Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

The thing is, it’s their space, and they don’t have to play tunes all night just because that’s what you would like them to do or because you had come a long way. Once in a pub in Spiddal I overheard German tourists (not realizing they might be understood) complaining that the (very fine) musicians were talking too much instead of playing. They were missing the point of the occasion, what the musicians were there for, and maybe you are too.

I think, in your position, I’d have been very happy if, on a first visit to an established big-city session with "name" players, I’d got out of it what you did. Back in the 1970s, long before you could learn everything on the net, when as a total outsider I started lurking on the fringes of Irish sessions of that calibre in London, I didn’t even speak to anyone for months, let alone take an instrument or think of sitting down.

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Good read, and a subject of interest to me, to be sure. I went to a session in NYC not all that long ago, one listed on this very mustard-y site, and was met with something similar, though not quite as intense. There were no big names there, that I know of and I was one of two newcomers/visitors. The other was a cute 20 something girl, a fiddle player, not an amazing player but good enough. She dropped the names, she was cute, and a female, so she got gobs of attention from the session leader and the other guys around her. I was politely recieved, asked a few perfunctorily curious questions, then left to myself. I left feeling like I had missed something. I think on the one hand people are generally nervous/afraid to connect with each other, and that may have been part of it, but there’s no excuse for just closing the circle and leaving a newcomer out of it as was done to you. I can guarantee if it were my own session you’d be given better standing!

anyway thanks for that, I enjoyed it very much.


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30 miles is about the minimum distance I have to drive to get to ANY session.

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The session where I’m a semi-regular is an hour’s drive away and another hour back home, on a 2-lane road at night. Maybe it’s a difference of perspective for us in the spread-out hinterlands of the USA, but an investment of an hour’s time to attend a session doesn’t lead to a feeling of entitlement. And there are people at this session that spend even more time getting here.

There is another regular session I can actually walk to from my house in about 15 minutes, but I don’t enjoy it, and I’d rather drive that hour to another session. There are many other points in the OP’s post besides this one, but I think it’s important to realize how many of us make an effort to travel. I’m just glad I don’t live in Australia.

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I am always open to other viewpoints and yours are noted. However, if I haven’t gotten the point of a session since I started going to them 15 years ago, then I guess I’ll need another 15 to get it. I’ve had to commit some blunders along the way to wise up, but I’ve never been that poorly received. In fact I daresay I was treated better in all my days as a newbie full of awkward fumbles that I was last night with more session skill than I’ve ever had.

Anyway I don’t think it’s exactly as you surmise. It was strange that it went from courteous to neglectful. What changed it perhaps were the people who showed up after me who seemed to have better clout. I seemed to have gone from a musician who was an agreeable part of the session, and then eventually became chopped liver when better company arrived.

I hope I conveyed that I didn’t go into the session last night with expectations that they play all night long because I wanted them to and because I had come along way, so therefore they should cater to me. After all, I’ve been a background musician for many a year, and I’ve spent all me money on whi—-oh wait I lost track there. = ) *claps 4 times then continues* I mean I’ve been the behind-the-scenes gal in enough venues to have no need for personal pandering. Although now I find myself wondering if wishing they played more and ignored me less is in fact a desire to be pandered to…? *stares absently at the water damage on the ceiling for 5 minutes pondering this*

And I apologize if I am missing a point you are making—maybe I didn’t understand—-but those Germans complaining about what the musicians were there for? What are musicians with instruments in hand at a session there for? Good company, yes. Good times, yes. But what are the instruments there for? After all, if you’re not playing music, you’re at a pub for exactly the same reason everyone else is there for.

I’ve played in a nice number of sessions over the years. There’s banter, jokes, gossip, catching up, reunions, visiting with friends and some pause maybe for food or whatnot but it all revolved around music. Last night it seemed the other way around.

Instruments excite people. Every session I go to brings forth cameras and filming from pub-goers. People look forward to the music and crave it. Sessions are special.

Maybe I’m just naive. I’m afraid I would have been in good company with those German commentators.

I guess I will have to respectfully disagree with the sentiment that the session was "their" place. That just seems so exclusive and not in keeping with folk traditions. In my view, it’s actually "our" space as in all of ours. The audience has a role, too, as do the staff etc. In a private, closed session yes it’s their space. But why are sessions listed in the papers and in websites and why do musicians look them up in their travels and show up with instrument(s) in hand?

And if I had been that cool dude who showed up with names and connections and had indicated a desire to play more, they would have.

I used to play at a fantastic session where big names frequented in Minneapolis, but everyone was part of the session. If you showed up with an instrument in hand, you’re there to play.

I’m not sure why you didn’t speak to anyone for months let alone play during that time in London? My first sessions ever were in Galway and Edinburgh and I just rolled up my sleeves and joined in. I remember making lots of friends and session hopping across the street/town and ending up in just fantastic places. It changed my life! I knew in my heart I was no classical violinist and I didn’t know how to transition from that world to fiddle. I just decided as a young traveler to cross the pond and get my education in the pubs. Best decision I ever made in terms of my playing career. If I had sat out and not joined in, I can tell you that would have been the worst decision. And don’t get me wrong, I also enjoyed and learned from watching plenty of sessions and quieter folk musicians as well, but I’m best with my fiddle in my hands. If there’s music to be made and a chance of joining in, that’s where I want to be. (I remember taking Irish dance lessons and then showing up at ceilis and being torn between wanting to dance and wanting to play. Since my friends were on both sides, they laughed as I gave in and bounced back and forth.)

I do see your point, and it does provide insight as to how they may have regarded me last night. And even though I haven’t hosted my own sessions yet, I would never ever neglect anyone that badly. Not in anything that I do, and definitely not in a social music circle.

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Hey. Look who thinks SHE’S humble!!! 🙂

I wouldn’t sweat it. You’re probably leaning forward in the foxhole more than the other folks there.

You’re probably fine in their book. Well, until you wrote that and posted it here! 🙂

Enjoy it for what it is. Don’t worry about the slights you wrote about at this point, which may well be imagined, I suspect.

