Big boys’ sessions

Big boys’ sessions

There’s been some mention here lately of “big boys’ sessions”. How would the people who play in such gatherings characterise them? One of the factors seems to be that tunes are often transposed into different keys, but what else separates the big boys (or girls) from the rest of us? Is it speed? Number of tunes played? Instrumentation? Something else? And does anyone have any examples of such sessions they’ve been to? It would help me, because I travel round a fair bit (GB, Ireland, US, Canada, Europe), and would like to know if it was worth taking my fiddle or not. Thanks for any explanations 🙂

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I was hoping that remark in the other thread was a joke but he might have been serious. 🙂 It’s possible to even join in the “big boys sessions” from time to time and they will join you or I , on occasion. If I’m familiar with the tunes, I can usually play them at a fair enough speed and my instrumentation actually improves when I’m forced to play with better players. So, the main thing that would stop me taking part in/or going to a session would be an unfamiliar repertoire.
If by “big boys”, we are talking about professional or big name players, then I probably wouldn’t want to gate crash or impose on their private session although, as I said, it’s not uncommon for them to muck in with the rest us most of the time.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Oh, I should add that even the “big boys and girls” don’t know all the tunes. 🙂

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I saw that reference too Orson, and I’m glad you started this thread because there are a few facets to this concept. I think I was at one of the “Big Boy Sessions” they were talking about. Harry Bradley took me to a session when I was in Ennis once that included Padraig Rynne, Colm Gannon, Yvonne Casey, Marco Pollier, and others I can’t remember, and after about an hour sitting and listening to some great music, Harry turns to me and asks why I wasn’t joining in. I told him I knew a fair amount of the tunes being played, but in different keys. He said, “Oh right, I know what you mean.” and he winked and then started playing all the tunes normally in Amaj and transposed them to the key of G. I don’t know why he thought this would help me, and it seemed to annoy the other musos, but I suppose there was sage advice of some sort there. I proceeded to continue enjoying some brilliant music for a few hours more, and then put my instruments away and we went for dinner.

All the sessions weren’t like that for the most part. That same weekend (it was a Feila at Cruises in 98) I had some great tunes with many other notable “Big Boys” but the transposing-to-any-key sessions were few and far between it seemed. (They probably still happened but the lads told Harry not to bring the clues-less Yank any more.) It turns out that some of the other notable players around town weren’t really that impressed with the transposing sessions, and they referred to some of the players that do them as “speed-o-maniacs.”

I think the important thing to remember when you’re traveling around going to sessions is to listen and try to sort out what kind of session it is exactly before you decide to join in. I’ve been to sessions with internationally acclaimed ITM treasures where the tempo remained steady and sweet, all the tunes were played in common keys, and speed-o-maniacs were not encouraged. But next time I happen on a session like the first one I described – I’ll just leave the instruments in their case and enjoy the music.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I was privy to a fairly heated conversation recently where several very experienced session players were disagreeing about this very topic, ie when to join in & when to keep yer instrument packed up if there are heavy hitters involved. I will be very interested to see how this thread develops, but let’s try to not get it deleted!!!!

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I, along with perhaps the majority of people here, fall somewhere between the beginners and the “big boys”. Beginners sessions do not satisfy and we’re well beyond all that, although we all have different estimations as to how good we actually are. 🙂 However, there remain sessions and situations in which we cannot (or , at least shouldn’t)attempt to take part. In fact, this is probably true for even the best players. So, this notion of “beginners” versus “big boys” is rather simplistic, especially when most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

John

Re: Big boys’ sessions

depends many factors of course. but there are three choices you have, or lets call them bases:
*first base: stay out of the session altogether and just listen
*second base: hang out at the fringes of the session and play humbly in background
*third base: pull up a seat up next to the bigs and play with abandon.

some people forget that simply getting to first base is a mighty special accomplishment to be enjoyed for what it is. how often to you get to just hang out and listen to the bigs at a session? doesn’t happen that often for most. trying to join in with all the attendant stress of “being on the spot” can ruin your own enjoyment of the music. why do that? and if you ruin the session, you’ll be hating yourself for many moons to come. probably not a few people will have put you on their sh*te list too.

what about second and third base? well, one should proceed with extreme caution. this requires an honest appraisal of your own abilities and the level of chutzpah you have to step up to the plate, er, base, factors which will greatly influence the reception you stand to receive. however, should to decide to venture forth, never try to proceed to third base before attending to second base. second base may be as far as you’re permitted to go and if that’s the case, don’t push your luck. enjoy.

now, if things go well at second base, third base may be a possibility. opportunities to move up into the inner circle can often happen toward the end of the night after the first round of craic has been had, perhaps some session chairs open up, and folks are somewhat greased up by the spirits. again, you have to use your own judgment. but if you proceed properly, getting to third base is not as difficult as some make it out to be. just requires some talent (wink, wink), a little bit of confidence, and some garden variety respectful behavior.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Bring it, Orson. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. I took mine to Ireland thinking the players there would be so good I might not get a chance to use it but I ended up playing every single night.

