I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Hello folks! Another fiddler here. This is my first post.

I need an informed perspective on a session blunder that I seem to have committed.

Background: I am not new to the session scene. I grew up going to sessions with my mum. I know all the usual etiquette and I had it all in mind when I went to a session recently that I have never been to before (out of town). I knew the session leader from a previous encounter and he invited me to sit down. I knew nearly all the tunes and played on almost all of them (was that my mistake?) but not loudly at all.

After I had been there for over an hour, the session leader got up to talk to some people at the bar and I was chatting to the people around me. Somebody asked me what I’ve been playing and I started to play (this had to have been it)- I think it was the Wedding Reel. None of the melodic instruments joined in (red flag, I know!) *but* both of the guitarists who are clearly regulars at the session were playing along with me and when I paused after playing the tune they said to keep going and we did it one more time. The session leader still wasn’t back yet and nobody else was playing or even talking so I went into another tune (Stan Chapman’s, I think) and again the guitarists followed me (were they just being polite?) And again nobody knew it (and these are not obscure tunes, are they?) and again I stopped after two times through.

But I definitely got the vibe afterwards that I had committed a mortal sin. Is it always wrong to be the only fiddler playing even if you stop when it’s abundantly clear that nobody knows the tune? And aren’t sessions partially for learning tunes?

The thing is- I run a session in my home town and I do my best to make newcomers feel welcome and to clue them in as to that particular session’s etiquette so perhaps I was feeling too confident that I was going to be welcomed. Did I just miss the boat completely and stick my foot in it? I feel badly about it but I also have a bit of righteous indignation that perhaps you can help me shake off.

One last thing- do you find that sessions are less welcoming to advanced players than they are to beginners? I am advanced on my fiddle but a total beginner on mandolin and guitar and I often find that it is easier as a beginner to settle into a new session. When I am fiddling, I have to figure out a variety of ways to communicate that I am not trying to stand out, not trying to show off, etc.

Anyway- I am going to another new session this weekend and it would be great if you could school me so I don’t alienate myself again. All advice is welcome. Please don’t edit yourself. I can take it.

Thanks!

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Your experience would have been completely different had you been playing a piano accordion. My advice is to give up the fiddle and take up that instrument instead. There’s a guy on this list named conan who might have one for sale. You could easily learn all your tunes on it by the weekend.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Any way you could ask the session leader or someone who was there ?

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Sometimes you can’t win. A woman I know who was beginning on fiddle once started a tune hesitantly and no-one joined in, so I played along (in support, I thought) which she seemed to appreciate. Later her (new) boyfriend accused me of being a big-head and "taking over" her tune.

I don’t know what the locals’ problem is where you went but I can’t see why they would object even if they didn’t like your tunes, as you only played a couple then stopped. Have to wonder why they go to sessions!

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

As far as I can see you did nothing wrong. Sounds like the session regulars are a bit up themselves, but it’s not for me to judge as I don’t know the whole story. Because you’re new there, maybe there’s some behind the scenes politics you’re not aware of.
Perhaps the other melody players genuinely don’t know the tunes. Maybe the session leader is usually the only person who starts sets. You did the right thing by pausing, and then the guitar players asked you to keep going; I would have too in that situation. But perhaps the guitar players aren’t popular with the others for some reason. Who knows what the score is. All I can say is that in my book you behaved appropriately; maybe you should ask the person with whom you’re friendly what they think the issue was.

As for me selling the box, I already have and I bought 30 concertinas and an oul’ flute with the proceeds. Then I burned them on a big bonfire!

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I hope they were anglos were they? 🙂

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I think you were probably reading too much into it. How do you know they weren’t just amazed at your playing and jealous that they didn’t know the tunes?

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

It’s only happened 2 or 3 times in a decade, but I’ve got a bit of a thing against someone who comes and sits in a session for maybe an hour, maybe with their fiddle still in it’s case, (could be any instrument) and then they tentatively get it out, and then play a blinding set of complicated unknown tunes. This ‘wows’ the drinking onlookers, but has the effect of hijacking the session, (as it’s horrible to follow a demon tune set played by a virtuoso). I end up feeling a sense of antipathy to such ‘session-arrivals’ which must be bad for the atmosphere afterwards. I’m not not saying this is what you did.
The problem is doubtless MY lack of self-belief, or ego, or front, etc. but I doubt I’m the only one who feels like that, and I take particular pains these days to welcome newcomers and be friendly.

