How not to play Irish music

How not to play Irish music

For pure amusement, post examples of people butchering Irish music, or perhaps merely just playing it the "wrong way". Don’t know how to explain it really but I remember seeing a bunch of classical musicians trying to play Irish music, complete with their sheet music stands in front of them and what have you. It just sounded so… not real!? It was so lifeless, no lilt, no soul, just mechanic and dull.

In any case, I’ll start

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Btdrx5z5Xg


As a piano-box player myself I know it has a certain rep among some (imo inward thinking) trad musicians. This video confirms anyone’s fears. Thankfully, currently present at Fleadh Ceoil na hEireann, I’m constantly reminded why the piano accordion absolutely does deserve a place among ITM instruments. But if you have any doubts, maybe avoid this video 🙂 (and I apologise if the player in the video happens to be posting here… but hey it was 5 years ago so I sincerely hope you’ve come to understand how to play Irish music on the PA in the meantime if so!)

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I don’t get what you’re talking about with that second video. That’s exactly how I play them. I wear the same dress and all.

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Out of 3 videos, two are of the same person, ha!

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Some of these can be illustrative as far as showing how not to play a tune, but personally I find it rather distasteful to start a whole thread just as an avenue for mockery and derision.

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She doesn’t suck as a fiddler, she just needs a little more Irishness to her playing. Most of the time, the masses don’t care anyway, they just like to see a lovely lady playing a lively tune.

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Ditto Boots. I especially object to commenting upon the player’s attire.
I do think it’s helpful to know what not to do, but derision is never helpful.

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"The March Of The King Of Low-ee"

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Reminds me of the time I went down to a pub in north Atlanta to listen to their regular "session". There is one guy who knows a lot of fiddle tunes and how to play them. He sets the play list and anybody who can keep up with him is free to sit in. There were five or six players there and everybody seemed entirely miserable. There were no smiles, no laughter, no rowdiness of any sort, almost no beer. Just a workmanlike atmosphere of people trying to follow the leader. Screw that!!

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I have always thought walking into a session and seeing music sheets open, or one of the players calling out a page from a book to play is a sure sign that the notes of a tune will be played, but not in any way "Irish".

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Sorry spelling correction *beginner*

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It’s funny how there’s no bodhrán players commenting on this. Just sayin’.

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Darn it *about* just realized that sorry

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Eww this is all a bit mean spirited.

Re: How not to Post to a Forum

For pure amusement, post examples of people butchering English, or perhaps merely just spelling it the "wrong way". Don’t know how to explain it really but I keep thinking of posts containing it’s for its and don’t get me started on seisun and craic for session and crack…

Just a joke. It’s easier to be more aware of others’ shortcomings than your own, but to point and laugh? I agree with keyedup: rather mean.

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This thread is everything that traditional music is NOT about - finger-pointing, sneering with a large dollop of superiority. Irish traditional music survived and flourished as the music of the local people, played for dancing and for pleasure where every effort was appreciated and encouraged. Thankfully it still is.

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Imo the only way to play good traditional music is to learn by ear, the way it has been handed down for generations.

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I don’t think this thread represents the spirit of The Session. In fact I was scrolling down hoping none of my earlier efforts were there! Go and sit on the naughty step!

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Yes Kevin that agreed , but in the 21st century we get all sorts here and sometimes it’s best to work with what we have. Remember learning by ear is only one facet of it! The source is just as important !! If people learn by ear from classical players who learnt from the dots or from flogging Molly or something then they have just as little a chance to sound good to us . I’d much Rather a player learnt tunes from the dots while listening to Bobby casey and Paddy canny than learning by ear from you tube…
Source

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Thank you Cathal’s Da and Liz mac for restoring my faith in this community. There is something to learn from performance that isn’t quite there, and perhaps the original post was meant in that spirit. As someone fairly new to the tradition I would hope for helpful suggestions for improvement rather than superior sneers.

