Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

There are no doubt times when people enjoy hearing a tune or set that they don’t know, because that’s one way that new tunes are discovered - we hear, and we may ask "what’s the name of that tune; where did it come from?" If we like it, we may learn it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and that’s not what I’m asking about here.

A principal objective of most sessions seems to be to provide an opportunity for multiple people to play tunes together - a joint effort or collaboration that, ideally (IMO) involves as many people as possible. In other words, inclusiveness. Isn’t that why most people would be there? Wouldn’t it be the expectation of most participants that they would be able to participate?

I wonder how many of us would go into a session, and start a tune, or a set of tunes, that we are pretty certain no one else will know. For example, a recent tune written by a friend or acquaintance, or an obscure set that is not available through the usual sources, such as O’Neill’s or the session dot org, and has not been part of the past for that session, unless we were first to ask the group whether they would like to hear it.

I would not do this for what seems to me to be an obvious reason: common courtesy.

Am I being too conventional? Too rigid? Too concerned with involving the session attendees?

Posted by .

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Nobody wants to hear obscure tune after obscure tune but you are right this is how new tunes spread. I say throw it onto the beginning of set and then play other tunes people know in that set. Maybe someone will pick it up and you can play it more.

I don’t think it should be over thought. Sessions are about taking joy in the music.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I frequently feel like I’m playing obscure tunes when no one else joins in. I suspect though, that what I’m learning in my early phase of playing ITM are the tunes that everyone else has already played to death and so they’re not interested in slogging through them yet again. Then too, I run across tunes I consider rare gems and play them from time to time. Sometimes they catch and sometimes they don’t. It might just be time to play "Cape North Jig" at a session again, a truly fine tune when played after "Across the Black River" by Kevin Burke.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

"A principal objective of most sessions……."

that’s a dangerous opening to any sentence, the trouble is there are multiple principal objectives, depending on who is at the session, the success is finding the compromise and balance between everyone’s differing objectives.

As a an example ask yourself the question "what’s the principal objective of going to see a match of the local GAA team."

Now ask that question to the people that go to the GAA match, I bet you’ll get lots of different answers.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

What is a ‘GAA match’?!!

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I think, as with a lot of things in ITM, there’s a happy medium to be found, and it depends on a lot of things. All sessions are about finding common ground, right enough, but one one session’s ‘common’ might seem obscure in a different context - I moved down to Northumberland for a few years, and the repertoire down there is completely different from where we’d been for the previous decade - COMPLETELY different. Some sessions, you’d start off something like Cooley’s reel and get… nothing. No takers. None. Then they’d reel off a set of 3/2 hornpipes that nobody outside of the county has ever heard and say "I thought everyone knew them", and they’d be serious. Very little overlap in those sessions, it was hard work sometimes.

Most sessions, though, it would be ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) to start off playing ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) tunes and to gradually move towards more challenging stuff, testing the limits as you go. By the end of the third day, you might feel confident enough to play a few barndances, or a slow air or two, or throw in a couple of obscure things from off here, and one of your own compositions, and end on a tune that a few people probably DO know - but by then everyone’s at the same game, and enjoying themselves, and probably still a little inebriated from the start of the weekend. (By the way, a REALLY good session IMO lasts at least three days and involves a number of breakfasts that is in no way related to the number of days that have occurred). This is a Good Thing.

Some sessions, you’ll know a few of the people there, and be relatively familiar with their repertoire. You’ll be confident that if you start a set of tunes, you’ll have some back up. Happens a lot in ‘regular’ sessions, and it can become a little stale over a period of years. I often think sessions like this benefit from ‘new blood’ every so often. Some don’t like this, and tend to frown on ‘new’ tunes (not just new compositions - anything unfamiliar), but that’s not a particularly healthy thing IMO. Comfortable, yes. Healthy, no. But it’s a happy medium, again, because a session where everything is new risks becoming a space for showing off the latest, most obscure tune. Something in the middle is good - familiarity without being stale.

