Who’s session is it anyway?

Who’s session is it anyway?

I was perusing some of the recent-past discussions and I came across this one called "Pet hates at sessions"

https://thesession.org/discussions/2819

And it begged the question: "Who’s session is it anyway

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Of course, Jack, that’s supposed to be a given. Each session sets it’s own rules and etiquette. (While there are lots of people who believe that there’s no etiquette to a session, that just usually means that the etiquette is one that they use every day in their lives and so they don’t notice that there is an etiquette.) Unfortunately, there’s always someone coming to it and not liking it, no matter what.

If you’re open and inclusive, those who don’t like sessions that are willing to accomodate every style of even remotely "celtic" music won’t like it. If you’re an Irish only session, there are going to be those who think you’re exclusive and snobby. You don’t get to win, so my take is to just do whatever you want to do anyway. 🙂

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Hi Jack (hijack? no, not yet, please….)

Since that thread was started by me I suppose I ought to make some kinda reply. The truth is that I am one of those who *host* sessions also, so my ten points of session roguery don’t emanate from some poor downtrodden chipontheshoulder beginner. In fact I agree, concur, and probably exercise much the same set of rules as you said above.

Strangely enough, the one about obscure tunes - I do a fair whack of them myself, but I *try* to bring them in subtly, ie maybe one sandwiched in the middle of a couple of standards…regular sessioneers have come to expect this behaviour from me.

But my gripe back there was quite specific - maybe I didn’t make it too obvious - where one, or maybe two, people do one obscure Donegal tune after another obscure Donegal tune, or Scottish tune (I AM Scots, and know a fair few but don’t play them out at sessions!…unless there’s some spacetime at the end), or Clare or whatever. It’s quite a rare form of session anti-social behaviour, but I’ve seen it in action enough when, as a mediochre player, it tempered my own enthusiasm. So now, that for some reason or other, I seem to have involuntarily been elevated to the star-studded glitteringly glamorous dizzy heights of human existence of session co-leader (that said, I missed a local session tonight but can only assume it went on 100%…I hope so, anyway) I prefer not to solo on obscuros too much, so thus, my contribution is, as said, merely the aforementioned mix.

As for people starting up tunes in the hiatus after a big set - I, we, certainly don’t frown. The more the merrier. OK, maybe not too many donkey tunes. But I’ve lately come round to the view that you don’t have to join in on *everything* - so I don’t, unless to help someone out. If a subgroup takes up the Cliffs of Moher, and I feel knackered on the intercostal front, I’ll leave it out, and chat with eg Andybanjo, or some other adjacent solid dude.

But yes, I agree, each session has, and should have, its own dynamic, but am slightly perplexed by usage of the term generic - I hope the generic-session-virus (GSV) never gets to this side of the pond.

Hoping everyones individuality is holding up,

danny

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Hello from Wyoming Jack.
As you know, Aimee and I have had a chance to see the evolution of your session style over the years. One reason we always enjoyed your sessions was that we always felt welcome there. Another reason was that we wanted to hear and pick up on the "obscure" tunes, tape recorder on the table. Of course, the more one listens to ITM the less obscure tunes become. Listen, listen, listen.

We never had any complaints with what you might call the free for all style that existed several years ago. We’ve still had fun with your newer style. The biggest difficulty announcing the names or playing a bar or so of each tune that one plans to play in a set, for me, is that I’m sort of used to thinking up the second or third tune on the fly. I don’t mind if someone else previews a set, but its amazing how my mind goes blank until I start playing. I’ve always believed that whoever starts a set should be able to complete the set and not have it hijacked by another player.

I personally think that its a good idea for a session to be hosted. The host(s) doesn’t have to be the alpha musician but should be someone who is clueful as to what a session is. When Aimee and I hosted the session where we used to live, part of its success was due to the fact that we had played in many different sessions in many different cities here in the U.S. as well as in Ireland. This experience helped us encourage proper session etiquette amongst the players.

As hosts, we had three rules:
1. If you don’t know the tune, don’t play it.
2. One bodhran player at a time.
3. No whining.
We once had these rules printed on a little sign. It was stolen by someone who attended another session in town to show the players at the other session how elitist and snobby our session was.

