Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

I am attempting to get a slow session together at O’Neill’s Pub in Salem, (one like Chris Burke did years ago,) and I would welcome any advice on how to go about doing so!

I am trying to get this going because I enjoy playing with other musicians, and I want to build my own Irish tunes repertoire, as well as my level of proficiency.

We’re beginning Sunday, June 2nd at noon, and as the date rapidly approaches, I am not sure about what goes into this undertaking. Any and all suggestions, comments, advice, warnings, threats, et cetera, would be welcomed and appreciated!!!

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

Have a list of tunes that *you* can play and start before turning up. Have a plan for growing the common repertoire, whether that’s you teaching tunes or simply announcing a schedule of new stuff.

Promote it to the point of irritation - people have other things going on and often need reminded that there is an event they want to go to.

Have a policy in advance about sheetmusic, shaky eggs, bodhran players with a horizontal tipper style, singers, drunks, etc. Be aware that you will have to have some awkward conversations at times about things you didn’t realise grown adults needed to have explained to them.

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Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

In my experience a slow session right before a „normal“ one attracts more people. Some of the experienced players will get there early, and maybe even offer some valuable advice or answer questions. Slow session participants are more likely to stay longer and get to know the session regulars - people and tunes. At least that is the case where I live…

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Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

What’s your goal for the slow session? Is this a learning session with the goal of having its participants eventually graduate to a more advanced session? If it is then you should start keeping a list of the common tunes played in the regular session is your area with the thought of introducing them to the slow/learner session when appropriate. Also, what level of musicianship are you expecting? Are you assuming the players know their instrument but not ITM? or are you allowing/encouraging/tolerating people totally new to their instrument? Or are you wanting to organize the slow session as a regular session but at a more sedate pace? Depending on what you foresee your session being you’ll organize it differently.

The learners session we have in Minneapolis happens at 4pm, before the regular session at 6pm on Sundays. Our regular session is composed of very talented players and goes at a good clip. The goal of our learners session is to improve the playing and repertoire of the participants so that they can "graduate" to the later session. It’s also a good place to work on secondary or tertiary instruments. I would have probably left a year ago but I’ve stayed since I’m learning fiddle (I also play at the later one). I find it a good session for me to work on technique as well as learning tunes. Some characteristics of our learning session are
1) it’s non judgmental
2) it’s geared towards melody instruments - guitars and bodhran’s are tolerated within reason. If you’re there to learn ITM accompaniment fine, if you want to show us your jazz chops - good bye.
3) we have a set list. It started off with 17 sets of tunes from Foin Session Vol 1. Tunes have been added and we’re looking to retire some. We’re not trying to build a list of 200 tunes as the purpose of the session is to get you to move on eventually.
4) new tunes are typically introduced by teaching them by phrases. Later we send out the sheet music. If the version of the tune isn’t readily available in sheet music one of the leaders transcribes it. I transcribe once and awhile - it helps with my musicianship chops.
5) Some information/context about the tunes are usually given when they’re introduced. Links to good videos or recordings of the tunes are sent out so that the players can hear how the tunes are played in the "wild". Helps to learn about the tradition
6) we have an email subscription list.
7) we go at a slow pace mostly, sometimes we go quickly, it all depends on who’s there. At anytime if someone wants to go through a tune more slowly we do. It’s good to work through tunes fairly slowly when you’re learning them. It’s also good to learn to play them fast - sometimes your bowing/picking/choice of ornaments will change as you speed up
8) sheet music or memory is encourage - both are a part of learning. I don’t use the dots for almost all of our repertoire but I have it on hand in case, or to mark down particular bowing patterns.
9) The Foin Session books were used as a base because the tunes are widely popular, the settings are decent, and the books are available (print or pdf). Personally I like Bulmer and Sharply but those are hard to find.
10) We often have instructors from the Center for Irish Music teach us tunes. These instructors are also the leaders of the Sunday evening session.
11) We introduce ourselves towards the start of the session and encourage people to play.