The best sessions aren’t really sessions at all. We’ve had discussions about this before - about announcing/agreeing tunes, but I think this is something that works best with a core of people who know each other reasonably well, because there isn’t that awkwardness about leaning over and saying ‘do you know this one?’. Or even saying ‘that tune you played earlier, I sometimes put it with this…’ and one tune leads to another and before you know it it’s Sunday night and everyone has to go home. Happy Days.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

GAA - Gaelic Athletic Association, for the purposes of disambiguation.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Nothing wrong with introducing new tunes, but you do have to think a bit before you do it. First of all you need to think about the tune itself. Just because you’ve learned a new tune that you love to bits playing in the woodshed doesn’t mean it’s the right tune to take to a session, you need to think about whether it fits with what they’re already playing, both stylistically and skill level. Secondly you need to think about why you are bringing a new tune to the session. If you just want to show off your new tune, play it once for people to hear and then never play it again, or worse still bring a different new tune next week, that’s no good. The only valid reason for bringing a new tune is so that the session can learn it, which means you need to be prepared to play it regularly over the next few weeks.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Fair comment, Mark The only qualification I’d offer to that is that you’re specifically talking about weekly/regular sessions in that scenario… which is where I was going with saying that common ground helps you to ‘know’ who is likely to know (or not) the new tune that you’ve chosen to bring along. You’re absolutely right to consider the context into which you’re bringing the tune, and you’re right, you’ve got to hope that somebody else is going to pick it up. Some sessions (like I said) don’t seem to welcome new tunes at all, others are too ready to bring out the obscure stuff, and both scenarios can be off-putting for anyone who isn’t a regular at that session.

Like i say, it’s all about that happy medium.

The other side of the coin, of course, are ‘festival’ or Fleadh sessions which aren’t nearly so likely to be made up of people who regularly play together, or even know each other. Since this is by far the most frequent type of session I’ve been to in the last fifteen years or so, I’d say this is one area where you almost HAVE to play unusual tunes. Yes, it’s okay to begin with the ‘common’ stuff, but unless you challenge that boundary fairly quickly and establish an extended repertoire in common, you can end up stuck, and at best you’re going to have a few hours of music before the crowds pack in around you. Sometimes it’s worth asking yourself (in the interests of saving time) okay, do they know any Coleman tunes? How about Ed Reavy? What are they like with Charlie Lennon compositions? Play a Bothy Band set, or a couple of Altan tunes, find out if they’re into the Donegal stuff, or is it Sliabh Luachra slides ‘n’ polkas? Otherwise we’re stuck playing feckin’ Kesh Jig and Morrisons forever, and honestly I’d rather top myself with a rusty spoon and a sack of rabid ferrets.

Anyway. To summarize, new tunes good. Dependant on circumstances.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

My first definition of a Session was a group of Irish players playing familiar tunes and teaching new players how to play them. The better players helped the weaker get stronger. The point of the session was to keep alive the Irish heritage through tunes and craic. Too many sessions I have attended do not want new tunes to be played and do not want players trying to teach the new tunes. The very bad sessions played all their music from sheet music (which is not at all "Irish"), and ONLY played tunes from an approved list. The worst are the classically trained violinists reading sheet music and making faces at the fiddlers who add the Irish flourishes.
If you have a new tune you learned, you wait for a pause and ask if anyone would like to hear it. Someone will (unless it’s that violinist I mentioned). Others probably will know it or try to play along on the second go round. And now you’re fulfilling the true goal of a session.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Every session needs new tunes, it gets pretty boring playing the same tunes and the same sets every week.
Constantly playing fixed sets are a bit of a curse (except for beginners) for a soon as you play the 1st tune in a set it is impossible to combine with any other tune except the next one in the "fixed" set. Some people don’t like sets been broken up.
I have my own rule,- Always finish a set with everyone (or as many as you can) playing the last tune. Don’t ever finish a set on your own. If you find yourself playing a "new" tune in the session follow it with a regular well known tune so everybody can join back in. People are more likely then to pick up and accept the new tunes.

