Field Guide To The Irish Music Session

Field Guide To The Irish Music Session

I just finished reading this little book. It’s great! Great information and general good craick for anyone interested in sessions or Irish traditional music. Very funny and occasionally even offensive. Check it out!

Field Guide to the Irish Music Session
By Barry Foy
Roberts Rinehart Publishers
6309 Monarch Park Place
Niwot Colorado 80503
ISBN 1-57098-241-4
www.robertsrinehart.com

The publisher’s site is "under construction", but amazon.com carries it.

Needless to say, i don’t know the author and have no connection whatsoever to the publisher.

Re: Field Guide To The Irish Music Session

I have read this book—it is, indeed, funny. It is also correct. I think that everybody that shows up for a session in a new place ought to be handed a copy and handcuffed to the nearest plumbing fixture until they have read it and signed, in blood, an oath that they will abide by the etiquette explained therein. Other than that, I am an easygoing, relaxed sort of person, utterly adorable. Right. This IS a good day, and this IS my smile.
How nice to hear from fiddler on Vermouth again! I have missed your comments. I hope you’ve been practicing.

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I need to read this. But I have already read a lot on the web about session etiquette. I can’t help but get the mental picture of birdwatchers stalking the elusive yellow-bellied sapsucker: "Ok, if you’re really quiet and don’t disturb them, maybe you’ll be able to observe them sucking sap! Shhh …" Or maybe a formal dinner, where everybody looks askance at you if you use the wrong fork to eat salad.

I KNOW that it’s all about not ruining the musicians’ good time. Still, it makes them seem awfully touchy. "The slightest deviation from what I consider the pure drop, and my evening will be RUINED!!! (sob!)"

It’s not that way at the session I attend. Now that’s a party. So I think everybody oughta lighten up. Trust me, it’ll be more fun that way.

Joe

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Re: Field Guide To The Irish Music Session

This is a pretty funny book. It’s all about participating without destroying the experience for the others. Mostly it’s pretty funny. If you like Irish music, you will probably have fun with the book.

What i mean is, it’s not snobbish or elitist.

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All good sessions are parties, Joe, in one way or another. But you’ll note that there’s ALWAYS some base rules in effect that everyone knows about (and does without even thinking about it) who takes part and is considered a fine upstanding member thereof, even if it’s basic rules of society, which is usually the case with a session in Ireland. Sometimes one of the rules of etiquette might even be "no rules of etiquette" (although that’s kind of specious, as there’s always something — even here, we have one base rule — "be nice" — but there’s actually all kinds of others — not too much outside of Irish, no slow airs, etc.), which is just fine — so long as you know about it.

Insofar as I can see, there’s two basic camps, with everyone falling somewhere along the spectrum. One is the camp in which everyone says there’s no such thing as session etiquette and people are nuts who think there are, and the other is the camp that says "bull puckies!" to that, because there’s a ton of rules that you run into if you don’t know about them in advance.

If you think about it, it’s kind of like trying to put two families together for a large party when one family comes from one area of a society and the other comes from another area of a society. There’s bound to be some places where the etiquette of one doesn’t match up with the etiquette of the other.

If I went to Japan, I’d sure look like a stupid and ugly American if I didn’t bother finding out about their society and etiquette, wouldn’t I? I sometimes think Americans forget that Ireland is a different country with different society mores just as much as Turkey is. Irish Americans are NOT Irish. They’re Irish Americans. And we look a lot of idiots when we make the mistake of thinking that Ireland is just like America, because it’s not.

I am, as a former wedding consultant, a big fan of the viewpoint that people should get over thinking that etiquette is a bunch of stilted, outmoded rules. EVERY group of people has their own etiquette, fer cats sake, no matter how casual they might appear to someone else. Why should Irish sessions be any different?

Anyway, this is one of my favorite books ever on Irish sessions, and it’s totally spot on. My bet is that you follow most of his "etiquette rules" already, Joe.

Zina

Bull puckies!

Bull puckies? ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

The session thing: even if you’re Irish, you’d still have to learn to play the tunes and learn the rules of the game. The goal of the game is to enjoy some good music and have a good time, and maybe play some music too.

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Maybe an example of a typical session "rule" would help. Most sessions I’ve sat in on settle into a pattern of how many times you play each tune before moving on. So you start into reels and the Boys of the Lough goes by three times, then three times through Flowers of the Flock, then three of the Morning Dew, and so on. This helps everyone stay together and anticipate the transitions (even when you don’t know who will start what tune next).

