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Music Books at Pub Sessions


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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

 

i agree that it is best not to trample on the tune, but i don't consider it a rule that you shouldn't join a tune halfway through. there are times when it is appropriate to wait to join in and times when it is not. all the best players i know do it both ways.

 

it all depends on your confidence in the tune (especially in another key), the sound that you will be contributing to (one solo player versus a large group) and the nature of the session overall. for example, if you are at a gig-like session and someone goes into a tune that you need a moment to get grounded in, it might be best to wait for a repeat, especially since it will sound like it is planned.

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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.

 

 

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Cincinatti area music teacher some years ago. I was talking about several blues and folk performers that had learned their craft traditionally by ear in the communities they had grown up in. He pipes up saying, "but just think how much better they could have been if they had had a proper music education." I knew then we had little in common, as I had respect for both ways of learning music.

 

The traditional music session has a long history that goes back to an era where few people were literate but most had a common knowledge of their local music. I get lost quickly at most Irish sessions I have attended, but do fine at old time sessions with my concertina because I have a knowledge of the music played in my head. Likewise, I am ok with the dobro or the bass at a bluegrass session. I sometimes wonder if we are doing a service in school music programs by only teaching children to read the dots, and not giving them ear exercises as well. (Not that a lot of children learn to read the dots either, but then they don't seem to learn much else either.)

 

Alan

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............

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

 

Al

You're ahead of me again.

I mean; look at the size of this... and, a few sentences in, we discover it is made out of a cactus!!

 

Is this rain instrument how you got inspiration for yr delightful "Stream to river flows" **

 

**Although I think the music is no longer here:

http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=10899&hl=%20stream%20%20to%20%20river&st=0

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I go to very few sessions. Reading this thread has reminded me of why.

 

That said, I am off in an hour or so to a semi-private pub session at which half of us will have dots in front of us, using them in different ways (different between people and between tunes). The ear players in the group keep telling us that we would be better off without the dots but there is no animosity involved.

 

For several years the wonderful Foss has organised a "dotty session" on Friday evening at the Swaledale Squeeze. This has been very popular for people who enjoy the comradeship but cannot face playing without notation.

 

And the International Concertina Association has arranged a gathering before Concertinas at Witney for a few years where dots are used at least at the start of the evening.

 

In both situations you have a collection of concertina players some of whom are perfectly happy without dots, some are terrified and many are somewhere between. It allows everyone to share something.

 

Maybe you do not think of those as "proper sessions". You may be right but one of the problems with words is that they do not hold a precise meaning for very long.

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I go to very few sessions. Reading this thread has reminded me of why.

 

That said, I am off in an hour or so to a semi-private pub session at which half of us will have dots in front of us, using them in different ways (different between people and between tunes). The ear players in the group keep telling us that we would be better off without the dots but there is no animosity involved.

 

For several years the wonderful Foss has organised a "dotty session" on Friday evening at the Swaledale Squeeze. This has been very popular for people who enjoy the comradeship but cannot face playing without notation.

 

And the International Concertina Association has arranged a gathering before Concertinas at Witney for a few years where dots are used at least at the start of the evening.

 

In both situations you have a collection of concertina players some of whom are perfectly happy without dots, some are terrified and many are somewhere between. It allows everyone to share something.

 

Maybe you do not think of those as "proper sessions". You may be right but one of the problems with words is that they do not hold a precise meaning for very long.

 

i'm glad that you found a group of people who like to have the dots! it's all about playing music and having fun.

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In both situations you have a collection of concertina players some of whom are perfectly happy without dots, some are terrified and many are somewhere between. It allows everyone to share something.

 

Maybe you do not think of those as "proper sessions". You may be right but one of the problems with words is that they do not hold a precise meaning for very long.

 

i'm glad that you found a group of people who like to have the dots! it's all about playing music and having fun.

Quite.

BTW David been watching for a ballpark figure for Noel's school?

 

Ref earlier :

BTW with the pound getting more dollars at the moment. it could be more interesting. How much did the school cost (without travel costs) incl. food and bed?

etc

 

Tks :)

Edited by Kautilya
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Maybe you do not think of those as "proper sessions".