So my advice would be to be ultra sensitive to the non verbal language, and not play two sets one after the other, esp if no-one knows them. And like Conan says, you might have been encouraged to play by unpopular session members, so you cop the bad vibes directed at them. The social network and emotional forces between session members are bound to be a mystery to a visiting musician.

Jeez, I hope I’m not up myself!!

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

You should ask Dow, BeggarGirl, people never join in when he starts a tune on his Brit-Box. 😀

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I think you’re probably being paranoid. There could be a million reasons you got a cold vibe. Maybe everybody shared a big plate of chili nachos before you got there and they all had gas. Or, maybe you were so good they wanted to listen and not drown you out with their own playing (guitar players excluded).

People not playing with you isn’t always a sign that they hate you or your tunes. Unless somebody says something to you, just assume you’re doing fine. If you go to the session a few more times, make some friends and pay close attention you’ll soon figure out what the group dynamics are.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Hahaha @ FOV - they were all trying to hold their farts in! LOL

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Beggargirl, you need to e-mail Jack Gilder privately about this issue. He’s very good at making people feel outcast, inferior and ostracized. I reckon he could give you a real insight as to why these musicians seemed to have this attitude towards you. If you ignore his silly hat and concentrate on what he’s saying, I’m sure Jack’s insights will make sense.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Oh, yeah, and I disagree with petemay’s suggestion that you be ultra-sensitive to non-verbal language. It sounds like you’re already too sensitive. Just watch out for guitar players - the fact that two of them were playing with you is a clue that neither of them might be very popular at a trad session.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Perhaps they were purists and you should have produced certificates of irishness for the tunes.

Perhaps these tunes were this sessions ‘daggy’ tunes.

Perhaps they were listening politely.

You say you got the vibe that youd done wrong - please clarify. Did anyone say anything. You cant just go off imaginary ‘vibes’, or you’ll never play in a session again.

Do the sensible thing and ask the people. If they are not polite enough to tell you what you did wrong, then it’s not a friendly session and you need to find one that is friendlyl. If they are decent enough to tell you what was wrong then you can judge for yourself whether they are up themselves, or full of gas, or whatever.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Friendlyl?

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

hmmm- some very good points…

thanks for your input everyone. i think the two tunes in a row thing was my downfall.

i wish it were all jacked up feminine intuition/paranoia (and there’s probably a good bit of that too) but i did overhear one of the other musicians say something about "your woman" (me) amidst some disagreeable grumbling.

rereading my post i realize that i definitely sound like a fiddler- it’s all about *me* after all. 😉

good advice also about being sensitive to the nonverbal language.

thanks! i’m off to figure out how to add tunes to my tunebook here- catch you later!

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

That is a difficult one. Was it the guitarists who asked you to keep playing, or the tune players? Accompanists are always keen to play with new players and are generally more enthusiastic. Tune players seem to have more issues!

Having said that, tune selection might be the biggest challenge here. It is difficult to know what is common and what is not when visiting new sessions. My belief is that you should error on the side of the older the tune the better. (Is stan chapman’s an irish tune?)

When placed in this situation, I usually start out with a relatively uncommon tune and play it twice. Then into an incredibly common one and a third incredibly common one. Sure, people may want to hear you play, but it is a session afterall.

I will never forget the time I was in the reverse situation. A new fiddler had moved to town and he came out to the session. He played a bunch of tunes in the session, so I asked him to start a few. He played two tunes that no one knew. Afterwards, I asked him what they were and he said "oh, those were my tunes". It just seemed all wrong to me - unfriendly, showboating. Like, he knew that no one would know the tunes.

And finally…don’t let this put you off the session. They may be much more friendly the next time around. And they may even ask you to play those tunes again, so that they can learn them too.

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Beggargirl, from your initial post it’s not clear what anyone did to send you ‘cold vibes.’ What was it that gave you that feeling?

As everyone says, it could be any of a host of issues, some unrelated to you at all. (Or was it the tangle of sauerkraut hanging between your two front teeth? 🙂

I’ve seen sessions stunned like a school of perch when a decent musician walks in the door and abruptly (and innocently) demonstrates what a plonker their esteemed session leader is, simply by playing better than anyone realized was possible. This sets up all sorts of tensions…some people get jealous or protective, some get competitive, some pack their bags in despair, and a few are boosted by the music and become friends.