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma


Thank you, all for your feedback!

I am feeling a little better about this now, as I guess I am on the right track. I have found a goodly list of more common tunes, and have collected the sheet music versions of them, and shared via email to whomever showed interest. Of this list of 22 or so tunes, I can play, (with varying degrees of proficiency,) maybe 16, but know of the others and want to learn them. Of course, I expect each person attending will have their own favorites, and my ‘setlist’ will be changed almost immediately and probably repeatedly. But I feel it is a good core.

Ideally, I would like it for learners of either ITM or a trad instrument, but it IS in O’Niell’s Pub and during Sunday Brunch, so I’m sure we have to be mindful of the "racket-ness," and not disturb patrons.
It will be almost just before the regular, full-speed session/performers, and I would expect a good deal of crossover.

Thank you for the Foinn Seisiun suggestion! It turns out I own the 1st CD, but not the booklet. I confess, I cannot read music, (I tend to learn tunes through a combo of mandolin tablature and playing by ear, then committing to memory.)

I fear the most difficult part of the role of ‘organizer’ may be the curbing of enthusiasm amongst what Calum described as "shaky eggs, bodhran players with a horizontal tipper style, singers, and drunks," (although, I don’t expect too much inebriation between 12 and 2PM!) I am lucky in that a more skilled and professional musician has expressed interest in joining and/or helping out with organizing!

Thank you all again for your feedback. If this works out, it may be a regularly occurring slow session, and those seem to be a dwindling occurrence here in Massachusetts!

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

If anyone is in the area and wants to sit-in, the more the merrier! Sunday, June 2nd from noon to 2 pm.

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

There is a very successful slow session in the Pioneer valley of Massachusetts.I would suggest that you go to their site and learn from them

If it works out in western mass, it should work in the Salem area because there is a greater number of players there.

The organizer has the handle fearfeasog here on the session. Nice guy - I am sure that he would have useful suggestions.

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

We have a couple of slow sessions in our area and both have (in my view) problems - maybe hearing about them will help you too.

One of them has a member teach a tune phrase by phrase each session, and then that tune goes into the repertoire which is, I think, a great way to manage a slow session. My problem with that group is that then they play the tunes way too fast, so you don’t get the depth and only the breadth.

The other session is sheet music based. They are good readers and learn a lot of tunes, but don’t get past the sheet music and never really learn the tunes - therefore they can play together, but can’t go into sessions.

Slow sessions aren’t just for beginners, they can also be great for experienced players who want to work on tunes with secondary instruments.

Re: Organizing a Slow Session in Salem, Ma

Thank you, Donoghue and LynnHayes for your input - Sorry I didn’t get back to before now!

I am very lucky that word of my endeavor to get this thing going has reached both a seasoned and professional musician, who wants to sit-in, as well as the man who ran the previous slow session at O’Neill’s.

Our inaugural get-together consisted of just four musicians, (all of whom I have played with before!) and we did have a ‘phrase by phrase’ instruction, (as LynnHayes suggested,) on a tune that I know fairly well enough to do such an instructional thing with, (Denis Murphy’s Polka,) and it came off quite successful!
I believe this technique is something that we will be doing again, perhaps at each meeting!

I, too, would like to get folks off of the crutch of sheet music. I mean, aside from my own inability to read it, (YET!!!), it does mean not KNOWING the tune. The ‘phrase by phrase’ is great for bridging this.

As far as going too fast, this is something that of which I am VERY aware, (and, to my shame, occasionally guilty,) so I have payed close attention to those who ‘drop out’ of a tune, and ask if we are going too fast. I do not want this to be one of those groups of players who know each other and how to play certain numbers at full speed. I have been to one of them, and it was not too fun… for me.

Thanks for the advise, LynnHayes! And thank you for the connection and website link, Donoghue!