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Sessions In A Changing Ireland


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Last night we made a trek out to West Cummington, MA to visit a shepherdess friend of Dominique. ......

 

And did Dominique escape without a fleece or 3 (that's what usually happens when I visit anyone with sheep :lol: )

 

Chris (a spinner)

 

 

I certainly expected that would be the case Chris. At this point her fleece chest is completely full and the surplus is stored all over the house in plastic bags. As we headed out the door my 14 year old pleaded, "don't bring any wool home mom." She was good, very good indeed. ;)

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"... rather large cache of beer..."

 

Young man, I like the way you drink!"

 

I mean think.

 

Remember: " Buy a man a six-pack he drinks for a day. Teach a man to brew and he drinks for a lifetime."

 

Withal, the same, or similar might be said about music: being a passive listener is not in error, but to be a player is a whole lot more fun.

 

Maybe someday we'll collectively get past the current assumption that music is for professional players only, and the odious corollary that only perfectly polished music is worth paying attention to. I get just as excited by the homegrown efforts on Henk's Recorded Tunes Page or the offerings put up recently by Concertina and Squeezebox, as I do over the stuff offered by the pro's. Maybe even more so, because it indicates maybe someday, I too, will be able to share a tune or two with friends and familiars.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all

 

Robert

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This thread is fascinating. I used to be a paid musician in the Lobby bar in Cork city - 8 or 9 years ago now. Gerry Mckee (bouzouki) and I would play tunes from 9.30 til 12.30. some times longer but not often. We got 30 pounds each and put most of it back behind the bar in drink. They were fun times but musically empty. Gerry and I would often be the only two playing and we'd regurgitate our repertoire which seemed to be contracting week by week. That was Friday nights. It was very obviously a paid gig with no real dynamic. some of the locals loved the music alright but mostly we were the background noise. On Monday's there was a college session in the Spailpín Fanach. the Trad society got some cash but everyone turned up to enjoy themselves and play tunes. It was much more enjoyable musically.

 

These days I'm married to a fiddle player with a young son and whilst we don't go to sessions often, we tend to go to more house sessions with local musicians in the Kildare/meath area. We're fortunate that most are great singers and players and there's occasionally a bit of dance too. we keep meaning to organise something regularly and I'm sure we will in the new year. Perhaps the house session does discriminate against people who are not in the circle of friends but from a musicians point of view, the music is fully appreciated and enjoyed and it feels far more tangible and real than pub ssessions which have altogther lost their appeal for me- probably because they're a paid event as everyone's said. I can't imagine saying the above as a teenager but things change and maturing occurs. I was once obsessed with the technical graces of the concertina. It's now simply (and beautifully) a medium/conductor for real music.

 

Something tells me that as Ireland continues to change and the paid session becomes even more redundant, house sessions will emerge again as the focal point. I see this as no bad thing. Long after the session saturation has passed people might return to pubs to enjoy music as a voluntary thing without the pressure of tune, tune, song, tune, sip pint, tune, tune, sip pint etc etc (- exhaustion!). The last gig I played was in the four seasons in Dublin - it was a corporate gig playing back ground music for a large group of Americans who were over on a food convention. Lots of very nice people I might add. However the coordinater had to leave early for personal reasons so one of the American committe took over the coordination. She checked what time we were meant to finish and when we should have a break etc. we played a few tunes and were applauded (unexpected at this kind of thing). We sat back and gathered our thoughts for another set. Not 30 seconds passed and the lady came over. "Oh...are you guys taking your break now??...Oh, you;re not?...It's just that you stopped playing..." I felt like slapping her but it reminded me of the paid session all over. Play - play - play. Keep it going. In that atmosphere there's no room for the full experience of a good session.

 

And I agree with Mr Laban - there are very many fine young musicians out there. Full maturity in music takes time and many of the young speedsters will turn into reliable, mature musical drivers! If they play lots of technical stuff when they're mastering the instruments - let them. They'll steady up and realise there's much more to it in time.

 

The above is rather convoluted. hope my points are understood. Real sessions are not dead- just harder to find.

