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Interesting Topic About Irish Sessions


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Part 2

 

Summary: Irish sessions aren't traditionally Irish.

 

Interesting quotes:

 

The decade of the 1960s saw a strengthening revival in traditional music. During the period the format changed radically. The primary venue changed from what had been the cottage to the new one of the pub. The music was now solely for listening purposes rather than dancing.

 

the traditional Irish pub session is a recent phenomenon, which became popular only after the folk craze of the 1960s, and may have had its origin earlier among Irish immigrants in America, not Ireland.

 

Only after Irish musicians emigrated to America and England in the 20th century did they gather at the local pub to play their music. This new “tradition” only became popular in Ireland after the 1960s.

 

Only when socio-economic conditions improved in the late 1800s did ordinary people begin to play music as amateurs.

 

In the early 20th century, prior to the re-emergence of traditional Irish culture and music in the mid century, traditional music was considered to be a lower-class culture and people who aspired to a higher class were embarrassed to be associated with it...Irish musicians who emigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were less likely to be influenced and inhibited by these class prejudices.  Amateurs were more likely to play for dances (céilís) and later in sessions. The session became the standard venue for the playing of Irish music, and perhaps was more an American innovation.

 

My commentary: I don't give a flip about what's traditional and what's not, but it does seem ironic to hear session players talking about 'keeping it trad' when sessions themselves aren't trad. No, I don't have an agenda. I was just looking for tips on how to start a slow session and ran across this article. By the way, any tips you have on forming a slow session would be appreciated.

Edited by Jeff Stallard
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Interesting research by the good professor. I would be curious as to his sources, but he didn’t divulge them in the article other then the vague references in paragraph two. Not that I have any dispute with his findings. I have been attending sessions for many years and it all rings true. I never thought to ask. :rolleyes:

 

Look around your area for any music instructors teaching ITM. They are always looking for venues to get their students out in public. Slow sessions are perfect for this.

 

I would suggest using the last hour of the session for speeding things up. This attracts the advanced players and keeps their interest as well as some added excitement for the listeners. Just make sure everyone understands that no one accelerates before the agreed time. Adversely you can start the raw beginners before the regular session. This is a chance for some close instruction and gives them confidence to stay as they are already seated, and have a pint or two in them, when the regulars arrive.

 

I wish you great success!!

 

Al

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Rock on Jeff...you wild man you! Even without the kilt (I assume) you've got that William Wallace edge. :P

 

I've no advice as to starting a slow session only a cautionary tale:

 

Recently a fellow started a slow bluegrass session in our area. Unfortunately he is a control freak (well meaning) and insisted that folks sign up, only so many could come, there had to be "balance" in the instrumentation...blah, blah. There are folks who attend the monster jam at the end of every month that sit far back on the edge of the circle who would love something like that. Most have been put off by the "rules" pontificated by our dear organizer. Things are hard enough for them as it is with all the hot shots playing hell bent for leather.

 

That's the last thing on this earth I could ever imagine you doing. Just keep an eye out for the ones who do.

 

And Jeff, you can put this in the bank...those types will show up <_< .

Edited by Mark Evans
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To my mind, an Irish "slow" session would bring the speed down to what it ought to have been all along...

 

Chris

 

I've read, from several seemingly educated sources, that the tunes get faster and faster with each year that ticks by. I wonder if that because no one dances to these tunes anymore, so there's no tempo governer.

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Recently a fellow started a slow bluegrass session in our area.  Unfortunately he is a control freak (well meaning) and insisted that folks sign up, only so many could come, there had to be "balance" in the instrumentation...blah, blah.

 

And Jeff, you can put this in the bank...those types will show up <_< .

 

Uggg, that's the exact thing I'd want to AVOID. I used to be in a slow session a few years ago, but I moved on, and they moved up, so while there are a fistful of sessions in Columbus, there's no longer a slow session. I'd want a slow session to be a constitutional democracy: define a few core definitions so people know what to expect, but leave 95% of the stuff up to popular opinion. I'd hope to keep "trad" considerations out of it entirely and just play whatever Irish music we liked.

 

Thanks for the suggestions though; talking to local teachers will probably get me where I want to go. The problem is that I don't have a place to host sessions, and is it bad form to try to start one but expect someone else to physically host it?

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Depends if it is a teaching session or playing session. There is no reason why the latter should be slow (although many are still too fast even for me).