One factor does jump out at me—your tune selections. The Wedding Reel has been recently popularized by Lunasa, and Stan Chapman’s is widely known (Stateside at least) from a Solas cd. Could be that you were in a thicket of "purists," chopping your way through with a new-age laser of tunes. And they didn’t like it (guitarists are always on the cutting edge, so they joined right in 🙂

What else? In my experience, there’s no such thing as "the usual" session etiquette—it varies from place to place, and sometimes from night to night. I’d also be careful assuming that sessions are a place for people to learn tunes. Some sessions encourage that, others grudgingly allow it, and still others prohibit it. Similarly, some sessions just plain don’t welcome newcomers. You get a bunch of regulars who’ve played together for the last 12 years, and they don’t _want_ to see a new face in the chair next to them. It’s possible the session leader was trying to crack their defenses by inviting you in. It’s possible s/he felt compelled to invite you out of politeness, but was hoping you’d decline.

Rest assured, if you wandered in our door, I’d offer the chair next to me and include you in the craic right off. Some sessions are more welcoming and social than others.

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Hey Jode- thanks for your reply.

It was the damn guitarists encouraging me. 😉

I *think* Stan Chapman’s is Irish- not sure. Aka Willie’s Trip to Toronto (hmm…perhaps not Irish on second thought).

And thanks for your input on introducing tunes too.

Take care,
bg

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Beggargirl, this is just something I thought of off the top of my head so don’t take it the wrong way, but I’m thinking that, depending what sort of session it was, maybe it was your choice of tunes. The Wedding Reel happens to be played every week here, and it’s become popular amongst the trendies because of the Lunasa recording, but there are a lot of "safe" tunes you could have played that are much more common - the kind you find in "100 favourite session tunes"-type tunebooks. I mean tunes like one of the Copperplates or Sligo Maid or Lucy Campbell’s or something. I think that if you’re new to a session it’s probably best to kick off with tunes like that, and then once you get to know the people better and suss out their repertoire and the tunes they like to play, you can throw in something a bit different.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

And now the part that you *didn’t* hear:

Yer woman there…

… reminds me of the silly twat who rear-ended me on the way over. Same hairdo.

… is drinking my beer.

… sat in the chair we ritually keep vacant in honour of our dear departed accordion player.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Will- aha! You’re on to something. The session leader did grumble something about Lunasa.

This session leader, let it be said, is an amazing musician in his own right (and a really nice man) and part of my humiliation is the worry that I behaved like an imbecile in his presence.

Sigh.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Will *and* Dow- great minds think alike…

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Oops sorry Will I didn’t read your post! Ah well we’re on the same wavelength I must have something right 🙂

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

FOV- lol 🙂

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Where did Will’s post come from anyway - it just appeared out of nowhere…

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Maybe it came from Will ..

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

From the middle of nowhere - centre of the ITM universe.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I think Stan Chapman’s is Scottish.. I think, unless I skipped someone’s answer that is probably more accurate than mine. Ehehe…

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Eep.. This talk about being new to a session kind of scares me @_@ ::Makes topic::

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Maybe Will’s post was willed onto the board.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Where was this session? What country??

From my experiences, a good session will only have *one* guitar player. Or if 2 show up then they should take turns playing.

I usually listen to a session first and get a feel for the music and group dynamics before jumping right in. Of course every situation is different and Beggargirl did know the session leader so that’s fine.

A few weeks ago, I went out west for a long weekend. I went to a session but just listened or rather ease dropped 😉 The people sounded like they had just started learning Irish Traditional Music. They played all the same tunes I learned in the very beginning. It seemed like they had been playing together right from the beginning and knew each other very well. It was a nice small intimate group. I could have joined them but felt that I was at a different place with the music (I’m not saying I was a superior musician or anything like that). I just would have felt out of place starting my favorite tunes which I’m betting they probably didn’t know (*yet*). I didn’t want to seem like I was showing off or that I was the big girl from the East Coast. I felt I did the right thing by leaving them do their own thing and not disturb their session.