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I’ve not commented in the past on posts that criticize classical players who play ITM but I’m going to jump in this time. I am a classically trained pianist who loves ITM and the trad music of Scotland, England, and Wales. I have played tunes in concert with a fiddle player and we both used music. (pause for collective gasp from the mustard board) We made it clear to our audience that our performance was not a session but a sharing of music we appreciate and enjoy. I know I don’t have all the fine interpretive skills of the great trad players but it doesn’t keep me from wanting to play the stuff and I enjoy learning how to make the music sound more authentic to the tradition.

Posts like the OP seem to suggest that ITM is only for a certain cohort of musicians. I’d like to see more generosity of spirit about this and less ridicule of classical musicians who give it try.

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I had an interesting chat over a pint with Martin Tourish some years ago. Now, Martin, as some of ye may be aware, is one of the finest PA players ever to have strapped on a box. As it happens, he is also one of the most generous-spirited musicians one could ever hope to meet. He grew up firmly rooted in the Donegal tradition, and had recently completed his PhD in the field. Just to add context to what follows. Martin put forward an interesting theory, which I found hard to disagree with…

It goes like this. ‘Irish Traditional Music can’t be defined’. ‘WTF?!?’, I hear ye ask. I won’t go into all the details, as I don’t want to fill up the Internet with every excellent point Martin made, but she short version was that a simple, consider definition excludes too much, and an extensive definition does the opposite. Now, if a thing can’t be defined, who’s to say if a player is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Once they’re joining in, enjoying themselves, and are good company for a night out, they’re a ‘good’ player in my book.

Now, I’m not going to say that in all my years playing in pubs, fleadhs, and festivals, that I haven’t come across the odd player who didn’t quite ‘get it’. And on more than one or two occasions, were members of this site. And I’m not going to say that I haven’t met people who were remarkably intolerant of them joining in. But generally, that’s not the way it is. And generally, the intolerance was not tolerated. I’d hope that those who sat in with us took something positive from the encounter. I’d hope that the memory was a good one. I get that our usual night in the Cobblestone might for somebody be part of a trip of a lifetime. I’m certainly not going to sour it for anybody, and I wouldn’t put up with anybody who did.

What’s the point of this rant? Well, this is about as mean spirited a thread as I’ve seen anywhere in ages. I won’t take any part in it, bar this post. I’d be interested though, if posters who took the piss might be willing to pop up a recording of themselves? Perhaps playing the same tune as in the clip they posted? Just so we can all see how eminently qualified to take the piss they are…?

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Sure there is snobbery in every field! People achieve a certain measure of success and their egos get attached to that material thing.
What I’ve been trying to get accross here is that there are many styles of playing trad , some we might like , some we might dislike etc but to think there is one correct way is just snobbery . There are many ways to play the tunes but the bottom line is as long as the players and the listeners enjoy the music then job done!
There is a push towards standardisation that IMO is a regressive step. Why ‘should’ an English classical player try to play like a rural Irishman?! Or whatever! yes if they wish to more power to their elbow but at the end of the day the tradition is stronger now that it has been for a long time and is not going to be derailed ……though saying that , if we propound a. I’ve that only the ’ CCE style or university style or Clare style or Donegal style ’ is correct it could end up with the genre being considerably diminished. Viva la difference .

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That guy playing the Independent Hornpipe brought back memories of my childhood. We didn’t have electricity but we did have a wind up gramophone. You were supposed to change the needle after every 6 or so plays of a record. The ‘Downton Abbey’ crowd would have changed the needle after every record play. Unfortunately there was nowhere near us where we could buy gramophone needles so we used the same one for months on end. We had a 78 record with Peter Wyper playing the Harvest Home and it was played so much that in the end it sounded just like that rendition of the hornpipe in that video and Peter Wyper played accordion…..

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Sorry Free Reed I just thought this thread was pretty funny actually but I can see how some of you see it as a bad thing sorry for posting it.