 

Ciaran O'Grady

Kildare

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Maybe someday we'll collectively get past the current assumption that music is for professional players only, and the odious corollary that only perfectly polished music is worth paying attention to.

Perhaps the range of offerings on YouTube is already having that effect? :unsure:

Or is it the opposite effect?
:o

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Good question; while I have not seen many items on youtube, from what I read here, it seems as though some of the aspects of home made music are being reclaimed, but the medium does not seem to allow for the sponteneity that can occur when someone new to the group walks in the door and the music heads off int hitherto unexplored directions.

 

For that matter, it isn't always necessary for there to be someone new, merely that magic that can happen when the Muse decides to visit the old guard on an otherwise ordinary night. We all have, I'm sure, been at a jam when a holy furor decends on the players, eking out performances surpassing any in recent memory.

 

Do on-line presentations let that happen?

 

Might just be too soon to tell.

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My experience with sessions has been quite different, and I don't intend to invalidate what David wrote, but I've only been a visitor to Ireland, and only in wintertime so my experience is much more limited. Sure I've found unfriendly sessions occasionally, but by and large I have always felt welcome and been invited to participate.

 

My last visit was in 2004 and I attended the Ennis Trad Fest, but I rented a house there for the entire month of November. During that time I got to know local musicians and made many friends attending sessions around town nightly. I also spent time in Sligo and Dublin and had the time of my life playing in sessions or just enjoying the music. If I came across a miked-up session I just kept looking and eventually found a session I enjoyed.

 

If there's anything I can attribute my good fortune with sessions in Ireland to it would have to be two things mostly. 1) visiting in the off-season, and 2) leaving my expectations at the door. If you approach sessions free of preconceptions you're more likely to enjoy them for whatever they happen to be and not be disappointed.

 

And as Peter pointed out, there are loads of young people playing brilliantly and I saw them everywhere I went... very reassuring and inspiring. Some of these youthful players don't have the social graces the older players have, but neither did I when I was as young as some of them. But most I found to be well beyond their years and I enjoyed playing with them or listening to them. Irish music seems to be in good hands as far as I can tell.

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...while I have not seen many items on youtube, from what I read here, it seems as though some of the aspects of home made music are being reclaimed, but the medium does not seem to allow for the sponteneity that can occur when someone new to the group walks in the door and the music heads off int hitherto unexplored directions.

Sure it does. "On line" doesn't restrict the content; instead, it gives unprecedented freedom. Limitations, if any, come from the technical capabilities of the equipment used for recording and the abilities and choices of those selecting and posting from what was recorded.

 

There are plenty of MeToo entries on YouTube, where someone just follows a format they've seen others use. One we see a lot of in the concertina sightings is:

  1. Make sure camera is turned on.
  2. Walk around to stand or sit in front of camera.
  3. Play your tune(s) or song(s).
  4. Go back to camera and turn it off.
  5. Possibly edit the sequence to delete the walking-about parts at both ends.
  6. Post it on YouTube.

But another is the spontaneous (or "spontaneous") moment recorded using a cell phone. True spontaneous moments may be recorded when the camera is set to record one thing, but another occurs. ("Heading" a concertina, perhaps?)

 

You want some good session moments? Set up your camera (or computer webcam), turn it on, and forget about it. Shut it off when things wind down and then search out some of the better moments for possible excerpting and posting. Some of the public-session videos I've seen might have been recorded as short segments, since probably any period during the night would have made good copy, though that also runs the risk of missing unexpected wonders. Videos of concert numbers could have been recorded either one number at a time or continuously and then edited into segments.

 

One consequence of the relative anarchy of YouTube and the like is that they contain a lot of trash, from incompetent (the camera was aimed in the wrong direction, but they posted it anyway) to tasteless (yeah, he's walking around in his underwear; is that supposed to amuse me?) to offensive (some of which does get removed, but not everyone has the same standards). But it also provides a means of making available at no "additional" cost items which are entertaining, interesting, and even instructional.

