Anti social sessions ?

Anti social sessions ?

During the summer of last year I attended what was best called an anti social session in Dublin . The three that were starting the session ( well known and brilliant ) were reluctant to introduce themselves or say hi and refused to play tunes that were pipe friendly or keyless flute friendly .. My friends were playing these at the time . Even after starting some well known session tunes the session starters refused to join in even though they obviously knew the tunes . After leaving I was a bit shocked at the hostility and unfriendliness of the musicians . If anyone has any experiences like these please comment , Im interested to here your opinions ! The social aspect of traditional music still remains the most important to me and many others would probably agree with me . Thankfully this has the been the first and only session I’ve encountered like this …

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On this subject;
- I think a session should be a mixture of well known tunes and lesser known tunes.
- if people are only interested in playing their own lesser known tunes then they should consider a solo performance over a session.
- I can see how some tunes bore you when you’ve played them too much, but actively refusing to join in on all "standard" /well known tunes is, for me, a sign of disrespect. I would like to see other views on this however.

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Lots and lots of discussions about sessions that don’t meet your musical or social expectations.

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Did you introduce yourself and ask if the session was open?

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Were they in fact on a stage, with lights, and a PA, and paying listeners?

leoj makes a good point.

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It was the usual open session which runs almost weekly in a sit down setting . I’ve attended many sessions there before !

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Well, then it wasn’t an ‘open session.’ Some sessions look open, but they are really not.

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You say:-
"The three that were starting the session…."
and
"I’ve attended many sessions there before !"
I’m having difficulty reconciling these statements, since you don’t seem to suggest that the problem was that three brilliant but unfriendly musicians turned up one day…..

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Yes it’s true that some open sessions aren’t really that, but I’m not sure it matters. When you come upon an anti-social session, walk away, don’t look back…be better. The players may in fact be magnificent. The world is FULL of magnificent players. You loose nothing by leaving behind those that can’t put talent together with human decency. The problem is yours to rise above. By the way, this adaptation works for almost any human endeavor. If you’re not happy walk away.

Be aware enough to spot the "closed session" and choose to stay and enjoy it for what it is, or not, but don’t be angry because the universe didn’t live up to your expectation. It rarely does.

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^^ What DrSilverSpear said. There are sessions around tables, with no mics, in a pub, but that have more of a ‘gig’ than session vibe. I think there are varying degrees of openness too, and I imagine some Dublin sessions might be wary of newcomers, given how often strangers must pass through and potentially wreck their lovely tunes with their mates. If I encountered outright hostility I think I’d just cut my losses and pack up rather than sit through it all night.

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To be honest, and I take on board what other contributors are saying, but the behaviour of the three residents does show a lack of cop-on, or knowing how to deal with what they consider as "blow-ins". No-one, I repeat, no-one, is too big to be rude.
I’ve occasionally managed to wangle a seat near good players and their response to being in the company of a mere mortal varies, as does all of human nature. In general I have been treated with the respect my playing deserves….from being grudgingly tolerated to being almost appreciated (were I to play a set unbeknown to said hosts.)
I have been verbally abused and threatened, but never by a musician, or at least someone whose musicianship I respect. I have been pointedly ignored, by session players from both ends of the spectrum: from primadonnas down to…erm..session primagravidas.
I have also been on the other side: where, as one of a group of paid players I’ve suffered having to deal with all sorts of goat-thumpers, cutlery clatterers, 3-chord-guitar-thrashers, out-of-tune-singers, sexist/racist-joke-tellers, recorder-tootlers, as well as you name it.
Session playing takes all sorts. Having to deal with all the sh1t wears you down, as it has done me anyway. I just like to turn up to the regular and knock out a few sets with my music friends, or sometimes head off to someone else’s session and join in with their fun.
There is so much real crap going on in the world we should be thankful that all we can get annoyed about is some primadonna ignoring you. It’s worthwhile keeping that perspective.

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Some sessions are less tolerant of strangers than others. At some sessions, newcomers are treated better than the folks who have been going there for a long time. Each session is different. It is better if you go in to a session for the first time without any expectations, except to listen and enjoy the music, you will be better off than if you walk in expecting to have a particular type of experience. Then, whatever happens beyond the listening is all gravy.

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I don’t know why an adult would chose to be a passive aggressive jerk when it is so easy to simply smile and say "sorry, this isn’t an open session", but there you have it.

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Did you greet them?

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Went to Limerick for a mid-week break some years ago and enquired about where the session was. Got directed to a pub near the docks. Found the pub, 3 or 4 musicians playing and singing (my sort of session,- I’m primarily a singer) and in a break in the proceedings I introduced meself to the musicians. Offered to play a couple and asked the guitarist for the loan of her guitar. Well f**k me! She froze like a rabbit in the headlights, clutched her precious instrument as tightly to her fevered breast as possible, and shrunk. Yes, shrunk back in her seat, clutching her guitar and WOULD NOT GIVE IT UP!! I have never had such a rejection, ever. I felt like a leper, or a pervert, or some sort of a guitar molester. She never spoke, didn’t need to, the body language said it all. So being the forgiving good natured Christian that I am, I thought well F**k you and all yer hateful misbegotten clan, f**k off & die, then fry in a hellish lake of molten guitar strings. I’ve now been playing & singing for 50 years, and I’ve never ever ever had a reception like that anywhere in Ireland, EXCEPT IN LIMERICK. headed back to the hotel and was told where to find a proper session. Upstream up the right bank of the river, turn off up near the top of the hill and look for "the big house with a car park." Where me & she had a great night.

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Damn Alexander…

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Is it really that common to in Ireland to walk into a session for the first time, and expect one of the musicians to loan you their instrument? Really? As a counterpoint to the post about the guitar player who "clutched her guitar and WOULD NOT GIVE IT UP!!…

Several years ago I was backing on guitar in a semi-regular session, among friends at a local pub. Several folks were listening to us play over at the bar. One of them walked over… a big friendly guy, and asked very nicely if he could borrow my guitar to sit in and play one song. I had been in the habit of loaning out my instrument to friends once in a while, but this time I was trying to be extra-accommodating for the sake of the venue that had agreed to host us.

