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Session Snobbery!


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This is a really interesting subject to bring up. I have no opportunity or exposure to pub sessions or to the competitive aspect of concertina playing, but I also find that I am reluctant to post here because so much is focused on what is called Irish music, and I have been rebuffed a couple of times.

 

I love my Tedrow baritone and play at least an hour a day. I play in many public forums, including for the local seniors home, but never a "session". I wish I'd skipped the violin and bought a concertina 20 years ago, but I do not play what seems to be the concertina standard. I play American Civil War music, British WWI tunes, American western songs, some Broadway and some Celtic tunes. I am perfectly happy with this, and get a nice audience response, so why should this make me a second class performer.

 

Frankly the videos I find of champion Irish concertina players are disappointing, it seems that musicality is subservient to speed and I just cannot get my head around cramming more beats to the measure than the time signature supports. To me it makes the tune sound somewhat random.

 

My daughter attended fiddle camps in Ireland and says that the issue is a conflict from music based on learning notation and music based on learning by ear.

 

At any rate, I would like to say that I have played several instruments and have found none more wonderful than the concertina. I believe that it has both a cultural and musical versatility that should be recognized and we should all just enjoy the music we make.

 

It is sort of like the readers of classics that can appreciate a youth reading a comic book; at least he's reading. I would hope that all concertina players; indeed all musicians, could enjoy and appreciate whatever music is made on our favorite instrument.

 

NNY

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Surely a session, by definition, is for all comers and the expectation is that if a musician turns up they are there to play. If it isn't, then it's not a session, it's a concert, or perhaps a rehearsal.

I have to agree with this statement.If a group of musicians go into a bar to play and they dislike other musicians joining them,they are a band and this is not a session. A session is one that is open to all comers,they are made welcome,they add their music to the evening and enhance it.Some introducing new tunes,making new friends and are welcome to return again and possibly bring their friends to play.Players like NoNaYet with a lovely range of interesting repertoire should not be concerned about whether she or he would be made welcome,or even consider it. As a X member of four bands I can understand the desire to make fantastic music with a group of other musicians,but you require a private room and fresh thinking on the session subject.

Al

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Frankly the videos I find of champion Irish concertina players are disappointing, it seems that musicality is subservient to speed and I just cannot get my head around cramming more beats to the measure than the time signature supports. To me it makes the tune sound somewhat random.

 

Gee, I feel that way about Yo-Yo Ma. Must be something wrong with him. Or that other guy, Mozart, the guy with too many notes.

Edited by David Levine
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i often find some of the best musicians just show up to listen.

 

Most of the examples in this thread, of negative things in sessions, would never happen if there was more listening going on. Listening has to come first, last and all the way through in any music making IMHO. If the other guy/gal isn't listening then you may have to do more to compensate, even going as far as David describes.

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Guest Peter Laban

Most problems stem from people who desperately need to play, for whatever reason. I see that sort of thing when there are festivals on in Ennis for example: last year (and I don't know if it was during the Fleadh Nua or Tradfest) I went into town to do the shopping as usual, and oblivious to the fact that anything could be going on, only to find people wandering around with instrument cases. In some cases people would sit down in the middle of the street or inside shops, unpack and start playing for no apparent reason at all. It all seemed strange and very self-indulgent.

 

Anyhow, there's a time and place for everything. Personally I would never walk into a session where I didn't know at least a few people and I would certainly not walk in without verifying it was OK to join. Mind you that is still miles away from walking in and crying blue murder about the choice of repertoire and forcing my own repertoire to the centre of attention.

 

More often than not it's fine just to listen, enjoy being there. Elsewhere someone said once it's a bit of a delusion to think you can sit down, bring down the quality of the music and expect being made welcome. I would add, it's even more a delusion to think you should be made welcome just because you did. It can be helpful, for yourself, to think through what you may have to contribute, if you have nothing to add, in a positive way, just sit and listen, it's likely to be more enjoyable for everybody. If the urge is too strong, you just may be asked to play a tune, if your playing or style or type of music doesn't fit in, keep it at the one party piece and leave it at that.

 

Too often I have seen someone in a corner pull out a whistle (or whatever) as soon as a silent moment occurred and out of the blue sail into an out of rhythm and out of tune version of Si Bheag Si Mor, only to walk out in a huff, shouting 'bloody elitist snobs!' after finishing because the rest of the session chose not to join in.

 

Observing the normal rules of social interaction quite often avoid problems like some of the ones described.

 

[Edited for some correction and clarification]

Edited by Peter Laban
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Observing the normal rules of social interaction quite often avoid problems like some of the ones described.

 

I agree. The normal rules of social interaction is a good place to start, but different sessions "operate" under different subsets of these conventions. Where one session is open, welcoming and including, another can be excluding, closed and "cold". Anthropologists loves this stuff.

 

As a foreigner (to Ireland, and most other countries) I know that it can be hard to balance the two approaches to a session: I desperately want to play a few tunes with good musicians when I finally have take a few days off to go to Ireland, but I really don't want to be pushy and spoil an otherwise good session.

