Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Aspire to play at a session but not quite ready to take up unfamiliar tunes with unfamiliar faces?

We’re forming a practice for Seattle-area musicians interested in performing Irish music. The practice is aimed at folks looking to expand their repertoire and gain experience playing together in a friendly, supportive environment.

Our approach is to focus on a particular set of tunes for a particular period of time (or cycle). Once we’re comfortable with those, we’ll move on to another set.

All we ask of members is that you have basic competency on an instrument (preferably one commonly used to play Irish traditional music) and be willing to teach other practice members at least one tune per cycle.

More information is available at

To join the practice, email

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Bannerman has started up something similar in Dublin & Ennis. We have something similar here too, but ‘slow sessions’ have been around for a spell. I’ve been involved in starting similar events since the 70s.

Bannerman is using these as a guide:

Ceoltóirí Cultúrlainne (Ennis/Dublin Session Group): Foinn Seisiun 1, 2 & 3

We’ve considered this, a recent release, 2 CDs, no sheets:

Seamus Creagh: Tunes For Practice

One idea is to carry the same set list for a given time, then move on to another. Another idea is to take the set at the start quite slow, then repeat it later a ‘little’ faster…

Another friend has started up the same thing for American old time, and there has been similar events in the Canadian Maritimes…

Best of luck! I regret Seattle is just too long a slog between here and there, and I don’t think I’m up for the swim, maybe in my youth… 😉

It is my experience that once a month isn’t enough, based on people’s differences as to time available and ability. Weekly works best for this purpose, and with a mixed group… I’m also familiar with the problems of finding a venue. Not that this is an answer, as it poses its own problems, but others I’ve known have had a moveable feast, meeting at each others homes in rotation. There you’d also have the potential problem of neighbours, but it has worked for some…

Once you’re organized don’t forget to add it to the Session list here, and give us some reports as to how it’s going.

Wishing you the best of luck ~ ‘c’

With the two similar events mentioned, we also have contributions from those participating in these slow sessions. The recordings/books are there to give some initial and common focus, and to provide continued inspiration…

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Ceolachan has explained it very well - many thanks ‘c’. I’ve been tinkering with slow sessions on and off for 10 years or so now having been inspired by Larry Reynold’s Green Briar sessions in Boston. The only problem (I shouldn’t really call it that) with these is they very quickly become victims of their own success where players reach a level of competency with the tunes that they need to play them at near normal speed.

Because of this factor I was approached by a few musicians to start an "Extra slow" session just before Christmas. We started in January meeting weekly with a 17 tune list and now, just two months later, the group have insisted on moving on to a new list of 20 new tunes. Progress on the first list was so good that most of the group now stay on for the main session later in the night where these tunes are played again at a fair pace.

Choice of tunes probably helps and as ‘c’ has already stated these are taken from Foinn Seisiún Book 1 and CD1 (As Book 1 is now available at 5 Euro it helps keep down the financial outlay for group members); I’m listing the tunes here in case it may be of some help to you in Seattle:-

1) Jigs
(Bk1/P22 & CD1/Tks 1,2,3)

Haunted House / 
My Darling Asleep / 
Club Céilí

2) Polkas
(Bk1/P39 & CD1/Tks 4,5,6)

Little Diamond / Murroe Polka / 
Maids of Ardath

3) Reels
(Bk1/P6 & CD1/Tks 7,8,9)

Boyne Hunt / 
Shannon Breeze / 
Red Haired Lass

4) Slides
(Bk1/P35 & CD1/Tks 16,17,18)

Brosna Slide / 
O’Keefe’s / 
Denis Murphy’s

5) Mazurkas
(Bk1/P40 & CD2/Tks 26,27)

John Doherty’s Mazurka / 
Vincent Campbell’s

6) Hornpipes

(Bk1/P33 & CD2/Tks 16,17,18)

Sonny Murray’s / 

Home Ruler / 

Kitty’s Wedding

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

The Sydney Slow Session, started 20 weeks ago, has been a success. The issues beginning to surface have to do with the differences in capacity of the players. Those who were competent on their instrument initially and only needed tunes, rhythm guidance and group playing experience are now wanting to play faster while those who are less skilled still need to play slower. To that end I am thinking of dividing the session in two, a "still slow" group and an intermediate group. I am undecided whether to schedule them on different nights or whether to run one before the other on the same night.

I am convinced the fast progress by some of the players owes a lot to the frequency (weekly) as well as the good cheer in the group. Nobody wants to leave at the end.

We now have near 20 tunes, mostly taught by ear at a rate of one a night.

I have not had the issues the Melbourne slow session faces; I hear they sometimes have 50 or so players. Our group is small enough I can still hold the speed down without needing to resort to loud rhythm devices.

We use Fionn Sessiun Book 1 as a reference. Our tunes list currrently includes

Reel Sets

Miss McLeods
Merry Blacksmith
Sally Gardens

Boyne Hunt
Shannon Breeze
Red haired Lass

Drowsy Maggie
Glass of Beer
Tommy Peoples

The Silver Spear
The Banshee

Jig Sets

The Kesh
Rambling Pitchfork
Leitrim Jig

Geese in the Bog
Connaughtsmans Rambles
Out on the Ocean

My Darling Asleep
Club Ceili
Saddle the Pony
Pay the Reckoning

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Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Is there any interest in anything like this in South East Cornwall/South West Devon?

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Good on all you folks! That’s great stuff. If I had the need, I’d do it myself, but I’m out here in the suburban/rural wasteland. The thought of 50 musicians showing up for a session boggles my mind!