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"I’m just glad I don’t live in Australia."
You should be!

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Two observations…

The fact that you use the phrase "not in keeping with folk traditions" suggests that maybe you aren’t seeing the activity the way they do. The ITM world and the folk music world are very different, though there’s a bit of overlap. There’s usually not as much as the folkies think there is!

The other thing I notice is that you typed two long, lengthy essays about it so far. People who do that, and who don’t edit things down, are sometimes more ‘into themselves’ than is normal. You stewed about this for a long time! Probably much longer than the session leaders worried about it!

A couple of people took enough of an interest to you to give you some valuable pointers to help make you a better player. Sounds like a terrific success to me!! Why not dwell on those?

What were the pointers?

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"an investment of an hour’s time to attend a session doesn’t lead to a feeling of entitlement"

Entitlement, ouch! You guys sure know how to jab with your bows here!

Actually the long distance (for me) and with my children there etc was just to illustrate that yes it was an effort for me and if I knew prior that it would play out as it did—so to speak—I would not have gone. Maybe I missing something but a little more music and warmth would have been great. I’m not whining for free drinks or a chance to be a session hog.

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Nah that’s just my personality. I stew over things! Yes you make thoughtful points. No one likes feeling gutted, whether it be real or imagined. Maybe I am just feeling a bit sorry for myself? And I’m humble. But also a Leo. Conflict there.

But yes I appreciate your points and I do need to DEFINITELY acknowledge the valuable pointers I got from them, as well as good insight from you guys.

But even so— I’ll whisper this so not too many people hear it—I still think session etiquette is a 2-way street.

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That’s really what I left feeling…like I had missed something too. Thanks for your kind spirit and nice words!

And what’s a mustard-y site?

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Perhaps what you are referring to as the name dropping of royal connections is in reality someone simply mentioning that they have a mutual friend who has recommended the session? I’ve never attended a session with big name players, but had I been warmly welcomed, asked to join in, been asked to start sets, received friendly playing tips and offered drinks despite sitting there holding my instrument for the majority of the night because I didn’t know but three of the tunes that came up I would be tempted to think that the night had gone very well even if I had not been the center of attention the whole night long. Except for the ever present existential angst of never knowing enough tunes, of course!

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I almost missed your question about what the pointers were.

1. In very, VERY (I can’t emphasize enough the "very") nice terms, I was told that it’s far better to shut up and listen to tunes I don’t know instead of trying to work them out. I’ve never been corrected of this habit, which thankfully I’ve had the good sense to do quietly at any rate, and only on tunes I think I can catch. She said it’s distracting to other players, and it’s better to record them, work them out at home, and come back ready. Good tip.

2. Years ago when I picked up a whistle in Doolan, I worked really hard at it and taught myself. I played it on stage and stuff, and then a clarinet player friend of mine told me I was breathing all wrong. She said I slurred everything and needed more staccato. I then doubted myself and stopped playing for a few years then just started up again. Last night my education was that in fact the slurs were fine, all-in-one breath was better and less staccato. So now I’ve got to get back on my original path! Also, I’ve got a fife head for it to practice learning how to blow into it. I couldn’t get sound to come out and last night I got the instructive piece on how to form my mouth to blow the air through. So now I can begin that journey.

You have good instincts! Writing out the good stuff makes me feel better. = ) Reminds me that I am appreciative of them and the courtesy they did give me, even if the other stuff didn’t work out.

Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

you went with unrealistic expectations

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Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

Cheeky Elf,

Center of attention the whole night long?

Ouch I guess for all my humility there’s a lot of pride cause that was sharp! I didn’t sit there the whole night with an instrument in my hand pouting. I had family and friends there and was enjoying the pub like anyone.

You’re right, the first half of the night did go very well. It got exclusive later and no one likes being ignored.

I didn’t mind not knowing the tunes or being able to play them; that’s what I was there for. I have a home session where I know the tunes.

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I went with healthy ones. I’m not new to sessions. But of course, I learn something from all of them and perhaps this one taught me the most. So in the end I’ll probably transform my sentiments into those of gratitude.

Your feedback (everyone’s) teaches me as well, which is why I dared to just write my silly thoughts out and toss them out to this tough crowd. I knew I’d get bitten. = )

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Ah… I think if you felt like an outsider, everything is probably explained in the two tips you gave above. After so many years of attending sessions at a certain level of play, and maybe being one of the stronger players in your usual circle, you didn’t know how to be one of the newbies, comparatively speaking, in a circle of stronger players!

It’s a different skill. You should be much more deferential, and much more willing to keep the instrument on your lap and listen!

The fact that you are talking fifes also suggests to me you have a different sound than what most hardcore tradheads are after, and if you were playing with an overly staccato sound, so much so that a stronger player quickly ‘corrected’ you, (I prefer the terms ‘coached’ or ‘mentored’), that just confirms it. You weren’t coming in perceived as a trad player - maybe because you aren’t. You may be a strong enough player to do just fine at your usual session, but when you go to a bigger league of more trad-focused players than yourself, the difference is more apparent to them than to you!

So musically, you weren’t quite "gooble-gobble, one of us."

But hey, you want to up your game, right? That’s why you went to the big town!

Take the coaching to heart, spend more time listening and recording, and go back again, showing notable improvement. Shed the thin skin. Everyone gets chewed up once in a while - especially emerging from his or her comfort zone.

I got a great piece of advice showing up to my first "grown-up" professional gig. With a Dixieland band in Honolulu, no less! I was 18 years old, skinny and long-haired, but with a good ear for changes. I got referred to the Dixieland band by an older player, but I guess he didn’t quite "sell’ me to the band leader. Everyone in the band was over 60 but me, and VERY well acquainted with the music.

I walked in, gangly and shaggy, with a banjo case as the rest of the guys were setting up. The old band leader glowered at me and said "KID! YOU MUST BE JASON! HOW THE FECK OLD ARE YOU!"

"Yessir! I’m 18!"

"You play banjo?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Do you know old jazz?"