Every Sunday for over three years we had 10 - 20 musicians learning new tunes and playing the best music in town.

Cheers,
Richard

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Richard, was it only 3 years? It seemed a bit longer than that. Ah well.

Me, I’m off to play tonight at the sign-stealing session, since it’s the only thing left in town.

Why don’t y’all move back?!!!

—Eliot

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Hi Zina, Richard, and Danny, I appreciate your responses and look forward to more.

Yes Zina, I hope it’s a "given" but there are folks who come to a session and want to impose their preconceptions of what it should be if they think it’s "snobby" etc. Personally I try to be inclusive, but I did come to play Irish tunes with my pals. I don’t think it’s an obligation as host to cater to people who drop in. I do think people dropping in should be doing just that and enjoy what’s happening rather than trying to correct, or change it. I don

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Oh… I forgot… sorry Danny, you asked what I mean by "generic session." What I mean by this is the free-for-all read-my-mind about what’s coming next sort of thing. There’s usually no apparent host but rather mostly a guaranteed participant or two. (They might be paid, or just plied with drink) This was more or less the norm around these parts before I started getting weird ideas from my visits to Ireland. Don

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Eliot, I can’t believe you’ve sunk so low!

BTW Jack, we still drive 5 hours to go to sessions (in Helena, MT)! (Tried any good single malts lately?)


Aimee

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Hi Aimee! Balvenie is my fav it seems… but the last bit of Glenrothes was sure nice after sitting in the bottom of the bottle for the last year or so. Nice to hear from you guys. 😉

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

And you know it’s pretty grim if if our session in Helena is the best available in a five hour radius 🙂

Our situation here is a bit different because we’re a small town with just a handful of regular players. Now and then someone new walks in the door, but we’re not likely to be beset by hordes of "celtic" musicians pub crawling and looking for a good session. We’re *it* in Helena, and the next nearest session is on a different night of the week 110 miles away. Our session also includes a wide range of experience with the music, with three or four of us providing a core with some 20 years familiarity with the tunes.

All of which leads us to hold sessions that sometimes adhere to Jack’s basic principles and sometimes don’t. I’m the defacto leader, and I like to encourage other players to shape the way the evening unfolds. Some of our players like doing the same sets week to week. Some of us prefer to play more seat of the pants. Sometimes we say what tunes we’ll play ahead of time, and sometimes we just change on the fly. Three of us are prone to introducing new tunes, and two of us tend to know a lot of the tunes that out-of-town players often bring with them. (I also run a monthly slow session to help build a critical mass of players for new tunes, as well as to help less experienced players pick up the warhorses.)

My point in detailing all this is that our session tends to see-saw between two levels of playing. There are players in the circle who know hundreds and hundreds of tunes. And there are also good friends in the circle who know maybe a dozen tunes well enough to play along on. So at one end, we encourage broad participation and often play pre-arranged sets of tunes everybody in the room knows. We might occasionally change the order of the tunes, but the tunes themselves are fairly predictable. Then we’ll teeter the other way for a bit, two or three of us just launching tunes on the fly. In the middle of all of it, I often feel like an air traffic controller at O’Hare, always thinking of which people know what tunes, looking for opportunities to pull someone in who just sat out three tunes in a row or has a keyless D flute in their lap through a set of G minor reels so it must be time to play Dunmore Lasses or Boys of the Lough.

Some nights, even as we’re playing, it strikes me that this bifurcation of our session must be difficult for visitors to adjust to. We’ve had neophytes show up, feel welcomed by an easy set of common jigs or polkas, and then suddenly find themselves lost in a flurry of fast, lesser known reels. And top notch experienced players (like Aimee and Richard) enjoying those reels and the energetic session flow, abruptly practicing their patient smiles as we toddle through a dirge of slow slip jigs. (Aimee and Richard are great fun to play with, and they’ve been both patient and generous in encouraging our session along—it’s always a treat when they make the long drive for a Tuesday night.)

