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Session Snobbery!


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I've been mulling this over a little and thinking how knowing the unwritten rules without committing a faux-pas is one of those societal tests we all have to pass from time to time, working out the office culture, the pecking order in a street gang, the order of business in an amateur dramtic society.

 

In the case of sessions there is this whole dynamic of - who is the leader, what do they play, how do I join in etc etc which adds enough stress for most visitors or beginners to make the experience very fraught. Then there is the issue of dealing with over-confident visitors, or inappropriate instruments etc.

 

Wouldn't it be nice if you could hand out a little piece of paper to visitors.

 

I've created below the sort of thing I mean - loosely based on a fictitious session not unlike one I go to locally...

 

"Welcome to our Friday session. Bob, the guy with the beard is our session lead.

 

Here are a few ground rules which we use to help visitors understand how we make the evening enjoyable for ourselves.

 

Mostly we like what is loosely called traditional music. As we are in Scotland many of the tunes we play are Scottish, though a few English and Irish tunes and even transatlantic tunes creep in.

 

We like to play tunes we know, at an easy pace and sometimes work a tune round a few times so that we all get used to it. This can be very enjoyable.

 

Sometimes a member of the group will tell a tale, recite a poem or sing a solo song or even a chorus chanty for us all to join in.

 

Beginning musicians can join in but should play quietly along and not expect to be able to play all the time. If you can’t pick up a tune – don’t play it with a bunch of wrong notes.

 

If you are a visitor, rather than jump in with a tune which may not be appropriate, why not sit and wait, listening to the music before jumping in. Feel free to introduce yourself at a pause. Our leader will likely invite you to play something before too long.

 

Not everything played at our sessions is for joining in, many of our players like to play slow airs and solo pieces. Give them the respect and silence they need for these.

 

Sometimes we will play “Whiskey in the Jar” or “House of the rising sun.” for more than a few minutes, this is a chance for anyone, however much a beginner to join in the fun. If you have been nervous of playing or joining in, now is your chance. Don’t fear the wrong notes.

 

If you are a piper, or accordion player, be aware that your instrument can become tiresome to many of our members if you play many sets of tunes one after another. Go easy.

 

Unusual instruments are unusual for a reason, we like to see and hear them for a short while, but not all through the session.

 

A bodhran, if played sensitively and with restraint can add a pleasant percussive rythym to many tunes. Not all of them though.

 

Welcome ! "

 

Is this a way to get over session snobbery?

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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.

You are certainly not 2nd class in my book & you would be more than welcome to muck in at any of my sessions.

 

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.

To be honest, sometimes that speed is actually necessary if you are playing for a lively bunch of set dancers, in which case it can be loads of fun, but it's horses for courses. I enjoy playing fast when required, but given a choice I prefer to just dander along.

 

I would hope that all concertina players; indeed all musicians, could enjoy and appreciate whatever music is made on our favorite instrument.

Believe me, those with good manners ............ & common sense, really can & do.

 

Cheers

Dick

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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.

Hasn't it got a lot to do with what mood you are in &/or the situation you find yourself in?

 

Sometimes I'm in the mood for fast & crazy & far too many notes, other times I'm just looking to get mellow .... ;)

 

I'd be surprised if anyone here actually limits themselves to only listening to one genre, or one tempo.

 

Festival Concerts are a wonderful place for techno-whizzes to strut their funky stuff.

I used to love watching Phil & Johnny Cunningham go crazy & play reels at a zillion miles an hour ..... but that kind of thing wouldn't usually suit a quiet wee afternoon session.

 

Cheers

Dick

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As a foreigner (to Ireland, and most other countries)

:lol:

 

I love that, nice one Snorre!

 

Yup, I'm a foreigner in Norway ....... & most other countries too! ;)

 

Cheers

Dick

 

P.S. ...... & before you ask, no I can't speak a word of Norwegian or any other language, for that matter, so as your English is excellent, ....... yup, the laughs on me! :(

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When you think about it Michael, the Irish themselves must surely be into all the benefits of generalisation & the learning that comes from that sharing, because remember, ALL the dance rhythms of their ITM actually came from elsewhere originally!

So over the years, they have obviously been open to all these different musical influences.

Also, the only instrument of ITM that they can claim as truly theirs, is the Uilleann Pipes, so if they themselves were out & out purist/specialists they'd perhaps still just be banging rocks together .... & telling other rock bashers to GO FIND THEIR OWN SESSION! :lol:

 

Cheers

Dick

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Far from being snobs it seems that quite a few session Police* are contributing to this thread. Lots of rules. I once played in a Strathspey and Reel Society orchestra. I commented to the conductor that there seemed to be a lot of structure to the whole thing. She responded that of course you'd have that in any orchestra, but beyond that, she observed that when Irish musicians get together to play they just play. When Scottish musicians get together for some tunes, they first elect a president, then a recording secretary, and so forth.

 

People holding forth on those nasty, rude ITM players sound like people complaining of sour grapes. Any session finds its own level of expertise. Some sessions are friendly and welcoming and some are not. Paid sessions can stink. But some paid sessions are led by brilliant musicians. Some have too much singing, some have too many reels. Some have tunes that are played to death, other sessions have tunes that are local or obscure. Some sessions are good and some are not. It takes a while for it all to sort itself out.

