What is a session?

What is a session?

Ok, I know I sound a bit silly, asking that question, but I am kind of new to Celtic music. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about sessions, but never really explain about them.Can someone explain more on, what are they, how did they come about, how do you start playing in them, just information like that.
Thanks,
Fairfeather

Re: What is a session?

Usualy a session comes about because some people want to play a few tunes together on a regular basis. It’s usualy in a pub (in Ireland) or a club . There aren’t any rules as such, but there are certain points of ettiquette which are useful to know. It’s always a good plan to have a good listen before you join a session, and try to work out if the people are just playing for fun, - for their own enjoyment, or are hellbent on trying to impress the listener. The former type will probably welcome you; the latter are unlikely to want anyone joining in, but ask anyway you never know your luck! Dont make the mistake of just sitting in, taking out your bodhran and starting up. Theres no point in ruining their night and yours as well! I’m sure more wisdom will come your way but I hope this will be a start.

Re: What is a session?

Fairfeather, take a look at the discussion thread titled "Session etiquette for shy intermediate players" dated Augest 14th. Another good source of info is Barry Foy’s book, A Field Guide to the Irish Music Session, available at amazon.com among other places.
Will

Posted .

Re: What is a session?

It happened to me something like what Frank said. I was in Galway at Tig Coeli (or something like that, I’m not very found of gaelic!) in the city center. After a pint I decided to join in playing along with the others Cooley’s reel… and the session turned into a disaster! ALWAYS ASK!!! never do what I did or as Frank said "just sitting in, taking out your bodhran and starting up." I played in Dublin, Kilkenny, Limerick, Westport, Athlone and always I enjoyed myself a lot, but there in Galway it was the worst session I’ve ever made!

Re: What is a session?

No such thing as a silly question…
I was curious Fairfeather, do you play music? If so which instrument. Also where are you from? I’m sure there is someone on this list who lives near you & might be able to bring you to a session introduce you the local players etc.

Re: What is a session?

I live in California, in the Santa Cruz area, and play three recorders( mostly soprano, which is not tradtional, but it works).
Fairfeather

Re: What is a session?

I would suggest getting a Clark Tinwhistle, they’re cheap & in tune. The recorder has a sweet voice but doesn’t have the volume to keep up with fiddles, pipes etc. The whistle is a good gateway instrument to both the pipes & flute. I don’t know of any sessions in Santa Cruz but I’m sure there is one, I’d try to see if there is a session in your neighborhood & make my way over. Above all have fun

Re: What is a session?

Don’t feel stupid, fairweather - for the first year or so I thought a session and a ceilidh were the same thing and consistently referred to dance-free musical gatherings as "ceilidh’s", in conversation with some of the world’s most notable players. If only I had thought to ask!

Re: What is a session?

Greetings,

You’re in luck, Fairfeather. I believe Northern California has a number of good slow sessions where you can bring a tin whistle and join in. Go to http://www.slowplayers.org/ for more info. Click "CA Session List" in the sidebar menu.

Also, there’s a discussion list dedicated to slow session players:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/slowsession

This list started as discussion forum for Berkely area slow session players but it has expanded beyond that. Enjoy!

John Harvey
Rhode Island’s Irish Connection
http://www.rhodeirish.net

Re: What is a session?

Fairfeather:

I’ll bite the bullet and play the nasty — just so’s you know, be VERY VERY sure that you don’t walk into and start playing at a session with a recorder without the welcome and invitation of the players themselves. The recorder is not a traditional instrument, and reactions will vary from a "hey, that’s great, play whatever you play" (very very VERY best-case scenario) to talking about you behind your back as someone who is ignorant (most usual reaction) to outright and rude in-your-face disdain. (Keeping in mind here that I am not saying that any of those things are right or wrong, I’m just talking about the realities of likely reaction.) The best rule for sessions is to always wait to take an instrument out until you’ve been invited, which means you need to talk to musicians first.

Strike up a conversation with one of the musicians, preferably one who looks friendly and is paying attention to other people who are not musicians. If none of the musicians relate to ANYone outside of the circle, it may be a closed session. In fact, don’t even bring an instrument with you for at least the first visit to the session. Just listen. (Listening IS learning to play in Irish music.) If you’re being attentive to the music, the musicians will nine times out of ten notice even if they don’t let on they notice. Talk to the fluter or the whistle player and ask if they know anyone who gives lessons in Irish trad music, and things will probably flow from there.

Kerri, did no one tell you that a ceili (insofar as I know, ceilidh is the Scots Gaelic version of the word) can indeed be dance and music free? In Ireland, to "make a ceili" might be just a bunch of people sitting around trying to top each other’s crack and drinking a lot at somebody’s house. Since I started as a stepdancer, it was my impression that a ceili had to have dancing in it to be a ceili, but I was corrected while in Ireland. In the States, a ceili usually *does* have dancing and therefore music, but that’s not necessarily a strict rule, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Ceili means "party", basically, with overtones of music and dancing, but not necessarily. A session, on the other hand, is a bunch of friends who happen to play or sing getting together to play a few tunes. Sometimes they’re open, sometimes they’re closed, but it’s always a social occasion as much as a musical one. Unless it’s a session that’s not built around the tradition. Organized sessions are relatively new events. But the real, informal, "care for a few tunes?" sessions have happened since time out of mind.

Definitely get the Barry Foy book. It’s funny and spot on! Good luck, Fairfeather, and let us know how it goes. 🙂

Zina

Re: What is a session?

Fairfeather,
If you live in Santa Cruz there are a ton of sessions there! Some of the best celtic musicisans I know live there. Check out the Community Music School of Santa Cruz. here’s there website: http://communitymusicschool.org/

Also, I go to the Mid. Pen. Slower-Players thingy and that’s really fun. The people are great too.

