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Sessions In A Changing Ireland


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[i remember someone who came back from a teaching job in Milwaukee or Catskills who was giving out about Tommy peoples there surrounded by some twenty 'acolytes' who all played with him. The comment was 'if they had kept quiet they might have learned something instead of overwhelming him'.]

 

don't know about milwaukee, but at the catskills week, in addition to the two per night expressly-labeled "listening sessions," i mentioned, they also sked two per night labeled playing sessions with the names who are there teaching & performing for the week, and i wonder if that was what yer man or woman was describing. must have been a while back, since i'm told some of the catskill sessions-with-the-stars now get attendees in numbers of fifty and up sometimes....i find them horrifying and haven't done them, but for some attendees these, rather than the "listening sessions," are what makes the week. and i have to say that my own personal take aside, given how much people pay to travel to these fests, i commend the catskill fest directors for insisting on skedding ops for listening or playing....but it is different from walking into someone's home turf and trying to horn in, isn't it?

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Guest Peter Laban
[i remember someone who came back from a teaching job in Milwaukee or Catskills who was giving out about Tommy peoples there surrounded by some twenty 'acolytes' who all played with him. The comment was 'if they had kept quiet they might have learned something instead of overwhelming him'.]

 

...but it is different from walking into someone's home turf and trying to horn in, isn't it?

 

It goes a long way though showing people's urge to play takes prevalence over estimating their own ability and weighing up if they, and the general musical standard of the gathering, may be better off with them sitting at the sidelines absorbing and learning.

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It goes a long way though showing people's urge to play takes prevalence over estimating their own ability and weighing up if they, and the general musical standard of the gathering, may be better off with them sitting at the sidelines absorbing and learning.

My approach, as someone who likes to go for a tune, has been to listen first and try to determine if I can even begin to approach the level of playing at any given session. If their repertoire consists of mostly tunes I don't know, or if their tempo and energy is beyond my reach -- I'll stay where I am. If t seems like a session I might be able to contribute to, I'll ask if it's ok to join in. But if I do this I want to be certain I'm not kidding myself about my own abilities. Sometimes I'll be invited to join despite my own assessment and I'll either politely refuse or take it as an opportunity to sit closer and join in with the between-tune chat. But I won't start any tunes unless I'm asked, and I definitely won't attempt to play tunes I don't know. Often in these cases my instrument remains on my lap for most of the time I'm there, but what a great vantage point for learning!

 

The bottom line is that the basis of my approach is to avoid interrupting of the flow of the music.*

 

*Disclaimer: I have not always been perfect at this and I have made mistakes. My approach is based on my observations and what I've learned from my mistakes.

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All this is so depressing. I don't know, should I down a bottle of Tums or single malt scotch...or both! This convoluted can't make a mistake, know your place lar-de-dar doo-dah is why I walked block and tackle away from "classical" music. Wasn't the music...T'was the attitude.

 

Just being involved in reading this thread put me in a bad mood for last night's session. Enough, I'm off. :angry:

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yes.....i have been doing some absorbing lately via "The Kitchen Sessions," ha.

 

I haven't much liked the kitchen sessions on TG4. Too contrived. Even the spontaneity is contrived. A kitchen session doesn't have or need an MC. There's a bit of some nice local color but by and large I'd rather just hear traditional music played by good players -- with some sensitive interviewing -- and skip the blarney. It's a far cry from any real kitchen session I've been to. Better than top-40 but at the end of the day it's just commercial radio. You expect to hear a leprechaun in the corner.

 

---------------------

 

From Mark Evans

This convoluted can't make a mistake, know your place lar-de-dar doo-dah is why I walked block and tackle away from "classical" music. Wasn't the music...T'was the attitude.

 

True, it isn't perfect. A lot of accomplished musicians are pretty exclusive. And there are rules, as there are in any group of people. You have to wait for somebody to finish talking and not interrupt, etc. It's never just a free-for-all. If it's a large "festival session" then it won't matter as much, but if it's a good small session with five or six good players why would you want to risk ruining it? I've been to sessions that have been wrecked by people who noodled incessantly (played chords while waiting for a tune) or who played what they thought was elegant harmony (because they didn't know the tune), or who were playing instruments that were out of tune, or who were intrusive or loud players out of their skill level.

 

God knows, I sat on the end of the bench for years before I felt comfortable starting tunes or playing with the heavy hitters. There's nothing wrong with that. It might not fit in with such modern cultural attitudes as everybody being equal, or the emphasis on immediate participation. But in music, as in everything else, rank hath its privilege and that should be respected. Would you, as a stranger, presume to walk on the tennis court with André Agassi and expect to give him a challenging game? And if he walked off in disgust would you blame his attitude?

 

Jack's point is that modesty and humility go a long way. There is a place for a beginner or an intermediate player, even in an elite session. One of the points I made in my original post is that the sense of inclusivity or affiliativeness that used to be present in a session is missing today. That doesn't mean you walk away forever. You have to pick and chose sessions where you feel comfortable and perhaps develop your local sessions to include both elite players and those starting to learn the music. In a way we're starting over. The old structure has changed but the music is the same - or better. It's up to us to develop social structures that support us all, at all levels of accomplishment.