 

Even as recently as 5 years ago, I think there were less than half a dozen publicly available videos where one could actually watch how a concertina was played. Now you can supplement the John Williams video and the Niall Vallely CD-ROM with countless YouTube videos of other players, both good and bad. You can compare them yourself, experiment with variations you see in the way the instrument is held and manipulated, and come to your own conclusions about what is best for you. You can do that even if you don't have the video or CD.

 

And I think it has unprecedented potential for motivating homemade music. Among the possible reactions are:

  1. Hey, if they can do that, so can I/we!
  2. Hey, I'd like to try that!
  3. My "friends" say I'm weird, that nobody else does that. But look, they do! In fact, I've just found videos of 30 different people who do it, and I like what they do. So I'm not alone. And I'll bet there are even more (both videos and people).

Another benefit of the YouTube environment is that not all the videos that are appearing are new. Many old videotape and even film recordings have been converted to digital format, and any one of us can now see and hear segments that previously might have been seen by only a few individuals... possibly even only by the one person who made the recording. An example with personal significance for me is

of the late Packie Russell playing his concertina, since the one night I met him at a session he refused to play, saying that he was too drunk. :(

 

Some of us have been bemoaning the fact that traditions -- especially old songs and styles of playing -- are being lost as mass culture suppresses the desire of the younger generation to learn them and pass them on. Well, I hope and believe that the day will come when all the audio and video recordings in the archives of EFDSS, the Library of Congress, and the like will be as freely accessible as YouTube is today. Then anyone with an interest could study/learn this material, even if their family and neighbors don't have a clue. But the audio and video capabilities of the internet also mean that "any child" (or adult) with the interest can make similar "field recordings" of their parents, grandparents, other relatives, neighbors, people they meet in their travels, etc.

 

I think that would make a wonderful school project:

Ask each kid to record some (willing) relatives playing or singing music they remember from their childhood. It might be "Oh, Susannah" or "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi", "When I'm Sixty-Four" or a schoolkids' parody on "Stars and Stripes", or maybe a hymn or operatic aria. If they do instrumentals, it might be "Irish Washerwoman" or "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Tea for Two" or "Maple Leaf Rag", or even something by Bach or Chopin. But every once in a while there might appear a previously undocumented song or tune -- or variant of a "known" song or tune, -- with a lineage of anywhere from five years to five hundred.

There are likely to be only a few gems buried in a lot of "mud", but that's just what YouTube is like. And if it all gets put on the internet, there are people who will sift through it and direct others' attention to the (in their opinion) sparkling bits.

 

I think this approach is made possible by a combination not available to previous collectors and promoters of musical traditions:

  1. With even children now having recording equipment (cell phones) with them at all times, the logistics of recording become almost trivial.
  2. The person doing the recording needn't be personally interested in the music they're recording, as long as they are motivated by the process. (An added bonus, perhaps, is that a few might also be inspired by what they hear, where without the project they would never have encountered it.)
  3. "Publication" can be done with little or no time delay or expense, to an audience thousands or even millions of times as great as would have access to a journal or book publication. Even editing is massively easier and quicker than with non-digital processes.

Out on the internet, those who don't care can ignore the material, but those who do care would have it to discover.

 

The next logical step is to get a YouTube sort of capability added to forums like mudcat.org, thesession.org, and concertina.net. (That's a wish, not an impatient demand. I know there are serious technical issues, and those forums don't have the resources of huge corporations.) That way, the material should be subject to a certain amount of pre-selection. The main aim (IMO) is that "obscure" material could be made widely accessible, in particular to those who might develop an interest, but who would otherwise not even be aware of the possibility of such an interest.

 

Is this rambling relevant to this Topic's subject, or merely a distant digression? I think they're both part of a broader subject, which is traditions and how they propagate and change. Old channels of propagation may be shrinking in many areas, but new channels are opening up. It used to be necessary to live in a particular community or make a long distance visit to learn -- or even sample -- a particular tradition. No longer, though one might argue that full absorption still requires personal contact.

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Guest Peter Laban
Old channels of propagation may be shrinking in many areas, but new channels are opening up. It used to be necessary to live in a particular community or make a long distance visit to learn -- or even sample -- a particular tradition. No longer, though one might argue that full absorption still requires personal contact.