Most ITM sessions are still trad as they are run for the swapping / passing-on of tunes (which hopefully will be changing and evolving). Once they are run for some diddley for the tourists (or for some so-called cultural groups which in truth, are political, and want the music kept as a museum piece), playing unchanging sets, I will agree they may not be trad.

This is probably why there are more ITM sessions outside than in Ireland.

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My commentary: I don't give a flip about what's traditional and what's not, but it does seem ironic to hear session players talking about 'keeping it trad' when sessions themselves aren't trad.  No, I don't have an agenda.  I was just looking for tips on how to start a slow session and ran across this article.  By the way, any tips you have on forming a slow session would be appreciated.

 

Well first a thought, then I will give my advice about getting a slow session started:

 

Well I think there is some value in session players keeping it trad, or pure drop or "right" (as Billy McComiskey would say). The move from cottage to session came about because most Irish (and others who play Irish Music) no longer live in cottages on farms in little villiages anymore. When it was in cottages there was no TV or Radio and music and house dances were one of the few forms of entertainment available. In more recent times Irish Musicians are more self selecting in the sense that both in Ireland and around the world there are plenty of alternatives.

 

Now for tips starting a slow session; I got one started two years ago that is small but still running so I have had some success in this regard.

 

1. Find a nice friendly place to have it. There are reasons a pub is a good choice, its a nice neutral ground that allows people to come and join the session or step out for a break as they feel necessary.

 

2. Tunes should be played at a pace that is comfortable for everyone who knows the tune. Sometimes this means that you will play a tune fast one week and slow the next depending on who shows up (mind you fast is relative; I doubt either of the slow sessions I am ever goes much above 80-90 BPM ). And anyone should feel free to ask to take the tune slow.

 

3. The regulars should work on building a common set of tunes. If you are doing it without sheet music (and that is probably best for the musicians in the long run) you might only have 10-15 tunes each to start. Find the ones you all have in common and play them every week and agree on a tune or two to work on (ideally you might have to choose two or three to have a single tune for everyone to work on).

 

4. I prefer weekly sessions to monthly or bi-weekly sessions. While no one is going to make it every week its alot easier to forget if the session does happen every week and requires more planning. Also I think your own skills get built up faster.

 

5. Having a leader of the session is a good thing but the leader should be more of a facilitator than a controller. Their goal should be to make sure that everyone who comes gets to play some of their tunes, to let people know if they are going to fast, etc.

 

Well I hope this helps.

 

--

Bill

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To my mind, an Irish "slow" session would bring the speed down to what it ought to have been all along...

 

It all depends on how slow we are talking. I agree thought that there is little reason (other than showing off) to play the tunes at 120 or more BPM (though I do think some step dancing is done at that speed). 80-90 is a bit above some slow sessions but I find it a nice tempo for the music.

 

--

Bill

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[it all depends on how slow we are talking.  I agree thought that there is little reason (other than showing off) to play the tunes at 120 or more BPM (though I do think some step dancing is done at that speed).  80-90 is a bit above some slow sessions but I find it a nice tempo for the music.

 

--

Bill

 

I know we're talking about Irish tunes here and in sessions but the standard speed asked of us for formal Scottish dance is 120 (76 for strathspeys) although at a recent RSCDS event in London the MC asked for it a little steadier at 116.

 

Howard Mitchell

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Our local slow session was started about two years ago as a way for students of the local Irish music school to keep practicing during the summer. The venue is a pub that opened only 2-3 years ago and so the owner was just setting up himself when he was approached to provide a venue.

 

I would have to say that far and away the most critical component for establishing a session with a particular feel is the regulars who turn up. We don't have a leader as such but there are 5 - 6 of the original crowd who are still regular. I joined after about 6 months, when there were only 5 - 6 regulars. Another 6 or so started coming around the same time and all of us were beginners. After a year we have all improved tremendously compared to where we started. The same can be said of the bar as a whole. When I first started there would be maybe 4 people drinking in the pub on a Wednesday night. Now the place seems packed every week with maybe 10 people showing up regularly just to listen.

 

As a consequence there are some nights when we end up playing blindingly fast. As has been said earlier, it depends on who shows up. Last week the bar was being used to shoot the movie The Last Kiss. A lot of the Irish decor had been removed and replaced with little American flags and ads for mexican beer. The session that night felt very odd, completely different atmosphere and no one could really get into the swing of it. Yesterday, with the usual decor back we were back to our usual atmosphere.