Now, I’m usually a good judge of character and state of inebriation, but this guy fooled me. He appeared stone cold sober, but in fact was flying pretty high. After I handed over my guitar and loaned him a pick, he immediately started trying to tune the guitar with violent twisting of the tuners, even though the guitar was perfectly in tune and he wasn’t even trying to put it into some alternate tuning. I started to object, but then he began playing his song, singing and strumming very aggressively. I mean HARD strumming. I finally got the guitar back, and was so glad for that episode to be over that I didn’t notice he left two scratches on the top, above the bottom string, until I got home later that evening.

Those two scratches on my Santa Cruz guitar are still there to this day, as a reminder that no stranger will ever touch my guitar again. Just one experience like that is enough to trump "friendliness to strangers" at a session for me, because people are just too hard to judge in advance.

The alternative, of course, is to just carry a "beater" instrument to a session. And I used to do that. But I enjoy the sound and playability of my better instruments, so these days I take the risk of anything *I* might do to cause damage. But I won’t add to the risk by loaning out to strangers.

Regarding the OP, there may have been some issues at that particular session, but then we’re only hearing one side of the story. I imagine the guy that damaged my guitar might have thought I was being rude by only letting him play one song on it.

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Interesting comments there . Cheeky Elf I couldn’t agree more . My friends and I would be accomplished musicians and not the session wrecking type !
Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and playing with some brilliant musicians that I would look up to /admire and I personally think there’s no excuse for being ignorant and rude in Irish music . Yes I’m aware that some sessions are "closed" but this was advertised as an open session . I didn’t end up staying the night there anyway , I only lasted an hour at most! If one of these "antisocial " "open session" musicians has a solid reason for acting in such a way and degrading the sociability of irish music I would gladly listen !

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Conical Bore that’s a good point regarding previous issues , personally I hate letting people borrow my instruments unless if heard them play before hand or know them ! I suppose what surprised me the most was this hostile experience happened in a pub well known for friendly sessions … I’m just glad I’ve never had a similar experience since then but touch wood .
In response to Jerome , yes we introduced ourselves after the first set or two only to be responded with limited eye contact and chit chat .

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Traveling to Ireland and you didn’t bother to take an instrument? I don’t think there is any problem with the woman not wanting to lend her guitar out to a complete stranger. Would be extremely nice of her to lend it to you, simply because there is no obligation on her part. I certainly have a few instruments I would be very hesitant to hand over to someone I didn’t know, simply because of their value.

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I too have visited a session that was advertising itself without any use of the words "closed" or "gig", but it seemed that the three leading musicians, name musicians, were not interested in making unfamiliar musicians welcome. I didn’t go back although it would have been quite a local handy gig to visit otherwise.
We try to run our own little session in a different way, although the person who thought that we could treat the pub regulars as an audience and regale them with his own songs was eventually discouraged from returning. Fortunately the landlady keeps a couple of guitars out, including a left-handed one strung right-handed, so you’ll never get it in tune ( wasn’t me, honest guv !) and is very useful for any drunken carousers…..

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Earl maked a good point Alexander. Some people have very expensive instruments. I was at a party one of my coworker friends was throwing and many of us being musicians, we always bring our instruments. For the first time, my friend brought out a very expensive guitar of hers. It was either $10k or $13k, I don’t remember.

Before we started the "song circle", she looked all of us in the eye and said, "If any of you hurt this guitar, I will kill you". Needless to say, we let her play first.

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Done the same as Conical, but with a mid-range Boehm flute, to some dude who, according to his friends was the best Irish player of the Boehm in London. Well, he wasn’t - he was OK, had good flow á la Paddy Carty, etc etc, but pished, and was no Carty….and was brandishing my nice wee Yamaha around in between the 3 sets I let him get away with, till I friendlily and gently but firmly prised it out of his grasp. Never again. And I like to think I’m an accomodating kind of chap.
I once turned up worse for wear and instrumentless, due to unforeseen circumstances, to a well-known sesh in South Wimbledon and asked if I might borrow a whistle (since I daren’t ask for a flute) - a regular host kindly supplied me with said instrument. I like to think I did it some justice, but I’d known a lot of these guys from years back so that was a bit different. I wouldn’t be so presumtuous to strangers.

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In regards to the OP I’m sorry to hear of an experience like that. Usually courtesy and manners are returned the same. I’ve only been to enough sessions to count on 1 hand, but they’ve all been friendly and welcoming. But I do have a fear that one day I may come across a session that gives me a less than friendly experience. I would think that most musical circles would see other musicians as guests rather than mere visitors or strangers.

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Never expect a stranger to lend you an instrument. It might be nice if they do, but for you to count on it, and then curse them under your breath, when they quite properly refuse is really bad form on your part. You have no idea what that instrument means to them — and your presumption was out of place. Your request clearly put them into a very awkward situation and it sounds like you did not give a sincere apology.

Regarding the OP’s experience, it is impossible to tell when only hearing one side of the story. Appreciate that they might have felt you were rude to try to break into their session. To my mind, the leader always gets to decide how the session runs. If it is not to your tastes, you can go elsewhere.

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People who play this music tend to make their feelings know via passive aggression, like your hotshot musos in the OP. They’re big guns who don’t want to once more play Morrison’s or the Kesh or the Maid Behind the Whatever or She Begs For More, I’m guessing. I don’t want to play those numbers any more even once, it’s even painful to type out their titles, sob wince…;) Well, I’ve tried to explain this to people sometimes. If you’re really keen on this music you move on to other things, bigger repertoire or faster tempos or financial remuneration, etc.

The thing about passive aggression I first encountered in Mick Moloney’s doctoral thesis, of all things, he said he’d never once encountered someone directly confront someone in a session about their bad behavior, which includes bringing on the warhorses when the veteran musicians want to play something else. Or play at some blistering tempo. Or maybe the hotshots in the OP are just jerks.