So if our session is a bit bipolar, I guess I don’t mind. Every week has a different feel, depending on who shows up and how wound up or tired they are. I suppose I could mold it more, nudge people to ‘color within the lines,’ but I like seeing what happens when someone else drags the session their direction for a while, and letting different personalities ebb and flow.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Jack, which Balvenie? My own very fav is the Portwood 21 yr — yuuuuuuummmmmmy.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Air traffic controller - that’s a good one. I feel like I’m always on edge too, trying to keep track of who’s there, who knows what, keeping everyone engaged. It’s pretty wearing, quite a drag when you realize that you’re the only person who actually listens to everything going on in the room. I wonder how it got to be this way, but there’s definitely an air of desperation as everyone wants to get *their* tunes in, By Gawd, and Damn whatever anyone else wants. I’ve thought about giving up and blowing off that session, but every once in a while someone comes up with an attaboy for how well I’ve run the thing, and I realize that it’s not 100% futility…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Danny - my individuality is holding up fine thanks. Glad to hear yours is too.

BTW how’s young Fergus doing?

Overall, the more I hear of the problems some sessions have, the more I value our little gathering, and want to keep its location secret. We’ve been going about 30 years now, and have had very little angst or anger. There have been 3 fights between musos and punters, 2 fallings out between musos, 1 banjo snapped in half (during a game of conkers), and one night where a table got broken by people dancing on it. A few regulars have died, but never at sessions, and never of session related activities (though actually, come to think of it, the landlady died during one session, so we played a couple of slow tunes).

The answer to the initial question surely has to be: If there is a specific host to the session, then it’s his/hers/theirs. If it’s an autonomous collective then it belongs to the group with the largest collective body mass.

Dave

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

I didn’t start my most regular sesh but became leader by default, knowing most tunes.
I have moved the session on so the same tunes are not played every week, new tunes are played every week and good players who are basically idle and want to play the same 5 tunes week in, week out, are discouraged from churning them out.
As said many times before, I prefer strings of tunes, always in a different order, and never announced. This keeps musicians on their toes and trains the ears of the up-and-coming musicians as they have to listen.
Nevertheless we are spoilt in the North of England as there are sessions by the score within a 20 mile radius so if someone doesn’t like it, they can go elsewhere, and we can also go spying on other sessions to see what they do.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Geoff you missed a word out.

the last sentence should be "spying on other sessions to see what they do wrong."

🙂 Dave

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Jack - I don’t do that many "solos", and try and enlist at least a guitar for some help. But if I do it’s more so that the tune(s) will get an airing, and maybe some of the other heads will pick them up. As I said I prefer not to do them, but I don’t like being stuck in the rut of playing the same old sets week in week out. We have to continually move forward. Doing the odd solo is one way, often the only way, to push the session onward, in my experience.

Danny

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

That’s right Danny. Unless we were to resort to sheet music, or some sort of public announcement that everyone is to go and learn this or that tune, the only way to introduce a new tune to a session is for someone to play it. If no one else knows it, then you get a solo performance. If others like it, then after a few times they will pick it up and play with you.

At least, that’s how it works with us.

Dave

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

You know, when you think about it a session is really nothing more than a conversation, in words and music, focused on (but not necessarily limited to) Irish trad music. And all conversations have a flow to them, some better than others. Some conversations are broad (i.e. wide variety of topics), some are deep (topics are explored to the point where real insights and epiphanies are gained), and of course there are conversations that are both broad and deep, to varying degrees. Since it would be extremely hard if not impossible to be both all-encompassingly broad and extremely deep simultaneously, even the best conversations will exhibit behavior that’s somewhere in between on that spectrum. But for a conversation to continue in the same place at the same time with virtually the same people from week to week over a period of time, there’s gotta be some serious flow and some serious exploration of both breadth and depth or it’s gonna soon get bo-ring and die.

This I think is the root of everyone’s frustration with sessions. The so-called "generic" sessions (no leader, free-for-all, no one knows what tune is coming next so everyone is eager to put in their two cents even if it means stepping on the guy next to them while doing so) are going to be boring and frustrating to anyone who has explored the music to any level of depth and wants to discuss it (either verbally or instrumentally) in the hope of sharing the insights they have gained, or gaining some more. They will probably feel like Albert Einstein would if he walked into a cocktail party.