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Sorry I’m not saying you should look down upon the flute player because that was like 3 years ago, his playing has probably improved a lot since then I mean I’ve only been playing for six months so it’s not like I’m much better, but I realize that me posting that video was in bad taste and for that I apologize.

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Every time one of these comes up I always chuckle a little bit because the music all in all doesn’t sound horrable. Sure, it’s not "irish" with all the propper lilt, but then again, these people aren’t marketting it as pure drop irish stuff. they usually call it celtic or somesuch lol.
Only thing that irritates me is the people trying to teach "irish flute" or somesuch who clearly don’t have it in their playing. If you want to teach flute technique, sure, but don’t call it irish flute lessons and such, because somebody who doesn’t know any better may take that as fact and go off of it.
I always make it a point to try to welcome and enjoy other musicians or any mistakes they make cause I know I make plenty of them :P

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Kellie, I think some of these things are useful to post within the context of a post on technique or expression, but the intent of the OP seemed to be slagging players purely as entertainment. I think, over the years this site has tried to move beyond that.

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I understand Boots.

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"For pure amusement, post examples of people butchering Irish music…" "… It just sounded so… not real!? It was so lifeless, no lilt, no soul, just mechanic and dull."

Interesting.

https://thesession.org/discussions/39350#comment794925

Let us know when you get that bowing down that many busy musicians kindly helped you with johnjoe, so that you could successfully navigate the instrument, let alone get that life-filled, soulful, TRAD sound. Which as you are finding out, clearly needs some ‘mechanical’ help to achieve.

To the many thoughtful folks here who responded well to the inappropriate other posts; thank you.

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Sorry Diane, I just thought it was funny. Like I said you shouldn’t look down on these players the video I posted was recorded 3 years ago so that flute player has probably improved immensely. I’m sorry I realize it was in bad taste.

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Kellie… all good. The flute player was an absolute beginner; but it was more the other musicians’ videos I was thinking about. Very good in their own genre; but not in TRAD, and for sure would need to work at it. I know I did… and I’m still working on it. lol

What is always a productive thread is perhaps WHY it’s so hard to play in a completely other style. This is not an issue for those who are raised in this - and many do not read a note of music! They just breathe this stuff.

They are on here, and as a (mostly former) professional ‘violinist’ I absolutely envy them. 🙂 I have to work at the sound although basic mechanics on the fiddle is child’s play for me. Same for other musicians who have had years in practice rooms. Putting it together at the right time and place to produce a TRAD sound, now that’s what alludes the classical musician for a good while, until they get it if they want to. Really takes a shift in many things musically.

Re: those who aren’t trying, yeah a reel will always sound like a simplified last 2 pages of a (fill in blank) concerto. ;)

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What is going on with this site?! There have been two recent threads about trashing people behind their backs. I am just seeing people being mean-spirited left and right. Is this site really that bored that there is nothing to do but idle gossip?

Seriously, this is no better than bullying.

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I think it’s one thing to point and laugh at professional musicians attempting to play ITM and getting out of their depth. They’ve got two good ears and every opportunity to know better. It’s quite another to post videos of beginners. The chap attempting to play King of Laois on the borderpipes is clearly both nervous and not anywhere near ready for public performance (though I will admit to watching the whole thing in the hope of seeing his glasses fall off, so I suppose I’m not entirely free of schadenfreude).

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@Calum, I have had my glasses fall right off and land on the floor while playing the uilleann pipes and not having a free hand to fix them mid-tune 😀 Another time, a session-mate spotted my glasses about to fall off the end of my nose and she reached over and pushed them back up! It does happen…

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Now I know a strange new word to use at our next session which will totally impress everyone!

Especially if I can remember how to pronounce it.