"Yes, sir!" (I had just gotten done playing a stint in the orchestra for a high school production of "The Boyfriend")

"Well, do me a favor! IF YOU DON’T KNOW IT, DON’T PLAY IT!!!!"


Best advice I ever got. And my worst moments, no doubt, are when I fail at taking that to heart.

And so, off we went. But here’s what I did: If I didn’t know the tune, I’d lay out COMPLETELY at least one time through, and map it out. NO EXCEPTIONS. NO GUESSING. If you have to GUESS, DON’T PLAY!!!

Bottom line: The rule worked. That, coupled with unfailing politeness, got me invited back with them many, many times.

Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

@gatacelta, I like your refreshing writing style and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comments. I hope you intend staying with us.

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There are three things that bother me in all of this, above lots of other stuff that also bothers me. 🙂

1 "the working-class tradition of learning tunes by ear". Why do you think it’s "working-class"? Seems a bit snobby to me. It isn’t "working-class" - it’s everybody. Not just in recent times, this tradition has been shared by people from all walks of life. A lot may be rural, so specifically not working-class, since that’s an urban concept. But then there’d be professionals - not just now, when there are lots of professional folks at the top of the tradition, but also similarly in the past. And all sorts of other people as well. I think you’re just misunderstanding the tradition.

2 Noodling. You went to a high class session - that you knew was high class - and you noodled???!? I know you think you’ve learnt a lot about session etiquette in your "15 years of sessions", but I would humbly suggest that you may not have learnt as much as you think you have.

3 You took out, by the sound of it, two instruments that you don’t know how to play - both whistle and fife - tried to play them … and had to be told that you couldn’t play them. Well, I guess now at least you know.

This all sounds harsh of me. Don’t take it that way. The fact is that you got a glimpse into a world that I suspect you haven’t seen before. I also suspect that those people weren’t being rude, as you think, but were doing their level best *not* to be rude.

There is a reasonably well-known concept amongst a lot of decent trad players - that folks have to "serve their time". This means that, apart form other things as well, you need to know a lot more tunes. 1500 is about the number of tunes that an average session player, but one of no particularly great shakes, might be expected to know. How many do you play? You have to have a core repertoire. And, unavoidably in this music, it’s large.

And, sometimes even more importantly, where did you learn your tunes? The guys in that pub were playing THEIR music. It seems to me that you haven’t made it your music. Yet. Keep at it. If you can, get yourself to more Irish sessions, and expose yourself to the playing of many different musicians. Eventually, you may build up a workable repertoire of tunes and have the experience to be able to fit into most sessions. But there are some sessions that even some great musicians don’t try to fit into.

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Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

Interesting. I cross-posted with Jason, and his long post says much the same as mine does. (Apart from the "working class" bit, which is a bugbear of mine. 😉 )

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Yeah, unless you get lucky and you have some really good players in your hometown sesh, most folks have to make a concerted effort to expose themselves to better players. To seek them out, because you want to rise to the next level.

If you peaked out in your hometown, and you attended some sessions in some other towns that were full of more casual players rather than the obsessive trailheads, it’s possible that you don’t have 15 years of session experience. Maybe have ONE year of session experience FIFTEEN TIMES!!!

In any case, the remedy is clear: Check your ego at the door, listen more than you play for a while, add tunes to your repertoire a few at a time, and keep going back, showing progress each time.

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Thanks Jason! I really like your insight. I’m taking it all in. Everything you advise kinda makes me think "yes sir!" = )

Ahh…I don’t actually play the whistle in sessions, ever. I’m a relative beginner so unless you want to hear Mary Had a Little Lamb at tempo, you won’t hear me play (yet!). I actually brought it so in a quiet moment I could play for 10 seconds and get some advice.

I don’t know much about the fife. I read on here somewhere, actually, that if someone plays the whistle and wants to learn how to play the flute, the duo head thing is a good economical option for learning some basics. Since it was the same price as the regular whistle, I went for it. At this point I’d like to blow into it correctly. If working with a fife is too hard, I’ll pick up a flute.

Ya know, musically I am actually very happy with how I did. I’m a good fiddler. I didn’t expect to know a lot of the tunes. I enjoyed myself. I really did show up easy-going and was very relaxed. It was the exclusive chitchat that got to me. I’ve traveled a lot so I’ve tended to spend a lot of time being a newbie, playing here and there for a night. I’ve always sat comfortably in session spaces whether in content silence, conversation, playing or listening. This had more the feel of being totally excluded and what threw me was how it shifted gears into that when there hadn’t been any music at all. I thought it was just a little hang out…that went on…and on…and I waited it out patiently and since I was there among them I figured I’d contribute here and there (So what kind of crockpot? And the kitchen has a dishwasher?) but they just didn’t want me in their chat I guess. Also in my range of session exposure I suppose that somehow sessions where people chat a lot and hardly play is something that has eluded me until now. I am also learning from you all that this can be common, too.

I’m like a little kid in my excitement to play, after 27 years of making music I still sit eagerly thinking "when’s the next piece? ohboyohboy!" whether I play or listen I just want to feel the music. I love sessions; they energize me. but this one didn’t, ya know?

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It seems to me that you place too much emphasis on the standard of play, the number of big names known or present, and the etiquette of a session rather than just the normal behaviour of groups of people. We all have the same basic instincts with regard to foreigners, strangers and newcomers. You are a person (I assume — maybe it was the green skin?) so I don’t need to elaborate. People gravitate towards those they feel will ‘fit in’ as it were. That doesn’t mean the others won’t fit in, or are lesser people — if anything, it shows a weakness (or an evolutionary strength, depending on how you look at it) in the ones doing the gravitating.
I don’t know if I misunderstood — but did you have your family and friends with you. Children even? That in itself is enough to be — not shunned or spurned, or even ignored — left alone, perhaps. Outsiders wouldn’t want to intrude into your family space.
In any event, I think you read too much into people’s reactions, or lack of them. People can ignore you because THEY feel inferior, not because they think you are. Forget about sessions and rules — this was a group of people in a big city going through a kind of bonding ritual. For whatever reason, imagined or otherwise, you weren’t bonding. The fault, if I can call it that, may have been on your part, and entirely unrelated to music.
Someone told me he had just come back from his holidays in some place or other, and that it was terrible and he would never go back. Another friend asked him where he had been, and when told, said, ‘Oh, I was in the pub next door — it’s a brilliant place.’
People are complicated, and that includes you. Sometimes wires get crossed as opposed to lines, and it’s hard to tell the difference.