Posted by .

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Agree with Matt. There’s a happy medium. On one hand, there are sessions where everyone is playing obscure, difficult stuff and trying to outwank one another, and on the other hand, there are sessions where every tune is in a fixed set and woe betide the visiting player who plays one of ‘their’ tunes in a different set. I once sat in a session where the leader would announce, "E minor set!" And everyone (except me) knew what that meant. And I’ve attended sessions where people launch into prolonged solo sets of tunes no one knows, and they are so in love with the sound of their own instrument that they don’t give any f ** cks.

Of course, one person’s dead warhorse of a tune is another person’s obscure rare breed. When I lived in Durham, I went to a couple Northumbrian sessions and played Cooley’s or the Silver Spear or whatever, and got blank stares (anyone….Bueller….anyone?). After living in Scotland for a while, I’ve picked up what I think of as the ‘basic’ Scottish repertoire, which I can muddle through. It’s a useful thing to have because if you go to a really Scottish session, they won’t know the Irish tunes that you think ‘everyone’ knows.

My ideal session is one where there is a big common repertoire, but where people still feel comfortable introducing new tunes and therefore the common repertoire is always shifting or expanding. If I want to bring in one I think people might not know, I stick it at the beginning of a set and play one or two more familiar ones afterwards.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I have no idea what an obscure tune is anymore, frankly. I learned most of my current repertoire from Sliabh Luachra playing (blame Matt Cranitch’s tutor book and a consequent immersion in the music of Julia Clifford, O’Leary, Jackie Daly, O’Keefe, Denis Murphy). It never occurred to me that that would be obscure. But nobody seems to know that stuff at the sessions I’ve been to so far. That’s a big ‘so far’ though, to be fair.

Anyway, I then learned a bunch of old chestnuts. Some improvement: people know them if I play them and join in. But I still never hear them actually played at sessions, so I can rarely join in. It still rather baffles and intimidates me that I will only recognise 1 in 20 tunes at any given session. I know there are 1000s of Irish tunes out there, but I’m pretty sure I know ‘the standards’, at least well enough to recognise them when I hear them.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Most people, I think, are most interested in playing tunes that are interesting to them.

So experienced players don’t seem to be thrilled when newbies start their "first year tunes" and aren’t interested when somebody starts a tune they’ve not heard but brighten when tunes which are recently popular, the newer cutting-edge tunes, are played.

It’s just human nature, and not intended to be exclusive or snobbish.

But sometimes it can be snobbish, as when I encountered an arrogant player who had tunes placed in three distinct categories

1) tunes which were beneath his dignity to play, all the "common" tunes

2) tunes which simply "weren’t played" (if somebody started a tune he’d not heard he would turn up his nose and announce "that tune isn’t played")

3) tunes which he played, which he imagined were the exclusive domain of players of his august ilk.
He would precede the tune with a comment like "players like YOU wouldn’t know this one."
When I in fact knew one of his precious tunes he expressed surprise saying "I’m surprised a player like YOU would know that one."

He was the most insufferable snob I’ve met in 40 years of playing this music.