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A couple thoughts:

- There’s no excuse for being rude.

If someone’s trying to join in but obviously not working (due to a lack of tact, talent, or both), I’ve seen plenty of session leaders subtly or not so subtly nudge them out, and do so politely. Have them start a set or a song, bear it for a couple minutes, then when it’s done, say "thank you" and continue on with the night. If they don’t take the hint, you can be more forward, but a little politeness up front goes a long way.

If you’re a newcomer, don’t expect them to let you in. I always listen for a few sets, then walk over with my flute case, ask the group if I can sit in, and if they say yes, pick a spot that isn’t in anyone’s way. I pick and choose carefully based on what I think the dynamic is (hence the listening), and haven’t been rejected or asked to leave yet. But if you are asked to leave or not to join, don’t storm out, just thank them and either sit and listen or head out.

- Be up front. If it’s more of a gig, just say so. Don’t let someone sit in, then stew while they "ruin" everything before snapping at them. If you’d like to join, don’t sneak your way over and just start opening your case. If you’re matter of fact, people will generally understand that it’s "business, not personal" as they say in the gangster movies.

- Don’t expect someone to give you their instrument. Even cheap-looking instruments to their owner might be too precious to lose or get broken. A friend of mine is a piano box player, and his main instrument is rather small, has duct tape on the bellows, and generally looks beat up. He’s also done very well at the Fleadh on it, and in my mind it’s got the best sound of any PA I’ve heard.

- If you’re a singer, learn songs you can sing unaccompanied. It’s arguably more traditional, and people (in my experience) are very impressed if you can do it right. Old ballads and sea chanties work well, as long as they’re not too depressing (don’t want to bring the mood down). And you do have to practice singing unaccompanied, IMHO it’s much harder than singing with an instrument. If you sing well and they like you, someone will invariably offer up their instrument if they want you to sing again and you ask politely.

I’ve been the newcomer and I’ve been the session leader. In general, I like to keep things fairly welcoming and appreciate the same in sessions I attend. I’ve seen some rudeness and lack of tact from all parties, and in the end I think it says more about you if you can be polite in the face of rudeness than the other way around. A night of not playing or a couple sets of clattering spoons or sputtering playing isn’t going to ruin your life.

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I have just moved to the area of Boise, Idaho - been here for only a month. There is a weekly session at an establishment called The Ha’penny. So far, I’ve been there twice. Let me recount my first sojourn:

When I arrived, there were about six people there. Two of them immediately came over to me with a hand extended to shake mine and make my acquaintance. Wouldn’t you know that both of them are contributors here. One of the session leaders asked if I was used to playing ITM and asked what tunes I liked. I answered and added that flute was my instrument and I also played bodhran, and wondered if bodhran was welcome at the session and did anyone else play. The answer was yes and yes, and I thought asking had been a good decision.

The level of playing and tempos were good and I liked the choice of tunes. I was asked to start a set and did so. During the course of the evening, I also played bodhran and bones and did a solo slow tune, which went over quite well. A lady next to me, who danced and played fine fiddle, asked why I hadn’t played at the session before (she was a later arrival - all together we ended up with 15 players), and added that she thought my playing was "awesome."

The proprietor kept our glasses full of beer throughout the session and the evening ended with more participants coming over to me to shake hands and introduce themselves.

All session members played on most tunes, most took a turn starting sets, and joy permeated the room, with players, listeners and staff all behaving like this was fresh and new, rather than something that had been going on here for 12 years. Everyone became my friend and there was not even a hint of attitude. I can think of not a single reason why all sessions, no matter where or with whom, should not be this way, but such is not always the case. I got lucky and am thankful I landed in Boise. I think I’m going to like it here.

Yep.

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Green Mountain. "The social aspect of traditional music still remains the most important to me"

It would indeed be a better world if all traditional musicians adopted that same philsophy. Unfortunately, reality is sometimes rather different - as you found out.

"No man is an island" - John Donne.

We could modify that one to read : "No session is an island".

Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

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I don’t lend my instrument to strangers. If someone came up an asked to borrow my car, I wouldn’t just hand over the keys and let them get on with it. Why react differently when the request relates to an instrument?

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I’m with the guitarist who "… shrunk back in her seat, clutching her guitar and WOULD NOT GIVE IT UP!!"
She said no - end of. If a stranger came up to me and asked to use my instrument I’d absolutely say no too.
But to try and make out that the guitarist is in the wrong here in such a demeaning and patronising manner is frankly arrogant and disrespectful.

Regarding the OP, there are some great musicians out there who want to play music as well as they can. I guess it must be frustrating to have others not up to their standard bringing the level down. However, that is what a pub session is all about - it’s not a stage performance. Unless the session is clearly closed then no one should frozen out.

Some of the best sessions I’ve been lucky enough to play in have a great mix of abilities where the less able actively try and raise their game and the better players come down a notch.

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I would lend an instrument, without hesitation, to anyone who I knew to be either a decent musician, or at least a decent person with good intentions. I’ve often swapped / loaned instruments with strangers too for a few sets, mostly at festival sessions, but we would always have had at least a set of tunes before this happens. I can absolutely see why someone would be reluctant to hand their instrument to an absolute total stranger, especially if their instrument was worth a few quid. I have certainly seen clueless numpties ‘borrow’ a guitar at a session, and have to have it almost wrestled back off them. For some reason the guitar seems to be the instrument most prone to this at sessions I have been too - presumably because everyone and their mother seems to at least know a handful of chords. A similar thing happens fairly frequently with drunk people who demand to be allowed to sing a song, and it quickly turns out they have no sense of pitch, melody, and are so trashed they can’t remember the words.