What separates a big boys session from a minor league session is the music is better. That’s about it. Nobody is going to resent you sitting in as long as you’re respectful and let the regulars “fly the plane” (nod to Jack for the excellent metaphor, which I intend to beat to death). Be nice. That’s the main thing. If you really really stink, as I did when I started sitting in with the best players around, ask some intelligent sounding questions about where they got this or that tune, or ask them to recommend some local tune collections or a fiddle teacher.

I still play with people way way way better than me, all the time. I don’t think they have a problem with it because if I don’t know a tune, I don’t play. The tunes I *do* know are solid enough to blend, and if I am leading a set I hardly ever drop the ball, lose the beat, or get stuck playing the same sets of tunes all the time. I still pretty much stink, but it is theoretically possible to play with me now and not lose your lunch, because I picked up the rhythm and flow from playing with the “big boys” all the time. I’ve never been to a beginner session.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Some excellent points made here. Well done class!
I especially agree with John J that every player will find some sessions where they shouldn’t play - because they don’t know the style/repertiore, for example - but for lots of other very individual reasons. The trick is to have the sense to sus it out before you put your foot in it!
Brendan’s three base plan is a good one, and I think he’s right that sometimes it’s better to enjoy and absorb a wonderful big league session that to stress yourself out trying to join in.
f.o.v. has a really good point, too, I think. You will get a lot more out of soaring with the eagles than flying with the turkeys, so to speak. “Be nice” yes yes yes, and know when not to play.
Funnily enough, I’ve heard some of the big boys say that they sometimes find it just as difficult joining in ordinary sessions because (especially if they’re a bit famous) people get nervous, so they don’t always bother.

Posted by .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I guess I’ve been lucky – the ‘bigs’ I’ve played with have always been welcoming and very friendly. My own approach to the situation has always been the same, though, so why wouldn’t you expect them to reciprocate? We’re all just people with a love of the tunes. I think it helps to show through your behavior and demeanor that you’re not out to impress anyone, or too eager to be impressed by anyone else. Just another humble session player who knows how it works, with a decent sense of rhythm, pitch, and timing, a few really good tunes, and an even better sense of humor. That’ll make you welcome anywhere.

Posted .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I’ve also been privy to conversations about “ordinary sessions” (as Kris calls them) with some of the heavy hitters. They get weary of things like: medley hijacking, people playing tunes even though they don’t know them, people playing off pitch, endless tune addendums, tunes starting up again out of the blue before you even had a chance to relax, take a sip, say hello to your neighbor etc., and lame back-up. I’ve seen some of them join in with the best intentions only to be driven away by these sorts of factors. I think this could be the reason they sometimes feel trepidation when “ordinary musicians” show up at their sessions.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I’ve had the same experience as you Will, but have you ever been to a session like the first one I described in this thread?

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Jack, I sat next to a well known backer once who played fiddle the entire session, and he occasionally wandered into odd keys, but he quickly saw that the rest of us were over our heads and came back to the “normal” keys. I’ve also seen sessions of top-tier players rolling through warhorse after old warhorse (tunes even I know) in nothing but standard keys, and enjoying the hell out of themselves. And one of my favorite memories is of Mike and Mary Rafferty, Kevin Crawford, Tom Doorley, and some wide-eyed locals, all on keyless D flutes, all following Mr. Rafferty’s (the senior player) lead, playing mostly G, D, and E dorian reels, nice and easy. Heaven. The table in the middle was full of spare flutes, and after every set, everyone would reach in and try a different flute.

I should say I’ve also seen ‘famous’ players gladly hand their instruments over to a newbie and ask for a tune, or stop everything and ask for a tune over again so they can learn it. Some bands make a point of inviting local players to open for them, or join them onstage for a set or two. Some touring players hunt down local sessions and ask to sit in just to enjoy the local flavor. Obviously, some of the ‘big boys and girls’ haven’t let it go to their heads at all.

Posted .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

The transposing session I witnessed would probably only happen in Ireland, but I too have seen plenty of well-known ITM “big boys” behaving very civilized when they’re over here, and in Ireland too, especially if there’s an “old timer” about – even the most flamboyant, show-offy ones will settle down. The “transposing session” that I saw is something that few have witnessed I guess, and that’s probably a good thing since it almost made me give up all together.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, Jack. Sounds like something people should do in the privacy of their own homes, or on their personal albums, instead of in a session where it’s likely to be frustrating to players who know the tunes, but not in F # minor. That said, if I saw somebody doing that I’d be pretty darn impressed. Sometimes I take one tune and learn it in a few different keys just for a challenge, but it hurts my brain jumping around like that.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Bring fiddle and play if you want to. It’s session, that’s what they’re for. Just act like you would if you were introduced to an existing group of old friends who are having a conversation.

Posted by .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

SL, you’ve mentioned two important things here. “Introduced” and “old friends who are having a conversation”. Just as it’s rude to butt into a conversation uninvited, the same applies to a session. Of course, there are some very welcoming and open sessions where a formal introduction may not be necessary. However, common sense should dictate your actions. If in doubt, ask first.
Re the “conversation between friends” -old or otherwise—, you don’t fully enter a conversation unless you understand it. You can sit and listen, and perhaps occasionally add a question or comment, if you think it helps (you or them). The same applies to a music session. If you’re unsure take a back seat.