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Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street


I appreciate your points. You’re right in that I’m definitely seeking to build my repertoire and do aspire to get a great many more tunes under my belt.

I didn’t whistle at the session though…just got it out for a moment to seek advice. That was actually great! I didn’t have to be told I can’t play because I don’t actually whistle in sessions. And the fife…I haven’t even started yet! Think they noticed when I asked them "how do I blow into this thing and get some sound?" *wink*

Also noodling…I’ve seen very accomplished players do it. Where do you think I learned it from? I used to NOT play songs ever but started imitating them trying to work out tunes. Maybe no one ever told them. One of the regulars last night was doing it. I also think it’s interesting that I actually celebrated receiving this tip yet somehow seem to be coming under attack for it. Clearly, I haven’t played as many sessions as you or even a fraction of players here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t played at a lot of them. My "a lot" is just "a lot less" than yours. = )

I guess working class wasn’t the right term. In fact based on how you read it, I totally didn’t get it right. I intended to champion that spirit that session music IS for everyone. It’s the people’s music. So therein is the irony of session etiquette and how much is unspoken and how much determines whether you’re in or out. I wonder if some of you might take some of this bold online spirit to sessions and take newbies to task as swiftly as is done here!

Look, I’m a lover and I know the critics here are all first-class with hearts of gold (I do mean that) and aim to educate, inform, inspire and otherwise define a generation of session players.

Believe me that’s what I’m actually here to get from you all. = )

But maybe I need to re-read my off-the-cuff OP because I guess it sounded full of ego. At least I am being told to check my ego at the door. I had rather hoped to be going more for "satirical with a message for world peace" but we can’t have it all.

I see that somehow that what I’ve shared has instead conveyed the fact that I blew it with the music and wondered why, but really that part went the best. Truly.

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Hey I loved your post. Your words really resonate and I’m sure you got much of it correct. I have loved what everyone’s had to say—-I’ve gained a lot—but I also have been hoping for someone to recognize that possibly little of it had to do with music.

Maybe it was just a bondage ritual—-I mean bonding—well that is to say if it was the former it would certainly explain a lot; they were just thinking of the kiddos and all and hey I won’t judge as Celtic has been fused (bonded?) with everything else!

But now that you do bring it up, I didn’t think the green skin would be a divisive factor, this being a modern age and all. Between my foreign skin and their bondage rituals, I guess I get how things went awry! = )

Thanks for your thoughtful and warm post.

And thanks to everyone who humored me tonight. It’s been a thrilling ride! I seldom get into forum discussions like these and have rather enjoyed it. I like you all very much. Now, off to bed!

P.S. I still think session etiquette is a two-way street!

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I’ve no idea about the session that you went to, but there’s no free beer at our session. So if we want to sit and talk, we sit and talk between tunes. That’s our choice, as we are paying customers like anyone else in the pub.

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Let me agree with session etiquette being a two-way street!

But I don’t think it applies on what happened with you. I can only go from what you wrote down though..
So people were talking and chit-chatting and not including you in that. Alright, it happens, everywhere. They included you into their session, had some smalltalk, played music with you and gave you pointers, that’s session etiquette to me. Including people in chit-chat isn’t.
I think you need to split the social context in a pub from the session which is about music making. They sometimes combine but they’re not the same thing. That the other newcommer did get included isn’t too farfetched, I mean, wouldn’t you be more friendly to a friend of a friend than someone you don’t know at all? I know I would.

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1500 tunes that’s quite a repertoire to be storing in wet RAM BH. That would have me noodling for a few bars at least while I sorted my didleys from the diddles.

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"30 miles is about the minimum distance I have to drive to get to ANY session."

Yea, and I drive over an hour to my new session, so 30 miles would be AWESOME to me!

In my opinion, even though you didn’t break any "session etiquette" rules, you did break one psychological rule. You set yourself up for disappointment by setting your expectations way too high.

Sure, you’re venting but you sound a bit spoiled to me. Seriously, what would you expect from a close group of friends that probably commune with each other everyday? What did you have in common with them other than a few tunes? You were a stranger to them, and be honest with yourself, you probably acted like a stranger too. I think they welcomed and set you up quite nicely, asking you to play a set and giving you "sought-after" advice.

Now my question is, did they truly gravitate away from you, or did you not join when they brought the circle together? Did they really pull their chairs closer together away from you, or did you not pull your chair in *with* them?

I’ve learned from experience that people won’t put a halt to their normal banter and fun for the sake of a stanger. It’s something they’re use to doing.

Now, i’ve always been a very popular person cause i’m friendly and sociable. But i’ve been left out of conversations. People have whispered to each other around me. I’ve even been ignored when giving my greetings/salutations. Sometimes it happens more often than i’d like! Sometimes it happens when i’m walking out of my own house lol

I’m not saying it was cool for them to slight you, but understand, it’s probably something they experience every night, or often enough to be routine. I’m sure they didn’t mean anything by their fun, inside-jokes, and normal everynight banter.

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I may have misinterpreted, and I was definitely exaggerating in order to make the point. Still, there does come across - still - to me a sense that you somehow feel "entitled". It feels like more than just a trans-Atlantic, divided-by-a-common-language thing.

The thing is, your experience is not unusual. I would guess that everyone who has significant session miles under their belt, even those born and brought up in the heart of the tradition, has experienced what you have, gatacelta. So, part of the reaction may be folks, as with me, thinking "This is normal. What’s there to complain about?" And I can certainly imagine being one of those in the session. If they were my friends, in my regular session (assuming I had one) I might want to catch up on their news. Amongst a group, I wouldn’t feel "rude" for not including in the stuff that matters to friends someone who wasn’t my friend. Yet.