Similarly, those who don’t have a lot of depth in the music (because they’re newbies, or because they don’t live in an area where they get a lot of exposure to ITM, or because they’re dabblers who like to get their hands into all kinds of music while mastering none of it) are gonna be frustrated when they find themselves in an Algonquian Round Table session of the kind Jack speaks. Whether they recognize that they’re out of their league or not, the more assertive of them will be desperate to break the musical-conversational flow of the session and bust right in with their tunes as soon as there’s the least bit of a lull. Others will be jealous, and complain that the session is "elitist" because "they play obscure tunes" (which really means "they play too many tunes that I don’t know"), or "they play pre-arranged sets" (which really means "they play too many tunes I don’t know, and they play them in a row which means I can’t break in", or "they care about tuning and this is supposed to be folk music and tuning shouldn’t matter" (which really means "these guys know their way around their instruments way better than I do"), or "they tell me to quit noodling around when I don’t know the tune, but how else am I supposed to learn it?" (which again really means "they play too many tunes I don’t know"), etc, etc. Still others may actually realize that they’re out of their depth, but will aspire to gain depth and will sit back, listen, learn and contribute gradually more and more as time goes by. (Unfortunately this last type is few and far between.)

The thing I’ve never understood is why people (particularly the people I’m speaking of in the last paragraph) get so resentful, and why they don’t realize what’s going on behind the scenes that’s feuling their resentfulness. I mean, I’m certainly no genius but I figured it out early on. A session is just another slice of life, so the same rules apply there as everywhere else. It’s not a utopia, it’s just a gathering of people to talk about a common interest they share, which happens to be ITM. Why should it operate any differently than any other gathering of people to talk about a common interest that happens to be something else? Would someone whose entire knowledge of physics consists of having heard one time that "E=MC squared" not be at least a little embarassed if they were to walk into a nuclear physics symposium and started expounding on the virtues of MC Hammer, only to realize that they were in way over their head? Why would they act any differently there than they would when they walk into a session and do the equivalent thing? Yet they do, and it happens every day.

Okay, pardon my rant. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Cheers, Dave. The image of the session leader announcing to his class what tunes they must learn by next week, makes me smile. Hope I never end up at a session like that!

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Good Rant, John Kerr. I thought the same thing even as I was posting the point about obscure tunes on my pet hates thread. I hope my comments on this thread qualify those remarks.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Good stuff John.

On "obscure" tunes: some people *like* to play the same 20 tunes every week. They don’t want to learn anything new. Their ideal session is to play their favorite old chestnuts time and again. So everything else seems "obscure" to them.

This rarely happens in verbal conversations—except for visiting our parents in their dotage at the old folks home or hounding our kids to do their homework, we don’t usually find ourselves repeating the same exact conversation week after week.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Yeah, that said, Will, a few topics have done a couple of rounds at this website since I’ve been here….

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Oh, I don’t know, Will - isn’t it more like two people meeting and talking about the weather - always the same topic of conversation, but never exactly the same conversation? I think there are probably many people with whom I have almost exactly the same conversation every time I meet them… often known as "small talk". Of course, I’d prefer to be talking about something interesting, deep and new… but it’s not always possible (depending on the person).

Same with tunes.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

I like Richard & Amiee’s rule: don’t play it if you don’t know it.

This week we had a new guy show up who was a very nice person and knew a few Irish tunes on his fiddle. But he did try and play along to the tunes he didn’t know. No one said anything to him and I didn’t want to discourage him from coming back. I want our session to be friendly and encouraging. I don’t want anyone to leave with hurt feelings. So we let it slide….

No one can claim ownership of this session anyway so would we have the right to complain? I guess someday in the very distant future, if I’m ever good enough to host or co-host a session, I might want to have a few simple rules like Richard and Aimee.

Joyce

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

LOL — and often with different people, so perhaps it’s not the same conversation after all. (And I think there’s always room for the old favorites in certain cases — while the days of being able to know 25 tunes or less and that being just fine are largely over, there’s still Old Men about who fit that description, and who am I to deny them the pleasure of playing something with us young whippersnappers?)

Anyway, I suppose it depends on how you see a session. There’s in some ways this weird little social dynamic that happens because far too many people seem to think that sessions are both more and less than they actually are, even given that each session is really made up of the people who, er, make them up.