Well, if you’re not aware of this and you decide you’ve got the perfect tune to follow Morning Dew, but you jump into it after only two times through the Dew, your more experienced session mates will wonder why you lost count. In many sessions, they’ll ignore you and plow ahead on the Dew. The second time you make this mistake, however, they may all decide it’s time to refresh their pints. The third time, they may suggest you need some fresh air (which is the most polite way I’ve heard of telling someone not to let the door hit them on the way out).

Session etiquette is simply a handful of mostly unspoken protocols for helping strangers play music together without needing to talk about all the possible permutations beforehand.

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Yes, I wonder what might have happened if Groucho Marx had taken up the pipes and not gone along to session that would have let him join in…

I’ve encountered the three times thing and it’s great if the tune is one you don’t much care for but it’s really naff if it’s a belter and people are just beginning to get into the swing.But I can see the point.

I would enforce rule no.1 of that Monty Python philosophers’ sketch (one for you,here,Will!) which is,as I recall,: I don’t want to catch anyone not drinking. (to all the abstainers out there,only kidding…)
Dave

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I guess the problem people have with "Sesion Rules’ in the semantics, some people abhor rules. I guess a better term would be "guidelines" but if your turned off to ITM because of semantics - you should re-think your entire life outlook.

I always thought that there is a sensitive balance in sessions that depends on outward influences. Like the weather, everyones mood etc, sometimes sessions are more tolerant to beginers & sometimes it’s just a close gathering of friends who play what they enjoy. Breaking into the circle of friends (or ITM musicians) in your area can be fun or it can by a pain, it all depends on those people. Personalities can click (or clash), you might be worse, better - or just know an entirely different tune stock. The key (to me) is to think of a session as a bunch of people at the bar having a conversation. Now if you don’t know these people you’d be taking a big chance by just pulling up a chair & talking. More so you listen get to know the folks & see if it might fit you, if it does great if it doesn’t that’s a big can of worms. I can think of several people who I’ve seen come & go at one local session I attend, some left mysteriously, some were made unwelcome by their lack of improvement & others just didn’t get along with the regulars. I do know a few players that are awful - no fun to play with, but their personalities are so nice that I don’t care & would offer them my seat. I also know great players who are no fun & I’d offer them my seat out of respect but would distance myself. I guess even offering your seat can turn into a session rule. But to me there not "rules" they are just good social common sense, like not farting when someones eating (or around you period) etc.. I guess a book can give you a rough outline if your brand spanking new to sessions but experience is the key. If your a good sport & you make some blunders as long as you don’t repeat them over & over your blunders will most likely be forgotten.

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See, I went to my first session with my heart in my throat because of all this reading I did on session etiquette. It just made it seem like a really touchy situation. So the session I went to (and still go to) was advertized as an open-to-all session. By that I assumed that everybody was welcome, but that since it was not a "slow" session, don’t expect everybody to slow down for you. That’s what I expected, but I wasn’t sure what else to expect what with all this etiquette stuff.

So I got there, and guess what? It was a party! Ok, that’s cool, I know what to do at a party. Normally I’m a fairly introverted, shy type, but I can usually shift gears. I talked to tons of people. I got to try somebody’s new wooden flute (I didn’t ask, he volunteered). I played on maybe 5 tunes. I listened a lot. Whenever a tune was played that I really liked, I spoke up, saying "that was pretty fine, what’s it called?" I bought 6 raffle tickets and 2 bottles of water. I woulda bought Guiness but I had to drive. Some accordian player told me to start off one, so I started off "Donnybrook Fair".

It was fun. And I forgot all about etiquette.

Joe

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I picked up "the Guide" a couple of years ago at the Irish Week in the Catskills. (Anyone ever been there? Mighty fine week’s worth of sessions.) It made me laugh, for sure, but it was darned intimidating at the same time—maybe because I was a newbie AND a drummer that the insecurity abounded. Even at this point, I’m not sure if drummers are accepted as valid musicians, though I still enjoy participating in sessions.

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I made it up the "Kutchers" (sp) fest once, but the gigantic price tag kept me from staying at the hotel. I just kinda bumbled about & slept in my car… I thought it would have been worth the money though, the sessions were great, I wish there were more things like that around the north-eastern USA without the insane price tag. I think we should converge on Providence, RI and have our own craic next summer!

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MB,
Where was the "Kutchers" fest? Help me out. I’m a Midwesterner.
(So many Irish fests and so little time. ๐Ÿ˜€ )

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It’s the week in the catskills - that’s the name of the place that hosts the festival. I think it’s put together by Green Linnett, There’s another festival in the Pocono’s sometime afterwards but I’ve never been to it.