 

I'd call what you describe as ensemble playing rather than a session. The difference in my mind is that where people are playing from dots everyone is trying to play the same thing as it's written, whereas a session can be more exploratory, with musicians free to bounce ideas off each other and see where they take them. On the other hand I'm aware of some sessions, especially Irish, where there is the "right" way to play a tune, and only that will do. As you say, the word means different things to different people.

 

Ultimately, whatever works for that group is fine. As we've discussed, problems arise when a newcomer ignores the group's established practices and wants to do things their way. It works both ways - an ear-player trying to join in a complex piece of classical music maybe just as disruptive to the others who are playing from music as a dots-player can be in a trad session.

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I sometimes wonder if we are doing a service in school music programs by only teaching children to read the dots, and not giving them ear exercises as well. (Not that a lot of children learn to read the dots either, but then they don't seem to learn much else either.)

 

Alan,

 

Do we give children ear exercises at school when teaching them to read and write their mother tongue? Yes and no! When a child gets to school, we assume that he or she has had several years of ear exercises - listening to parents and friends talking, watching TV, listening to radio, playing CDs of children's stories and talking to friends. So the teacher concentrates on teaching the letters. But the ear exercises continue, because the teacher has to talk to the children and make sure that they understand what they hear.

 

With music, the situation is analogous. Children have been listening to music for several years (in church, at parades, on TV, radio and CDs of nursery rhymes) before they are introduced to the dots, either at school or when learning an instrument. The ear exercises continue, because music class inevitably involves hearing music played or sung. I know that my wife, as a primary-school teacher, has a lot of audio teaching material that helps the children "get inside" the music and recognise its structures, without reference to notation.

 

The point is that primary school does not take a child in as a tabula rasa. It is assumed that the child will have have learnt certain skills at home; one of them is to use the mother tongue with a certain degree of proficiency - and another is to be able to sing, or at least sing along with, simple music.

 

Nowadays, this seems to be a rather large assumption. In the case of migrant children, in particular, the language proficiency is often limited; and musical experience may also be limited, if the parents do not care for music, or listen all day to one genre, which may not be suitable for the child's stage of musical development. (When I was small, we had only two radio stations, which had to cover everything, so either you endured the silence, or you got to hear a good mixture of musical genres. Now we have so many "monoculture" stations that a child's musical experiences are as one-sided as its parents' taste.)

So don't blame the school for the thoughtlessness of the parents!

 

Cheers,

John

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I know so many people who practised hard to get up to Grade 8 and now never play. How sad. I'm sure our emphasis should be as much, or more even, on making music with others as much as working on individual excellence.

 

Like speech it starts with listening, babbling , sentences then reading. I'm impressed by how well my little grandchildren can hold a song in the right key and get the words very quickly. Lessons will come a lot later.

The old 'Singing Together' at school was a great approach, as was family singing, campfires, rambling and singing , school assemblies etc etc. That's where a love of music comes from and all without dots.

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I just came across this quote attributed to Reg Hall in the context of music played in 1950-1960's London-Irish pubs and which I think is relevant to the topic:

 

"Once the Irish got the job to play, someone they knew would come in, they'd look up and say hello and invite them to join in. Nobody ever played unless they were introduced. They would then be incorporated into the drinks round, they would be expected to play everything, they would be asked what they favourite tune was and everyone would play it. It was the old house culture of the West of Ireland. You'd never think of coming into a house without being introduced."

 

A number of sessions are exactly like a house - you shouldn't come in without being invited and you should be expected to mind your manners.

 

If that means being expected to know the tunes without music, then those are the rules of the house!

 

Reg continues:

 

"That was how it was until the mid-Seventies, when someone would come in and start tuning up a bouzouki, who's never said 'may I?', who's never said 'hello' or 'would you like a drink?' It was the end of an era."

 

That seems to be typical of some modern sessions that some people are expecting; where you can turn up with music books, half-learned tunes and a rudimentary idea of the style, tempo and tradition of the music being played, dip in and out as you find a tune (or even a passage of a tune!) that you can play moderately well. And from my experience, leave the pub at the end of the evening without spoken to or having learned the names of any of the fellow companions.

 

They can both be called sessions, but they are different. Depending on what you want to get out of them, both have some validity I guess

 

Alex West

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Nice quote Alex. I would like to read Reg's PhD on the session scene and wish he'd put out a book on it.

