Famous sets and regional sets

Famous sets and regional sets

Some of the experienced players in my town went to the south side Chicago sessions back in the day and speak of the "South Chicago sets". I even got yelled at once because I played too many of my own sets that used tunes that broke the tradition unbeknownst to me. There are a few sets that I would consider well established but I can’t say I am aware of any real prevalence. Our local session has maybe 6-8 sets that we play the same way and maybe twice that if you include some sets we got because of some recording we all wanted play together. These only come around every so often. I guess I’m fishing for any general opinions. Do you think most sessions, towns regions have a prevalence of common tune sets? Are there any good resources for this kind of thing?

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I think this is quite common. Some sets get well established within a particular circle of players, who then assumes that they are "standards" which everyone else knows. Then you go elsewhere and find that no one knows them, and they’re playing sets that you don’t know. I particularly find this at festivals which bring together players from a wide area.

There are some sets which have become national, even global, "standards", usually because they first reached public consciousness from a recording by a well-known band. I don’t know how you would find out which sets are standards in a particular area.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

If they have a session website they may post local sets there.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

This is one of my favorite parts of playing around the world. It’s amazing to me the "common sets" that aren’t so common elsewhere. I often find that the sets have history based on who lives/lived in the area that was teaching tunes, and the history geek in me loves to trace it back. At my local session, there are some players that always play the same sets of tunes, and others that always play something different, and yet others (like me) that play a mixture. I love it all, and wouldn’t have it any other way! But I do think that the players that play the same sets weekly set the stage for what becomes the "local sets".

I’m not aware of any resource for this, although I think some areas have set up tune lists to help out new players. I would think you’d have to visit a session regularly to learn which sets are common for that area. However, you did bring up the dark side of all this—when one plays tunes from local sets, breaking them up, and gets yelled at. That has happened to me too, and I’m a bit perplexed by it. In my head I think to myself "dude, there are thousands of tunes, pick another for tonight and go back to your regular set next week", but outwardly I smile and try to remember they may be looking at it as passing on a piece of history.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I have experienced the wrath of people when you accidentally (or maybe even on purpose) play a tune that they like to play in a specific set. And it surprises me every time. Variety is the spice of life, as they say…

I get rather tired of tunes played in the same sets all the time, and tend to discourage it at my sessions. It’s OK to have some go-to tunes that flow nicely from one to the other, but you also miss out on discovering new tune combinations.

But I will also say that there are tunes that I think of as going together. Sometimes it’s from a famous recording (the Tarbolton set comes to mind). Sometimes it is from the fact that many people have recorded the tunes together… A few examples I can think of:

Rambling Pitchfork / Sporting Pitchfork
Duke of Leinster / Ladies Pantalettes
Banks of the Illen / Scartaglen
Martin Wynne’s #1 / #2 / (sometimes #3)
Humours of Whiskey / Leslie’s March
Atholl Highlanders / Jig of Slurs

I’m sure there’s more. Not that I always play those tunes together, but for some reason it bugs me less when they’re repeatedly played together. Maybe just because I think of them as belonging together…

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I’d be most interested in areas of influence e.g. what sets was Martin Mulvihill and his followers playing around New York. Seamus Connolly in Boston. South side Chicago Kevin Henry , North Chicago. East CLare/West CLare. Hubs of influence. I think it is limited at this point and probably dominate by recordings but it’s fun to develope sense, real or imagined, of how the music travelled.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

At my local session, we go both ways: The level of craic rises when a known set is played and the following tunes give that special "lift" to the music. On the other hand, someone who starts a known set will deviate, which momentarily stalls the flow, but elicits smiles and knowing nods anyway as the "out of place" tune fits. Then there are those who can cobble sets on the fly, which is difficult for me to do, so I spend some time at home plotting and testing tune combinations, a few of which might become common for awhile.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I get bored very quickly when people play the same tunes, in the same set, every single week. Is that a personal failing?