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Guest Peter Laban

I think there are still a lot of players who will take you under their wing and invite you to sit in when they see you have a genuine interest. I don't think that really has changed all that much. Could it be David we have a bit more experience now and look at these things differently, did we feel welcome twenty five years ago while some players really wished we'd go away?

 

I know plenty of stories of and from the old players and to be honest, they took no prisoners, none of them did.

 

Another thing: people coming from somewhere else may be considered quite the local celebrity and bring that along. In my experience, sitting in in Clare will mean you face sitting at the backrow all over again, moving up when you earn your place. Been there, done that. I was maybe lucky in the sense that Micho Russell for some reason sought me out during the 80s, he said there was something in my playing he liked and he has been very encouraging over time. Same for Martin Rochford and later when I settled in Clare Junior Crehan. Going to Gleeson's of Coore to listen and keeping to myself it was eventually Tom Munnelly who found out I played. Mind you on one level I could at that point be considered sort of accomplished, I had taught and played the recitals at WCSS but never assumed I would join them playing. Anyhow, Tom told Junior I played and together they coaxed me to join 'the Band' until I eventually did (taking a corner seat playing the whistle to keep as low a profile as I could) and I stayed there for years, until the place folded. I was encouraged and made welcome, they slagged me too as they would but I learned an immense amount there playing for sets hundreds of nights alongside Junior, Tommy McCarthy, Conor Keane, Jackie Daly, Josephine Marsh or whoever came along and I'll be forever grateful for that. But at the end of the day it's up to yourself to do the work and deserve a place.

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I think Peter's last few lines sums it up for me- in the end of the day, no matter how informal or casual a session might appear, behind the music being played lies hours and hours of practice and all the pain, disappointment and joy that comes with practice.This of course applies to all arts but it seems at times that because the session appears so informal and casual that the person who only earlier that day bought a bodhrán feels that they can jump in regardless. But even with an abundance of talent and ability, there is as Peter also pointed out, an apprenticeship to be served. This description of sitting in the back row, which may appear to be old fashioned and not in keeping with modern thinking, means that your tunes can be progressed from not long learnt to polished in an environment which is not threatening. You are doing the minimum amount of damage down the back and so can afford to make a mistake without feeling as if have put everyone off. And this is important I feel for the player learning his craft as much for the good of the session.In a local context, you are also learning the nuances of the local style and as such are learning at the feet of the local masters, and in time will be able to pass on the tunes and style to others.

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"Socially nuanced" - "earning your place" - "coming up to the standards" - as if music were some kind of contest or pecking order! What ever happened to just having fun together? <_<

 

In our community sessions, a young girl scrapes away proudly at "Twinkle, twinkle," and her efforts are as generously welcomed as the smooth old pianist's "American in Paris" or two neighbors' klezmer duet or the aging flower-child guitarist's original song about her dog. We find joy not in the speed or precision or expertise of a tune, but rather in the gift of music freely offered to us by friends and neighbors. :lol:

 

If only the pro's can play, and we lesser folk must only sit and listen, it isn't a session - it's a performance. And if it's a genuine folk happening, who has the right to sit in judgment and frown on the efforts of others? :huh:

 

Sometimes I think too many people take themselves too seriously. :(

Edited by yankeeclipper
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"Socially nuanced" - "earning your place" - "coming up to the standards" - as if music were some kind of contest or pecking order! What ever happened to just having fun together? <_<

 

In our community sessions, a young girl scrapes away proudly at "Twinkle, twinkle," and her efforts are as generously welcomed as the smooth old pianist's "American in Paris" or two neighbors' klezmer duet or the aging flower-child guitarist's original song about her dog. We find joy not in the speed or precision or expertise of a tune, but rather in the gift of music freely offered to us by friends and neighbors. :lol:

 

If only the pro's can play, and we lesser folk must only sit and listen, it isn't a session - it's a performance. And if it's a genuine folk happening, who has the right to sit in judgment and frown on the efforts of others? :huh:

 

Sometimes I think too many people take themselves too seriously. :(

Never attended "sessions", but I would generally agree with "know your place" idea, both ways. Or it'll become a restorant, where you are forced equally enjoy an exlusive french cousine and yesturday's cold sandwich.

With a caveat: From recordings I see I personally conclude that many of those front seat players may indeed, take themselves too seriously. What is good about folk music is it's simpliciy and inherent inclusiveness, but when somebody has stayed in the folk circles for too long, and feel established, he may wrongfully walk into the wrong entrance, and the powder on his nose can be beaten off very quickly. Know your place and stick to it.

Clavicords anyone?

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"Socially nuanced" - "earning your place" - "coming up to the standards" - as if music were some kind of contest or pecking order! What ever happened to just having fun together? <_<

 

Sometimes I think too many people take themselves too seriously. :(

 

You think? :P

 

Reminds me of the joke about Frankie Gavin:

 

An Irish session player dies and is taken to a cloud in heaven with a few other session players. When he gets there, he hears this great fiddle music coming from a distant cloud. "I didn't know Frankie Gavin had died," he says.