It’s that last word that really matters, in my opinion.

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Re: Session Etiquette Is a Two-Way Street

The OP’s experience is a common one, but I think it comes down to the personalities of people in the session, the kind of personality of the session (to personify a bit), the standard of music in the session, what the regulars want to do there. If you have a few people in a session who are naturally extroverted, gregarious, and will chat to anyone like they’ve known them for years, it will be a friendly, non-cliquey experience for newcomers. I am not one of these people and have probably come across like an elitist b**tch at a session because I am hopeless at making random small talk to people I don’t know. If you have a whole session of people who are not bubbling extroverts, it may take time to get accepted. The whole "friends in common" thing does help. I find it easier to chat to someone when you find out you have a mutual friend. "Oh, you know Bobby!" Don’t know. Something changes in your brain and you find it easier.

We’ve all sat in that session where we knew about three tunes and didn’t "fit in" socially or musically. Everyone on this message board. That’s part of the game. One thing I found over the years is that stressing about it and ruminating about it is pointless (and I went through a phase of doing just that) and does nothing but drive you crazy. However, if you go into a session not giving a shight about whether or not they will "accept" you, if you just have the expectation that you might get a decent tune or two if you’re lucky, it will be a far more positive experience.

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What I read into the OP (I haven’t read anything else that has been written further down), is that we seem to be resurfacing a bad childhood emotional experience of rejection from the group, that has never been fully digested.

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"1500 is about the number of tunes that an average session player…"

1500??? Huh? I planned on stopping at 500! xP

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Ben Hall: "1500 is about the number of tunes that an average session player, but one of no particularly great shakes, might be expected to know."

I would take issue with that statement, Ben. I know plenty of competent session players who wouldn’t know nearly as many as that.

But then again, it rather depends on how you define "knowing" a tune. You can only really be described as "knowing" tune if, (on being given the title of it, and without reference to dots or a crib sheet), you could play it note-perfect through at least three iterations without the support of anyone else joining in.

On this definition, not many session players "know" 1500 tunes.

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"But then again, it rather depends on how you define "knowing" a tune. You can only really be described as "knowing" tune if, (on being given the title of it, and without reference to dots or a crib sheet), you could play it note-perfect through at least three iterations without the support of anyone else joining in."

I thought "knowing" a tune was defined by being able to play it like THIS…

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I know you take issue with that, Mix. You’ve taken issue with it before. A couple of points:

* I don’t agree with your definition of "knowing" a tune. Take that definition strictly, and I’m not sure I even know *one* tune. 🙂 But I can play, adequately, and lead, a good many more than that, and I consider myself to be no better than "average";

* It is my opinion, and has been borne out on a number of occasions when I’ve seen people who think they’re great suddenly finding themselves floundering in a perfectly average to mediocre session in Ireland, simply because they don’t know enough of what would be considered "common" session tunes over there.

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I don’t know either of you but I wonder if ‘average’ isn’t the weird word rather than ‘know’. Could it depend on context? Somebody might be the best fiddle player in their city by a mile and still be average in the grand scheme of things. I’ve only been at this a few years, but fifteen hundred seems like a really lot of tunes to know, and I’d say only the top two or three players I know would have that many. Of course, I live in the hinterlands of southern Indiana. No doubt it’s different in the emerald isle.

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I remember being at a session some years ago as an observer, because my experience of life told me that it would, and many of these sessions do, turn into a competition , and I hate competitions. The self appointed leader was a very good box player but known in the trad world as a crusty type of character. To me he was just an ignorant old ‘know it all’ git and I was proved right when he said to a young bodhran player who joined in the session " Right, you can put that thing back in it’s case" I’m afraid over the years I found many sessions to be an inner sanctum of musicians who seem to have the attitude of heads down, play like mad and feck anybody who can’t keep up.

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Well Ben, if you say that you "know" more than 1500 tunes (by whatever definition) I’m happy to take your word for it. If I included English dance tunes, Morris dance tunes, Scottish dance tunes and American old-timey tunes in my own reckoning it would probably come to more than 1500. However, I don’t really know, as I’ve never counted. Most people haven’t - so they tend to exaggerate (albeit, innocently).

Do the denizens of your local sessions in the Forest of Dean all know 1500 tunes apiece? I find that difficult to believe.

I would agree though that tune repertoire is very much a local thing. If I go to any of my local sessions, I know most of the tunes that get get played there. If, on the other hand, I went to a session in some other part of the world (in particular, to Ireland), I too would probably be floundering.

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I go to a brilliant session mainly led by pipers. The standard is very high. I don’t manage to get there very often because of work, but when I go people nod at me and sometimes say hello. Last time I went two people introduced themselves. I am a fiddle player and am aware I need to learn more tunes. Usually I know one tune at this session and sometimes as many as three. I feel exceedingly privileged to be able to sit in with these people at the back and play extremely quietly whilst I learn the tunes, fragment by fragment. It matters not that I do not lead off a tune - I don’t think they know the tunes I know - nor that I can’t be heard, nor that people that know each other have a chat between tunes. I sit and smile amiably at the company until another tune starts up.
In my job I talk to people a lot. It is bliss for me to let the music do all the talking, interacting and socialising and I just sit and lap up the happy ambiance and count myself very privileged to be there at that time - and all for the price of a drink!

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Just reminded of a comment on The Edinburgh Shetland Fiddlers website

"New faces are more than welcome. When a new person arrives, we don’t make a special fuss. This is partly because we are Scottish, but also because we are too busy playing."

I think the same applies in Irish and most sessions. Very few, in my opinion, would be deliberately hostile or unfriendly to visitors. Some seem more openly welcome than others but, remember, when you, I, or we are visiting a strange session we are encroaching on somebody else’s territory to a greater or lesser extent. So, we shouldn’t come with too many expectations. It’s up to us to try and fit in(maybe not too hard, of course) and just "go with the flow".