 

 

I think musical traditions operate quite separately from youtube, even if what you might call tradition bearers would post to places like that it would only show mere samplings of dissociated elements. Music doesn't exist in a vacuum, it's part of a wider context all of which is 'the tradition'.

 

With a great number of posters tha tare really outside the tradition in the first place posting to sites like that, and using them to TEACH their diluted and sometimes (well, often actually) uninformed versions of it, there's a potential opportunity for further dilution and damage.

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Hi

one could hope that it may make the 'watchers' go and look for 'the reel' thing (sorry about that) :ph34r: if it makes one or two go look further -maybe that is worth it. Bringing new people in is all that is going to keep the traditions alive- it may seem that youtube is freezing a moment in time and I'm sure that was said about 'records'. If the various traditions are to survive we do need pointers to them. We live in a 'three minute' society -lets use it to lead people into better things

Chris

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I think musical traditions operate quite separately from youtube, even if what you might call tradition bearers would post to places like that it would only show mere samplings of dissociated elements. Music doesn't exist in a vacuum, it's part of a wider context all of which is 'the tradition'.

 

With a great number of posters that are really outside the tradition in the first place posting to sites like that, and using them to TEACH their diluted and sometimes (well, often actually) uninformed versions of it, there's a potential opportunity for further dilution and damage.

 

Youtube is just a snapshot. Nobody is saying it's a part of the tradition. But you can bet that in fifty years people will be watching some of the postings on Youtube and say, "That's what it must have been like."

Wouldn't be nice if we had a video of Coleman or O'Carolan? Or would that be diluting the tradition?

There is no One Way of participating in The Tradition.

You may call it diluting the tradition. I prefer to think of it as expanding the tradition.

Yes, there are some people posting to Youtube -- and "teaching" -- who shouldn't be. But there's also some really great stuff on Youtube.

It's not all uninformed and damaging.

I do not mean to be unkind, but what you say is rather narrow and negative and not part of the "inclusive" tradition that I am arguing for.

"Art... did not arise to spotlight the few, but rather to summon the many to come join the parade."

Edited by cocusflute
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You may call it diluting the tradition. I prefer to think of it as expanding the tradition.

This raises a very interesting question -- to me, at least. If I was sitting in a pub in Norfolk, and Harry Cox (RIP) struck up with a ballad from his extensive repertoire, and I'd have taken him to one side after, and asked him to sing it to me again so I could fix the tune in my mind, and make a note of the words -- in some sense, that would have located me in the tradition, having learned the song from the oral tradition.

 

Now -- imagine that there was footage of Harry Cox on YouTube. OK, so I'm not in the room with him, but in some sense it's still the oral tradition if I choose to learn that song & carry on performing it. But (and it's an interesting "but") it somehow looks & feels different. The interesting question is, why? Is it a case of "You had to be there"?

Edited by meltzer
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Sessions in Today’s Ireland – One Man’s Take

 

It is a huge subject, the nature of sessions in Ireland. I can only talk about North Clare, and a very rural part of Clare at that.

 

I think you are very fortunate to be able to attend sessions in County Clare, someday when I win the lottery, I'll visit the emerald isle: it would be nice to visit at least once the heartland of Irish box playing.

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Back to the Irish sessions, in particular, Doolin in County Clare. I stayed there for a week last yr whilst on a family holiday. My family and I were among the tourists crammed into O’Connor’s and McGann’s to hear live Irish music. The musicians had been paid by the pub to entertain the tourists and fill the pub, this kind of arrangement can never be a "session" merely a pretence of one and the pretence should be dropped. I was disappointed, not in the quality of the music but in the unintentional rudeness of the musicians who were trying to keep the session myth alive. They sat in a corner, half of them with their backs to the rest of the pub chatting amongst themselves between tunes and playing with little acknowledgement that there was a large expectant eager audience watching with all eyes on them.

The session set up did the musicians no favours. The least they could have done was to nominate someone to introduce the next tune or ramble on a but about it.

 

To me it felt like we were intruding on the privacy of a group of friends.

