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hjcjones

Rules and Tradition

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A group of musicians are playing in a public place (such as a pub) according to their own rules. A newcomer sits in, assuming that it is an open session, and unknowingly breaks the rules. Result: irritation and visible resentment, <_< which become mutual, and another brick in the wall between some Irish TDM players and the wider music community.

 

Ouch! that sounds heartfelt.

 

How about this one.

 

A local style has now become popular world wide. The new enthusiasts add their own little twists, as every competent musician will, probably unwittingly bringing in their 'local' influences too.

 

Back home in Ireland, the original pool of players can see their music being mutated in all sorts of odd ways they wouldn't have done themselves. It must be a bit strange. Maybe at times it's like having something of yours hijacked?

 

When someone asks, say, 'Is a tambourine appropriate for ITM' there are 2 formulas of reply, every time. One is another 'interpreter' who can report that 'Yes, tambourines fit in well' because he does that too, and the other is the died-in-the-wool 'No, we don't do that'. Now, although this often descends into an argument here on Cnet, I don't think it is a sensible one because it's about two completely different experiences and attitudes. I don't think there's a right and wrong; they probably depend as much as anything on your position on the globe.

 

The thing I am most puzzled by is the 'The Tradition' concept, and it's use as a bludgeon. Firstly, for the reasons above, I think it's fairly irrelevant for foreign players. But also it seems to need all the Irish players to be in complete agreement about what it is in a way that just doesn't fit my ideas of how people 'do' the sort of informal music making we are talking about. Surely there are not only regional variations, but variations from group to group, sometimes quite noticeable?

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This conservatism/evolution thing fascinates me. Who are the arbiters?

 

Why the musicians of course. Thats one of the reasons you get so many complaints about how unfriendly sessions often are. In my personal experience, most sessions are quite friendly as long as you are willing to go along with what they are doing.

 

--

Bill

A group of musicians are playing in a public place (such as a pub) according to their own rules. A newcomer sits in, assuming that it is an open session, and unknowingly breaks the rules. Result: irritation and visible resentment, <_< which become mutual, and another brick in the wall between some Irish TDM players and the wider music community.

 

If you and your companions choose to restrict your playing to "The Tradition" as you define it, all well and good. But please make sure that the rules are clear to everyone at the outset - especially if you're playing in a public place - to prevent misunderstandings. That way, no one need worry about "how unfriendly sessions often are."

 

So let me see if I understand this; a group of friends is sitting around a table enjoying some tunes. A person who has never set foot in the place before comes in, sits down and starts playing a tune without any sort of invitation?

 

With respect, if instead of tunes, this was a conversation, it would be the newcomer who was considered rude, not the existing group. I doubt there are many public sessions where a newcomer would not be welcome if they did the following.

 

1. Before pulling out the instrument to jump in, they spent some time listening to the music. If you have been at a session for 30 minutes, and everything played was ITM (or Bluegrass, or Morris, etc.) then you probably should expect that it is an ITM session.

 

2. Wait until there is a break in the music and then ask some of the players if you might sit in.

 

3. Don't try to start a tune until you are invited. Some sessions have one or two leaders that start the tunes, and others rotate the tunes... but if the tunes rotate, I expect you will be invited to play eventually.

 

I am sure most sessions have their own set of rules, but the rules are often unspoken... in part because they are only really recognized by the people in the session themselves when someone comes in and starts breaking all of them.

 

Just to give a little anecdote. A few years ago, I was sitting in on the Beginner's session on a Monday night at J. Patrick's in Baltimore. This session is run by Donna Long, and from personal experience, she goes out of her way to make sure that new comers are welcome. Well, this guy comes in, listens to the set we are currently playing (maybe two sets, I am not sure now). When we finish, he speaks up and accuses us of being a session that only plays dance music (which I guess is true... but he said it with real disdain as if there was something wrong with us enjoying that) and asked us if we ever played any songs. Donna admitted that we generally only played dance music but said we were open to some Irish songs. Well, he didn't respond to that and after a couple of minutes a new set was started and then he got up and left.

 

Now, I am almost sure that he will tell anyone, who asks him about the sessions at J. Patrick's, that the sessions at J. Patrick's are elitist and unfriendly. But I know for a fact that they are anything but.

 

--

Bill

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I fully agree with your three points, Bill. But I'll repeat: "please make sure that the rules are clear to everyone at the outset - especially if you're playing in a public place." I have seen this scenario several times, in Scotland and in the US: a somewhat insensitive outsider cheerfully injects inappropriate music into a narrowly focused group. Group responds with :rolleyes: or <_< or even :angry: . Outsider concludes the group is a bunch of unfriendly snobs. Group concludes outsider is a jerk. Perhaps both are right, but a little communication up front might have prevented some misunderstandings.

