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Music Books at Pub Sessions


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Part of the difficulty for newcomers is that no two sessions are alike. Some are fully open to anyone who comes along, others are to all intents and purposes public performances by a closed group of friends. Some are organised and have a leader, others are completely informal. However even the informal ones are subject to rules which are understood by the regulars but are usually unwritten and may be unspoken. Experienced session visitors learn to pick up on the culture of a session and their individual nuances, without stepping on the regulars' toes. The less experienced may not be able to do this, and may not even realise they need to.

 

I am still embarrassed by an occasion (many years ago, I hope I'm wiser now) when I picked up a spare mandolin and started playing - because that was accepted practice in my regular session. I can still see the owner's expression as he removed it from me.

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Here's a true, real-world example:

A man appears at a local Irish session here in Southern Sweden. He plays bones, extra large super-sized, wooden bones. Clickety-clackety, ad nauseam.

 

Right. He then switches to spoons and a young man at a nearby table of seven comments: "Oh - I didn't know that spoons could be an instrument!"

 

So. Our man proceeds to the bar and return with 14 spoons, which he delivers to the table of young men. He demonstrates how to use them.

 

I leave the following 15 minutes to your imagination…

 

 

Summed up beautifully by Con O'Driscol in his song The Spoons Murder!

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Now that's funny you should say that Dirge, as my wife once talked me into dying my hair black ,to cover up my grey hair. I actually started to go grey at eighteen. Not only did the dye make my white shirt collars black, but for a few weeks I looked like an ill Pakistani.

Al :)

 

It's not white hair...its platinum blonde. ;)

 

As for sessions. I can't play by ear in a session on the concertina. Mainly because I can't hear myself...so I could be playing all the wrong notes or the right ones and wouldn't know.

(Melodeon at least I have a chance of hearing myself. So I'll nervously give it a try.) But my usual way is I memorize tunes from the dots...which takes me weeks and months (I do actually 'see' the music in my minds eye).

l

I have heard of this before "Dot Memory" ,can you use it like a busker book and add notes to enhance it or are you restricted to the dots as written ? It is rather a shame to go down this route as "By ear" players, once they know the tune can play along.It may be worth trying this out with simple tunes and try and progress.

Al

Depends what you mean. Even with music in front of me I only use it to tell me for example to play an 'A', how I play it is determined by what I hear (so if someone goes diddle Dee instead of Deeee then I can do that..although it might be more like a did*errrk*dee if it goes past to flippin fast) as I can't 'read' the dots properly.

Edited by LDT
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The following is direct quote from a fiddle book published by Mel Bay.

 

"Whatever they play-whistle, flute, concertina, uilleann pipes, accordeon, mandolin, bodhran, mouth organ or fiddle- traditional musicians play heart. When they meet for a sssion no-one gets out a music stand an a tune book. If they did, of course, the tunes would be more fixed than they are. In fact, most players also learn their tunes by ear. Some would-be fiddlers, perhaps with a classical background, find this daunting. But, if you are among them, don’t worry. Laearning by ar, and playing by heart are skills, like any other, can be aquired with practice. Familiarity with the idiom of Irish music makes it easier to learn a tune- though growing up with it since childhood is obviously best of all."-- by Pete Cooper.

Edited by Lawrence Reeves
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Lose the book, come and listen a few times, pick one tune or set you enjoy hearing, record it, work it out (that means practice!). When you can play it from memory at a steady pace(not fast) come out, be polite! Wait to be asked to start. Give it a go and every one will be glad to help you, and will respect you that you invested the time to memorize the tune. Repeat this pattern for the rest of your life.

Edited by Doug Barr
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i can't tell you how many times we have invited people to play their party piece, sing their favorite song, even play scottish bagpipes at any of the sessions i go to.

Makes me think of what happened one night at the Eagle Tavern in NYC, where everyone -- even the "audience" -- was encouraged but not pressured to do at least one number. The Irish concept of the "party piece" was much alive in that session.

 

Our unspoken-until-needed rules were only three:

  • No conversation. (The session had it's own room, and if you insisted on talking you were "invited" to do so out at the bar.)
  • Don't monopolize. (If you tried to perform or "lead" more than a couple of times in a row, you were "asked" to stop.)
  • Follow the leader. (This didn't just mean that you should play the same tune, in the same version, in the same tempo. It meant that if the leader -- this especially with singers -- didn't want you to join in, a simple shake of the head should be enough to make you stop... even if a nod was given to someone else.)

But what happened that night:

 

Five individuals walked in, with accessories. They listened for a bit, then asked if we would mind if they played a few tunes.