The complete opposite of this guy was the "name" player who was interested in hearing tunes new to him. If somebody started a tune, and nobody else knew it, he would encourage the obscure-tune-starter to keep going and he would listen intently and start working out the tune under his fingers.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Someone mentioned earlier about festival sessions, which are quite different to regular sessions. Over the years I’ve come to realize that the best festival sessions aren’t really a load of strangers coming together, they are actually an amalgamation of two or three groups who regularly play together and have traveled to the festival together. In that situation, as part of one of the groups you can confidently start obscure tunes knowing that at least your mates will join in, so the music will keep going. But for anyone who has come to the festival alone it is definitely not the time to bring out your obscure party piece, you really have to stick to the well known stuff otherwise you risk getting left playing solo and bringing the who thing to a grinding halt.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I’m gonna stick my neck out here and suggest that if someone finds himself "slogging" through a well known, often played tune yet one more time, the problem isn’t with the tune, or the group. Personally, I like the chestnuts. they got that way because they’re great tunes, loved by many. They deserve to be played with enthusiasm just as they were discovered yesterday. I would rather sit in a session any day where every single tune was tried and true than sit and listen to round after round of solo virtuosity. I might go and sit in an audience for that but not a session. Best of all of course are those times when new tunes are tastefully and politely tossed out for the group. There are many fine suggestions on how to do that often discussed here. They’re all good. That’s how things stay fresh and the "Book of Common Tunes" grows. In fact every single tune I know, or have ever known (and not just in ITM) came to from a session environment. Point is good manners and an awareness of the sensibilities of the group should dictate. I recently attended a session where I was asked to "give us something new"…great fun. Another time, in Clare, I was encouraged to start a set (it’s my nature to not be intrusive) so I started a couple of tunes (I disremember which ones) that I thought everybody would know and to my surprise I had to go through 2 to get to one I didn’t play solo. Kind of embarrassing. I guess "chestnut" doesn’t mean the same thing to everybody. Neither then does "new" tunes. Oh and by the way, a great many new tunes may strike a chord (no pun intended) briefly but fade just as fast. New isn’t the same thing as good.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

Rather than bring things to a grinding halt, you could always ask if anyone knows it (can work, not always). But you’re right, a lot of these sessions are meeting points for groups, rather than individuals. As such, that can work out a bit cliquey, especially if people are playing pre-arranged sets… not the most polite thing to do, but not the worst thing either. If it helps the flow of the session, it’s probably a good thing. I think. Maybe.

Richard, the snob you were talking about sounds a complete arse. I could probably rank any number of tunes like that, but to be honest, if I’m in a session and a beginner starts a tune, struggles along and nobody joins in, that’s just bloody cruel. I might not like the tunes they’re playing, but I don’t think I’d ever leave somebody completely high and dry, much better to come in underneath their playing and help them out, if I can. Isn’t that the point of a session? To help and encourage, not to put people off by being rude? Gr. Can’t stand rudeness in sessions.

Out of interest, who was the ‘name’ player - or can you at least give us a clue? (it’s not name-dropping if you’ve been asked!)

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I like that ross, ‘The Book of Common Tunes’. Has a certain ring to it…

Let us play, we are gathered here today…. :-D

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

With people I know and have been playing with for a while, I’d be tempted to throw in maybe one ‘new’ set over the course of an evening or maybe three or four new tunes scattered in with familiar ones. I’d do that again on another two or three nights and see if anyone bites and learns the tunes or if someone already did unbeknownst to me, then I’ll know whether to make it a regular part of the session or quietly retire it.
With strangers I’d be more careful and stick mainly to the classics. As the evening progresses it might turn into the kind of session where people are playing different stuff, or someone will launch into things that make me think they probably know some of my less well known repertoire so I’ll give those tunes a go. Or it might stay with classics. Or the regulars might just stick to their normal session repertoire.
It’s all contextual really. You can normally feel things out. In your regular session you know what people like and can read how they’re feeling. In an unfamiliar one, just launch into something fairly classic but not completely hackneyed. As you play and listen you’ll get a better idea of what people are looking for. If they all ask for the name of the tune you just played and keep telling you to play more then get more obscure. If no-one seems to recognise anything at all then default back to the cup of tea or something. If everyone starts playing sets of polkas maybe play some slides to keep that thing flowing. If people keep going ‘that’s an ed reavey tune isn’t it? I love his tunes!’ Then play more ed reavey. If people launch into mcgoldrick stuff, do that. If they raise their eyebrows at the mcgoldrick stuff then play really old school tunes.
I dunno. Just respond to the others. Keep things flowing if they seem to be flowing nicely. Do your own thing if that’s what everyone else is doing, i.e. One of those sessions where people play their party pieces and the others listen and it goes around. Don’t stress about it. If in real doubt do the more common stuff. Don’t start anything really long if you can help it. If no one joins in for a standard reel, you just switch to the next one. If no one joins in for the first part of your huge seven part hornpipe, you’re stuck playing on your own for ages and it’ll look like you’re showing off.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

"Book of Common Players" ?