I like the conversation metaphor, John. To me a session is indeed about a group of friends getting together for a musical conversation, and while newcomers are welcome for the fresh outlook and topics they can bring to the circle, you don’t usually just go charging into a conversation all wil-he-nil-he, there’s always some social conventions to how you join a group of people, even if they differ a bit from country to country, district to disctrict.

Now, if we can just get inexperienced people to understand that whole conversation metaphor, because of course the people who aren’t going to understand that are the ones who are new, and usually by the time someone understands that outlook, they’re not new any more.

Add to that that some people have their own definition of what a session/conversation should be (a nurturing place for their budding Celticity, a place to work out their issues, or perhaps their sexuality) and don’t really want to know that it might be otherwise out in the cold cruel world. (Of course, for most who answer this description, that tends to be true of their outlook of all parts of their lives where they interact with other people.)

Perhaps I’m mainly finding all this interesting because we’re starting up a new session and trying to find the usual point of balance between our desire for a good session with good music (using, of course *our* definition of "good" which some people are going to find "snobby"), and the landlord’s natural desire to get together a huge fun rollicking session that attracts business (which tends to be the normal landlord’s definition of "good".)

All in all, our landlord (well, his GM, anyway) is a good’un. Hopefully we’ll be able to get good music AND a fun to listen to session out of the same evening with a minimum of fuss…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Joyce, to be honest, we originally got the "if you don’t know the tune don’t play it" rule from Jack!

Aimee

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Rog, no I mean the *exact* same tunes, always in the same sequence, with all the ornaments in the exact same place, and here comes that cute little one-bar harmony bit, same as last time…. Their goal seems to be perfect replication, every time. I’m sorry, but it’s like listening to the same mediocre cd, track for track, over and over, every week, for six years running.

I have nothing at all against playing the old chestnuts every week, and I respect good players who choose to limit their repertoires to a few dozen of their favorite tunes, but I hope I find new slots to fit old tunes into, and new ideas to sprinkle into familiar tunes, so that I’m not playing them exactly the same as I did 20 years ago.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

That session Will described sounds more like a band than a session. More specifically, a wanna-be band that’s not good enough to get any *real* gigs. If the same pub has been putting up with that for six years running, then the publican must be even more clueless than the players in the "session"! Are any of them getting paid?

But publicans can be a clueless lot indeed. We have three or four regular sessions here in DC, and recently the one of them that has the highest musical standard - pretty much the same as the session Jack outlined at the start of this thread - was forced to change venue when the host pub decided that their ideal future would be as a "sports bar". (This in the middle of a lousy 5-11 season by the Redskins, the only game in town, in a town already saturated with ESPNZones and the like. "Hey, let’s all go down to that Irish pub and watch the Redskins lose!" Yeah, right…) Anyway, a week or so before laying the death blow on the session, the clueless pub owner signaled his intent by saying to one of the session leaders "So, you guys have been practicing here for two years. When are you gonna start playing?"

But fortunately for us, our savvy session leaders were able to get us into a much better pub without missing a week. There, we were even asked to still have our session despite the fact that it was Super Bowl Sunday (the premier American holiday, for all those across the pond who might have mistakenly thought it was July 4th). When does that ever happen, I ask yez? (Of course, as a result I missed seeing Janet Jackson’s breast. Bummer…)

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

I dunno, John, it could also be players of the sort who think that you’re supposed to set a tune in stone, polish, and buff it, and never touch it again, ie: players who don’t actually know much about how this music is actually played and stays alive. They do exist, I’ve met a couple - they’re generally the ones telling you that you play the tune "wrong" or who smugly talk about the "best" setting of a tune. ;)

Anyway, at least here in the States, you’re generally going to get a difference of emphasis between players and pub owners. The owners usually don’t know much about the music and don’t actually really care about whether it’s any good or not, what they want is something that’ll pull in customers and therefore money.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Regarding playing along with tunes you don’t know, I was in a session this week where I was glad someone did exactly that. I’m new (16 months) to my instrument and don’t always get through sets of tunes smoothly when invited to lead. One of the players picked up enough of the phrases I was playing to keep the set from falling apart when I had a few stumbles. When I got to the end, I said, "I’m glad someone else here knew that tune," at which point he admitted that he didn’t.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago I was playing in a session at a party where a guitarist who didn’t know the tunes kept playing wrong chords really loud, right next to me, with his guitar facing my left ear. When he packed up and left, one of the novice fiddlers in the room put his fiddle away, picked up a guitar, came over and sat next to me, and did exactly the same thing!

