The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

There is one slow jam near me that has been going for 13 years, but I’ve seen two others down in the sf Bay Area fold after a few years. I think what happens is the folks who started one got good enough to attend regular seisuns and moved on. What have others experienced?

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Often, folks who attend slow sessions just are not motivated. They don’t improve, they don’t get solid on a tune and they don’t improve their skills, generally. The session ends up sounding very haphazard and not at all musical. Everyone thinks they will work on the tune at home, but they don’t. The slow session becomes a crutch. I don’t know any competent players that spent any time in a slow session, although there might be some.

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Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

As you say, often they speed up - that’s what happened to the Scottish session I run in London - or the leadership isn’t quite there to support it. Running one is a bit of work, and I’m sure more than one leader has over the years got a bit fed up of it. You need a bit of enthusiasm for teaching and developing people, I think, or it gets grindy quite fast.

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Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I’ve never knowingly played at a slow session (or an ‘intermediate’ one).
I’ve always wondered what they were about!
They seem to be a ‘New World’ thing. None in London as I know!!
Here all are just ‘sessions’!

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I run a slow session, and there’s definitely I need to cater to the members who are improving. We’ve started doing a faster segments of the session tack down at the end to give the folks who are getting better a chance to play a little faster. I’m hoping this will fill in the gap between transitioning from the slow session to a faster session. Also we have a tune learning component, where a skilled musician comes in and teaches tunes, so there’s a bit more to it than just playing slow. We’ve been going on for about five and a half years now and I don’t see us slowing down. (No pun intended.) There’s a constant coming and going of new members. So I’m aware that we have to cater to both the new members, and the members who are getting better, so I hope that with that in mind we can keep going for a long time.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

So you start a slow session, it’s new to everyone and they’re all enthusiastic. After six months you’ve gone through all the ‘starter’ tunes, some members have made progress and want to move on to harder stuff, some have made no real progess at all and want to keep plodding along. So the good players drift away (hopefully into real sessions) and either the group dwindles or you look for new recruits. But the new recruits need to start with the simple tunes, the ‘old hands’ don’t want to go back over all that simple stuff, so it all falls apart.

I’ve decided that if I start a new slow session it will be for a fixed period - one group for 6 months or a year, and then you move on and we bring in a new group of starters.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Nigel Gatherer, who often posts on here, and is a very long-serving Scots Music Group tutor, runs a Slow Session class, which is usually followed by a Slow Session in a local pub, both being very popular with people just learning their instruments, but there are some people who continue to attend after they have passed the learner stage, just because it is so enjoyable. And not out of laziness or failure to progress: in my experience, there are a wider variety of tunes played there than at some of the faster sessions. Some people do move on to the faster sessions, and there are new recruits to the slow session with each successive term or year. Nigel is a great tutor, and his class and session have been going for years: the only threat to its existence has been the need to find another venue every so often, but it has been in the same one for the last 3 or 4 years.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I still run the SCTLS (Small Circle Tune Learning Session). But it’s a little different than a "slow session". We state very clearly that this it is not meant to be a session that people come to regularly to play tunes at a slower pace than the regular fast sessions. The whole idea is to build a player’s knowledge, repertoire and confidence so that they can get out into the regular sessions. We teach tunes every week, and also play tunes that we’ve learned recently, but we try to push the tempos up to where it’s just beyond people’s comfort zone, but no so far beyond that they have no hope of keeping up (because that’s how you get better). And we get a variety of players, between complete beginners and experienced players who want to pick up a new tune or two. So this works out pretty well, and has been going for 17 years.

The other issue is that slow sessions are often filled with at least a few people who are still struggling to play even at the slower tempos. (And that’s OK, we all have to start somewhere) Holding a slow session in a public space, especially a pub or business, can be a bit sketchy because of this. And it’s even worse with tune learning. People don’t necessarily want to listen to that. The first 8 years of SCTLS was in public (coffee shops), and while it was a good thing for the players to be subjected to some public scrutiny, it was not necessarily beneficial to the businesses. So we’ve since moved it to private spaces.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Reverend - I wish we could franchise your SCTLS concept. It’s brilliant and so essential to keeping a community going and growing. Kudos to anyone who invests in their musical community and helps learners grow in the tradition!

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

JNE, for a mere $1000 I will grant you license to the SCTLS name and set you up a website… For an additional $500 I will personally come down there and help you organize it, as long as we get to have a few tunes! ;-) Just kidding, of course. Any time you want advice for setting something like it up, let me know!

(And actually, I might be down there in January, but not sure yet. My wife is doing a half marathon down there, so I might tag along)

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Something that can contribute to the decline and death of a slow
session is lack of newcomers coming in to replace those who "graduate" or drift away. What is being done to attract them? And to convince more experienced players to drop in occasionally? Is that "slow session" actually a session, where participants are expected to know some tunes, and just play them slower, or is it a tune learning workshop? Is it a stand alone event, or does it precede a regular session?