 

Part of the problem is that - unlike your "conversation" analogy - a music session in a pub dominates the entire room. If music in "The Tradition" is what the publican and patrons want, that's great - especially if there's a notice posted so new arrivals know the deal from the outset. But I've seen some folks march into a pub unannounced, sit down to play their music non-stop and full blast, and act as if they own the place, making it clear that anything else is unwelcome. And sometimes, folks who just stop in the pub for a bit of quiet conversation with friends are driven out by loud, repetitive and incessant music. I think it is important to remember that not everyone is as keen on our music as we are.

Edited by yankeeclipper

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And that of course is what some of us don't want. We like our traditions the way they are.. sure they are going to change slowly over time.. but we want them to be preserved so that if my son takes up the music, what he plays will still be recognizable to me. If we change the nature of the music, we haven't preserved the tradition, have we?

Bill

 

But should the tradition be preserved, which implies fixing it in some particular form, or conserved? If you're going to preserve it, what do you preserve? the tradition as it is in 2009 , or the tradition of the 1950s, or perhaps the 1850s version? If you're not careful, it cease to be something living and becomes re-enactment.

 

It's a difficult line to draw, and I don't know the answer. It's not as simple as only allowing innovation from within and resisting "foreign" influences - both the fiddle and concertina were "foreign" influences, but the fiddle in particular, in both Irish or English music, probably shaped what we now think of as the tradition. The problem now is that we are exposed to so many more outside influences than our predecessors, and it is inevitable that these will shape (perhaps unconsciously) how we approach our own music.

 

"We like our traditions the way they are.." That sums up the essence of a tradition. However musicians have always pushed the boundaries, and if an innovation proves popular with enough people then it will take hold, even if not everyone approves. In time, it will become the new orthodoxy.

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If we change the nature of the music, we haven't preserved the tradition, have we?

 

No, but you might have preserved the music.

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Here in Brittany innovation of traditional music is done for decades, at a level that surpasses everything done in Ireland, Scotland or other countries I know of. But most of the people involved have a good knowledge of the musical tradition; originate from this tradition.

For instance Jean Michel Veillon, now considered one of the best wooden flute players in the world, has introduced the wooden flute to Breton music (and the techniques needed to do so). But he started by dancing the traditional Breton dances and playing the bombard (one of the typical traditional instruments in Brittany), and acquired a profound knowledge of the Breton musical tradition. Now there are hundreds of wooden flute players around, and flutists are included in many of the groups that play dance music.

I respect the fact that tradition is conservative, it has to be otherwise it would not be tradition. If everybody started to do whatever they wanted, without written or unwritten rules, traditional music would be diluted to a point it would cease to exist. That is also essential for blues, different forms of Jazz, different forms of classical music, ska, dixieland, rapp, rock etc. Within tradition or any other style of music change is always possible but will need a certain degree of general consensus of those involved with it.

So when I say that the EC is capable of playing within the Irish musical tradition, that may be so. But to really enter the Irish musical tradition I will have to convince that community of people that sings, plays or listens Irish traditional music.

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Here in Brittany innovation of traditional music is done for decades, at a level that surpasses everything done in Ireland, Scotland or other countries I know of. But most of the people involved have a good knowledge of the musical tradition; originate from this tradition.

For instance Jean Michel Veillon, now considered one of the best wooden flute players in the world, has introduced the wooden flute to Breton music (and the techniques needed to do so). But he started by dancing the traditional Breton dances and playing the bombard (one of the typical traditional instruments in Brittany), and acquired a profound knowledge of the Breton musical tradition. Now there are hundreds of wooden flute players around, and flutists are included in many of the groups that play dance music.

I respect the fact that tradition is conservative, it has to be otherwise it would not be tradition. If everybody started to do whatever they wanted, without written or unwritten rules, traditional music would be diluted to a point it would cease to exist. That is also essential for blues, different forms of Jazz, different forms of classical music, ska, dixieland, rapp, rock etc. Within tradition or any other style of music change is always possible but will need a certain degree of general consensus of those involved with it.

So when I say that the EC is capable of playing within the Irish musical tradition, that may be so. But to really enter the Irish musical tradition I will have to convince that community of people that sings, plays or listens Irish traditional music.

 

 

Hmm---I'm not absolutely convinced about the Breton analogy having heard a lot of bands around Europe in my time who have taken to Irish music and grafted it in a pretty insensitive way to their local traditions. Mind you the pan-celtic thing has brought other instruments and traditio sin the other way. Again if it takes off who can deny its place.

 

 

In one of our local folk-mags here in Yorkshire, Tyke's News, there is a 200 word interview with Bob Dylan. Hhe says in it :

 

'Music's music. What kind of music it is doesn't make it good or bad. Whether it's good or bad makes it good or bad.'

 

In Stirrings magazine was a provocative quote form Peter Ackroyd's book Albion;

 

'Englishness is the principle of appropriation. It relies upon constant immigration of people or ideas or styles, in order to survive.'

 

 

I suppose that could apply to American-ness too. I wonder what will happen to Irish popular community music as more immigrants go, rather than leave there.

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