So, like just about everything, it depends.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Regarding playing along with tunes you don’t know, there’s a difference between playing along on tunes you’ve never even heard before vs playing along on tunes you’ve heard a lot over the course of years of listening to Irish music and have therefore internalized, but have never actually *played* on your instrument before. There’s a difference there, and it’s a BIG difference. Although the former is NEVER acceptable in a session, the latter is often welcome (as you experienced, Gary), depending on how good the perpetrator is at translating the tune from his/her head onto his/her instrument. I can do it sometimes and on some tunes, so I do. And if after a bit I realize I’m not getting it, I quit. Unless of course even my not getting it is better than what the rest of the session is doing with the tune, in which case I’d probably stick it out - often getting the same comment that you offered the person who played along with you, Gary, and if so giving them the same answer you got.

The thing is, the fact that it’s okay for people who can pull off my scenario #2 to do so is always cited as a supporting reason by people wanting to perpetrate my scenario #1. Always. Our local newspaper, The Washington Post, for years had an advertising slogan that went "If you don’t get it, you don’t get it." That applies to sessions too…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Zina’s got it. I didn’t mean that our whole session works that way or sounds that way. Just that we sometimes have a few players who let it be known what their preferences are - tunes set in stone, polished, and never changed. They do indeed remark about "wrong" notes or settings, even "wrong" sequences of tunes in sets, and they tend to be quick to criticize when someone dares to trot out a fresh tune, especially if it’s not also perfectly polished (which few ‘fresh’ tunes are likely to be).

My point is more than almost any session gets tugged this way and that among the differing expectations of its players. Much of this goes on beneath the surface, and I’m sure the punters and publicans are unaware of 99 percent of it. Many of the musicians may be, as well.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

erratum: "…more thaT…"

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Oh, okay then, Will. Sounds like this crowd is one baby step above the crowd that likes to have their music stands and sheet music in front of them at all times during the session…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

I once heard something like: "Many a musician has made a publican into a rich man, and many a publican has made a musician into a drunk." Has anyone ever heard this? I don’t think I have it quite right.

Anyway, one essential for a successful, long-lived session is having a publican that loves ITM. I have been asked to start a few sessions where something happens like: the jukebox will come on when we’re enjoying the craic between tunes. I asked the barman, (he was the owner

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Regarding playing along to tunes you don’t know, I guess it’s just a matter of common sense and good manners. If you are very familiar with a tune and can learn it after a couple tries in a session and it doesn’t disturb the flow of the music, sure then go for it. It’s a judgment call, really. Usually the more experienced players can get away with this while not wrecking it for the people who do know the tune. Of course every session and situation will be different. Some sessions are more forgiving than others…..

Joyce

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Um, just so’s I don’t get hung out to dry when my local session mates log on here….

John, it’s not a "crowd" of people at our session doing this—I want to emphasize that it’s just a *few* and we have them outnumbered and cornered. 🙂

In short, my answer to the question, "Whose session is it anyway?" is plainly, "Not theirs." The rest of us enjoy a very rich, spontaneous, inclusive session that has won unsolicited and warm praise from many other session veterans, even visiting players from Ireland.

Interestingly, our few stick-in-the-muds don’t come at it from the sheet music end of the spectrum at all. They just have strong personal opinions about how music should be played, even trad music, even after lifetimes spent playing other types of trad music. And they have yet to adjust to a more spontaneous approach.

Jack, you raise lots of good points, especially the difference between growing up in a session culture or not. The most difficult thing about doing a session in Montana is building an understanding—among musicians, punters, and publicans—of how a session works. Most people raised in our American celebrity-focused, perfomance-oriented, foot-stomping, pop culture don’t have a frame of reference for the neighbors sitting down together over pints and tunes, for free, with no hope of fame and fortune. But in Helena Montana they do, or at least a growing number of people do. Our pub owners and willowy tapstresses get it, completely. And nearly all the players do. And more and more of the regular punters are figuring it out. As Mr. Lennon said, although you might never do this in Boston or Doolin, we’ve made it a priority to clearly articulate our sense of the theory and practice of sessioning. If anything, that’s my main job as session leader. By the time I take my seat and uncase my fiddle on Tuesday nights, most of my work for the week is already done and it’s time to enjoy the fruits.