I can sort of see where the session leaders from the OP were coming from if they were just wary of newcomers. I used to co-host an open session in a pub that got a fair bit of tourist traffic in the summers, so it wasn’t unusual to have a stranger ask to join us. For the vast majority of these occasions we had a great time with the newcomer, but very occasionally you’d get someone who really made the session a bit of a struggle. After suffering through one of those, I’d sometimes be a bit wary the next time someone asked to join in. Of course, I’d get over it once I heard them play a tune or had a chat with them, but I’d be lying if I said I never felt a bit apprehensive when a new person sat in. If the session in the OP is in one of the pubs in Dublin known far and wide for trad music, then I imagine they must experience this on a far larger scale.

I think it’s a bit of a typically Irish thing to allow someone to sit in, and ignore them for the evening, rather than telling them up front that they’d rather you didn’t join in at all. Only once, at a session in Ireland, have I asked if I could join a session and got such a frosty response upfront that I had a pint at the bar and went elsewhere. I wasn’t told "No, you can’t", but this person’s attitude made it clear that I could sit in but it would probably be better if I didn’t. As things happened I found a lovely session in a different pub 🙂 The other thing that has only ever happened to me once is where I asked if I could join a smallish session, was told "Yeah, sure", and was totally ignored by the others much like the OP. Out of curiosity, have many people actually asked to join a session and been told straight out "No, this is a closed session"? I almost can’t imagine getting that response here in a pub.

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"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."

William Shakespeare
Hamlet Act 1, scene 3.

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Ah, sage advice there from the old Polonius. That still brings back traumatic memories of the English leaving cert. exam I did around 15 years ago…

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"Out of curiosity, have many people actually asked to join a session and been told straight out "No, this is a closed session"? I almost can’t imagine getting that response here in a pub."

I’m not doubting you, but that just boggles my mind.

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Here’s another revolutionary idea: a little sign on the table.

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Cheeky Elf, it’s possibly a particularly Irish thing, to not say ‘No’ and instead just sit there and stew for the evening! I wouldn’t be surprised if our cousins across the Atlantic were more likely to give an upfront ‘No’.

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Well, considering the Irish language does not have a straighforward word for "no" that’s not surprising.

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Greendraggon, I have always thought that was a funny thing about Irish, and it really has seeped in to how we speak English too. I very often answer a question with the verb from the original question without even realising it.

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"Well, considering the Irish language does not have a straighforward word for "no" that’s not surprising."

So what would be a close to literal translation of "Ní hea"? I thought it was odd that "Yes" translated to one word while "No" translated to two… I hope I don’t have to delete this app -.-

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Jerone, you’re opening a whole can of worms there 🙂 "Ní hea" is a negative response to a question, but it only makes sense as an answer to certain types of question. I have a lot of trouble articulating why this is - if you search online for information about the ‘copula’ in the Irish language you should find some explanations. For the life of me I can never explain the difference between ‘Tá" and "is" and what exactly the copula is!

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FYI Jerone, there’s no one word for yes either. You answer the question with a positive form of the verb that was used when asking the question.

If you asked/answered questions in English the way you would in Irish you would have something like this:
Q. "Are you going to the session tonight?"
A. "I am". (rather than yes) or "I’m not"/"I amn’t" (rather than no).

Q. "Is that a fiddle you have there?"
A. "It is" (rather than yes) or "It isn’t" (rather than no).

I think we use this approach a lot in spoken English here, and I think it’s probably more prevalent among older people and in more rural areas.

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Copula? Oh goodness what have I gotten myself into…

Since Irish is such a complicated language, I figured the absolute least I could do is learn a few single vocabulary words. Who knew languages could be so widely different that even a word as simple as "no" can’t be directly translated! >.< Alright Irish! I see what I’m dealing with now! Challenge accepted! >:O

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The OP says "refused to play tunes that were pipe friendly or keyless flute friendly." What did they play then, and in what keys? It wasn’t an Eb session was it?
Plenty of comments have been made (yet again) that are fair enough in general terms, but it feels as if there’s more to the original story than we’ve heard.

When it comes to silent disgruntlement and saying nothing etc, I think the English can give the Irish a run for their money any day!

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TomB-R, I’ve been to many sessions that weren’t Eb sessions, but that were very fiddle-centric and where a lot of the tunes the fiddlers played weren’t necessarily tunes your average flute player/piper would play unless they were used to playing with fiddlers a lot. I’m thinking the sorts of tunes that go below bottom D a lot, that have lots of prominent accidentals, or that are in funny keys like Gminor etc.

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Totally agree Colman, I’m just curious as to what was actually going on at Green Mountain’s session, and why.

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I’m really curious about which pub it was… I don’t think he’s going to advertise that though!

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2 April 2015
I think that in Celtic languages, such as Irish and Welsh, when you answer a question by repeating the verb of the question you are giving a more direct and meaningful answer than the real possibility of an ambiguity that can result from a simple "yes"/"no" answer in English. The Celtic response is also naturally more polite.

Trevor (Anglo-Welsh)

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There are no less than 3 sessions around Portland which are "closed" in a sense, two are quasi-gigs, at one of these I’ve sat in but was told at one point that I’d have to arrive even later in the evening, the regulars get paid to play there. At another you just can’t sit in period unless you’re pals with one of the participants, I gather; have never bothered with trying to sit in there at all. At the 3rd session they seem to use the "closed session" line as an excuse to get rid of amateurs.

Sometimes I’ll just play obscurities with friends and ignore those who want to trot out the Blarney Pilgrim, which is closing down a session in a sense. I mean, I’ll play the BP but when we’re done it’s back to Moll Rua and Colonel Fraser and the Flowers of Spring.

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The strange old world of traditional music were three people are playing tunes together in a pub and it’s assumed it’s a session where anyone can join in! Would it be better if these "well known and brilliant" musicians stayed in the kitchen if they wanted a tune together? It’s very likely they also play many open sessions. What I’m trying to say is, is it a session just because people are playing unamplified traditional music in a pub?

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I reckon Yanks and the various identities that make up the UK are all just as capable of and likely to use passive-aggressive session behaviour as the Irish. Don’t think you guys have a monopoly on that one.

