Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

Back from the 35th Copenhagen Irish festival, 2013. A very fine event. We had some nice sessions in the PH Café on the Friday and Saturday evenings/nights. The only thing that I found annoying was the piano vamping, German beer garden vibe from one young piano driver. Irish traditional music is modal, linear, melodic, flowing, not chord constrained, constipated marching music. Yer man was banging away on the ivories making more noise than the rest of the musicians combined. At times it was hard to hear tune. Then he had the gall to come over to me and ask if I could turn off my drones as he found it hard to decide chord changes as the drones tuned to D disturbed him. We packed up and left. Two other piano players, Stefan and a young lady, also used the resident café piano, but they played with taste, and didn’t have the audacity to ask me to silence an important part of the only truly traditional Irish instrument in the session. Didn’t have a snappy answer at the time, but next time I’ll be prepared. Thanks for listening

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

It’s all down to the player, with a potentially loud instrument anyway. You don’t hear too many complaints about intrusive mandolin players.

"the only truly traditional Irish instrument in the session" - what other instruments were there?

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

Sorry to hear your session was ruined. You said it yourself though. The other players played with taste. So it’s the same as with most other instruments, particularly those which accompany. You get good ones and you get crap ones. At one of our Tuesday night sessions, at The Ivy House in Nunhead, London SE15, one of our fiddle players put down the fiddle and started accompanying on the piano. Now this chap had played along with some of the greats at The Favourite on Holloway Road: Reg Hall, Lucy Farr, Jimmy Power and so on. It was great to hear, and elevated my otherwise average playing almost to something worth listening to.
However, bad piano/keyboards, bad guitars, bad bodhrans, bad spoons, bad anything really especially played too loudly, can ruin it for everyone else, players and listeners included.
But I think you did the right thing - packed up and left. If you’re not enjoying it why endure it.

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

"the only truly traditional Irish instrument in the session" - what other instruments were there?" TomB-R
I just thought it was a bit weird thinking about it afterwards, that someone, playing a jack of all trades type instrument such as the piano, would want to silence a part of the uilleann pipes, an instrument which is associated primarily with Irish trad. music as is the bodhran. There were fiddles, flutes, whistles and boxes present, but these instruments are used in many other genres. I’m aware there is a tradition of piano playing in ceilidh bands, performing bands and as accompaniment on recordings. I think it’s a case of ignorance. As far as I know there is only one active uilleann piper in Copenhagen and he is playing a set without drones but has a full set of pipes on order. Just needed to let off steam it’s no big deal.

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

I’m astonished that anybody at all would have the nerve to ask a piper to turn off the drone, or ask any player to make such a drastic change. It’d be like asking a fiddle player not to play double-stops. I can’t imagine being able to enjoy a session with someone who made such demands, regardless of the instrument he played or the quality of his/her playing.

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

I can understand that piano player’s frustration with the drones. But, he had no right to make the suggestion he did. Cut him some slack though. He is surrounded with very different traditional music, and probably is more familiar with that. Of course, he should realize his own weaknesses too.

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

We had a fellow at the Welly in Boscastle (I’m going back pre-millennium here) who would suddenly get up and take to the pub piano. Unfortunately for anyone with fixed-pitch instruments, the damn thing was tuned a significant fraction of a semitone flat of concert pitch. Spiffin’!

Re: Piano players in sessions - boon or bane?

"Yer man was banging away on the ivories making more noise than the rest of the musicians combined. At times it was hard to hear tune. Then he had the gall to come over to me and ask if I could turn off my drones as he found it hard to decide chord changes as the drones tuned to D disturbed him. We packed up and left. Two other piano players, Stefan and a young lady, also used the resident café piano, but they played with taste, and didn’t have the audacity to ask me to silence an important part of the only truly traditional Irish instrument in the session."

You’ve answered your own question, my esteamed friend.

Actually, the drone-hating pianist puts me in mind of an incident in London a few years ago. I was at a particularly quiet session, where there were just two mandolin players (including myself), a bodhran player and a guitar backer. Myself and the other mandolin player were making the most of the opportunity to play gentle, unhurried music, without having to compete for volume with boxes and the like; we were in our respective elements. Then the guitarist, with an air of mild exasperation, said something to the effect of, "Come on boys! Let’s take it up a notch". An altercation ensued between Mr. Guitar and Mr. Mandolin II and thus was the spell broken; no more tunes were played that evening.

The moral is, never tell another musician how to play unless they are paying you to do so.