Perhaps I was being overly sensitive, but it’s only because I care deeply about the Music. Beggargirl, I don’t think you really did anything wrong since you knew the session leader. Like Dow said, I may have played some standards that everyone would have known instead of the Wedding reel (which is a cool tune). Or right after the Wedding reel, you might have gone into something super common to try and draw everyone back together….I don’t know. It’s hard to give advice when none of us were at this session to see facial expressions and body language or hear your playing 😉

Best of luck the next time. It can be tough sometimes 🙂

Joyce

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

It wasn’t the session I go to was it? I have twice started new tunes that I have taken the trouble to learn and been asked "what was that b****y awful tune?" It’s only one person that’s the problem and I wont be beat!!

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

For the record, "Stan Chapman’s" was composed by Jerry Holland, born and raised in Massachusetts, living in Cape Breton for nearly 30 years. Stan Chapman is a fiddle teacher in Cape Breton, and perhaps the one person most responsible for the resurgence of fiddle music among the under 35 crowd. Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac, and many, many others point to him as a huge influence on their musical lives.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

joyce- thanks for your perspective. when i am at a session, i would be well served to remember how much i like to *listen* to irish music. 🙂

hey gary- thanks for the info on stan chapman’s- i appreciate it.

i e-mailed the session leader and he basically told me in as nice a way possible to chill.

so chill i will.

thanks again,
bg

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Well I posted ages ago this morning. about two inches into the thread, and there I landed, three feet down. My comment must’ve gone through the ITM censors in Oz. 🙂

Remind the lads that the Wedding Reel predates Lunasa.

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

No Will, I wouldn’t cuz they’d probably take it the wrong way, despite the fact that it does predate Lunasa. I think the best thing to do at a new session is not start tunes unless someone asks you to. If someone asks you to, play a set of bog-standard session tunes but not ones that are hackneyed. Just play it safe. There are a lot of snobs out there who are so insecure they have a constant need to criticize, otherwise they lose their reason for existence and don’t know what to do with themselves. There are plenty safe tunes out there that won’t give them the ammo they need to attack you, so stick with them.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Oz ITM censors LOL! I’m not even registered as "safe" yet, so you can’t mean me. The tune police treat me with suspicion because of my passion for dag 🙂

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I’ve often been tempted to take a tune like Kesh Jig and learn it in every key, a half step at a time, between G and D. Just to torque the occasional session curmudgeon.

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Two Guitarists playing TOGETHER !!!!
Such a thing is unforgivable and would never happen at the high level sessions in New York and Boston.
Unfortunately a significant number of players at some "Irish" sessions are blinkered insular and insecure and need to big themselves up at outsiders expense.
Don’t worry about it too much, after all it’s only happened occasionally, smile to yourself and think what they’re missing.

Good luck

PP

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I consider myself a polite person, try to be conscious of the lay of the land in each session and not to be overly assertive. I realize that it is a good thing to have some structure, some set of mores if you will, for sessions so that musicians — and the audience — can enjoy them as much as possible.
That said, when I read about some of the experiences of beggargirl and others, I find myself getting rather impatient with the whole idea of so-called "session etiquette," and wonder if it’s more like "license to throw hissy fit."
If a person new to a session is encouraged to "give us a tune" and launches into a 10-minute medley of obscure Scottish strathspeys and reels played with minimum competency, yeah, I’d have to say that was inappropriate — especially if said person decides to do it again later on, even though the first go-round is met with perfunctorily polite applause.
But if it’s a matter of, say, players in a particular session having an automatic disdain for tunes that weren’t popular before the 1990s, or a certain style of playing they "don’t like" but seems otherwise reasonable to non-experts, well, that just seems like overkill.

I heard about a mandolinist-bouzouki player who felt distinctly unwelcome at a session he attended for the first time. Although he was a perfectly good player, he sat on the periphery, only played along on those tunes he knew, and did not start a tune without waiting for an invitation (which he never got). And no one gave him so much as a "Nice to see you, come back again."
Later on, he related his experience to an acquaintance who was familiar with the session. He found out that, apparently, the session mainstays "didn’t like" having more than one fretted string instrument in their midst, and since someone there was playing tenor banjo (switching to mandolin on occasion), he had upset their quota.

Look, if you want absolute control over the instrumentation, playing style and level of expertise, have a house session. Or else call it a "closed session" or, for that matter, a "performance."