Well it impressed me anyway. ;)

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@ the OP

If you compare the shown version of The Butterfly (video #2) with Máiréad Nesbitt’s version,

https://youtu.be/wqgZ9Lr1wUU


what you see is the difference between an amateur or aspiring pro and a world class professional—and you can see where the amateur might be learning some of her moves. (Of course if you think Celtic Woman is a misguided non-trad Irish troupe without the proper spirit, I suppose the point is wasted.)

Frankly I’d leave the critiques to the musicians among us. We don’t all start out as finished products. Sometimes we simply struggle to learn the technique before we can put our soul into the performance. Should we not offer our music coming from where we honestly are? Performing takes courage because you can’t fake it and be who you might like to be, but instead must remain completely exposed and hope that the audience is in some way better off for having heard you.

Please, don’t ever decide to become a music teacher.

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From Tommy Peoples’ recent book:

“Having said that, it is also very beautiful to watch or hear someone struggle to play, no matter what stage of performance they attain, as in that struggle lies a proof of their love of that music and a willingness to let the listeners see or hear that struggle. This can only merit appreciation”. Ó Am - Go hAm, p28.


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I think the first three words of johnjoe’s original post says it all.
"For pure amusement".

It isn’t "amusement" in my opinion to publically humiliate people and finger point and laugh and then try to rally others to join in on their meanness. That definitely rings of childish schoolyard bullying and I’ve cringed each time this post pops up. To repost and insult videos of people playing in the way they want (whether you like/agree with it or not) speaks nothing of them but speaks ‘volumes’ about the people doing the insulting.

As others have said in this thread, it certainly doesn’t breed the joyful spirit of the music. Rather than publically displaying your superior attitude, try remembering when you too were trying to get a handle on the music. Only a very few were ‘born’ with it. You too started somewhere.

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Jaysus that Celtic woman is hot! 🙂 I see what you mean about a world class pro, she fills the stage , awesome fiddler great legs ,great moves , no wonder she’s so popular, I’d heard the name right enough but that’s the first time I’ve seen her go. Great gig too for the lads I bet she gets them to play their best.
Not my cup of tea mind , but each to their own.

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Kellie - My comment on the video were not meant to be hurtful, but in truth it did remind me of the sound of that old windup gramophone from my youth. I’m afraid I come from the old school of charm where if the music sounded bad you were told there and then and in no uncertain terms. It made you either give up playing or strive to be a better player. Most of my contemporaries picked the latter option Character building they called it in my young days. I was watching a film recently called ‘Whiplash’ about a young lad striving to be a good drummer and what he had to put up with from his teacher. Now, that was learning the hard way but thankfully he won through in the end. …Me….I would have wrapped the cymbal round the teachers head at an early stage in my tuition…lol….

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I stopped watching ‘Whiplash’ about ten minutes in…..

I like Tommy People’s remark. In a somewhat similar vein, Art Tatum, the great jazz pianist, once said - on being asked why he went out to listen to lesser pianists - ‘There’s always something you can learn from anybody’ (or words to that effect).

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If I may try to make a point which might be overly fine:

One way to define a musical idiom is to listen to music which is regarded by people within the idiom as unidiomatic. Recognising that a person’s playing is unidiomatic doesn’t mean that the person is stupid or evil, just ignorant. "There is no sin in the not knowing."

For people learning ITM threads like this are potentially instructive.

Mean-spiritedness has no place here or anywhere, I fully agree.

Similarly regarding "snobbery", I don’t think it’s snobbery for people to want to play in an idiom of their choosing, and when playing with others to want to play with people who share a desire to play in the same idiom.

Snobbery, likewise, has no place here or anywhere.