 

More recently some new beginners have been showing up and there has been an automatic slow down when playing those tunes that the beginners have been working on. I haven't heard any specific comments from the newer members but they do keep on coming back so it can't be too bad :)

 

Having said that there have been occasions when a single person has been able to disrupt things so much that people have packed up and gone home early. It only happens occasionally and nothing has been said to make anyone feel hurt. So long as there is a solid group of regulars with a certain culture you can cope with quite a lot. ;)

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"My commentary: I don't give a flip about what's traditional and what's not, but it does seem ironic to hear session players talking about 'keeping it trad' when sessions themselves aren't trad."

 

Resp: The origins of the session may or may not be traditional, but it does not serve the music if the session is allowed to be diluted with all sorts of other styles of music. Not that there is anything wrong with other types of music, but to really enjoy Irish music as a player you really should play it and not dabble in it, mixing in bluegrass, old time, etc.

 

I don't know anything of the learned professor, and he may or may not be correct in his statements. What are his credentials to speak authoratively from so great a distance geographically and culturally? With all due respect, speaking to some "native Irish" and doing some internet research does not make someone an expert. The professor may have been on target, but missed the mark. The quote above shows that at least one person has gotten the impression from his article that "sessions are not trad". PUB sessions may be a comparatively recent activity, but the wealth of music suggests that there must have been many players, playing and sharing tunes, otherwise how could they have survived at a time when few could read or write down music? What do you call it when musicians get together to share and play music? Isn't that called a session wherever it may have been held? Perhaps the only thing about sessions that's not traditional is the pub Guiness, although I have a feeling I may be wrong about that.

Edited by Frank Edgley
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The origins of the session may or may not be traditional, but it does not serve the music if the session is allowed to be diluted with all sorts of other styles of music. Not that there is anything wrong with other types of music, but to really enjoy Irish music as a player you really should play it and not dabble in it, mixing in bluegrass, old time, etc.

One of the things about Irish music sessions I've noticed is this insistence on musical purity, which always feels a little odd to English musicians. In an English session the core repertoire is indeed mostly English, but includes significant numbers of tunes from France, Scandinavia, America and, yes, Ireland (not to mention quite a large number of modern, newly minted tunes). If the tune feels right it'll get played.

What do you call it when musicians get together to share and play music? Isn't that called a session wherever it may have been held?

Good point well made!

 

Chrid

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Resp: ...it does not serve the music if the session is allowed to be diluted with all sorts of other styles of music. Not that there is anything wrong with other types of music, but to really enjoy Irish music as a player you really should play it and not dabble in it, mixing in bluegrass, old time, etc.

 

Dear Mr. Edgley, I respect your conviction and deserved position of honor in our tiny community. Cherishing and keeping safe your tradition at a particular moment in time is important and very, very cool. Knowbody does it better Sir.

 

When attending my traditional session I keep my playing and singing traditional. Would never want to distress my dear friends. Each time I learn, ask questions and have a total blast. However, all those other musical traditions you mentioned almost as if they were waste needing to be mucked out of a horse stable are connected and valid and very important to the English/Celtic traditional musical scene worldwide.

 

In my case they all are my cultural heritage. With those willing, and I repeat, willing I explore their connections with respect and energy (To be honest I'm damned picky who I choose to explore those connections with). Others in the Celtic musical world have done so to no great detriment to tradition. In fact I have experienced epiphanal moments listening to our WGBH Saturday program "A Celtic Sojourn" when Brian O'Donovan has introduced some very interesting CD's that literaly left me gasping for breath...in a good way.

 

 

Just came across the New England Bluegrass Asscoiation News Group email service:

 

The Irish Cultural Festival held in Canton, Massachusetts is devoting one of the 6 performance area stages to bluegrass music this year. Certainly, there is a potential audience amongst bluegrass fans for traditional Irish music, but this one does leave me scratchin' me noggin'. The announced set-up is a list of well enough respected bluegrass bands to be followed by an open jam for all. Even I question the wisdom of this last bit. <_< There must be a reason though, for the promoters of this festival in the past have had their chops together. Hope it wasn't someone's idea for an old time carnival freak show :( .

Edited by Mark Evans
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