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Something a wise old man once told me: "You would worry less about what people think of you, if you knew how seldom they do." People will ignore you sometimes, that’s life. And the (arguably imaginary) insult you suffered is fresh now, you’re still smarting. Give it some time.

I myself may have left a session in a huff, at some point in the past, and then tried it again later—and found that the problem was not necessarily with them…. 😉

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Gatacelta, maybe this little story will be of a bit of interest, though from a different ‘scene’ (Highland piping).

I was an ignorant self-taught newbie who had just moved to ‘the big city’ from the sticks. I was 19 and had been hammering away on the pipes on my own for two years, practicing faithfully at least an hour a day, guided only by some books and records (there being nobody around who played in the place I had just moved from, and no internet back then).

I found out that there was a pipe band fairly close by that practiced in a church hall. I went down there with no pipes and no practice chanter and no tape recorder, just to listen. I had never seen a pipe band in person.

So I sit in a far corner and watch the entire practice, around two hours. I don’t go over and introduce myself, and likewise nobody came over to find out who I was and why I was sitting there.

I attended these weekly practices for months. I was left alone in my little spot.

But I wasn’t idle! No indeed. Because after a couple weeks I had begun taping them when they were up on the pipes, and finding all the tunes I could in my collection of books, and working on the tunes at home.

After a couple months I began bringing my practice chanter and chantering away in my corner when they were all blasting through the tunes on the pipes. (I was completely inaudible to them.) They noticed, of course, what I was doing but still nobody talked to me, nor I to them.

Then one night it was like Christmas to me. During a break in their practice one of the pipers walked over to me and, without a word, plopped a stack of music on my little table, and walked away. I was delighted! because it was their entire repertoire.

Every week after that I played every tune they played, they in the middle of the hall on their pipes, me in my corner on my practice chanter.

After a month or two the Pipe Major walks over and says "come with me" and takes me into a side room. He says "play something" and I do (on my practice chanter; I had never brought my pipes). He says "you’re doing everything pretty much right. But our band has its own way of playing a D-throw" and he demonstrates it and I repeat it.

After that I was invited to sit around the table when the band was going through tunes on practice chanters. Then a few weeks later I was told to start bringing my pipes. Eventually I went to the Pipe Major’s house and picked up the full uniform and began going out on gigs, which they did a load of, every weekend.

Finally I started competing with them. One of my first competitions we won Grade 2 and they gave me the shield. They said they each had plenty of them, and it was time for me to have one. I still have it! 35 years later.

I have no idea what the moral of the story is, or how much it pertains to Gatacelta’s blog.

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BTW I disagree with Gatacelta’s characterization of the classical orchestral scene. While in University I dated a violinist for a few years and I attended a number of concerts that she played in, and the get-togethers afterwards, and rehearsals, and I found that group to be a warm fun-loving bunch of people. It’s funny how people imagine the music being stuffy and formal (it isn’t) and project this onto the people who play it.

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I have come across unwelcoming behaviour in dance groups; when I first took up (English) country dancing, there was a clique in the class that wouldn’t mix with beginners. Scottish country dancing groups that I joined later were generally more welcoming, but still sometimes people were unwilling to ‘walk through’ dances for newbies. It was beneath them; they hadn’t the patience. The effect of this behaviour on me was that I vowed always to be welcoming & friendly to strangers and beginners, and I have acted on this.

I can understand that your experience was hurtful. You should not have received less attention and friendly behaviour than the other visitors. Many ‘big name’ ITM musicians seem to me to go out of their way to be friendly and helpful to beginners, and that earns them huge respect from me; so of your hosts, I would just repeat to myself Little John’s words to Robin Hood when a knight refused to doff his hat to him - ‘Thereof no force, he is a churl, and knows no courtesy.’

I am glad you started the thread, if only for Richard D Cook’s fabulous story of the Highland pipers! 🙂

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Also noodling…I’ve seen very accomplished players do it. Where do you think I learned it from? I used to NOT play songs ever but started imitating them trying to work out tunes. Maybe no one ever told them. One of the regulars last night was doing it. I also think it’s interesting that I actually celebrated receiving this tip yet somehow seem to be coming under attack for it.

There’s a big difference between someone who’s heard a tune hundreds of times (or used to play the tune) and who’s just trying to calibrate his/her fingers to play the notes and someone who has never heard a tune but is desperate to play along.

But thanks for this glimpse inside a noodler’s head, very informative.

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Stiamh Ionas hit the troubling points on the head I think: Your post makes it seem like you feel entitled to music (and your follow-up comments here, with the comment about instruments and what are they for, don’t really dispel that). But a good session usually has a large social / conversational element to it. It’s not a performance, it’s hanging out with friends. You may disagree, but you’re wrong, it is *their* space.

What you posted makes it seem like you feel like the session is "ours". But it’s not: It’s theirs. Just like my session isn’t "yours", it’s "ours" (the regulars, family and friends, who come every week and make it great).

Your post and comments also make it seem like you are more of a beginner than you realize. That’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with being more of a beginner, and you seem really eager to learn and be better, which is fantastic. But maybe the other "out-of-town" guest was better able to fit in musically. And absolutely it’s human nature (and particularly seems to be Irish nature) to warm up to friends of a friend more than a complete stranger. You may have viewed it as name-dropping, but Irish traditional music is small. When you get to a certain level or attend enough events, you may end up being friends with the "famous" people, and you may stop viewing them as the "famous" people, and just view them as friends. The regulars absolutely do not owe it to you to be your friend. It’s not their responsibility to become your friend; for all they know, you’ll never be back.

The bottom line is that none of us were there. It would be interesting to see what the regulars thought of the night. There’s a very good chance the hosts felt like they were being very friendly, while still wanting to chat with their friends about the new things that have happened in their lives.

If you’re really interested in getting better at Irish music, go back, continue being humble, learn as much as you can, and chat with the regulars. Do the same sort of thing you would when making any other friend.

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Gatacelta, you ask why I didn’t speak to people in those early days of lurking on the fringes of London sessions.