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

The session in Birmingham, AL started up a slow session that goes for about an hour just prior to the regular session. From what I’ve seen it seems to be consistently attended.
I personally think it would be more beneficial, though, if it was more frequent than once a month.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

My hat is off to those with the patience to run slow sessions. It’s a tough balancing act, and you’re doing a great service to The Music in helping newcomers.

Reverend makes a good point above, about how it can be difficult to run something like that in a public venue, where a typical session provides something akin to music for the owner, in return for the space the musicians are taking up. Deadly slow tempos, mistaken notes, and repeated phrases for learners won’t fly in many of those situations.

Probably for that reason, sessions in my area are all either high-level or "intermediate but welcoming to newcomers." The intermediate sessions are more approachable for learners, with mixed tempos depending on whether the better or weaker players are calling a set. But never slowing down so far that people are repeating phrases for learning at the scene, like a classroom. It might work if there is an otherwise totally dead time at the venue with few other patrons, but it’s hard enough to find a venue that will allow a session as it is. Maintaining a "just good enough" musical standard is what keeps the intermediate-level sessions alive in public spaces like restaurants, bars, and coffee shops in my area.

When I was just starting out in ITM (with a background in other genres) and not ready for a "real’ session, I had the opportunity to play in some private house sessions with other early learners. Some were players I met in local OldTime jams who wanted to explore Irish music. At a private home there was no audience, we could play as slowly as we wanted, repeating phrases to learn new tunes together. All the things that wouldn’t work in a pub with patrons listening.

Of course, when you grow out of that phase and start participating in actual sessions, that level of interaction disappears. In the absence of a local slow or learners session, newcomers to the music might try this approach, finding other new players at local sessions and woodshedding together at someone’s home.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Slow sessions in pubs are usually not very entertaining for the other customers - so I’m surprised that landlords would be in favour of them unless in a back room or on a very quiet night when the players might be the only customers!
Best examples I’ve seen have been where the slow session was for an hour before a normal session kicks off. It gives beginners a chance to hear more experienced players and may get confidence to play along to tunes they know at the faster pace. Probably the best way to improve.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I agree that slow sessions are usually better to be held within premises which are normally quiet, customer wise, or in a lounge or back room. That’s if they are to be held within a pub or other licensed premises at all.

However, in my opinion, slow session are not just all about(and shouldn’t be) players who are still learning their instruments or are new to the music.

They are also an ideal opportunity to share lesser known tunes with others and many musicians will attend for this reason even if they have been playing music for some time. Even the process of playing relatively well known tunes at a slower pace can sometimes help to address the occasional weaknesses in your own playing. For instance, you may realise that you have been in the habit of "missing out" the occasional note here and there or have changed the tune unconsciously over time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it’s good to be aware.

A slow session is also a fun way to "warm up" and relax with your instrument before going to play at the "big session" later on. I quite enjoy going to some of these if I’m at a festival. Nigel(mentioned above) has hosted a few of those as has Sandy Tweddle at Stonehaven.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Sorry I’m not clear as to what is played at a "slow session". (Never seen one.)

Is it slow tunes (waltzes, airs, Carolan) at their normal tempo, or tunes which ordinarily are fast (reels and jigs) slowed down?

The former would be enjoyable to listen to and play in, the latter might take some getting used to.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Tunes slowed down so beginners can learn to play.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

"Is it slow tunes (waltzes, airs, Carolan) at their normal tempo, or tunes which ordinarily are fast (reels and jigs) slowed down? "

It could be both. As with most other things, it all depends on the session.
Preferably, in my opinion, while beginners and learners should find them be helpful/useful they needn’t necessarily just be for their benefit.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I helped run a session a while back. It was attended by great players and beginners. Beginners understood that they would not be able to play most of the tunes at speed, so they were pleased to sit and listen. NO NOODLING. No conversing. That was great for them because they could see, hear and feel how it is done.

Better players understood that they were beginners once and so they would play the tunes started by beginners at the pace started at. They would also be able to offer help and resources as appropriate.

Because it was round robin, everyone was able to participate.

Personally, I don’t like the concept of "Slow Sessions".

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Well, feardearg, I have been at a workshop where the tutor had no concept at all of slowing things down: "just keep listening to me playing this tune and join in when you can" - doesn’t work for all but the fastest (ear only) players. Left most of us mystified and never got the tune.
But I’d agree with you about no noodling and no conversing: just had to send out an email to band members to that effect re our practices!