 

When they were told they were welcome, they excused themselves to go out into the street and tune up, then came back in. Given the nod, they began to play: 3 sets of war pipes and a tenor drum, plus their leader directing with his big baton.

 

They played a few tunes, then quietly packed up their gear as they said, "That's enough of us; now we want to hear more from you."

I have often wondered what would have happened if one of the neighbors, objecting to the noise when they were tuning up out in the street, had called the cops. These fellows were in full dress, with kilts, sporrans, and... sidearms! They were members of the New York City policemen's pipe band. :D

 

I guess to stay on topic, I should mention that they played without written music. ;) And that at least our "no conversation" rule was almost never invoked by the musicians, but when necessary by the non-participants who came to listen.

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Here's a true, real-world example:

...

True, indeed.

And repeated at more than one session.

An extreme case, to be sure.

 

Now I haven't seen him in perhaps a year or more, and I'm told that under pressure from the other musicians the management at each venue has banned him. Could be, as I haven't heard of any mangled or missing bicycles.

 

But there's a big difference between such pig-headed insistence on imposing your own rules on someone else's social environment and the naive newcomer stumbling over "invisible" rules. The handling of the two situations deserves to be as different as their causes.

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This sort of thing used to happen at a session in the early 90's in Orange County, NY, and the guy was a great sight reader, but new to this kind of music, and when he recognized a tune, he would rummage through a pile of photocopied tunes until he found the one being played, and once he had the music in front of him, he would play it louder and faster than the rest of us, who were playing by ear and by heart. He really was a nice guy, so no-one ever said anything to him about it, and eventually, he got over using the sheet music, and became one of the better players...During the time that that was occuring, sessions were reasonably new to that area, and I complained about it once to a good friend of mine, Marty "moonshine" McK*****(heavyweight pro musician, but a very polite and kindhearted "gentleman", in every sense of the word)and his response to me, though not exactly sympathetic, was " well, that is not in the spirit of the genre"....and that is what we are talking about here, certain behaviors are "not in the spirit of the genre". A lot of behaviors at sessions are "not in the spirit of the genre", but no matter where you go, there is that someone, be it a newbie, session host, or veteran who has gone deaf, there's someone making it tough for everyone else...in most cases, they don't mean to, they are just new to this sort of thing, and they have to learn the ropes...Though like Greg J. mentioned earlier, the guy got over it and got good at it. Dealing with this is a part of the territory....Keep Squeezin', Don

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Perhaps we could liken this to other pursuits, so for example, how comfortable would you be climbing the North Face of the Eiger, with someone who was reading the Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing, as he climbed?

 

Or, how popular would a referee be at a Football or Rugby match, if they were constantly referring to the Rule Book?

 

The way I see it, bookwork is what you do at home to prepare yourself, so it's not surprising really, when folks who have spent years & years diligently doing their homework, frown on those who apparently couldn't be bothered being better prepared.

 

I wouldn't dream of dropping in on my local orchestra, in my T Shirt & Jeans & expect to be allowed to just sit in at the end of the line, without Music & just busk along with the symphony.

 

Or, put another way, would you take a knife to a gun fight?

 

Frankly, if you are trying to read the dots & learn the tune, as it is being played at a session, then it's highly unlikely that you will be adding anything of any real value to the overall sound. In fact, it is far more likely that you will be to a greater or lesser extent, destroying the sound, at least for those sitting next to you.

 

As Henrik has already pointed out, all you get in a book is a skeleton, so anyone trying to play the skeleton of a tune they don't even know, at session speed, is probably going to be leaving a few bones out in the process.

 

Leaving beginners sessions aside, the way I see it, a real session should be the pinnacle of a traditional musicians aspirations, so it's only when they have mastered a number of tunes that they should even be thinking of joining in.

 

For what it's worth, I've found that, during the past 40 years that I've been going to sessions, musicians with common sense & good manners, always do their homework ..... at home.

 

When in Rome ......

 

Cheers,

Dick

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Perhaps we could liken this to other pursuits, so for example, how comfortable would you be climbing the North Face of the Eiger, with someone who was reading the Beginners Guide to Rock Climbing, as he climbed?

 

Or, how popular would a referee be at a Football or Rugby match, if they were constantly referring to the Rule Book?

 

The way I see it, bookwork is what you do at home to prepare yourself, so it's not surprising really, when folks who have spent years & years diligently doing their homework, frown on those who apparently couldn't be bothered being better prepared.

 

I wouldn't dream of dropping in on my local orchestra, in my T Shirt & Jeans & expect to be allowed to just sit in at the end of the line, without Music & just busk along with the symphony.

 

Or, put another way, would you take a knife to a gun fight?