 

I find that Peter's approach (observing normal politeness, asking permisson, showing a bit of humility/respect to local customs) the most sensible way because there are soooo many factors in a session (where to sit, what to play,when to play, deviation from versions of tunes etc.etc.). This approach also enables the local musicians to politely correct/sanction unwanted behaviour without acting the ******.

 

I haven't been to a session in Ireland in 5+ years, but will try my luck (hopefully carrying the above mentioned principles freshly in mind) in Ennis the 3rd to the 6th of April. I already have one invitation to a session, but will have to try and join someone the Sat and Sun nights. If anybody have any tips, I would be very grateful.

 

Snorre

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Musicians like to play together and good ones can jam and improvise and adapt. I think when there aren't too many musicians around you can get an exchange of styles and a fusion that may even become a local or regionlal style. Because of migration this can happen and the melting pot can yield an interesting stew!

 

So generalism has its advantages as well as specialism (which can lead to need for a more controlled environment to operate)

As a Biologist I think we can make some interesting comparisons based on natural or artificial selection . Crufts' dog show is currently under criticism for inbreeding of pedigree strains. Long live mongrels and hybrid vigour!

 

My personal preferred music is 'Irish' but I am open to most other genres and have played for dance and in bands and I think a tolerant session can accomodate quite a range but there are obvious limits. It's bad musicians ( I don't mean beginners but people with no ability) or insensitive ones who muck things up. We once had to move pubs three times to a shake off a bones player who was nice guy but had no idea! One Scot did offer to insert them sideways 'where the Sun don't shine' but the guy thought it was just a Billy Connolly act!

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I find that Peter's approach (observing normal politeness, asking permisson, showing a bit of humility/respect to local customs) the most sensible way because there are soooo many factors in a session (where to sit, what to play,when to play, deviation from versions of tunes etc.etc.). This approach also enables the local musicians to politely correct/sanction unwanted behaviour without acting the ******.

 

I feel this is the right approach and you shouldn't have any problem joining any sessions, including the 'snobby' ones. Lucky you, april must be a very nice month to visit Ireland (weatherwise), compared to november, my usual month in the past few years.

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I find that Peter's approach (observing normal politeness, asking permisson, showing a bit of humility/respect to local customs) the most sensible way because there are soooo many factors in a session (where to sit, what to play,when to play, deviation from versions of tunes etc.etc.). This approach also enables the local musicians to politely correct/sanction unwanted behaviour without acting the ******.

 

I feel this is the right approach and you shouldn't have any problem joining any sessions, including the 'snobby' ones. Lucky you, april must be a very nice month to visit Ireland (weatherwise), compared to november, my usual month in the past few years.

 

April is a good month in Northern/Western Europe in general:-) I haven't been to Ennis in 15 years or so, but now I am going to get some concertina lessons. It'll be a nice long weekend: Invited to a session in Cois na hAbhna on Friday, lessons on Sat and Sun during the day, and (hopefully) sessions at night, bus to Dublin on Mon, where I hope to get a few hours in the Irish Trad Music Archives, session at night (Hughes' maybe?) and then home to Oslo and the rest of the Easter week fishing sea-trout and practising the concertina :lol: Happy days!

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I think a large part of the problem here is taking what grew to be an accepted form of the session here in Ireland and transplanting it to other countries on the back of the "celtic" boom. Other countries with their own cultures, musical styles and social expectations are bound to eventually clash with the Irish idea of a session due to misunderstandings with the popular export. Nobody here complains about a session being trad dance music all night because that's what they expect. Well OK, to be honest you've always got the occasional failed wanna-be singer/songwriter/rock-star/attention-seeking/guitar-toting visitor that might complain that there are not enough songs, but generally you get what you expect.

 

Peter Laban has it right IMHO. In fact most musicians (bar the egos) would leave their instrument in the car before going in to a strange session, so they could check it out. If you stroll in carrying an instrument and then find out the session is not what you wanted you have nobody to blame except yourself. There are a variety of sessions here in Mayo but I only go to a couple of them. I particularly avoid the young sessions because despite the Irish tunes the sound is almost bluegrass. I could go and sit there and then whine when I don't like it, but I choose to avoid it instead. That restricts my outings to one (or occasionally two) nights a week but it's my choice.

 

If a session is predominantly one style or another and you don't like it, either don't go or suborn a few like-thinking individuals and go and start your own session up. Nobody is being snobby, there is just a group of people enjoying playing the music they hang out together to play. People playing other styles will be accorded due respect for a while but if they persistently turn up doing that, they will get shut out by peer pressure. It happens everywhere - at work, in teenage culture, on internet forums and probably deep in any jungles that are left. It's human nature, a study of group dynamics in any management textbook will show you have little chance of changing it, so you have to try to achieve your aims within it by influence or else leave.

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Surely a session, by definition, is for all comers and the expectation is that if a musician turns up they are there to play. If it isn't, then it's not a session, it's a concert, or perhaps a rehearsal.