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The most curious thing I find about this discussion is why the OP has posted her/his message many months after ‘the summer of last year’. Why raise the issue now?

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At the famous session in Seejithorpe, they keep shakey eggs, bodhrans and banjos behind the bar for tourists to pick up and join in for the Kesh Jig, which plays on loop through the MIDI jukebox. An antique metronome that hasn’t stopped since the war keeps them all in check.

All are welcome. In nearby villages it’s known as "Schrödinger’s session" due to its open/closed nature.

The VAF hanging above the fireplace commemorates the occasion when Llig, Will Harmon and Zina pitched up to teach the local Comhaltas branch how to play a good D major arpeggio in both 2/2 and 4/4 time.

The kitchen does a roaring trade in gourmet wigs with un-muted mustard (none of this modern toned-down stuff). Pure Drop® Ear Canal Oil is always on tap, and there’s a SyrupStik vending machine in the corner.

Each week the locals discuss the same topics at great length, sometimes stopping to admire the hot water bottle collection on display in the back room. One of the regular’s is a big fan of apostrophe’s,,,, too.

Best of all, this session isn’t a performance, and it IS legal in England & Wales!

p.s. The landlord does a sterling job keeping it all together.

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I hope that there are massive three-ringed binders on every table, filled with the lyrics to such rousing favorites as "Galway Girl" and "Black Velvet Band".

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"If someone came up an asked to borrow my car, I wouldn’t just hand over the keys and let them get on with it. Why react differently when the request relates to an instrument?"

You can’t drive off in an instrument.

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My comments earlier, on being refused the loan of a guitar at a session were OTT, even with the inclusion of asterisks, and indeed as some of you have pointed out, there was no compulsion on the guitarist to allow any one else to play her instrument. I was making a clumsy attempt to say how taken aback I was to be refused. Never happened to me before, never happened since. My comments on the matter aren’t going to happen again either.
Alex.

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Instruments are very personal possessions to musicians (and may have cost thousands of euros). I would be very taken aback if someone I did not know asked to borrow my banjo for a few tunes. A friend, or someone I knew from the session would be fine but a stranger, forget it. And you are maybe over the top in coming down on Limerick for this = cheap shot.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I would agree with most on loaning an instrument. To known, sober, players, probably. To complete strangers, no, often generating the reaction of Alexander on the part of the asker. In the latter situation, I sometimes soften the response a bit by showing them the repaired crack in the headstock (actually from long before I bought the guitar) and say "this is what happened the last time I lent it to someone. Sorry."

Alternately: "Sure you can borrow it, as long as you don’t mind if I borrow your car/wife/husband/pin #."

Re: Anti social sessions ?

In response to Scutcher.
"The most curious thing I find about this discussion is why the OP has posted her/his message many months after ‘the summer of last year’. Why raise the issue now?
- I had completely forgotten about it until a friend told my about an experience similar to mine .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

One thing I’ve discovered since attempting to transition from mandolin to flute, for most of my melody playing, is that even close friends don’t usually ask to borrow my flute.

This is due to many factors, no doubt. A big one is the scarcity of actual flute players compared to guitar players in the wider world. But I suspect it’s also the hygiene issue. It’s a bit like asking a stranger if they’d mind a French kiss…

Re: Anti social sessions ?

you stick your tongue in your flute?

Posted by .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I was approached by a fellow at my session who wanted a shot of my mandolin. He said it was ok, he could play the mandolin; I let him know he wouldn’t be playing mine. I’m happy to let players I know try it out but I don’t let strangers, drunks or prats touch it.
I think it is bad manners or a lack of courtesy to expect a musician to hand over the tool of the trade to a possible buffoon.

Posted .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

If anyone asks to borrow my fiddle the answer is always"Yes, you can have a go on my fiddle if I can have a go on your wife." I think that is a fair exchange.

A few of years ago I took a newly finished mandolin to a session because someone there had asked to see it. Because the customer only ever picks melody he didn’t want a scratch plate on it. While I was away having a smoke an American visitor to the session picked it up and started thrashing chords whilst shouting a White Stripes song. 1/8" pick furrows in the french polished soundboard meant I had to make a completely new top before I could deliver it.

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Mark, that’s sickening! I would’ve had his head! Did no one try to stop him?

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No, they all just looked on aghast. Everyone is far too polite round these parts.

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-Speechless-

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Asking to borrow the instrument from someone you don’t know is the rudeness I’m afraid, not being the one being in the awkward position of having to refuse.

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I’ve had countless requests to borrow my harmonicas at pub sessions. Almost invariably, the person asking was offended when I refused. Apart from the fact that all my harmonicas are carefully maintained, tweaked to my personal preferences and kept hygienically clean, I can’t quite understand why some beery bloke thinks I’m wrong to refuse a free gift of his saliva and mouth crud. On one occasion a drunken fellow seized one of my harps from the table in front of me and blasted down it. He blew out a reed, rendering the thing useless. He was most contrite, and, next time he came in (just as drunk), he gave me a harmonica to make reparation - that he’d clearly bought from a market toy stall!

Re: Anti social sessions ?

It’s true that there is widespread passive aggressiveness that leads to a silence instead of openness and honesty.

I reckon that’s just a problem with people in general and not just trad musicians.

I hope we can agree to just explain our specific situation to outsiders - opposed to basking in annoyance and a perceived moral high-ground 🙂

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Mark, I can’t count the times I’ve posted that one should never, ever, ever leave an instrument unattended outside of your home or that of a friend. Theft, someone trying it, a splashed beer, an unfortunate knock…just don’t do it. I won’t even leave my flute in a locked car or hotel room.

Posted by .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

Somehow this thread has moved from the idea of social interaction to a discussion on sharing instruments. As to the first, you have my response…show ‘em your backside. No repartee, no resentment…as my friend says "it’s their circus and their monkey". The next place you go will either be more, or less, welcoming. If you feel put out just remember that feeling when a stranger sits down at your table some day. A polite thing to ask after hearing things out a bit is "may I join you, or is your session closed". A polite answer is "have a seat…or yes it is closed". It is as rude to invite a person in and then shut them out as it is to bust into a session un-invited.