This was a long time ago, before the Irish had got used to anybody from anywhere appropriating their music. I was young, unsure of myself, I didn’t know anybody and, although I was in my own country, I was the foreigner. I really didn’t speak the language. On a personal level, and as yet on a musical level, I had nothing to contribute to the gathering, no common ground with those people whose music I desperately wanted to learn the secrets of.

Times and attitudes have changed of course. But when you said you were the only person present not from Ireland, it reminded me of my early days, and I thought my experience might help you put yours into perspective.

(Ben Hall mentioned being "divided by a common language". The first time I visited the US, also in the 1970s, I found myself in Manhattan, and it quickly struck me that having a common language was a trap - this was an utterly foreign country, and making myself understood, let alone decoding so much of what was going around me, was far from obvious.)

The other point to consider: alcohol consumption. You found the dynamic changed as the night went on. Might skinfuls of Guinness have been a factor in this? 🙂

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I think you may be overanalyzing the other people there. Focus on your own playing, and see if there are ways to get it more "Irish." Maybe get some instruction via Skype from an Irish fiddling specialist like James Kelly or Patrick Ourceau. Both will take very good care of you and give you some good feedback. There are a number of others, but I know both of those guys do offer lessons via Skype and they are both top-flight players and teachers.

It could be that your hometown session has become really old-timey, or bluegrassy, or Canucky or Contra-Dancey, or whatever, which are all different sounds, and even though you’re still playing Irish dance tunes out of the Irish books, you’re playing them with a different sound and you don’t realize it.

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Gatacelta- Look at it this way- you successfully played three tunes at a top notch session in Ireland! Many of us can only dream of having that experience.

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"Do the denizens of your local sessions in the Forest of Dean all know 1500 tunes apiece? I find that difficult to believe."

No they don’t. But then I so rarely meet a session player of "average" ability on this side of the Irish Sea. (There are some, but not many.) I realise that might seem intolerant, but it happens to be true. Go to any old session in Galway, Clare, Dublin, Cork, wherever. Then come back and compare it with what we have back home, here in the UK.

Besides, there aren’t any sessions in the Forest of Dean - not Irish ones anyway, as far as I know. Some English. Mixed English/Welsh, strangely, but no ITM sessions.

By the way, *was* that session you went to in Ireland, gatacelta? It didn’t sound like it was in Ireland, to me. Unless I’ve misunderstood again. 😏

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" But then I so rarely meet a session player of "average" ability on this side of the Irish Sea…"

Hey, I resemble those remarks.

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There is a local session I could easily get to, music is top notch, too much chatter, in a three hour session it can be close to half chatter. In talking to one of the hosts, an Irishman himself, I was told this is normal in Ireland, and I should just start a tune. I’ve done that, but I feel like *I’m* being rude to them. I resolved the problem by not going any more. It also hurts that the acoustics aren’t very good and one end of the table can’t hear the other.

This is also a timely topic because I am moving away from familiar sessions and will be having to integrate into new sessions later this year, a nice reminder to check my ego, and expectations at the door. Good comments all.

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Gatacelta - I think you came without an introduction, other than your ability, into a social group you had never met before.
I also note that there is absolutely no information on your posting as to where you are from. Would I be assuming too much to infer, from your over-analysing the situation you found yourself in, that you might be an American ? ( Ducks head quickly ) ( I am married to one myself ).
There is sometimes, I have observed, a tendency among some Americans ( please note all the qualifying words in that statement ) to over-analyse, to the point of obsession, some incident or other.
I suspect that is exactly what happened here.
The other visitor had, at some level, an introduction, a free pass, to this social group - I would stress the word social. You did not.
That’s all that happened.
End of story.

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"that you might be an American"

come on Pete, no bonus points for that deduction….

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Well, I was trying to be gentle.
I would say that there are, of course, many fine Americans, one of whom puts up with my peculiarities and has done so for many years. Equally, many fine Irish, Scots, English, Welsh, etc. Even Channel Islanders…..
However there are many social situations where one has to tread carefully, even amongst all these fine people, because things do not turn out to one’s satisfaction for reasons that are not always immediately obvious, and for which there is no obvious reason that can be blamed, perhaps except for ones own unreasonably raised expectations.
And isn’t the problem these days that we live in a blame culture, and it’s always somebody’s fault ? And never our own ?

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It’s definitely not *my* fault I live in a blame culture.

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Thanks for sharing your story, gatacelta! I think sessions with (mostly) people I know (to some extent) and where I know (most of) the tunes are the ones I like the most. It’s a question of feeling comfortable. If/when we’re having a public session, I do my best to make everybody feel welcome (as long as they seem to be in the right place, understand the kind of repertoire we play, and that it isn’t a chaotic jam were people are supposed to trade solos etc.).

Try another session (if there is one), bring a friend or two with whom you have some tunes in common.

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gatacelta, there’s a very simple solution to your problem: don’t come with expectations. You went to a pub… what do you do in pubs? You hang out, meet people, listen to music… and sometimes join in… but that isn’t to be counted on.

When you walked through the door you were visiting the pub and not collecting on your right to be included in a session that happens to be there. If you want to join in, and you make the fact that your a musician known—that’s fine… but again… don’t have expectations. Some sessions are friendly inviting experiences for visitors… others aren’t—neither is right or wrong.

If you sit down to play and aren’t included the way you hoped… you have to accept it. The players aren’t there to cater to your needs; they want to play music with their friends. If you have a connection with mutual friends or whatever and are invited into the center… great. If you are out on the edge… that’s fine too as long as you aren’t disrupting what they’re doing. If you aren’t enjoying yourself… play pool… chat with other people… go to another pub… but don’t feel like your expectations should have been met and then get frustrated or angry because you felt let down. Remember—it’s their session and they are free to do whatever they want with it. If you approach sessions without an attitude and expectations… you’ll never be disappointed. If you get invited into the scene—count your blessings.

Keep in mind that it was your first visit too. If you went regularly and weren’t disturbing the flow of the music you would eventually be known and become part of it. Also… the musicians can sense when you’re feeling slighted and they will often then avoid contact. They will be less likely to invite you in if they think you have a sense of entitlement.