Specifically, I keep an email listserve for anyone who wants a weekly edition of the Helena Session News. It says whether the session is a go next week or not (we rarely cancel, except for major holidays), reiterates the time and place, and mentions upcoming local events related to Irish music and culture. But I also use the Session News to raise and answer questions about session etiquette, smooth ruffled feathers, distribute tune lists, and schedule monthly slow sessions. The pub owners are on the email list too, so they’re always in the loop (our ‘pub’ is actually a micro-brewery, not a bar, and they stay open later than usual on Tuesdays just for the session).

In short, if your town isn’t familiar with the session tradition, you’ve got to inform, educate, and openly communicate if you want it to run smoothly. That probably sounds odd to people immersed in sessions and the music, but it works, even in the most unlikely places.

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Jack - I remember when I barely started playing, I took a few lessons from a flute player who told me that he was thinking of writing a thesis based on the psychology of session behavior. At that time, I didn’t think there would be much to write about. But now I understand how you could write a book as thick as Tolstoy’s War and Peace and still not cover everything. Hey it’s fun to analyze it : )

Cheers, it’s Friday and I’m outta here!

Joyce

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Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

While I think a session may be the wrong place to comment on wrong notes in a tune, I should point out that when a teacher is teaching a tune, the notes are very specific. Just because it’s trad / oral tradition doesn’t mean it’s imprecise.

re: playing tunes you don’t know - I think it’ll be fairly obvious if your efforts are helping or hurting. When what you’re playing helps someone who’s struggling to get a tune out, it’s good. When it’s not, it’s not. It all comes down to listening and thinking about the gestalt, not having tunnel vision.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

To clarify: the ‘wrong’ notes I was talking about were not inappropriate to the tune, just different than what the complaining player was used to.

Yep - playing in a session boils down to listening—to everyone—as actively as you yourself play, sometimes more so (i.e., knowing when to stop playing and just listen).

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Regarding the thread that wonders if people should play tunes they don’t know…this is probably the most fruitful area of music for the creation of new melodies. It’s often when people attempt to play music that they don’t know, that new tunes and ideas emerge. While I’m practicing on my own, I’ve made up many melodies due to mistakes in the interpretation of standard jigs and reels. While I’m on the topic, when is a new tune allowed into the body of music known as ITM?

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Sure, but maybe not while other people are playing the first tune, yes? As for the latter, it’s when enough people like it to play it and start passing it around.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Will: does "willowy" go with "tapstress" in the same way that "magnificent" goes with "beard"? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Oh yes, I’m glad some people have come out in favour of playing tunes you have heard but not played before, ‘cos I end up doing that all the time; in fact for simpler tunes, I don’t think I’m always aware whether I *have* actually tried to play it before, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You know more tunes than you know… and, personally, when I hear a tune that I’ve heard before, it’susually possible to get a reasonable rendition after listening once through to make sure it *is* the tune you think it is. Depends a lot on the tune itself, of course.

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And how many pints I’ve had, previous… ;)

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

True… but that’s a universal. Actually, sometimes I find that a way down an evening of alcohol abuse and tunes the fingers and brain sometimes seem to loosen up, and I find myself playing things with ease that I usually really struggle on. But it’s highly likely I’m totally deluding myself there!

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Ah yes — there’s Beer Goggles and Bear Ear, yes? LOL

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

BEER Ear, I meant…

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

I think this started as "Who’s session is it anyway?"
I motion to rename this thread "Who’s discussion is it anyway?"
with sub-thread "Beer Ear".

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Welcome back to civilization, David, or should I say "to civilization welcome back"? ;)

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

That sounds so romantic, and I’m so glad I was sitting here in the warm. Heh. Not really, I’m totally jealous.

Re: Who’s session is it anyway?

Thanks for all the great contributions to this thread guys. I makes me feel really good as well that some of you felt comfortable enough with it to have some fun too. (and don’t stop)

This is a great site — thanks Jeremy.