 

"Oh, that's not Frankie Gavin."

 

"But it must be. No one else plays with such lift and virtuosity. It must be him."

 

"I tell you it's not Frankie Gavin. It's God. He just thinks he's Frankie Gavin."

 

So, perhaps after an eternity of practice, God and the rest of us will be able to join the cloud session.

 

Jeff

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I would generally agree with "know your place" idea, both ways. Or it'll become a restorant, where you are forced equally enjoy an exlusive french cousine and yesturday's cold sandwich.

Forced to enjoy? Interesting concept. :unsure: I'm more inclined to prefer a musical potluck, where everyone brings the best he has to offer and no one is so rude as to refuse a taste.

 

We have in our sessions a woman who loves to sing, though her voice is far less than musical. Still she is a welcome regular, and while few might find pleasure in her voice, all can find it in her own enjoyment of singing. Shared music should be generous, not intimidating.

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What ever happened to just having fun together?

It depends on whose fun you're referring to. At any session the participants are usually involved because they have fun and enjoy doing it. If someone comes along with preconceptions about what the "fun" is supposed to be and who the "fun" is gauged by, it can sometimes spoil the fun of the people who are having the session in the first place. I think the perception of what the "fun" is belongs to the people who are having the session and it's up to the visitors to determine if they can join in without interfering.

 

Say a group of folks were doing something like playing basketball. If they came together to play because they all were very skilled and enjoyed playing with similarly skilled players, how would their enjoyment be altered if someone that was new to the sport showed up and insisted on being included? I would think it would lower the bar considerably and the people who originally gathered to play might not be having much fun as a result. Would this mean they lost touch with what having fun was all about? Should they default to the definition of fun that the visitor brought with him? Who's fun is more important?

 

I think the answer's clear -- they're both important. But perhaps the visitor should find other people to play with that share his kind of fun and let the people playing at a higher level have their fun too. I think it’s the visitor’s responsibility to make sure their participation doesn’t spoil anything for the people already there and not the other way around.

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Last I noticed, basketball is a team sport. ;)

 

Sure, music played in a private venue - a home, a rehearsal hall, a rented room, a party - has every right to be exclusive. Same goes for professional gigs. But gangs of amateurs who take over a public venue and freeze out anyone who doesn't meet their standards are arrogating to themselves a space that should belong to all. Like music itself, musicians should be generous and open, not intimidating and exclusive.

Edited by yankeeclipper
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Guest Peter Laban
Last I noticed, basketball is a team sport. ;)

 

The comment makes me wonder what you think a tight well playing session of skilled players is.

 

Music, like every area of skill, has if you like to call it that 'a pecking order' although I prefer to look at it as a system of seniority. Nothing that is enforced but something that is instinctively granted by those participating in it. Call it respect if you like.

 

On the internet experienced players setting the level of a musical gathering are always 'arrogant' while the unskilled ones forcing the gathering's level are not, in fact they do it for the sake of friendliness and inclusiveness. . Interesting how that always works, isn't it.

Edited by Peter Laban
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Say a group of folks were doing something like playing basketball. ...
Last I noticed, basketball is a team sport. ;)

Indeed it is. Are you suggesting that there's no teamwork involved in a session?

 

And what happens if you're playing a game of basketball (on a public playground) and some stranger comes by and insists on being included? If you let him, then you have these possibilities (among others):

  1. Different teams finishing the game than started it.
  2. More players on one team than the other.
  3. One of the already-there players gets pushed out to "the bench".

Sure, music played in a private venue - a home, a rehearsal hall, a rented room, a party - has every right to be exclusive. Same goes for professional gigs. But gangs of amateurs who take over a public venue and freeze out anyone who doesn't meet their standards are arrogating to themselves a space that should belong to all.

And just what makes a venue "public"? The fact that the private owner of the venue has given some folks permission to make music at a particular time? Maybe (s)he's also given them -- or even just a few of them -- permission to control who plays, and what and when. Or maybe the question didn't come up, but if/when it does, I expect that in most cases the owner would side with the "locals". In any case, assuming no law has been violated, it's the owner who has the final say, if say is needed.

 

Like music itself, musicians should be generous and open, not intimidating and exclusive.

Well, that's your opinion. Sort of my feeling, too, though "should" is a far cry from "must", and you and I might still disagree on how "generous and open" they should be. If that happens where we're both at the same venue, then which of us should the others obey?

Neither! ... It's
their
session.

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Of course, courtesy demands that newbies don't barge in uninvited on a good rolling session; fortunately, more traditional courtesies suggest that no one holds a monopoly on music in a public space, and strangers should be made welcome.

 

Having been the beneficiary of three years of West Highland hospitality, where skilled musicians in pub sessions welcomed players from every level, and gave generously of their time and talents to include and encourage newcomers, I can only say that many of the attitudes expressed here would have turned me away from traditional music at the outset. I am eternally grateful to the many talented players who patiently listened to my awkward early efforts, and graciously guided me into a 30 year love affair with the English concertina.

Edited by yankeeclipper
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