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Another thing to watch for - don’t creep into a strange session later on - you might repeat tunes already played (ask has anyone played these tunes yet?).
Another rule I have always stuck by, is if no-one joins in a tune you thought they would know, only play it through once, and immediately go on to a tune they are guaranteed to know. If they still don’t join in, something is going on, so be careful if you start another set.
If they are interested and ask after the tunes, that is always an opening to get into useful conversation and not play.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Someone said something interesting to me last night: "it’s like, what are you supposed to do, lock yourself away for years and practise by yourself and only then go to a session when you’ve become an accomplished player?"

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Actually, Dow, when I first moved to SF I entered the local session scene and got well acquainted with everyone… and then Noel Hill showed up. I organized a workshop with him in trade for private lessons. I had to throw out everything I taught my self and start over learning all my tunes in his system. As quickly as I had become a part of the local session scene — I dropped out — and I didn’t return for over a year. Each time after that when I would discover a new technique or something — I would again become scarce. I guess the reason is that I felt that if I joined in at a session — I should have something to add. I didn’t consider it the appropriate place to be working out new techniques or learning tunes on the fly. I don’t think one needs to become an "accomplished player" before they join a session, but they should at least have the necessary wood shedding behind them.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Yeah. I just mentioned it because someone said that to me at a session last night and it got me thinking. I’d had a few Guinni by then, so I don’t suppose I thought much at the time. I can’t remember what I said. I probably didn’t know how to respond.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

I’m not waiting until I become an accomplished player anyway. I get too much enjoyment out of thrashing the wrong chords and drowning out the melody players, trampling all over their tunes.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

You must be a big inspiration to yourself, Dow. hahaha

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Well they say you learn from your mistakes. If I can’t hear my own mistakes, I can’t learn from them 🙂

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

It’s ok pal — I learned all your mistakes.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

There’s no doubt the best discussions are
Will ‘n Dow -ed and then Gild(er)ed.
But seriously could it be that BeggarGirl is just too good looking and they were all jealous that she could play as well!!
Beggargirl, you sound too experienced to be worried about this pathetic session behaviour (on their part).
What I would like to know is how do two guitars accompany one fiddle? Were they doing amazing synchronised complementary chord changes or was one doing some form of counterpoint harmony?? Pretty amazing if they didn’t even know the tune.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Sounds to me that those other session members were the ones lacking in session etiquette, not you. So sod ‘em. Like Will says, if you came to any of our sessions you’d be made more welcome than that.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Beggargirl, I witnessed the whole thing. I was sitting 2 seats to your left, not playing my banjo on your tunes. The Wedding Reel is a tune that I kinda know, but not well enough to play on the banjo cuz it’s hard to hide those flubbed passages. I don’t know Stan Chapmans (which I remember you at first calling the Malbay Shuffle, which we then sorted out 🙂.

At that session, when the session host/leader goes to the bar and does some socializing the session usually goes into an ‘idle’ mode, a sort of informal ‘break’. The tunes don’t stop altogether but lots of the players kinda drift off mentally, if not physically (bathroom, bar, go for a smoke, etc.). So that was part of it.

I certainly didn’t witness any ‘mortal sin’ being committed by you, and I am absolutely sure that you misinterpreted the situation. You are welcome anytime, please come back the next time you and/or your group is in town.

Private email to follow.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Wow. That really rounds it off.
A whole story in one thread, to be concluded perhaps when beggargirl goes back to the session and is met with rapturous embrace.
Heartwarming stuff.
Keep us posted.

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Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

thanks to all for your advice and interest. i will be working on growing a thicker skin and reminding myself that the world doesn’t always revolve around what the fiddler is doing. 🙂

~cue the credits~

the end. see you soon!

love from beggargirl

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

Have we ever seen a thread come around to an end in such a poignant way like this — complete with a feel-good ending? I hope we get an update for when she shows up at the session again.

Re: I did something wrong- but what? (Session etiquette- LONG!)

New sessions can often be a daunting experience for anyone. If you can play to a good standard you are probably well advised to play regular tunes that most folks can play. Don’t be too good or flashy on your first visit, save that for another time when people get to know you and your tunes.

You maybe were a little sensitive also to what people thought because it was a new group of musicians. Tusong200 certainly seems friendly enough.

As for the session leader idea, what’s that all about ?