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Harmonizing At Sessions


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#37 hjcjones

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 03:52 AM

I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?


Over here, sessions are sessions - ITM doesn't have copyright on the term. We have Irish sessions, English sessions (contrary to widespread belief, there is such a thing as English music), Scottish, Welsh, French, Klezmer, Scandinavian, Bluegrass and pretty much anything else you can think of. We also have mixed sessions where anything goes.

I've noticed a frequent assumption on concertina.net that traditional music means Irish music. Perhaps the OP made the same assumption - he didn't specify Irish music in his original question, but many of the replies assumed that. However, many of us play other types of music (and I often play Irish, but not on concertina) and many of the responses reflected that, and pointed out that in these sessions the culture and expectations are often quite different from many Irish sessions

I happen to think that it muddies up the music if people are "harmonizing" on tunes they don't know. According to my observations this is consistent with the opinions of most of the Irish players at sessions I've been to.


I think that on the whole the response to this thread has been broadly in agreement, so far as Irish music is concerned. Irish music emphasises the melody, and there seems to be a widespread feeling that harmonising is not part of this tradition. Whether it "muddies up" the music depends on the skill of the musicians - the Chieftains seem to get away with it pretty well - but it's also a matter of preference, not just of the individual but of the collective session.

English sessions are quite different. They tend to be dominated by melodeons (and English melodeon, unlike Irish accordeon, makes full use of the chord buttons), and concertinas played chordal-style, so there is already a lot of harmony going on. The emphasis is on rhythm, and it is expected that in the course of a tune we will play around with rhythm, chords and counter-melodies. Does it get muddied up? Well, to be honest, quite often yes, but when it comes together its fabulous.

But when you visit someone else's session please be sure everyone's into the the whole harmonizing thing before you start going crazy. That's all I'm saying.


Absolutely. Whether its because of "dogma", a view of the tradition, of just a common preference, it's always important to get understand and respect the culture when you visit a session.

#38 hjcjones

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 04:10 AM

I've been to some sessions where guitarists add lots of jazz chords to the mix which IMHO is not normally supportive of the music but rather detracts from & overpowers it.


Then I can only assume you never heard the late Peerie Willie Johnson accompanying Shetland fiddle tunes.

As for the 7ths issue - I've heard this mentioned a few times but have never heard the argument why they should never be included & my instincts are generally to be very distrustful of any absolute rules. What's the reasoning behind this one?


You are right to be distrustful of rules where traditional music is concerned. However trad tunes tend not to follow the regular scales, and even those which appear to be in a standard major scale often show subtle variations. For example, in English music it is not uncommon for a scale to contain a "normal" 7th note on the way up but a flattened 7th on the way down. Playing the bog-standard 7th chord would detract from this.

Musical theory aside (not my strong point anyway), my ears tell me that 7th chords don't work very well for trad tunes. I decided this for myself long ago, long before I heard it as a "rule". But perhaps that's just conditioning based on a folk revival idea of how folk music should sound.

#39 stevejay

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 07:06 AM

If I had a friend around to accompany me on guitar, it would be great to work out twin lead harmonies for a while until he/she got back to the rhythm backup. Varying between harmony and twin lead without the rhyhm chords at times, would help keep it all interesting for both. I would encourage he or she to experiment with whatever chords seemed to fit, diminished, major 7ths etc. If players in the "old" days knew these chords, they would have not neglected them. Unfortunately, my only accompaniest is my foot. <_<

Last thought: The only problem I see in changing traditional music is if you change it all up, but claim it to be totally "traditional" Also somebody who goes so far out they don't even remember the skeleton tune anymore. That would be pretty bad, trying to make it so complicated that the tune was lost. The tunes are preserved in simple forms, not the overly adorned with a jazz fake sheet attached. Nothing wroong with that either, as long as it is represented for what it is, a jazz spin on an old tradition.

But back to topic- I think playing with the group means you expect to march in rank and file, not to your own drummer. P;aying outside of what the group is playing too much defeats the teamwork of a session maybe. Just shooting from the hip, like I said, I am a soloist.

Edited by stevejay, 18 March 2008 - 07:19 AM.