Edited by laticsrblu
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Guest Peter Laban

Don't you think it's unfair blaming the musicians who are doing a job, and a badly paid one at that, for being rude and pretending something? They do what they are hired to do and exactly that. If blame needs to be thrown at anyone, blame the publican or the tourist trade demanding the sort of set up you've seen(which has been in place for over twenty years at least, only the microphones are a more recent addition).

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Back to the Irish sessions, in particular, Doolin in County Clare. I stayed there for a week last yr whilst on a family holiday. My family and I were among the tourists crammed into O’Connor’s and McGann’s to hear live Irish music. The musicians had been paid by the pub to entertain the tourists and fill the pub, this kind of arrangement can never be a "session" merely a pretence of one and the pretence should be dropped. I was disappointed, not in the quality of the music but in the unintentional rudeness of the musicians who were trying to keep the session myth alive. They sat in a corner, half of them with their backs to the rest of the pub chatting amongst themselves between tunes and playing with little acknowledgement that there was a large expectant eager audience watching with all eyes on them.

The session set up did the musicians no favours. The least they could have done was to nominate someone to introduce the next tune or ramble on a but about it.

Why? Can't you appreciate music without footnotes, or at least track listings?

 

To me it felt like we were intruding on the privacy of a group of friends.

Perhaps you were? :unsure:

 

Don't you think it's unfair blaming the musicians who are doing a job, and a badly paid one at that, for being rude and pretending something? They do what they are hired to do and exactly that.

A "job", eh?

 

If blame needs to be thrown at anyone, blame the publican or the tourist trade demanding the sort of set up you've seen(which has been in place for over twenty years at least, only the microphones are a more recent addition).

If the landlord is paying the musicians, then their "performance" should follow his demands, not those of some particular tourist. If someone thinks that the money they're spending entitles them to make demands, they should make them to the one they are paying, i.e., the landlord.

 

It does sound as if the "session spirit" of my own early days is being smothered by the contemporary craze for Irish music. Long time passing -- more than 30 years -- since my one evening in O'Connor's. There were plenty of people, both musicians and non-players, but they weren't "crammed", and I wouldn't characterize the latter as "an audience". Nor were they "expectant" and "eager", but respectful and appreciative. For the musicians, this was their chance to both play music together and share it with others. And "share" is the proper word, not "perform". Though my own intention was to just sit and listen, and I protested that I'd had my (English) concertina less than a year, the others insisted that I also contribute a tune or two. I did, and my effort was warmly received all around.

 

I like to think that they still gather at each others' homes to do such things, but I would hardly blame them if they (at least those who remember the old days) feel as if the tourist-tsunami has pushed them into a corner, where they need to form a fence of chair backs to keep people from bumping into themselves and their instruments. (I admit that I haven't been there recently, but between laticsrblu's description and what I've experienced in some -- not all -- other places, I suspect my imagined picture isn't far off.)

 

The locals used to have a place where they could hang out and relax, with the occasional foreign tourist adding a bit of spice. That same place now more resembles a zoo, with a cage in the corner for the animals on display. And they can't recapture the old feeling just by going to another pub. It, too, would be quickly overrun. No? :(

 

Times change. But who dares to demand that they should change in a particular way?

Edited by JimLucas
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I think there are lots of different levels on which to experience and learn and play music.

 

The tourists might expect familiarity and atmosphere.

The aficionados could be looking for authenticity.

The young and the restless may get off on blinding speed and technique.

 

The musicians may be looking for:

A paid job.

An opportunity to play with friends.

A chance to perform.

 

When expectations are in conflict disappointment results.

 

I'm not sure if the venues are to blame as much as mismatched expectations.

 

Greg

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Guest Peter Laban

It's all about expectation, I remember being in Doolin during the early 80s, not bothering to go into O Connor's long at night (it was the tourist trap then as it is now). A young american guy asked me why I hadn't joined the musicians playing, I replied they were doing a job and didn't really like people to join (been there tried that), he nearly hit me for breaking the illusion of what seemed to him' a pretty spontaneous music 'seisiun' '.

 

It's fine, people still have quiet places to play for their own enjoyment, well away from the tourist trail or houses to meet for a few tunes and a few verses of a song.

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