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I agree totally Richard. My point regarding snobbery was the superior feeling that ‘we ‘get when ‘we’re ‘doing it ’ right ‘and the poor peasants is getting it wrong. In any field, and at any level. As I’m sure you know, the best players , not the most flashy but the most musical, are the nicest most genuine sharing giving people. That’s how they are so good, it’s the subtle energy that comes through them in their actions ,life, the way they treat people everything.
Regarding idiom, yes it’s like a language and an accent, people speak foreign languages with a native accent or a foreign accent or anywhere in between. Yes I agree the best way is with a native accent, but what’s important is that we communicate .
So with music I personally find many styles of playing grate and annoying, and yes they’re not idiomatic like you say, but that’s their personal expression of the level they are at.
And really it’s not actually language, it’s music, so it’s a bit like a poem, it can be recited in a heavy Scott’s accent or queens English or a southern drawl , whatever, it’s still the same poem.
Is it better for an American to recite in a Shakespeare in his own accent or pseudo old English etc etc…..surely personal expression is the most important part, that we express the real us and not some pseudo copy however good it might be?
My point is that there is one thing that brings us together here, the tunes. We have many different styles and accents and IMO that’s how it should be, do we really all want to sound like we’re Corkonian or whatever because we’re playing a cork tune ? Etc etc.

I think it’s good for us to be clear in what we like and what we enjoy listening too but at the end of the day it’s music and there are many ways to play a tune and it’s still the same tune.
It’s like Celtic woman, herself plays incredibly well while dancing!! it’s pure self expression , I admire that but to be honest it doesn’t interest me much. Sure it’s good to watch and to learn how somebody dominates the stage in such as masterful way , and she’s a cute butterfly and a barefoot magician but glitter Is not what interests me !
If we all played the same it would be a dull world.

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Well here in sligo I see this all the time mean spirited is one word there are other s also.
It appears now that a novice musician who tries his best to contribute to a session perhaps with his slow air or whatever is fair game for the experts to laugh, snigger behind hands , that wink that portrays knowing stuff ,
I also notice that some singers are greeted with the same ignorance, before the span of attention dwindles and returns to their iphone for amusement. These are observations.
Of course the novice must be respectful and sometimes a friendly word from a more experienced player can help a lot and save a lot of grief in the end.
Our session here is a sharing of our time together the music the talk etc all part of what makes trad music special, its not all about the notes its about the people who come and go.

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Considering the play the same set of tunes, which of the two Butterfly clips is oldest? Is the classical violinist trying to copy Mairéad Nesbitt, or did the Celtic Woman arrangment come later ("inspired by" the classical violinist)?

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Seems to me we need to distinguish between the various kinds of video clips. Perhaps it’s my age, but in the internet era I simply don’t understand clueless musicians putting themselves on YouTube and sending it out to the world. Since they are choosing to put themselves out there, why must criticism be deemed out of bounds?
Are we bound to protect these folks from their own foolishness?

On the other hand, if someone is playing at a session, or attempting a casual performance, whereby another individual is making a (perhaps unsanctioned and unappreciated) video , I do think public humiliation is not at all appropriate. For this reason, when I hosted the Vermont Fiddle and Pipe School for 22 years the powers that be agreed to discourage any sort of video or audio recordings meant to be made public.

The above posted videos are not all of the same purpose and nature. For those choosing to display themselves, they ought to be able to handle legit criticism. If they can’t, stay off YouTube.

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I don’t think anybody has said that criticism within the proper context is not legit, but a thread solely to find entertainment in anothers perceived cluelessness rubs me the wrong way.

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"Considering the play the same set of tunes, which of the two Butterfly clips is oldest? Is the classical violinist trying to copy Mairéad Nesbitt, or did the Celtic Woman arrangment come later ("inspired by" the classical violinist)?"

Jeff, this question was asked and answered in a similar thread, years ago, but dagbummeralldoggammit, I don’t have the link.

AB - where are you ? 🙂

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[For those choosing to display themselves, they ought to be able to handle legit criticism. If they can’t, stay off YouTube.]

Fair comment, although they would expect the bulk of the feedback (constructive and otherwise) to be on Youtube itself, in the comments section.

Not on a thread on another site, where the sole purpose was simply to take the piss.

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Thanks palumbex for the quote from Tommy peoples. I am truly moved by that thought as I believe you are too. It kind of makes up for all the mind-numbing bullying.