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I don’t think so, Doc… I’m the same way. (Wonder if you got that trait from me…) It bothers me enough that it helped drive me to becoming someone who "cobbles sets on the fly", which is a skill that takes some work. There are times that I haven’t decided what I’m playing next until literally the last note of the last tune. In those cases, I will usually fall back to something I’ve done before - either that or a trainwreck. (But those really aren’t as devastating as they sound).

JWeisman, it’s interesting to think of it more as a regional thing than a local session thing. And I think there is some of that. I play sessions in East Clare pretty often, and I know pretty much what I’m going to get every time. There are certainly sets that get played a lot there, year after year. I guess maybe it doesn’t bother me much, because I only hit those sessions once a year or whatever. So it doesn’t feel monotonous to me. But I suppose if it was every week I would feel differently.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I get that having established sets in a local session has the advantage of everybody knowing what’s coming next. I really do. But, JEEZ guys, do they have to carve a groove in the floor. Here some of the set grooves are so deep they’re tripping hazards. They’ve been here for decades. Rambling/Sporting Pitchforks…we call it the Spork set. It gets boring with a capital B,O,R,I,N, and G. Spontaneity is almost dead, the tunes come lackluster. Frankly it seems a symptom of laziness. No need to learn new tunes, no need to actually pay attention to the other players. Just show up, stay in the groove, and go home.

So why do I go? Because I love the few of us that are still at it, and because I hope, and every once in a while it happens, something new gets played. It’s enough to keep me going back, but it’s a delicate balance. Every time I walk in the door I check for a new face, with new sets and new tunes. Heck, the look on my face might be the same one my dog has when she wants me to take her for a walk! Most of what I play is never played in my own session. (Yeah I have a boatload of strategies for bringing some of them into the mix. It would be easier if I brought a gun). Once a year I travel a thousand miles to a gathering for three reasons. Great workshop style instructors, frequent sessions with new tunes and new sets (at last the fresh air of change!), all in the presence of good company. ( Go Portal!). Really, as much as I grouse about having so few opportunities to play, if a session started up with the same groove in a new room, I’d rather stay home. Though I really value playing with others, playing the variety alone seems like a better choice. As it is I’ll likely be taking trips to get my "fix". Hope to see ya around.

Hey, I think I just wrote a new tune…"Ross’s Rant!

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

Nice responses thank you. I think my session reflects basically what most of you are saying. We have a few we go to but we don’t do them every week and these sets usually fly a little faster and some of the less experienced players players can join in because they know the tunes well - it provides a good energy. There’s a couple of us that like to play sets we really like from recordings. We may work on them for 4-5 months and then they kind of go away or come back occasionally. I feel a certain duty to play some of the old classic sets from the old recordings. From my point of view it goes along with the idea that understanding the music in a holistic way adds depth to your playing. Conversely it can be argued that I take music far too serious.
I did get yelled at for ‘breaking up’ a set and I never really understood it - so it’s good to hear that I’m not the only one. It was from a guy who fashioned himself a trad nazi and preached the rules (yelled) but also broke most of them. He was quite a character.
I’m not really looking to play sets week after week but I am interested in the history as one poster commented. I also like the idea, if I’m traveling, of doing a little practice if I know there are sets common to the area. I see fun in that.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

I enjoyed your rant, Ross, and agree with every word.

I usually decide on the next tune while playing the last note of the first one, and then hope for the best. But the more you do this, the better you get at it. I probably did learn that from Pete when I first started playing, as I feel I’ve always done it.

I too have been told off for ‘breaking up’ a session’s set set. Due to my lack of psychic powers, I had no idea that aforesaid tune must be played in the same set every week, and when I flung it in the middle of whatever I was playing, the session leader got pretty grumpy. "Now we can’t play one of our sets." Uh, sorry, dude.

Re: Famous sets and regional sets

Great rant, but where’s the music, Ross? Or do I have to learn it from you in person? ;-)