To the notion of lending your instrument, It’s better to become a judge of a person’s sense of responsibility. You can get a pretty good feel by the way they talk and carry themselves. I often bring my flute and banjo/mandolin/tenor guitar to sessions (along with a cleaned flute). More than a few times I’ve offered one or the other to someone who dropped in without an instrument. I just won’t make that offer to anyone. I’ve never, say it again, never been disappointed. Well I’ll take that back. It’s really annoying when somebody picks up my banjo and rips up a tune with jaw-dropping talent, better than I could ever hope to play it. I mean, c’mon if you’re going to borrow my ax at least have the courtesy to not make me look bad! (That’s said in good humor…I’ve never NOT learned something from a better player).

Point is…use some good judgement. The guy who jacks himself into the middle of the group and says "let me use your Clareen" ain’t gonna get it. He also isn’t going to be well received socially either. The guy who listens a bit and then says something like "that’s a lovely instrument. May I use it to join you in a tune or two?" is generally more than welcome. That said, whatever you play is yours alone and only you get to decide what to do with it…no apologies needed. If you have to beat someone with a chair to keep them away from your guitar, you’re probably right to do that!

Re: Anti social sessions ?

Just wanted to add a little something. Most of the Session members I’ve been reading seem pretty well mannered, opinionated or not! If any of you are in Salt Lake without an instrument and want to join a session here, there aren’t that many, let me know. I’ve likely got a spare.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I went to a session and the leader played a bunch of tunes that he knew I wouldn’t know. So when I got to start a set I played a set of tunes I knew he didn’t know.

And then he played some more tunes I didn’t know, and so I played some more he didn’t know. We went on like this, set after set, all night long.

Now we’re in a band called "Passive Aggression."

Re: Anti social sessions ?

Ha ha lol

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I play in sessions and sometimes there are people who join in who don’t know the tunes we play, so I say something like ” Let’s play something everyone knows”

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I have also been to those sessions where everything is ”Very polished” musically. I have no problem with it, as I like learning new tunes, but other musicians are different and have said that they are ” too classical”. Im sorry to hear of your experience in the bar in Dublin. You are very welcome to come up to Inishowen in Donegal.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

On the few occasions where an unknown visitor to the session has asked to borrow a fiddle and I’ve handed mine over, it has always been brilliant. On the many occasions where an unknown visitor has asked to borrow a guitar (or picked one up without asking) it has almost always been disastrous. The fiddle-borrowers have tended to be sober young women and the guitar borrowers drunken young men, a difference that is quite easy to spot if you’re trying to decide whether to lend. Beware of crazy non-musicians though: I have had my fiddle grabbed by a young woman who is a bit unhinged, who then danced around waving it above her head. I never moved so fast in my life as I leaped up and wrestled it (undamaged) from her grip.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

"I went to a session and the leader played a bunch of tunes that he knew I wouldn’t know. So when I got to start a set I played a set of tunes I knew he didn’t know.

And then he played some more tunes I didn’t know, and so I played some more he didn’t know. We went on like this, set after set, all night long. "

Couldn’t you strike a compromise and play tunes that neither of you knew?

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I was witness once to a polka duel between two musicians, each trying to play a polka the other couldn’t keep up with. Both of them were experienced players with broad repetoires, and while I didn’t use a stopwatch, it seemed like they went for somewhere close to an hour before they quit of mutual consent. It was quite enjoyable to watch, and something I will never forget.

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"Strike a compromise and play tunes neither of of you knew?"

Truly the essence of the tradition.

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You didn’t specify the instruments Al! I hope they weren’t dueling banjos! 😛

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I have a related question. How do you nicely but firmly let someone in an open session know that they are in violation of the common courtesy of sharing music together, much less ITM etiquette?

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I find the best way to tell someone something in a manner in which they do not lose face is to put yourself in their shoes. The appropriate thing to say then becomes, "When I first joined this session, I found out that…" Now, tell them what you learned to do or not do. You have now taken an admonition and turned it into a word to the wise passed on by someone who learned the hard way. Unless you are dealing with an idiot, they will appreciate the gesture as an effort to save them from potential embarrassment or ire.

Posted by .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

"I have a related question. How do you nicely but firmly let someone in an open session know that they are in violation of the common courtesy of sharing music together, much less ITM etiquette"

I personally do not recall having that problem, and I suspect that the reason is that I try not to
walk into any room other than my living room bringing assumptions with me:

Circle of chairs, instruments in sight, pint glasses on the board in the center?
(It MIGHT be a session.)
If it might be a session, then I will inquire if there is room, that I may join in.
(It MIGHT be an OPEN session. And that would be cool. 🙂)

And if I am the one joining their circle, I play entirely by their rules.

Anything above and beyond that (like playing some tunes I know or like)
is simply icing on the cake. And I am surely not going to kick off a tune on my own
until I have been invited, and I mean INVITED, at least twice.

And ——-
I cannot think of a polite way for a person to ask for the loan of someone else’s instrument.
Too darn personal.
I cannot think of a polite way for a person to ask for the loan of someone else’s toothbrush, either.

Just saying.
Makes sense to me, anyway.

Posted by .

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I’m with Piece on this one. Their party, their rules. End of story.

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Right on Piece and Michael. I would have no right or expectation to expect any group of friends to change their world to bend to me. As said before a simple, direct, "may I join you?" works well enough. I’m ready to hear "No it’s a closed session" and listen awhile. If I get a "yes" I’ll still sit and listen ‘til I get a feel for the flow…and for some indication that the "yes" was more than just the polite thing to say. In fact I got my first "yes" response before I could play a note and spent the next year or so sitting in every week (space was no issue) not playing notes. What great friends I made! We still play together after nearly a decade.