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I went to Reverend’s slow session back in 2005-06, not long after I started playing. It was a fantastic way to learn tunes from real people, rather than iTunes, and get a handle on Irish music generally without being intimidated by a normal session. They talked a lot about the whole ethos surrounding the music and while it wasn’t quite like talking to an old guy in Connemara , it provided more of a connection to it than I would have otherwise had. Not bad for Longmont! Rev and co. had certainly spent plenty of time around Ireland and the UK. I was going to the normal sessions as well (sorry, everyone) and was way over my head. Rev’s session was a nice break from that feeling. Yeah, I think there were people going to it who had no intentions of attending normal sessions, but the idea was that it should be a stepping stone on that journey.

They taught the common Irish session repertoire as well as more obscure tunes I’m pretty sure I haven’t played since I left Colorado. They were ones played in the Denver/Boulder area so you were picking up the local repertoire. It was invaluable; learning the pipes would have been more of a struggle than it already is if I hadn’t moved back to Colorado when I did and had access to that.

It’s a tribute to Rev and co’s dedication that it is still going. You need someone who’s passionate about bringing learners on to make it work. It must help that the Denver/Boulder/Longmont area is very transient, with people moving in and out all the time, so there is an influx of new blood. Slow sessions like this one have a better run in any place that has a fairly mobile population, like Edinburgh, where Nigel Gatherer runs his.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Here’s my experience with the "slow session" and/or "learning session" in the highly underserved area of Salt Lake City. Note: I tend to see many things with a cynical eye. There used to be one in nearby Ogden attended by a few core players. I ran one myself in my home for the purpose of giving new players a safe place to learn other their instrument and tunes. When new a player showed up, usually after attending a (generally under attended) show or watching Riverdance on TV, with their newly purchased whistle or drum, they would be enthusiastically included. No problem so far, heck that’s what I did. Sometimes rather than being new to music they might be accomplished classical players (fid, er’ make that violinists, flautists, guitarist). From there the path was the same. As soon as they found that they were going to have to work at it and learn a few tunes, put in some practice time, as opposed to playing the first five tunes from a book, they disappeared. Please forgive my jaundiced tone here, I really do recognize that most people have real lives and other obligations. None of us have the ability to do all the things we want to do. We all have to make choices. To be fair I find the same phenomenon in the Old-Time and Contra groups. My point is that, here at least, slow sessions die out because when enthusiasm buts heads with the real world reality always wins. Not all areas have the numbers of players willing to pay the dues to sustain the slow/learning session. I wish it were different.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I resonate with what Tarrentella said above. Designating the hour or so before a session as a time to gather to learn a tune at a slower speed or to play standards at a slower tempo is a good way to bringer newer players into the fold.

Experienced players benefit from that tune learning/slow session time too but often ego prevents us from wanting to do that deeper work in public. Flying through tunes is often more appealing but can result in really stagnating as a musician if that’s all you do in sessions.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Too many people believe that playing an instrument is as simple as buying the first shinny thing that appeals to their particular fetish and a tune book. They then join web groups like this, slow sessions and plonk away in their bedrooms, occasionally, drawing up lists of ever increasingly improbable tunes to play according to the latest release that they have heard and improbable ancestral claims on various "historical pieces". Some, a very small, depressingly small, minority actually go on to find tuition and learn some basic skills, which even more rarely actually develop to a happy amateur tunefulness. Slow sessions attract both types. There are those who attend for the social and to accompany their, often overly expensive, musical ornament and those who actually are there to develop and are prepared to put the work in. Not because they feel it is work but because they know that nothing good comes easy and there will be disappointments, graft and some small rewards.

I have limited experience of slow sessions but unless the never learners are weeded out, ruthlessly, the session will die and no one will get what they wanted, which is normal really, sadly neither either will anyone likely get what they actually need.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

"neither either" I ask you, where’s the slow grammar class these days?!!!

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Reverend - I hope you can make it down in January for your gal’s half-marathon. We’ll be happy to engage you in a jig-a-thon, whilst momma is out running!

Steve T - You make some painful but valid points regarding certain slow session experiments. If I remember correctly, Llig used to refer to those types of people as "no hopers" and you described the phenomenon perfectly in your post. However, even with some expected attrition, I’ve witnessed some slow sessions flower in to wonderful, dedicated groups of musicians. In fact, the longest running session in our city - going on 19 years now - started off as a humble learner session by a couple of whistle players fresh off their vacation to Ireland, who fell in love with the music. It just takes the right group of people to keep the community growing.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

To me, a slow session as usually constituted is about as useful as a session that only plays the A parts of tunes. It’s making the music “easier” by taking out a vital component, namely playing at a danceable speed. You don’t have to be flying, but you certainly can’t be plodding.

I’ve seen some tune learning classes and circles like the ones mentioned, and that would be my preference when it comes to teaching and bringing newcomers into the fold. Otherwise, I think a slow session could actually be very nice if it involved only playing waltzes, marches, planxties, and other tunes meant to be taken at a more leisurely tempo. That way, you’re still playing slowly, but you’re actually playing music.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

> That way, you’re still playing slowly, but you’re actually playing music.