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Sometimes people put things up on youtube not with the express purpose of displaying themselves to the world, but rather, to share with family and/or friends.

Re: 2 Butterflies walk into a bar…

Jim Dorans, I think it’s fairly safely to say the Celtic Woman version preceded Emily Brandenburg’s.
Best I recall the Brandenburg Butterfly was when she was fairly young & taped less than a decade ago.
While the Celtic Woman ‘Butterfly’ is 1 decade and a bit of spare change.

You didn’t think I was going to look up the links did you, Jim?

ps ~ loved the PA in the OP video. It exists by it’s own standard (kitsch).
Why should it be compared or contrasted to something else?

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Thanks AB. I hadn’t bothered looking at the video in the OP.😀

IMO the guy clearly knows what he is doing and the joke is on johnjoe for assuming ignorance in others. I prefer his ‘hop-step’ take on Tobin’s Favourite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GVFbGG87bo


Even without the backing track I couldn’t bring myself to do it though - too much temptation to throw in some syncopation. 😛

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I can’t get the rhythm out of my head. Thanks. From now on, I’ll play all Celtic tunes this way. ;)

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A little story here:

I was playing in a trad trio (uilleann pipes, guitar, fiddle) and we were playing some trad stuff at our church’s St Patrick’s Day party over in the ‘hall’.

Our Pastor, Father Tim, a native Irish speaker, always full of jokes, lore, and song, with a fine singing voice, gets up to sing, and what does he sing? Danny Boy, a song he dearly loves.

Imagine him walking in on some Irish session somewhere in the USA and doing that! Think of the rolling of the eyes, the hidden smirks, of the Americans who imagine themselves Pure Drop. But which is the Irishman? Which has Irish as his childhood tongue?

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I think if your wonderful Father Tim came into our session (west coast USA) and brought Danny Boy, jokes and lore with him … we’d be buying him whatever he fancied and begging for more! Would be a treat. :D

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Diane, I love Danny Boy; doesn’t mean I want to play it very often in a session.
Usually, it’s for a guest, a gig, a lark or a request. Each of which are grand experiences in their own right.

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Quote: "I have always thought walking into a session and seeing music sheets open, or one of the players calling out a page from a book to play is a sure sign that the notes of a tune will be played, but not in any way "Irish".
# Posted by Westford 3 days ago."

Maybe. But if they keep at it they’ll most likely end up as much better musicians than you!
It’s brave of people to have a bash even though they can’t do it from memory - but it’ll come with time. It’s also reassuring to other aspiring learners - to see people at it who also are obviously learning and improving.
I’m in a sort of session which has been going on for 4 years - one thing stands out is that those who can’t or won’t sight-read are gradually left behind in one way or another.

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I stopped going to a session like that. Who got left behind is a matter of opinion.

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In that it depends on the destination.

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I just think it’s awful to bring people down just because they’re still learning.
No one should be bashing anyone for making the music they love.

In my opinion the best sessions are when there are people from all skill levels together, enjoying themselves, making music and friends. Those are the moments anyone learns the most, not just the novice players.
Since music is an interaction between people you can all rise to a higher level of musicality and enjoyment, for the mere fact of doing it together.
ITM, sessions and making music is, besides playing music, foremost a social event, with laughter, jokes, stories, where all participants are accepted and appreciated. Anyone’s contribution adds to the making of a fine night.

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Enjoying themselves? Making music? Making FRIENDS????

My dear, you have obviously completely misunderstood the whole concept…

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If that was to me Nigel I point out that my posts were a response to " those who can’t or won’t sight-read are gradually left behind in one way or another"

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I should’ve nipped this thread in the bud sooner.

Still, I’m very happy to see that most people responded to the discussion with the right response: pointing and laughing at people "getting it wrong" has no place here at The Session. It’s very gratifying to know that most people here an empathetic approach to beginners or people coming from outside the tradition.

Thank you all for responses.