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

The way we handle this at an old-time music session I attend is that if it’s a new tune, you play it slowly enough that others are able to pick it up and join in. If it’s a really great tune, people will usually ask you to go one more time, or they’ll ask you to repeat a portion they couldn’t get after you’ve finished. If it’s really really great, they’ll ask you to play it again next time, and the next, until eventually it makes it into the general repertoire.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

The way to introduce a "new" tune is on the lines of "Here’s one I think you’ll like, I. think" Stephen Baldwin, the Herefordshire fiddler, was noted for saying this, so often, that it became a title of one of his records.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I have been going to sessions for so long that often if I play what is to me an "old chestnut" people ask me what that tune is. Many of them are from the Sliabh Luachra repertoire mentioned further up this discussion. It was very popular here when I was first going to sessions. I have even more trouble with tunes which have changed over the years and I still play the "old" version. Variations are ironed out over the years and others added. Sometimes people crash into my repeat with a third part which has been added by some recorded celebrity. Sometimes it’s good. Usually it isn’t.

The best place to introduce new tunes is at sessions you attend often with people you know. People who know each other’s playing can often join in with tunes they don’t know on the first repeat because they have the style and the rhythm and all they need to acquire is the note sequence. At a session I don’t know I try to think of tunes people might know. I try to assess the style they are playing and then introduce a tune I know which is in that style. I succeed in finding a tune people know maybe 50% of the time and the rest of the time they tend to like the tune because it is in their style. Sometimes I get it all wrong!

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

What was the question again?

If I don’t know anyone - I adapt to what seems to be the common repertoire (if there’s a core starting all the tunes, I follow them).

If I know a few of the core musicians, I’ll know what they know and will suggest tunes.

If I’m one of the core musicians, we’re probably fewer than five and then we know eachother’s repertoire inside out.

At our latest session we played tunes by Ed Reavey, Paddy Fahy, Liz Carroll, Brendan McGlinchey; circus tunes like Music for a Found Harmonium and Reel Beatrice; other common session tunes, and even Drowsy Maggie. I think it was the first time I enjoyed playing that one.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

I end up starting more obscure tunes for two very simple reasons:
1) I don’t want to tread on the toes of the person who normally starts a given tune in that particular session.
2) I don’t want to start a tune that has already been played before I arrived.
It’s also true that the tunes I’m likely to think of are the ones I’ve most recently been playing at home, which are unlikely to be the hackneyed ones. I’m full of admiration for those who can call to mind a whole variety of tunes by category.
The whole matter of repertory is endlessly fascinating. I’ve winced when someone started a really clichéd tune, only to discover nobody else knows it and everyone enthusiastically asks for the name.

Posted by .

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

One person’s new tune is another’s old tune.
One person’s obscure tune is another’s familiar tune.
All depends on where you are and who you are playing with.
Introduce "new" tunes by all means in the hope that others will like and learn them but be prepared to learn tunes introduced by others as well.

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

If your gonna play a ‘new’ tune at least put it in with a couple ‘known’ ones

Re: Sincere question. Not intended to cause trouble…

If you like playing a tune it’s not a question of causing trouble. There is no ‘trouble’ in introducing/sharing something you like w/others & finding, discovering their take on it.
That’s the essence of sessioning.
Either that or I’m more dense than I imagined. In my mind I *am* extremely dense but I don’t
shy away from sharing tunes I appreciate.

Posted by .