with a thriving work study scholarship program and continues to attract a slate of talented and versatile faculty.

The 45th workshop was held June 26 through July 2, 2016, with three of the four directors present.  George Kelischek joined the faculty for the celebration along with immediate past director Pat Petersen and current director Jody Miller.  A record number of participants confirmed that Mountain Collegium is a popular choice of weeklong workshops.

The 2020 Workshop was cancelled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, with the Board of Directors deciding to move the official 50th Anniversary year to 2022.