John

Re: Big boys’ sessions

And here’s me butting on this conversation completely unintroduced. 🙂

Anyway, I think you’re right about session manners. But what you’re saying there would apply any session, even the most desperate sounding one.

The point I’m making is that the fact that are “big boys” (male or otherwise) and you view yourself as a “mere mortal” is no reason in and of its own to stay out of sessions. I fact I believe the distinction is artificial, silly and unhelpful.

You might want to stay out of a session for all sorts of reasons. Too fast, too slow, not enoug minor reels, too many minor reels, not enough dishy musicians, not bothered to play this style this night, and so on. But it’s about style, preference, who you socially get on with. It’s not about being “worthy” to play with someone. Needless to say, sessions aren’t about who’re the best musician.

Posted by .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Amen to that SL

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I thought I recognised my own writing there.
I used the phrase “big boys’ session” after someone complained it was rude to play in F on the fiddle because he/she wanted to play their flute (but couldn’t play in F - diddums). As usual, it was more tongue-in-cheek along the lines of - “Don’t play with the big-boys down the alley, you might get hurt”. It certainly wasn’t meant to signify big-name players.

A big-boys’ (and girls’) session should be where the most of the people play most of the tunes most of the night.

(Government Health Warning - tunes may vary in key week by week).

Can we have more big-girls’ sessions for big-boys to go to, please.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

If you can add to the music, then play. If you would detract by playing, don’t. Work at it until you can add.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

That’s it, in a nutshell, Zina.

Posted by .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I looked at SL*‘s profile and it seems that he/she has just joined the website. I would like to point out to SL that we have discussed session etiquette ad-nausium on this site and will continue to do so I’m sure. But this particular thread isn’t really about session etiquette per se, but rather about what might be considered “big boys,” and what happens when you stumble upon one of their sessions. On this site we have covered many aspects of session etiquette concerning the sessions we’re all part of, and SL*’s comments would pertain, but this thread is about sessions that few of us encounter on a regular basis. SL* might want to do a search with the words “session etiquette” and see what I mean.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

You’re right in that those were my very first two posts. I have lurked a little while before signing up.

As for veering off the topic. I didn’t mean to and I don’t completely see how I did except that I only replied to one of the questions.

As I see it Orson Carte wanted to know to things:

1. What makes a session a “big boys” session? Please give examples.
2. Is it worth bringing the fiddle?

I didn’t address nr 1 (others did it quite nicely). To question 2. I gave my considered opinion. I thought it important because I didn’t want OC to miss out on any musical enjoyment by not bringing the fiddle, which I personally believe would be a big mistake.

I do know what you mean, though. I’ve been through zillions of session etiquette discussions in non-virtual life. Sometimes it can be quite enjoyable to get together and rant, but I guess you must have thought “oh dear, not the old ‘when to play and when not to play’ discussion AGAIN. So if I derailed this thread in that way I do apologise for that part.

Posted by .

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Well, welcome to The Session, SL*!

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I must admit my question was a little tongue in cheek, but there have been some very interesting answers. I haven’t been to many sessions where transposing is something you need to worry about, but maybe I’ve just been going to the wrong sessions (and/or hanging out with flute players too long). In the thread that spawned this one I was trying to point out that people can actually get by in Irish music playing tunes in very few keys, with a limited (if specialized) technique. And I like Geoff Wright’s definition of a big boys’/girls’ session 🙂

Re: Big boys’ sessions

No apology is necessary SL*, It seemed to me that you weren’t appreciating the gist of the thread when you said, “In fact I believe the distinction (Big Boys) is artificial, silly and unhelpful.” But that’s what we’re talking about. For example: I love discussing politics, but if I walked into a room where Noem Chomsky, John Pilger, Greg Palast, and Robert Fisk were sitting around a table discussing things – I would probably just listen.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

Sorry… NOAM Chomsky I mean. (This underlines why I would probably just listen) :¬{

Re: Big boys’ sessions

ah,there’s no place like noam…

Re: Big boys’ sessions

I think a “big boys” session is when you sit down with your instrument, you hear soft murmurs such as “ah, fresh fish!”, and one of the “big boys” leans in close as an expectant hush falls across the room, and asks “So..d’ye know any tunes?” It’s time to G.A.G.-gulp and go!

Re: Big boys’ sessions

David, I chose those fellows because they would all agree – I didn’t want to compare playing in a session with arguing. I can just imagine what the responses might have been if the allegory included folks like Pat Robertson and Bill O’Reilly.

Re: Big boys’ sessions

My well? I don’t have a well. But to quote Bugs Bunny; “All’s well that ends in a well.”

Re: Big boys’ sessions

OR, read right to left, looking _out_ of a well….

Posted .

Re: I dare you!

No matter what level you are at, the maxim for a session previously unvisited is -

Bring your instrument ………. if you dare.