Still, the question asked was how tell someone they’re busting things up. You do it politely, with kindness, and be specific….the best way is to let them know what the right thing to do is and give them a chance to fit in. If that doesn’t work, well you’ll just have to be less polite. Otherwise it’s not really an open session is it? Doesn’t work all the time but as my father used to say, "you get more cooperation with a smile…and a gun…than you do with just a smile"!

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Sorry…that’s what Ailin was saying. Good advice.

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To address ross faison’s comment, I’ve had a handful number of times in 15 years co-hosting our session where I’ve had to have words with someone who was problematic enough to need talking to for the greater good of the session. Generally, I find it best to politely pull them aside and have a private word than to say anything directly to them out loud in the session. Tell them directly what they are doing that is a problem and suggest corrective action. If it’s a case of "they don’t know what they don’t know", then just tell them that directly and suggest resources. If they react badly and leave upset after being straight with them, well, then you’ve done both them and your session a service in the long run.

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As the old saying goes, it is always best to praise in public and punish in private.

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what do you think of session leaders who try to ban instruments? like.. a Ukulele or Piano Accordian?

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Pillars of society and protectors of all things that are decent. :p

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Banjoloon, their session, their rules. What I might think of them is irrelevant. If you don’t like their rules, go somewhere else or start your own.

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Yes Michael! I’m not sure what the term "session leaders" means in this context. To me, a session with "leaders" is by definition going to be less inclusive. Maybe not truly closed but at least somebody is more or less in charge. Not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a little direction is a good thing. "Ordo ab Chao"..out of chaos comes order. Sometimes our sessions become "Chao ab Ordo"! It’s a sliding scale. Some leaders are just the more senior players, sometimes the better players, sometimes just the alpha personalities (maybe benevolent, but still alpha). Others can be quite dictatorial. Depending on the place on the scale it’s "my way or the highway" down to just this side of chaos. A little observation will tell what’s up pretty quick. Still it’s their party and only they decide who gets to blow out the candles.

How does that apply to Banjoloon’s question? Given the propensity of some to lean towards "traditional" instruments the farther you get from fiddle, flute and whistle the higher the probability is of being unwelcome. After all just refer back to discussions regarding guitar players! I would never, say it with me, never, consider bringing my doghouse bass to a session without a specific invitation and even then it would lean against the wall until I was asked to play it. And I really like to play bass. Ukes, shakey eggs, xaphoons, banjo-ukes (insert eye-roll here) are pretty far away from trad instruments so they’re likely less welcome. ( I recently heard a song about the murder of spoon player. ) If you play a less traditional instrument (aren’t hollow logs, bowstrings, and cowhorns the earliest "traditional" instruments?) you can usually determine whether they’re welcome or not by, first, asking and then by watching the reactions of the other players. That would be the true answer. If you don’t feel included, you’re not. Their session, their rules. I don’t feel bad about my bass being rejected at a session any more than I would if I found out that my flute isn’t welcome at a blue-grass jam. Their jam, their rules. So. The problem isn’t with session leaders who try to ban certain instruments. The problem lies with the players who feel some sense of entitlement when they bring an instrument to a session. The question could be phrased "what do you think of piano-accordion players who try to sit in on your session"?

This is just my very wordy way of saying that I agree whole-heartedly with Michael.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

Yes Michael! I’m not sure what the term "session leaders" means in this context. To me, a session with "leaders" is by definition going to be less inclusive. Maybe not truly closed but at least somebody is more or less in charge. Not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a little direction is a good thing. "Ordo ab Chao"..out of chaos comes order. Sometimes our sessions become "Chao ab Ordo"! It’s a sliding scale. Some leaders are just the more senior players, sometimes the better players, sometimes just the alpha personalities (maybe benevolent, but still alpha). Others can be quite dictatorial. Depending on the place on the scale it’s "my way or the highway" down to just this side of chaos. A little observation will tell what’s up pretty quick. Still it’s their party and only they decide who gets to blow out the candles.

How does that apply to Banjoloon’s question? Given the propensity of some to lean towards "traditional" instruments the farther you get from fiddle, flute and whistle the higher the probability is of being unwelcome. After all just refer back to discussions regarding guitar players! I would never, say it with me, never, consider bringing my doghouse bass to a session without a specific invitation and even then it would lean against the wall until I was asked to play it. And I really like to play bass. Ukes, shakey eggs, xaphoons, banjo-ukes (insert eye-roll here) are pretty far away from trad instruments so they’re likely less welcome. ( I recently heard a song about the murder of spoon player. ) If you play a less traditional instrument (aren’t hollow logs, bowstrings, and cowhorns the earliest "traditional" instruments?) you can usually determine whether they’re welcome or not by, first, asking and then by watching the reactions of the other players. That would be the true answer. If you don’t feel included, you’re not. Their session, their rules. I don’t feel bad about my bass being rejected at a session any more than I would if I found out that my flute isn’t welcome at a blue-grass jam. Their jam, their rules. So. The problem isn’t with session leaders who try to ban certain instruments. The problem lies with the players who feel some sense of entitlement when they bring an instrument to a session. The question could be phrased "what do you think of piano-accordion players who try to sit in on your session"?

This is just my very wordy way of saying that I agree whole-heartedly with Michael.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

I don’t see the problem. As many have said, showing up with an instrument (appropriate or not for Irish sessions) doesn’t mean that everyone will appreciate the visitor’s presence, nor that the visitor will contribute in any manner to the music played. Some friends of mine run sessions but one of those is never announced, for that very reason.

Related topic:
Question about starting a private session - https://thesession.org/discussions/31898

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I guess I haven’t been to enough different sessions to be clear on the concept of "session leader." I look to a leader to be a person of high caliber in terms of musicianship and range of repertoire who can keep things moving and make all feel welcome. If the session is in a pub, it seems to me that the person who starts the session is not of necessity the supreme leader and grand dictator. The proprietor certainly has an interest unless there is an understanding that the "leader" retains prerogatives of any sort. I don’t think I’d stay with a session where any individual sets the rules, even if that person were me. I believe a consensus is best; otherwise, I will go elsewhere or not at all. Even with the best of intentions, I think rules are a really, really bad idea. I am interested in hearing what others think on this.