 

I remember as a young man going to the pub on Stockport Road with my Dad in 1950s Manchester which had a regular working class Irish sessionon Sunday lunch time There would be a lot of chat and news and jokes at the bar and round the musicians . I'd be wanting to play tunes but my Dad said 'hang on it's bad manners to kick off too soon.' Then someone would pull a fiddle case from under the bench where the dogs lay, or take a flute out of an inside pocket or a whistle and usually play a well known jig and they were off. A nod in your direction invited you to play the one you wanted and you joined in with those you knew or didn't mess up. If you werent too confident there was no pressure and I remember learning a couple of sets as party pieces that were joined in with at my speed and number of times through. Some gentle encouragement would always be given and sometimes an older player would catch you on your own and steer you to a 78 or a tune you might like or invite you to play in a kitchen . Many of the young men were in Bedsits so the pub was the social scene and the landlord and the company were very tolerant and supportive. I found similar pubs when I came to Sheffield in the late 50s and there was a resurgence in the late 60s when the M1 motorway was being built and we had a new generation of workers.

 

What I notice now is the lack of that easy familiarity and courtesy and gentle humour and a judging of people more on musical ability than their common humanity where players and listeners were on equal terms.

 

In my early days the repertoire was quite small but if anyone broght in a new tune quite a few could play with it. As the people came from various parts of Ireland or were second or third generation over here there was quite a variety of styles and it wasn't all reels and the odd jig. I always felt welcomed in and helped on my way and never felt put on the spot.

 

I still seek out and play in regular sessions where that same spirit applies although I do notice there is less chat unless a 'chairman' or presiding spirit steers it in the old way.

 

One thing is that you are expected to do your kitchen work or 'woodshedding' but wear it lightly and still respect other musicians. The 'crack' is important ( By the way we were cracking jokes and tales well before the 'craic' was appropriated)

Edited by michael sam wild
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Mike, it strikes me that in the sessions you descrive, and which Reg Hall described in London, were social gatherings with music. A community gathered together to chat and socialise, and the music was one aspect of that. Modern sessions are occasions where musicians get together to play music - there may be some chat but it's not really why people are there. In many sessions there is simply not enough room, neither are there sufficient breaks in the music, to allow people to socialise even if they want to.

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While I agree that a group of musicians gathered to play music, many of them reading from the written notes, is more of a social gathering than a session, I just can't imagine a session without a bit of banter & crack, nonsense & rascality between the sets.

In the best sessions, I find these to be an essential part of the whole session experience & they really do help to drive the whole thing along.

As well as some crack every now & then, I find that the very best sessions usually involve some interaction, to a greater or lesser degree, with any really enthusiastic punters who are located within close proximity to the action.

Yes, a session is mostly about the music, but in my book, there has to be just a little more to it, for it to be 1st class.

 

In other words, a session without a bit of banter & crack here & there, just sounds far, far too clinical, a bit like Sex without the foreplay ....... & the cigarette afterwards! :P

 

Cheers,

Dick

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In other words, a session without a bit of banter & crack here & there, just sounds far, far too clinical, a bit like Sex without the foreplay ....... & the cigarette afterwards! :P

 

Cheers,

Dick

 

 

Oooh, errr, Dick! As a non-smoker, funnily enough, I find it very relaxing to get my concertina out and play a few tunes afterwards. :)

 

Chris

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Oooh, errr, Dick! As a non-smoker, funnily enough, I find it very relaxing to get my concertina out and play a few tunes afterwards. :)

 

Chris

 

Funnily enough Chris, that's usually the first thing I do, when I get home after a good Session too, take out my Concertina & play a few tunes!

 

Whereas, after sex, I'm usually more like Oliver Twist, so instead of tunes ....... I'm far too busy asking for more! :P

 

Cheers,

Dick

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Howard, I think the word ceildh or ceili means 'a social or friendly visit' which does imply more than just heads down music and I really do feel we should strive to maintain that spirit.

 

Chris is that what they mean by ' Your current squeeze? I thought it was your signicant other ;) .

Edited by michael sam wild
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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.

 

 

Amen to both quotes!