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Linda: it depends on the drummer! ๐Ÿ™‚ That probably doesn’t help much does it? *grin*

Part of MY own problem insecurity-wise is that I’ve hung out with an awful lot of really good musicians, some very famous, and some whom no one’s ever heard of, and I’ve heard how they talk after sessions and behind backs when someone’s been lacking in session courtesy or is plain awful and out of their league but apparently is unconscious of the thought. I know that that’s unpleasant and not very nice to think about, but it’s part of the crack for good or ill.

One of the things that Foy points out that is true is that many people (unsurprisingly, perhaps, often Americans) want sessions to operate as small models of democracy. They don’t work like that, as Foy points out, and it’s useless to protest that they should. Which is why you always see so many sessions popping up in a place where there are lots of cliques of Irish musicians. Why bother hanging out with people you don’t get along with well, as Will and Brad point out above?

Brad, I especially like your examples. I’ll have to start stealing them, if you don’t mind!

Zina

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Joe, thanks for reminding us that many people (such as yourself apparently) come by their social graces naturally—sounds like you fit in at that session because you’re a nice person. And you’re right—a session is a party, and as long as everyone there is civil and tolerant and looking for a peaceable good time, then the etiquette falls far into the background.

The reason for the Field Guide book and other more formal statements of session etiquette is a segment of the musical population known in Bluegrass circles as "dancing bears." Imagine an 800-pound drunken grizzly waltzing into your circle of fragile instruments and good intentions. The fun gets squashed in a hurry. These are the folks who barge into a session without listening, without bothering to tune, and with little or no regard for "common sense" social etiquette. They start up Orange Blossom Special in the middle of a set of jigs, they try to drown everyone else out, they insult the bartender, they haul out their trumpet, and on and on.

Point being, some people need to be told how to behave. Some people come from well outside the session tradition (like myself) and find it helpful to see the guidelines in print—for me it affirmed what I suspected: be nice, respect the music and musicians, and try to add to the fun. Recognize that "fun" here refers to a very specific musical genre. Other people need a firmer approach (though I’ve met few dancing bears who would actually listen to any approach).

If such "rules" seem intimidating, then go to your first session without your instrument. Just listen. You’ll feel more relaxed about bringing your chops the next time.

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I read Foy’s book a while back. Amusing, but I figure that if you don’t know enough to be polite and play with rather than at the other players, you probably shouldn’t be at a session. If you are this type, and you do show up at a session, you will be and should be gently and repeatedly mocked until you figure out that you’re doing something wrong and need to take it easy.
Specific rules don’t come up arbitrarily, as in "I run this session and I decree that there will be no sheet music". Instead, they come up as in one of Daniel Dennet’s "good moves", things that happen because they make sense and they work. Sheet music is usually not welcome at a session because it interferes with the interplay, the listening and looking that tells you what’s going on and when the tune is going to change or something else is about to happen. It also happens that people who are reading tunes are no fun to play with, usually, so people look down on readers. This isn’t a "rule" that comes out of a book, it’s just a good rule of thumb: if you bring your printouts from The Session to a real session, you’ll probably find that people don’t take you very seriously, and there are reasons for it.
The "Field Guide" is a funny little read, but I think it’s probably funnier and more useful for people who already know "the rules" than for people who want to learn "how a session works".
Just my opinion, though. Your session may vary.

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All good points Jon. I think Foy’s tone in the book is evidence that he thinks it’s more than a little funny that some people need this stuff explained to them. Yet I’ve seen people bring sheet music to a session and then complain that we should slow down so they could keep up, and I’ve seen people try to turn a session into a personal performance, and even a few who either don’t get the gentle slagging to change their behavior or got so upset at the slightest suggestion that they quit coming (much to everyone else’s relief). Maybe we see this sort of thing more in Montana where hardly anyone has any experience with session norms.

I like Matin Hayes’s blurb inside the front cover:
"You need never again tread the delicate ground of explaining to a fellow musician how you think he or she is obstructing the session; instead offer them this book as a gift."

(Which, I’ll confess, is how I got my copy—offered as a gift from a local whistle player. Did I miss something here?)

I bring Foy’s book to sessions now and then, leaving it on the table so anyone can pick it up for a quick read. A few players have benefitted from skimming through its pages—it helped them see and hear some aspects of the music and session atmosphere that they were missing before, and now they’re welcomed every week.

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Great comments. I lead an open Irish session. Finding these rules has been a godsend to me. In the area I live, there are many old-time sessions and a few Irish sessions. The etiquette that is expected is so different. I have shared these rules with everyone so they know there is a difference and know what to expect. I think it makes everyone more comfortable to know what to expect, and hopefully will eliminated the need for me having to come down on anyone. I love playing, but when everyone is not on the same page, it can be quite annoying.

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