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The point, I suppose, of my boring tale was that if you’re coming in as a total outsider it’s best to show up with no instrument and no recorder and just hang out and see what the scene is like.

Become a regular. Do lots of listening. If the session is cool with it, start recording their tunes and learning their tunes (at home).

When you have some of the repertoire under your belt, then bring the fiddle.

So true that we Americans often bring our "get’r done!" and "bottom line" mentality to sessions. We show up right on time and expect to start playing immediately. Heck, we’re busy people, with complicated lives and lots of things on our plate, and time is valuable to us. We want to maximize the time we spend at a session. To most non-Americans we seem harried, rushed, brusque, and impatient.

The difference can be seen in the way we take holidays/vacations. My wife and I drove all over Britain in our precious 10 day holiday. While down in Cornwall we saw the way the British take holidays: driving the caravan to a Cornish beach and sitting there for a week or two. We were madly trying to ‘see it all’ in ten days!

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gatacelta, I am late joining this discussion, but I have to say, after reading your blog article, I got the impression that you took things a bit too hard. Hopefully, you can take this feedback for what it is, constructive criticism. For myself, I know where you are coming from—I have been to a few sessions where things don’t click (one just a few months ago), and I go away saying "that wasn’t much fun." But the best thing to do is just move on, and try again another day. Some introspection is OK, but if you spend more time mulling over what happened than it took to happen in the first place, then you are probably thinking too hard.
For example, in one of your subsequent posts, you mentioned how negative feedback from a clarinet player had caused you to give up the tin whistle for years. That is a real shame, especially since that feedback was completely off base (I seldom ever hear the words staccato and Irish tin whistle in the same sentence!). Try not to have such a thin skin, and you will do much better in the future.
There is a lot of good feedback here, and I think the last two posts from Phantom Button and Richard Cook do a good job of summing it up.
One final thought—the world of Irish sessions is actually a very small one, and you need to consider the fact that someone could figure out where you were and who you are talking about. And, instead of talking to them directly about how you felt, you went behind their back and talked to the world about them. Just because user names make you feel anonymous doesn’t mean you are anonymous. I have seen many people on this site brought up short because someone put two and two together, or the famous musician they are talking about joins into the conversation, and so on. That is why I post under my own name, to help me resist the temptation to gossip, and tell tales out of school. So keep that in mind the next time you get the urge to vent on the internet.
I can tell you love the music, and are very passionate about it. Don’t let your negative experience in the pub, or the rough and ready nature of this discussion turn you away from your playing!

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Hmm. I’m not too sure about your "elitist audiences" for classical music. Strikes me that going to "folk concerts" is nearly always a damn sight more expensive than going to a classical concert nearly every time. And I wear the same clothes to go to both!

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Not in the US, Steve!

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You turn up a lot smarter here for non-classical than for classical. As an audience member that is.

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I perhaps should add - the cheapest seats for the local symphony orchestra are the same as the typical price for folk and/or traditional concerts - $15. The next step up for the SO ($25) is the max price for folk / traditional.

That’s been my experience in just about every North American city I’ve lived in.

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Well said on the anonymity/small world thing, AlBrown.

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This person writes one blog and he/she is being an obsessive yank?

I love the bit about the phantom saying she thinks she’s entitled to something then turns around and says " it is their session". Waaaaa? Since when? The music and sessions belong to everyone and u guys are the ones feeling entitlement and obsession

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Kookie guy, you are very cheeky, and you crack me up! Although to be honest, there’s a lot of truth in what you said 🙂

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kook writes: "The music and sessions belong to everyone and u guys are the ones feeling entitlement and obsession"

The music belongs to everyone, but the session belongs to whomever started it. If you want a session to "belong to everyone" then start your own session and declare it as such. You have no entitlement to determine for other people what they do with sessions they’re having.

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That would not be a session but more of an ob-session or odd-session. Or re-aression. Of the recession.

If word is world, we r all twisted in semantical gymnactical. I was truly wrong with my "tone" earlier and I’m surprised I haven’t been kicked off yet. I’m sure if we’d have tunes things would be sorted out. Musically I’m not that quick so.

I would fight for the underdog whatever the topic. All the best

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Phantom Button states: " the session belongs to whomever started it."

Of course I agree with you on this - assuming the person started it in their own home - or as in some cases - in a pub that they own. Or perhaps if the pub owner has set up a ‘hosted session’ as a entertainment for patrons. However, I would take some exception if the person started up a session in a public house.

Any session in a pub has to assume some degree of flexibility toward those who show up. Heaven knows we’ve had our share of ‘clueless newbies’ over the years but such is the price you pay for using such a venue. I’ve also seen session ‘leaders’ be completely and unnecessarily rude toward new players. In my experience, when faced with such situations, some thoughtfulness and a few tactful whispers sets things to rights again. A two-way street indeed.

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MagRoibin, having a session in a public place doesn’t mean you have to adhere to anyone else’s session paradigm—all it means is that it’s happening in a public place. Most people having sessions are inclusive to visitors, but it remains at their discretion exactly how to do so. The problems begin when visitors believe they are entitled to join in and have expectations about what the session should or shouldn’t be. This is really the crux of what’s under discussion here.

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Define visitor

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Visitor: people who visit the session.

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I support Phantom Button’s statements. Maybe it’s different in other parts of the world where people have manners and skill but in the US both are in short supply. Being firm with those who lack the sensitivity and humility to recognize they’re in over their heads is sometimes necessary.

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How nice to see that negative stereotypes are alive and well. Not like the Irish ever suffered from such.

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Bloody Yanks. Humph!!

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We are all visitors on earth.
Do u own the pub? U never answered the question.

U seemed to miss a few things about the culture in my worldly opinion.

U don’t own the sky u don’t own the land u don’t own the music and u don’t own the session.

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Kook, you don’t own the session so why are you thinking you should be able to come in and make it cater to your needs? Respect the session… especially if you’re a visitor.