 

After years of seeing the same type of thread poping up, I wonder one thing. Will someone who disagrees that there should be any type of 'rules' at a session (such as not using a dot book) change his/her mind after reading such thread? Sadly, I think that if you need to be told such thing, you'll never get it. It seems to be something you can only learn by living the session scene a couple of years, and even then some people never do. But hopefully I'm wrong ;-)

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i have come to believe that the "friendly chat atmosphere of yore" owes to the simple fact that sessions of yore were not prey to the degree or manner they are now to ramapant visitations by strangers with varying musical abilities and varying manners, and varying misconceptions to the effect that "sessions should be open to everyone," and, "everyone has a right to start/lead tunes at any session they walk in to or it's not a true session," and, "you're cold and unfriendly if you don't allow your session to be hijacked by a sub-intermediate-level-player and his tunebook," and nonsense of that sort, which mindset has actually been much in evidence on this thread, regrettably. "sessioners of yore" simply did not have to contend with this stuff as often, and hence did not have to think about how to preserve a quality playing experience in the face of it. listening to "paddy in the smoke," i kinda think they would have kicked the keester of a less-than-able person who set up a tunebook in there, and rightly so.

 

i have been lucky enough to get to play in a number of very "relaxed, friendly, chatty" sessions in ireland and the u.s. where the playing and hence the musical experience was to a very high standard---that is the only reason i go to any session. as a developing player, which in the "lifelong learner" paradigm of james kelly, i consider myself to be on a permanent basis, the only, and i mean the only, setting that is helping me to become the player i am and am going to be, is one where the time-keeping, the steady beat, and the consistent, steady swing, are led and maintained by master or near-master-level leaders. and despite the "anyone should be welcome" mythology, what i just wrote is what any of the master players/teachers in ireland or the u.s. east coast will privately tell you to do if you want to play this music "for real."

 

i didn't mention tempo, because provided the afore-mentioned factors are there, i'm now at a level and bent where i'm happy to practice fast or relaxed---in the hands of very strong leaders. thanks to this, i'm now getting able to start and lead myself, though i do not feel ready or aesthetically attracted to leading/starting at the amped-up speeds---i could care less about engaging in that style outside of dance settings or chops practice, and that kind of playing i merely sit in on as a foot soldier for the workout.

 

in any event, the point i'm heading for is this---without exception, not one of the "relaxed, friendly, cahtty" sessions i have attended that also featured a high-quality musical experience, involved an "anything goes" situation where long stretches were given over to tune-starting by unproficient players, let alone with tunebooks. sometimes the leaders would nod to someone and say, why don't you start one, so people get a chance to have their moment, but it is limited so the musical experience remains worth people's while. i have profited enormously from sticking to that kind of setting, and i really wonder why anyone would object to getting to have that kind of experience.

 

by contrast, i have happened on some "welcoming" sessions that were, despite the fact that everyone was very nice, not just a complete waste of time from a musical standpoint, but imho would actually be destructive to the development of regular attendees who kept going to them, due to the fact that there was no strong leadership as to the basics that would make these session a great opportunity to develop your playing. i can think of a couple i wandered into in nyc where the people were as lovely as could be and even had different master players come and guest-lead on a rotating basis, but where the wonderful permanent anchors and the guest masters' potential as role models you could learn from playing to, were squandered because the "democratic" culture of these sessions was to devote the whole or bulk of the evening to tune-starting by intermediate-level attendees who knew the tunes and could kind of keep to the time signature, but did not know how to set and keep a steady beat or steady, consistent irish syncopation.

 

here is a little news flash: because of the "wide-open, anything should be ok" nonsense that has pervaded the imaginations of strangers who walk into high-quality sessions in ireland and elsewehre, the opportunities to learn the way somebody like patrick ourceau did---spending ten years in nyc as a second-line foot soldier in sessions led by the likes of andy mcgann or jack coen, which along with gobs of listening and practice is why patrick ourceau sounds like the real deal---the opportunities to learn and practice this way for people not natives to a traditional community have dwindled to almost nothing. those players don't want to bother with the nonsense. they are still playing, but either in the more closed, "gig" situtations i described above, or in private settings you don't know about, because john q. 'anything goes' sessioner and his tunebooks are a waste of their time---justifiably.

 

well....which would you rather attend? if you don't care about seriously playing this music, which is perfectly ok, those wide-open, "anything goes" opportunities are certainly out there, and there is nothing wrong with that, in its sphere. but don't kid yourself: you can't have both.

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