#40 JimLucas

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 09:02 AM

[list][edited in] I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

Interesting question, since I have long (since the early 1970's) been under the impression that the Irish borrowed the word "session" from the jazz world, with its "jam session", a term often shortened to just either "jam" or "session". In fact, back then some folks were calling an Irish session a "sesiún" (do they still?), and there were heated debates as to the appropriateness of this usage, since others claimed it was nothing more than a false-Gaelic copy of an English word, and thus an insult to the true Irish.

One thing is certain... folks will always find things to argue about.

All the rest is opinion.



#41 meltzer

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 09:12 AM

back then some folks were calling an Irish session a "sesiún"


:lol: :lol: :lol:

*wipes away tear*

#42 Paul Read

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 10:14 AM

One thing is certain... folks will always find things to argue about.

All the rest is opinion.

[/indent]


Jim,
I'm not sure I agree with that statement....................

#43 Paul Read

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 10:20 AM

[edited in] I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

IMy conduct both at home and on visits to Ireland are influenced by what I've observed -- and I agree with it.

I think your problem is your limited experience i.e. you've only experienced Irish sessions. English sessions are much more open. You should try to get to one if you're ever in England, they're great fun. I'm not sure which came first. Probably English as the Irish sessions are more of a post 1950s thing (or so I thought). Of course, they may not always have been called sessions.........

#44 Larry Stout

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 10:24 AM

Interesting question, since I have long (since the early 1970's) been under the impression that the Irish borrowed the word "session" from the jazz world, with its "jam session", a term often shortened to just either "jam" or "session". In fact, back then some folks were calling an Irish session a "sesiún" (do they still?), and there were heated debates as to the appropriateness of this usage, since others claimed it was nothing more than a false-Gaelic copy of an English word, and thus an insult to the true Irish.


This led my wife and me to look in the OED: the term session came to English from French going back to the Latin sessionem from the verb meaning to sit (which is what we do in sessions). Musical connections are dated from 1927 referring to recording sessions and related jam sessions. Most early references are to jazz. Interestingly the Welsh eisteddfod (literaly session) also refers to a verb meaning to sit and was used for a musical gathering as early as 1820. Thanks to my linguist wife for pointing out that connection.

#45 Stephen Chambers

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 10:42 AM

I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

Interesting question, since I have long (since the early 1970's) been under the impression that the Irish borrowed the word "session" from the jazz world, with its "jam session", a term often shortened to just either "jam" or "session". In fact, back then some folks were calling an Irish session a "sesiún" (do they still?), and there were heated debates as to the appropriateness of this usage, since others claimed it was nothing more than a false-Gaelic copy of an English word, and thus an insult to the true Irish.

In fact in "normal" (i.e. non-musical) Irish usage, a session is what you have when you go to the pub and consume large quantities of alcohol. When speaking to non-musicians it is necessary to qualify your meaning by adding music or trad to session, or people might think you're a serious drinker. :rolleyes:

#46 meltzer

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 11:32 AM

In fact in "normal" (i.e. non-musical) Irish usage, a session is what you have when you go to the pub and consume large quantities of alcohol. When speaking to non-musicians it is necessary to qualify your meaning by adding music or trad to session, or people might think you're a serious drinker. :rolleyes:


This is also true of non-musical English usage. In fact there are even special beers called "session beers" which are refreshing and not-too-strong, to enable you to drink them for long periods of time without falling over. As I discovered to my cost some years ago, Marston's Owd Roger is not one of these.

*stands by for 2 pages on whether the Irish or the English came up with this first, and whether -- in order for it to be a real session -- you have to be drinking Guiness*

;)

#47 JimLucas

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 12:03 PM

*stands by for 2 pages on whether the Irish or the English came up with this first, and whether -- in order for it to be a real session -- you have to be drinking Guiness*

;)

The essence of a drinking bout
Is the Guinness within us, and not without. :D

(Jim Lucas, March 18, 2008)



#48 hjcjones

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 12:27 PM

In fact in "normal" (i.e. non-musical) Irish usage, a session is what you have when you go to the pub and consume large quantities of alcohol.


It often has that meaning in musical usage too :lol:

#49 geoffwright

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 12:33 PM

Whatever you do harmony-wise - don't do it all night - do it sparingly.

I really enjoy counter-melodies and playing in 3rds - but am careful not to do it every time through the tune.
Similarly chords (on whatever instrument) - put some occasional chords in, but not all the way through a tune.

