Arranging Sets in Sessions
It seems to me that there has been a trend in recent years for players in sessions to sort of arrange sets of tunes before playing them. By this I don’t mean working out band-type arrangements or playing from a list or anything like that; I mean simply agreeing on what tunes will be played in each set so that everyone knows what is coming next and can anticipate the transitions between tunes. I saw this in Ireland last year and, in the past few years, in sessions in the US as well. For example, the session leader (or someone else) will say let’s do this one (and play a few notes) and then this one after it (and play a few notes), and so on. If a more beginning player is asked to start a set and names a tune, the session leader may ask him what he wants to play with it.
When I first started going to sessions, it was the norm for someone to start a set; that person would then go into the next tune(s). (This has been discussed to some extent in the “Hijacking a Set” thread.) When I first experienced a session where the tunes were announced beforehand, I didn’t like the idea -- I thought it destroyed sponteneity. However, I’ve slowly come around, at least somewhat. I think it’s a good way of mixing up tunes and not always playing the same sets of tunes week after week or playing sets from CDs. And since there is a performance aspect to any public session, it makes for a somewhat more polished sound. Of course, I think the ideal session has a mix of everything. I will sometimes start a tune with no idea of what I will play after it. By the same token, there are a few sets that I play the same way most of the time -- certain tunes that may have difficult transitions and work well together. It seems as though Coleman sets are perfectly acceptable -- someone starts the Tarbolton Reel and with a wink or a nod, everyone knows what will come next. And of course, if a session is really rocking, it’s fine to rip through the tired old warhorses once in a while to please the audience.
Anyway, I would be interested to hear what people do in their own sessions and what works (or doesn’t work) for them.