Lktz

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Re: What is a session?

I’m having some confusion problems in my area, too, which is Portland, Oregon. One of the sessions I go to is billed as a Jam Session, all levels welcome - by the pub where it is. But I don’t get a feeling of welcome from some of the players. And my experience is with jam sessions — old timey — where everyone is always welcome. My feeling is that a lot of the players at this Irish "jam session" are just as confused as I am. I actually have never heard the word "session" used there, or any other word, for that matter — people just play. Lots of friendly people, but still I’m confused. So I started a practice session once a month, for all levels. We have discussions about the tunes, keys, how to practice together, etc. We’ve only met once, but it was fun.

I wonder why there isn’t more openness on the part of the experienced players in Irish music, rather than putting the responsibility on newcomers. In the contra dancing and international folk dancing traditions, the finest dancers are who everyone looks up to, but are not at all standoffish. All are welcomed, because these folk communities recognize that anyone interested in their genres are their best friends, and potential partners. It pays to be generous of spirit, and share one’s skills so that newcomers’ enthusiasm builds instead of withers.

Frank’s comment meant a lot to me: "It’s always a good plan to have a good listen before you join a session, and try to work out if the people are just playing for fun, - for their own enjoyment, or are hellbent on trying to impress the listener. " A problem can arise if the pub bills the event differently from how (some of the) players feel about it.

Re: What is a session?

An irish session is where people get together to play fairly standard irish trad tunes. A "Jam Session" is where people get together to play whatever music in any fasion, usually improvising for hours on end. Usually these are dominated by half assed guitarists who badger all the fiddle players to play "Dave Matthews Band" & all the flutes to play "Jethro Tull" Chasing them away, quickly. Any session can only be as good as the worst player & that player rarely knows any better at "Jam Sessions"

*giggle*

Brad, have I mentioned that I’d marry you on the strength of your curmudgeonliness if I wasn’t already married? Hehehehe…

I know that most other of the traditions have "jam sessions". Irish players, the only tradition I know much of anything about, don’t. It’s also important to remember that to an Irish player (and I assume to a Scottish player, or a Cape Breton player, or a Shetland Islands player), there’s a difference between being a Celtic player and being an Irish player. All of the Celtic traditions are indeed Celtic, but a "celtic player" (what John Carr, a fiddler in Ft. Collins CO) calls a "pan-Celtic player", one who plays different elements of all the traditions in one personal style, may not necessarily be an Irish player. (Although lots of players, depending on who they learned from, certainly may have different elements in their Irish playing — look at Donegal.) I would never announce to anyone that I could play Scottish, or Old Time, or Texas, or any such other tradition simply because I play Irish (I feel I barely play Irish, really). So do be careful of your use of the term "Celtic music" — it’s a definite hot button for a lot of players, regardless which side of the "argument" they currently live on.

An organized session (put on by a pub, for instance) often has a definite leadership, and a definite goal. In fact, that’s preferable, to avoid the kind of confusion Marion talks about — for instance, anyone advertising an Irish session as an open jam is not only looking for trouble because they won’t get what they actually wanted, but is advertising their ignorance of Irish tradition music. An informal session (whether at a pub, in a men’s bathroom in a park, or after a party) is a total different beast. Barry Foy mentions that Americans in particular have problems wanting sessions to be something they’re not — often, especially, they want them to be miniature models of democracy in action, which they simply aren’t. Every session is differen, of course, and that’s the way it should be. But in general, you can pretty much count on a lot of the same things. See the thread a while back on session etiquette for more info. We were all pretty vociferous about it. 🙂 What a big surprise. Heh.

Zina

Re: What is a session?

Yeah, Zina, if the pub hadn’t called it a Jam Session I would not have gone because I didn’t know what session was! LOL

And Brad, no, a good jam session is not dominated by the worst player. It’s not dominated by anybody. The great players shine and the lesser players defer to them. The good players are the one who start the tunes. And the lesser players are glad to learn new tunes and rush off after the jam to learn them. Same as with the two folk dance traditions I mentioned. In what I’ve experienced of the folk tradition, great players lend a hand or a good word to the new players (or dancers) when they arrive. Some lesser players aspire to be great, and move up fast. Others learn their limits and stay there, but they don’t dominate. Competition is not real common, except in contests, and I haven’t seen any resentments there, either — just admiration for those who win. That’s been my experience, but perhaps others may not have had such good experiences as I’ve had. It can be easy to be soured on anything if one’s early contacts are unpleasant. I was fortunate to have very positive introductions to these traditions. I have been to a few jams where some strong willed loud player messes everything up — esp. if they can’t keep a beat. **Very** unpleasant! I made a quick retreat out of there. But I did want to put in a good word for other types of music than Irish, which are not all what Brad’s experience has been.

Also, it sounds to me like not all sessions have the same "culture." People are people, and I would guess that it’s probably a good idea to try several sessions before finding one’s "home session," no matter what area of the world one is in.

Actually, the reason I attended the "jam" session which is not a jam, is for the companionship of other musicians playing together. I have several genres of music I love, and Irish is one. Probably the greatest Irish players focus only on Irish, since that is where they put all their time. I hope the practice session I’ve put together fulfills the needs of those of us who want a non-public friendly place to play and learn, as well as a providing venue for those who are aspiring to become great. It’s already been suggested that we expand, so I guess we are doing okay so far.

Re: What is a session?

I already know what a session is. What I need to know is , are there any sessioneers living even remotely close
to me? I live in Evanston, Richmond County,Nova Scotia.

Re: What is a session?

anything you want it to be _you can bring it’s ‘meaning’ to it free (if you get my drift)