 

If you don't like the weekly session, start your own- which is what adult people do. Otherwise some adaptation - and painful growth - might be necessary. And some people - not limited to Irish musicians - are just plain rude. Nothing new there, or particularly linked to the industrial revolution, as Yankee Clipper had it. One thing for sure - being childish and whining about it gets you nowhere.

 

*Edited to remove the dreaded word that ends discussions. Thanks, Dick. Maybe I should stop reading this thread.... before I lose my last two friends.

Edited by David Levine
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Simon: great "ground rules, and they call to mind the openness and musical diversity of most sessions in Scotland. Just one small point:

 

Here are a few ground rules which we use to help visitors understand how we make the evening enjoyable for ourselves.

 

I'm sure you really meant enjoyable for everyone. Sometimes musicians in public places forget that they're not the only ones with a right to enjoy themselves. ;)

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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.

 

My point though was that the Pub and the Bar were otherwise half empty. Its rectangular bar... so there are lots of places to sit or stand at on that bar that are plenty of distance from the musicians for talking. Yet they chose to stand near us. Mind you, we are not a miked session. Once you are about 7 or 8 feet from the musicians, it is perfectly possible to have a reasonable conversation. The musicans are in this case are also the regulars. How in this case are we suppose to accomadate them? After all, we were where we were suppose to be doing exactly what the management wanted us to do.

 

--

Bill

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Far from being snobs it seems that quite a few session Nazis are contributing to this thread.

Oh dear David, the last resort ........ the mention of the dreaded N word, usually means the end of a thread! :(

 

See Godwin's law ;)

 

Cheers

Dick

Edited by Ptarmigan
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Far from being snobs it seems that quite a few session Nazis are contributing to this thread.

 

Does it seems that there is a tendency to name 'nazi' nowadays to anybody who doesn't totally agree to a particular opinion. Especially, among my beloved dreadlocks-didgeridoo-djembe-globalization friends. :lol: It seems too that everything has to be a complete anarchy for to be cool...

 

A session is a gathering of friends for to enjoy playing together. And is supossed friends respect each other...

 

Cheers,

 

Fer

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Or Simon, you could just tell them to read this book:

 

Last Night's Fun: A Book about Irish Traditional Music by Ciaran Carson

 

If they have manners & a little common sense they'll get the picture.

 

Careful, Dick, they'll probably gather that traditional music is as much about chainsmoking, drinking so much you don't know where you are when you wake up and then recovering by eating enormous fried breakfasts (armed with detailed historical knowledge of regional variations in same) as it is about tunes. :P

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I find it ironic that a half a dozen guys who, if they wandered into a pub at the same time would doubtlessly produce a cracking good session together, always end up bashing each other over the head when discussing on a forum the mechanics of what makes a good session.

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I find it ironic that a half a dozen guys who, if they wandered into a pub at the same time would doubtlessly produce a cracking good session together, always end up bashing each other over the head when discussing on a forum the mechanics of what makes a good session.

 

Well we can't play music on here... so we default to the other behavior that is traditional in Irish Pubs... Arguing :).

 

--

Bill

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In the session snobbery debate I am generally sympathetic to the arguments advanced by my hotblooded young friend Azalin. On the other hand.... and this is a bit of a digression because it is not about sessions in the sense of organized "Irish" or other sessions:

 

On two occasions in the past year I have observed how exasperating and selfish we Irish session fiends (those outside the old country anyway) must sometimes seem to people not infected with our particular musical disease.

 

The first was a summer afternoon party in a lovely garden in the country. There were about 20 musicians of various stripes present playing everything from traditional songs from the British Isles and America to blues to African-style guitar. And a small handful of Irish sessioneers including myself. One of our number in particular has a bad case of what Peter earlier called "dying to play". It was all very pleasant listening to the songs, on which some real jamming occurred - something that most Irish session fiends are pretty awful at. Finally there was a reasonable lull allowing for some Irish tunes to be played. It would have been polite to play two or three sets and then hand the focus back to the others. Is that what happened? No... when the ISFs had the bit between their teeth, they weren't going to let go of it. Most of the other musicians couldn't join in so they wandered off and left us.

 

It was difficult to try to turn the ship around especially since the dying-to-play lad was the one who got us all invited. After dropping a few ineffectual hints I decided the only decent thing to do was to stop playing and wander off and talk to some of the other musicians who had been shut out.

 

The second event was a sort of wake a few days ago for a musician very well-known locally who had passed away at home in Ireland, where the funeral had been held. This was a chance for his many friends here in Montreal to gather and celebrate his life and listen to lots of amusing and touching stories about him. After the stories there were quite a few songs, again with some cordial jamming.

 

Then at some point the tune hounds saw their chance and the session blasted off! The space for songs was completely obliterated and when I left after about an hour's worth of (excellent btw) tunes there was no sign of a let-up. Here the insensitivity was much less than it had been at the garden party, because after all our deceased friend would probably have been more interested in the tunes than the songs, but it was another illustration of the momentum that is unleashed when a few musicians eager to play with each other get into a huddle.

 

I don't think it's snobbery, but I do think it's gross insensitivity. I also think that while it's unfortunate to some extent it can't be helped. A session focused on one style of music creates such a strong dynamic that all other styles get swept before it. And playing a tune, any tune, will remind you of so many others you'd like to play - right now!

 

I love it... but I think it shouldn't be unleashed in situations where other musicians have a perfect right to expect to be able to play other stuff.

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