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Cag I think your "Nobody wants to leave at the end" says a lot and to me anyway justifies having the sessions back-to-back on the same night. My experience is that 80% of our slow group now wait for the main session and, in many cases, are able to join in here and there. Even when they don’t, the listening experience is invaluable as we all know how important "the ear" is for trad! You could organise it with one hour slow, one hour intermediate speed and then "every man (or woman) for himself". That way everyone knows what to expect and can come along at a time that suits them best.

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

When I was in Colorado I used to attend a Slow Tune Learning Session run by Zina and "Reverend." Was a brilliant, brilliant thing. Whatever moments of competence I have (and sometimes it ain’t much) I really do owe to those guys.

The session worked because you had two or three competent players who could teach tunes and talk about other things like session etiquette, etc. etc. As far as I know, Pete (who will post soon enough, I am sure) is still running it. They meet weekly in what must be the most cooperative coffee shop in the world, teach a new tune, and play through the tunes that have been taught in previous weeks. You start building up a half decent common repertoire after a while. Other "slow sessions" I have come across haven’t been as good since you might not have any more experienced musicians and therefore have a case of the blind leading the blind.

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Actually, I only go to the SCTLS to teach a tune occasionally anymore. I’ve "passed the torch", per se. I owe a lot to "growing up" in that slow session too, SS.

The basic idea is that we meet every week, go through the prior week’s tune as a warmup. Maybe play another set of tunes to warm up. Then teach a tune (exclusively by ear), and go as slowly as needed for everybody to get it. (There are occasions where there is one person that is way behind everybody else, and sometimes we’ll move quicker than the person can handle. But in general, the goal is to go as slowly as needed so that everybody gets it). Then we might spend time talking about stuff (ornamentation, technique, etiquette, gossip, whatever…) Sometimes we’ll teach a second tune, if people are up to it. Then we’ll play tunes from prior weeks until the end. At which time, we review the tune(s) that were taught that week as a refresher. We encourage people to bring recording devices, and to work on the tune on their own during the week.

So our focus has been a "teaching session", not necessarily a "slow session". The goal being to work people up to speed and repertoire for the regular sessions. We will play things up to "session speed", if people can handle it. We also encourage people to learn tunes on their own, and then bring them and teach them to the group.

There have even been times where we have gently prodded people out the door, and encouraged them to start going to regular sessions, even if they felt it was beyond their ability. Playing in sessions that are beyond your comfort level is a good way to drive your playing to another level, and the tune learning session isn’t really meant to be that. So people sometimes get a bit too comfortable in the slower environment, and their playing can stagnate…

I will have to say that "leading" that tune learning session is the best thing that ever happened to my playing, even though it occasionally felt like the blind leading the blind. And I have consistently watched it do the same for others who spend time leading it. Teaching tunes to people by ear is a *great* way for the teacher to get intimate with the tunes, as well as the nitty gritty aspects of Irish style.

So best of luck to you in Seattle (and elsewhere). And if you ever have any questions about how we do stuff, or whatever, feel free to ask!

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

BTW, the SCTLS session was originally started by Matt & Shannon Heaton when they still lived here. I think their original intention was to "grow the scene from within", and it has certainly worked to an extent. There are a number of regular session players around here that started out in SCTLS.

And the Colorado Irish music scene has burgeoned in the last 10 years. There are somewhere around 15 regular sessions within a 50 mile radius of Denver… (not that it’s all due to SCTLS or anything, but it has been a contributing factor) 🙂

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

The regular sessions in the area are actually pretty nice to move up into from the SCLTS. I remember people used to be quite nervous about some of them, although they are fairly laid back even if they can play fast. Now I appreciate how wonderful those stepping stones were. Alternately, I found going from there to here more like flinging oneself off a cliff and — Wile E. Coyote fashion — realizing midair you don’t have wings or a parachute or anything. Crash.

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Thanks everyone for the tremendous insights and experiences you’ve offered. If our little endeavor can be one-tenth as successful as some of yours, I’ll be more than pleased.

A few responses to various points raised:
* Obliged for the tune recommendations. I was thinking that the Foinn Seisiún albums and books would make a good starting point.
* Agreed on the point about monthly gathers being spaced too far apart. But I’m inclined to let our group (and group dynamics) drive this. I’m hopeful that we get on well enough that we come to decide on our own that we need to meet more often!
* Great discussion regarding slow vs. teaching session. I’ve tried very hard (largely for these reasons) to call what we’re doing a "practice," not a session. My personal aim is for the practice to develop members to the point where they’re willing and able to join conventional sessions.
* Love the observation about the growth experienced by teaching a tune. That’s one of the reasons I’m really pushing for the "rule" that every practice member be willing to teach the rest of us at least one tune per cycle. I’m willing to be taught "Danny Boy" 10 times over if it helps develop the confidence and competency of group members.

I had no idea that this idea and been so widely and successfully applied elsewhere. Now I’m even MORE excited about this.

My thanks again!

Re: Calling Seattle-area Irish music fans (who aren’t quite ready to sit in on a session)

Great thread, I’ve enjoyed following this. I particularly love the mix of tune forms in Bannerman’s list of sets.

Let us know how it goes Walt. Best of luck ~ ‘c’

Slow session ~ slow session ~ slow sessions 😎

Slow session ~ slow session ~ slow sessions ~ that’s just so this will show up in a search for discussions to do with ‘slow sessions’…