 

Frankly, if you are trying to read the dots & learn the tune, as it is being played at a session, then it's highly unlikely that you will be adding anything of any real value to the overall sound. In fact, it is far more likely that you will be to a greater or lesser extent, destroying the sound, at least for those sitting next to you.

 

As Henrik has already pointed out, all you get in a book is a skeleton, so anyone trying to play the skeleton of a tune they don't even know, at session speed, is probably going to be leaving a few bones out in the process.

 

Leaving beginners sessions aside, the way I see it, a real session should be the pinnacle of a traditional musicians aspirations, so it's only when they have mastered a number of tunes that they should even be thinking of joining in.

 

For what it's worth, I've found that, during the past 40 years that I've been going to sessions, musicians with common sense & good manners, always do their homework ..... at home.

 

When in Rome ......

 

Cheers,

Dick

There are times of course in sessions where the tune being played is new to you,a different key to what you usually play ,or a different version to the tune you know.It takes you a little while to sort these things out, so it is usual to either not play at all, or work through it quietly so as not to distract other players.This may require you to put the concertina up to your ear to ensure you have the right notes and then wait for an A or B part to come in. Do not join the tune half way through.

Al

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The following is direct quote from a fiddle book published by Mel Bay.

 

"Whatever they play-whistle, flute, concertina, uilleann pipes, accordeon, mandolin, bodhran, mouth organ or fiddle- traditional musicians play heart. When they meet for a sssion no-one gets out a music stand an a tune book. If they did, of course, the tunes would be more fixed than they are. In fact, most players also learn their tunes by ear. Some would-be fiddlers, perhaps with a classical background, find this daunting. But, if you are among them, don't worry. Laearning by ar, and playing by heart are skills, like any other, can be aquired with practice. Familiarity with the idiom of Irish music makes it easier to learn a tune- though growing up with it since childhood is obviously best of all."-- by Pete Cooper.

 

By Heart not by Ear seems to be the clue by which I mean the whole sprit of the music and its context.

As to using dots, while I think they are useful as an aide memoire in learning. II remember when Peter Cropper a very well known classical violinist was on the same show as Sean Keane of The Chieftains on a Radio Sheffield show .In answer to a question by the presenter he said 'just give me the music and I'm sure I can play Irish music' the response was polite but put him in his place and his efforts proved the point.

Edited by michael sam wild
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Does anyone remember Yehudi Menuhin's excruciating attempts at jazz violin with Stephane Grappelli? I can't remember whether he used music, but Grappelli blew him away eveery time. No one would question Menuhin's ability but he simply didn't have sufficient immersion in that style of music to do it justice.

 

Technical competence and the ability to read from music (or to play by ear for that matter) count for nothing if you haven't got into the spirit of the music. This applies to any genre.

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Why should a group be forced to accept whatever behavior is forced upon them by any casual visitor? I'd say that a visitor has an obligation to be alert and receptive to what goes on in the group and - yes - adapt to that.

 

Very nicely put, thank you. Something that ought to be obvious to everybody but clearly isn't.

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Can a blue man play the whites? Or is that straying into the shark ridden waters of nationalism (even racism) and the argument that there is a genetic predisposition to certain kinds of music?B) whether you can play by ear and observe session etiquette , will you really be welcome in some sessions.

 

If the 'Irish' session is so strictly focussed as to exclude songs, Carolan tunes, airs or polkas and hornpipes , as some rig and jeel sessions can be is that in the true spirit of the music or is an exclusive genre in itself?

Edited by michael sam wild
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Can a blue man play the whites? Or is that straying into the shark ridden waters of nationalism (even racism) and the argument that there is a genetic predisposition to certain kinds of music?B) whether you can play by ear and observe session etiquette , will you really be welcome in some sessions.

 

If the 'Irish' session is so strictly focussed as to exclude songs, Carolan tunes, airs or polkas and hornpipes , as some rig and jeel sessions can be is that in the true spirit of the music or is an exclusive genre in itself?

You are riding a one wheeled bike along the side of a mountain here.Can an Englishman play and teach French music ?I have. Can a non Irish person play Irish Music - most definitely. Can an Englishwoman sing Outer Mongolian throat warbling music - Yes I have seen her do it.Did I enjoy it - No comment.

Those sessions with strict rules as what should be played and not played. Who should sing and not sing

can stick their session , I for one would walk out.

 

Al

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If the 'Irish' session is so strictly focussed as to exclude songs, Carolan tunes, airs or polkas and hornpipes , as some rig and jeel sessions can be is that in the true spirit of the music...?

 

Probably not, but if that is the custom of the session a visitor should respect it, or go elsewhere.

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