 

I am not sure I completely agree with this. I agree that a session in a pub implies a certain amount of openess.. but I don't think that means the session is totally open. After all, every session has its own dynamic and way operating. I certainly don't expect or want Klezmer musicians to sit down and start playing Klezmer music at our ITM sessions. Likewise, I don't think any session should feel the need to change its level of play for a visitor -- granted its nice when we do and helps encourage the music but its not obligatory.

 

One last thought, I expect even the most generalist person on this forum probably has limits; how many of us would really be welcoming if a group showed up with a bunch of Electric Guitars and wanted to start covering Metallica or Hip-Hop?

 

--

Bill

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I have been to more than one session where patrons felt no problem at all standing 2 feet from the musicians shouting to each other over the music... even though the pub wasn't in the least crowded at the time).

--

Bill

 

And those other patrons might fairly say, "the musicians felt no problem at all sitting 2 feet from us, blasting to each other over our conversation..." <_< Matter of fact, I can recall several instances at a pub in Coigach when local crofters and fishermen were saying exactly that! So...what gives one group of patrons priority over others in a public house?

 

In our case, we were there first, we were playing in the normal session spot (a spot reserved by the Management of the Pub for session players). They weren't in seats, they were standing 3 deep at the bar... while half the bar was empty. And, its an advertised session.

 

I am not saying that there are not cases where the musicians are the nuisance... but this was not one of those cases.

 

--

Bill

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April is a good month in Northern/Western Europe in general:-) I haven't been to Ennis in 15 years or so, but now I am going to get some concertina lessons. It'll be a nice long weekend: Invited to a session in Cois na hAbhna on Friday, lessons on Sat and Sun during the day, and (hopefully) sessions at night, bus to Dublin on Mon, where I hope to get a few hours in the Irish Trad Music Archives, session at night (Hughes' maybe?) and then home to Oslo and the rest of the Easter week fishing sea-trout and practising the concertina :lol: Happy days!

 

So who will you be taking lessons with? Oslo seems like a very nice city, will hopefully visit one day.

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If a session is predominantly one style or another and you don't like it, either don't go or suborn a few like-thinking individuals and go and start your own session up. Nobody is being snobby, there is just a group of people enjoying playing the music they hang out together to play.

 

Yeah exactly. What I usually do in a festival is to go around the pubs and listen to some sessions until I either find one I'd like to listen because it's too advanced and I would only spoil their fun, or some session where I feel the musicians are trying to achieve what I'm trying to achieve and I feel like joining makes sense.

 

Alas, some people will simply join any random session and play any random stuff because for them, the definition of session is "a totally open jam where you can do pretty much what you want and people should warmly make you feel at home no matter what you're about".

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April is a good month in Northern/Western Europe in general:-) I haven't been to Ennis in 15 years or so, but now I am going to get some concertina lessons. It'll be a nice long weekend: Invited to a session in Cois na hAbhna on Friday, lessons on Sat and Sun during the day, and (hopefully) sessions at night, bus to Dublin on Mon, where I hope to get a few hours in the Irish Trad Music Archives, session at night (Hughes' maybe?) and then home to Oslo and the rest of the Easter week fishing sea-trout and practising the concertina :lol: Happy days!

 

So who will you be taking lessons with? Oslo seems like a very nice city, will hopefully visit one day.

I don't know yet, as Custy's are setting it up for me.

Oslo is a nice city, you are welcome anytime. Our session is pretty open, so do bring your instrument if you're over!

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In our case, we were there first, we were playing in the normal session spot (a spot reserved by the Management of the Pub for session players). They weren't in seats, they were standing 3 deep at the bar... while half the bar was empty. And, its an advertised session.

 

I am not saying that there are not cases where the musicians are the nuisance... but this was not one of those cases.

 

--

Bill

 

Fair enough, Bill, as it was an advertised session arranged with the management. Yet, the fact that "they were standing 3 deep at the bar" suggests that at least some of the paying customers were more interested in talking than listening - and they have rights, too. I've seen cliques of "ITM" tourists crash in uninvited and drown out the regulars who depend on pub talk to keep up with local affairs. A little accommodation by both sides might alleviate these problems.

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One last thought, I expect even the most generalist person on this forum probably has limits; how many of us would really be welcoming if a group showed up with a bunch of Electric Guitars and wanted to start covering Metallica or Hip-Hop?

 

--

Bill

 

Bill, in that particular case, you would obviously have to explain to the visitors that at a session, there has to be a certain amount of common ground & that as there was none at all between Trad & "Electric Guitars and Metallica or Hip-Hop", it'd make far more sense for them to come on a different night.

 

Mind you, I might suggest that they come back another night with acoustic guitars & sing the odd song between the tunes.

It might be kind of interesting to hear how a trad backing would suit Metallica or Hip Hop numbers!

I'm always up for a challenge. ;)

 

Let's face it, if homo sapiens weren't up for a bit of experimentation now & then, we might all still be living in caves & screaming & shouting & bashing rocks ....... which I guess, sounds pretty much like a Metallica concert, so maybe some of us haven't come too far! :lol:

 

Cheers

Dick

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