That way you’re not solving the problem, you’re avoiding it. The slow session seems to be part of an attempt to attack the problem head-on via a stepwise approximation of tempo.

[edited to add "part of" - the slow session that remains slow will only help it’s long term members go from bad beginners to really good beginners.]

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Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

Of the 4 slow sessions I have brushed shoulders with only 2 are still going. The 2 that are exist in different forms but they share one thing, they are dedicated in their differing ways, to teaching and developing the attendees. One is part of a large and probably the best folk club in this area, the slow session takes place separately and before the main, later session. The 2 are separated and the slow part is more a class. The club is regular and the never learners don’t have the kind of space they can limpet themselves into in less regular and less intense learning environments, to hide their lack of practice and dedication.

The other is a small intimate affair that just occupies a quiet corner of a quiet pub and does its thing. It’s mostly box players, they gather in a small coterie and share the music and tunes and develop together. I have heard some of the players over the last couple of years and have heard them go from faltering first steps to some musical accomplishment. The group is small and dedicated, again there is no place to hide if you just want to pose with your fetish.

Of the other 2, now defunct, one was an after session of a music teaching group that started off very promisingly but vanished when the organiser was unable to dedicate the time to actually lead the session and no one else with the ability or time was available either.

The other was a complete wind up that still leaves me trembling with fury at the arrogance of some people and the small mindedness that hobbyists with an ego can blindly exhibit. I could write a book on the Kibworth Scottish Slow Session but I’d probably end up in a murderous rage or a nut house before it was finished.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

The variety of responses is interesting, and represents valid experiences. For Cajun, I started my own slow sessions because I needed it. No one else saw the sense of it. When the first one attracted 17 people, some of those attitudes were better informed, as a result. Those went on for over ten years. I think only two people, myself and another, gained from it enough to increase the level of our musicianship, and I went on to form two bands out of it.

For me it was a stepping stone, always with the goal of "getting people dancing". It worked. I think some others didn’t have the same drive as I had, though a couple certainly had better musicality than I did.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I started out 2 years ago in a class (slow session of sorts) of about 12 musicians who didn’t play Irish, taught by a longtime musician and gifted teacher who was looking to build a more active local scene. Everyone could read music and had some technical fluency on their instruments and we focused on building a concept of style and a repertoire. About half the class is still chugging along and it was nice when we gained a long-time fiddler who just wanted more tunes. Most of the folks will never attend a session and it can be frustrating since there’s a lot of push and pull between tempos where people are comfortable. Others of us do bring in new tunes now to try and encourage folks to keep expanding their tune lists. I don’t know whether it’s going to continue in its current iteration because while a couple of us enjoy staying on and playing tunes together afterwards, the class isn’t really progressing towards comfort with some of the challenges of the music (sometimes faster than you’re comfortable with, sometimes more or less swing than you’d prefer, and tunes not always in a static set) and it’s tough for wholly new folks to join in since we are playing faster than we started. I tried my first session about 4 months into the class, at invitation from the musician teaching class, and haven’t really looked back. I keep going because we have fun together, it gives us a nice chance to play after class and it’s not as much work when there are a few more confident musicians to play tunes.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

I find this all very interesting too.

When I first started playing ITM it was either keep up at a normal session or don’t play.

The idea of playing a reel or jig at a slow tempo never occured to me, until I heard Matt Molloy do it on his huge Alto flute. It was lovely sure, but I’ve never heard reels and jigs played slow at a session.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

"I’ve never heard reels and jigs played slow at a session."

I haven’t either, with the exception of the Molloy/Bothy Band version of "Maids of Mitchelstown" played slow like on that recording.

I do play several intentionally slowed-down jigs and reels at home that I’ve heard played that way on recordings by Kevin Burke, Martin Hayes, Kevin Crawford, Alasdair Fraser and the other usual suspects. But "slow reels" aren’t good session fare. It’s like trying to to play slow airs at a session, where it’s almost impossible to get everyone on the same page with the tempo and phrasing, so it sounds like a mess.

Re: The seemingly recurring death of slow seisuns

The slow session I attend has been great for me, I wouldn’t last long in a fast session. Although it wasn’t planned as such, it’s been a progression from lessons/playing at home and, over time, has become the main ‘music thing’ that I do.

I’m an older learner and there’s not much room in the part of my brain that holds a complete tune so going over them regularly has really helped to build up a repertoire of sorts. It’s also much easier to learn tunes that I’m hearing on a regular basis and that gives me more confidence. Our slow session seems healthy to me - and not always all that slow! We’re lucky to have strong players to guide us and it’s great to spend a couple of hours with such a friendly, encouraging bunch of people.