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Re: Anti social sessions ?

You’re right, Ailin. That’s what I’d take a good session "leader" to be also. Another choice for a good leader is somebody that recognizes the talent around him and finds ways to use that talent to keep things running smoothly while making a way for the less able to feel included. Consensus building is most often the better choice. That said, sometimes consensus just doesn’t work. More than once (fortunately rarely) threats of violence have gotten in the way of consensus. And that’s just sad. A few rules, call them common courtesies or good manners, as opposed to dictates (another issue entirely) are the grease that lets rub together without hurting each other. Those "rules" of good conduct most often preclude the need for anyone to start barking orders and often the one who barks first and loudest is the one ignoring social graces. Still, you’d be extremely lucky in life if you never ran across a situation where somebody didn’t have to step up and bring a little order to the universe.

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I agree with every word, Ross. To be clear, I am addressing the notion of the "My session, my rules" mentality. What you are calling rules, I would prefer to think of as guidelines of accepted etiquette. And I am confident that is exactly what you meant.

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Re: Anti social sessions ?

I suggest using the word "host" rather than leader. Most of the longer lived (greater than 5 years) pub sessions I’ve played in or co-hosted, at least on the west coast of the US, definitely have at least one or two hosts who are often those who started the session in the first place. They are the primary contact with the venue management, and have the authority to deal with "situations" as they arise. They often promote the session either via email invitations or on social media using Facebook events, are there every week to provide at least some good quality music for the venue even if nobody else shows up. Sometimes they are paid a small stipend, often not, perhaps they get drinks or food for free, but there is definitely a two-way relationship with the management of the venue. I’ve yet to see a free-for-all open session in a pub setting that lasted very long without some sort of more formal hosting structure, too much potential for dispute and conflicting priorities without a formal agreement with the pub management. This has nothing to do with playing level, I’ve been to several successful slow or teaching sessions that have someone, usually a more experienced player as the host, with the longer term goal of providing a incubator for proficient players that can feed into the higher-level hosted sessions in the same area.

I get the impression that many of the responses in this thread are from those who play in sessions, but don’t host them. It would be interesting to hear more from those who are on the hosting side.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

There are lots of different kinds of sessions, and none of them is ‘best’. It really depends on what interests you. If it is mostly about the social experience for you, then very friendly sessions might be better. If you like experiencing different things — new people, new instruments, then you want a session with fewer rules about what is accepted and lots of freedom for players to start sets.

But, you might notice that most of the very best ITM players do not regularly go to such sessions. It has always been like this. Of course, there are some exceptions that prove the rule. But the players who really love the music, and play it at the highest levels, tend to play in more restricted settings — either private sessions, or very controlled open sessions, or paying sessions, or no sessions at all. I have been to sessions where it really is all about making the very best music, and if you can’t play the way the "leaders" want it played, you will not be treated nicely. And this is perfectly proper — and makes sense given the objectives of the session.

I don’t agree with the ‘anti-social’ characterization. I think this misses the point and unfairly disparages some people. Not everyone is a social genius, and rudeness exists only if it is intended.

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I think the key to the hosted sessions that survive for the long haul is the balance of the social and the musical aspects, and most importantly, clear communication to the participants about exactly what’s expected.

For example, we make it pretty clear at The Ould Sod session that since most of the more experienced players show up after 8 or 9 PM, if you’re newer to the music come at 7 and we’ll be happy to play a bit slower and give you an opportunity to try out tunes you’re working on. When people start showing up after 8, you may be asked to give up your seat, or, if there aren’t any seats for them (we really only have room for 7 or 8 people, max), to please offer your seat. You’re encouraged to stay and listen, record tunes, maybe sit back in if someone takes a break, but give it up when they come back. There’s nothing anti-social about this at all, it’s all done in the spirit of providing newer players with a positive experience each week and giving them the opportunity to expand their repertoire and understanding of the music by encouraging listening. If a new backup player shows up who is new to the music, we’ll tell them "How about we give this a try for a set, but if you’re having trouble, we may ask you to sit out." And sometimes we have. Nothing unclear or passive aggressive about that, we’re very straight with people and when things don’t go well, we do our best to provide coaching and resources to help them get up to speed.

We manage it very much like an Aikido dojo, as a kind meritocracy, and I think it works, at least that’s the feedback I get from those that regularly attend and those who have worked their way from new players to regulars.

Again, I’m very interested in the perspective on these topics from other session hosts.

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I think acting as a session leader in a venue with a lot of players who show up and a limited number of seats is much more difficult and demanding of tact - as Mr. Eskin I’m sure can attest - than a session with a big area available to musicians.

In the case of a session with a limited seating area, even solid and experienced players should cut some slack to the session leader if they should get called on to fall out and give up their seats for a spell. Just be emotionally prepared to hear it, and have a thick skin. It ain’t personal.

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We often swap out at the Sod, particularly on those nights where there’s a dozen good players and 8 seats, it’s just what friends do for each other.

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This comment http://forum.melodeon.net/index.php/topic,10175.msg126720.html#msg126720
sums up very well the point of view of a professional musician as a "session leader" (I hate the term, but don’t have a better one.) As far as I’m concerned it’s spot on.

Much of what people experience as ‘snobbery’ or ‘exclusivity’ in sessions comes from their own lack of experience and understanding; it may be your own playing that’s the problem. I know I’ve been guilty in the past of playing when I should have been listening, something I learnt along the way.

Of course folk shouldn’t be anti-social or rude about it, but another factor is that good musicians don’t necessarily have good social skills. It’s not an easy thing to explain tactfully to someone, quite likely a complete stranger, which is partly why the simmering passive-aggressive thing often happens.

Re: Anti social sessions ?

Thanks for sharing!