ITM is a somewhat different animal to a trad English sesh. The more modal layout of some tunes give scope for some more "colourful", or even, "over-the-top" chord sequences. For this reason, unless they can agree, it is sometimes better to have as few non-tune players as possible.
There are no "right" chords, but there are definitely "wrong" chords in any given chord sequence.

Unless you are a natural or can argue harmony with the session-pedants, beware.

#50 Stephen Chambers

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 02:39 PM

... there are even special beers called "session beers" which are refreshing and not-too-strong, to enable you to drink them for long periods of time without falling over.

My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!

As I discovered to my cost some years ago, Marston's Owd Roger is not one of these.

Indeed not, don't mess with "Owd Roger"! :blink:

Your much safer with Marston's Pedigree, if you want to enjoy your pint and survive the night... :unsure:

So is "Harmonizing At Sessions" nothing more than a bunch of drunks singing Nellie Dean (English session) or Danny Boy (Irish session)? ;)

#51 Chris Timson

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 02:52 PM

My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!

I think the term was invented by CAMRA to describe, um, session beers...

Chris

#52 ragtimer

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Posted 18 March 2008 - 03:29 PM

The 'right' chords
I can't leave this topic without some thoughts on 'right' chords. I have already said that your ear is your guide, but it is easy to be mislead. There has, in my opinion, been a deliberate attempt by some music-publishers to impose unnecessarily complex chord patterns onto traditional tunes. Here's Jim Small's 'Shepton Mallet Hornpipe' as it appears in an EFDSS Country Dance Manual.

Posted Image

Have these have been added to make the tune 'more interesting' (!!) or as a sop to the omnipresent piano accordions with their 180 button basses?

I think these chords should be rejected as simply too contrived.

Well, FWIW, those chords are about the level of complxxity that I paly, and the old-timey/Celtic band I play with would play also. In fact, I might add a few chord changes to the 3rd and 2nd bars from the end!

There are two statements that are held to be true by very highly respected experts on Traditional British Music.

  • There are no sevenths in trad. music.

Even tho the harmonica and Cajun melodeon force a V7 chord?

  • There are only 2 chords in traditional tunes. (I and V in major keys; I and the V of its relative major in minor keys.)
  • I think we need at least I, V, and IV. And their relative minors vi, iii, and ii.
    And sometiems a tune cries out for a II7 (A7 in key of G).

    Excuse me if "traditional British tunes" means something mroe restrictive than I'm used to with Irish, Scots, and early AMerican music, but I think that all 6 diatonic chords are fair game. --Mike K.

    #53 Phantom Button

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    Posted 18 March 2008 - 04:49 PM

    My education is sadly lacking, I'd never heard of "session beers" before, despite the fact I was born in the brewing capital of Britain!


    Posted Image


    #54 Phantom Button

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    Posted 18 March 2008 - 05:01 PM

    [list][edited in] I didn't realize until now that there was such a thing as "English sessions." Is this the tradition to call them "sessions," or are they called that after Irish sessions?

    Interesting question, since I have long (since the early 1970's) been under the impression that the Irish borrowed the word "session" from the jazz world, with its "jam session", a term often shortened to just either "jam" or "session". In fact, back then some folks were calling an Irish session a "sesiún" (do they still?), and there were heated debates as to the appropriateness of this usage, since others claimed it was nothing more than a false-Gaelic copy of an English word, and thus an insult to the true Irish.

    I thought the Irish might have given it the Irish spelling to distinguish it from "jam session" to make sure the "jam" part can't be reconnected since it implies improvising or "harmonizing" along with tunes you might not know. Often when I'm describing what a session is to people who aren't familiar with ITM they will say, "You mean jam session?" and I have to explain that no one's really "jamming" and we all know the tunes we're playing. We've also dealt with improvising fluters and such who after having us ask them to please stop they say, "But I thought this was supposed to be a "jam session!"

    Anyway, I wonder what the person that started this thread was implying when he said, "session." I assumed he meant Irish session.

    Also, my question about English sessions wasn't really answered. I was wondering if they called them "sessions" before the term "session" was coined by the Irish to describe their musical get-togethers.

    Edited by Phantom Button, 18 March 2008 - 05:04 PM.





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