Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I’m asking because it is a real concern, not because trad music itself is restrictive. I love the tunes. I love playing for dancers. I love sessions. But sometimes there is a protective, insular, possibly patriarchal sense which I feel when certain (I don’t have another way to phrase this) hierarchies are flipped.

Sessions vary and no two are alike. But they each have norms; sometimes deliberate structures, sometimes more loose. In many I’ve played in there may not be a patriarchy, but often there are certain players who are regarded more highly than others. Is this only natural? I know I always want to session with players who are better than myself. But how do the best players and most experienced players see their place?

I particularly would appreciate as many replies as possible from members who aren’t older, white, and male.
But everyone who wants to reply should reply.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I don’t mean this in any political sense, but in the US, pretty much everything is. The only exception are those things that are peculiar to women, other ethnicities or races. That’s fact. The reasons vary, but not much.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Care to elaborate, Ailin?

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Well, we’re all older than someone… I suppose I’d qualify as older nowadays, but I was in my mid-20s when I started going to sessions in London (although I am white and male). I would say that, yes, overall, the average age was considerably higher (perhaps 40-50), women were significantly outnumbered by men (hard to give a ratio – perhaps 35:65) and participants were overwhelmingly ‘white’ (i.e. European or of European extraction). But, thatnks to a handful of dedicated teachers in London at the time, there was no shortage of players my own age and younger (including children and teenagers) playing trad and there were some sessions that tended to draw a younger crowd; likewise, there were some sessions (often the ‘younger’ ones) that had a much higher proportion of female participants (in fact, among the real youngsters playing trad, there seemed to be more girls than boys that were really keen – which generation has spawned a few greats, like Orlaith and Brogan McAuliffe).

I’ve lived away from London for 15 years now but when I have been to sessions there since, I have, a few times, found myself feeling very old – not only because I am older than I was (I’m ‘only’ 47, BTW) and everyone looks younger, but I have come across a few sessions dominated by teens to 20-somethings, which did not seem so common 20 years ago. I would say, at a guess, that the gender disparity has probably evened out somewhat. It is still quite rare to meet non-white people playing Irish trad – this is not altogether surprising, since a high proportion of those playing it in London have roots in Ireland; but among those that have no claim to Irishness (I would not like to say how many but a significant proportion), there are, no doubt, several sociological factors that make it less likely for that group to include non-white individuals…

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Ben, I’m not sure what elaboration is needed unless what I said is unclear. It’s a simple fact that old white men dominate all endeavors (in the US) that are not inherently the province of some other group. I cannot think of any exceptions, can you?

One clarification I can make is that practitioners of said endeavors are not uniformly old, but old white men dominate organizationally.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

The great Riverdance scare of the 1990s brought a lot of people into ITM. We’re 20-30 years on from that.

Who has time for practice and going out to the pubs/bars/sessions? People in their 20s and people in their 60s -80s. So perhaps the missing demographic is people between 30 & 60, in particular married ones.

All that said, locally I see a relatively wide variety of ages and gender identities. There is in fact a strong youthful contingent of young men & women, so I can say that AB’s concern is not apparent here in Colorado where we have (i.e normally have) a dozen sessions out of a 4 million person region.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

To quote… "I particularly would appreciate as many replies as possible from members who aren’t older, white, and male."….
WHY? Do you think that all of us older white males are incapable of seeing things as they are?
And on that I clearly see and agree with Ailins point.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I’m used to sessions being 1/3 to 1/2 female, so to me the assumptions of the OP seem baseless.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

In Australia I’m not sure that we have ‘sessions’ as they would think of them in Ireland and other places, but I have never encountered any communal gathering of musicians that would deserve the label ‘patriarchal ‘. 50/50 female/male is as close as I would guess at, and nobody cares.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Gobby, the request was for as many replies as possible from people who aren’t older white males, not for any fewer from those who are. I don’t at all see anything objectionable about that. If we’re going to talk about inclusiveness the conversation itself has to be inclusive!

The answer to the main question is more or less yes in my experience. Most sessions I’ve been to have been predominantly white and male. I’ve been at a lot of sessions that were a majority people under 40, but having just recently exited my 20s that is also partly a function of the social groups I move in. I’ve played tons of sessions with friends in my age group, but had very different experiences while going outside those social circles. Most sessions I’ve visited/"sat in on" rather than being a regular at have been run and/or dominated by men over the age of 50.

I’ve also been to a number of sessions that were female/non-cis-male (don’t forget trans/nonbinary people!)-dominated, and there certainly are a lot of women playing trad. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the sessions that have been lead/dominated by women and/or young people (and especially young women) have been in Ireland and in certain "hotspots" of the diaspora elsewhere (ie Boston, London, etc.). Move away from those areas and my experience is that sessions get older and more male.

I have only once been in a session that was not white-person-dominated. It was a three-person session, so that was due to a quirk of statistics more than anything else. I have otherwise only been in heavily-to-entirely white sessions, which I’d assume is more or less everyone else’s experience as well. To a certain extent, this is understandable, given the demographics of Ireland and Irish people. But I don’t think it’s good enough to point to that and say "well, that’s explains it!" and walk away. There’s certainly more that could be done to make sessions a more welcoming space for anyone and everyone.

One thing to keep in mind about inclusiveness is that people who are not white and male have their own agency, too. We all love the music, and want to spread the word. That’s great! Too often, though, people center white-dominated music as something that is or should be universally admired. The truth is, we play one drop of music floating in a vast sonic ocean. A lot of people, including people of color and women but also including a ton of old white men, hear trad and say "meh." That’s fine! There’s plenty of music out there to enjoy, and no one has to or will like all of it. And yes, an Irish person is much more likely to enjoy and feel a connection to Irish music than someone who isn’t Irish.

The upshot of this is that even an inclusive-minded session may continue to be dominated by certain demographics, simply because people in other demographics aren’t as interested. While it would be great to have diverse sessions, we also shouldn’t be thinking of ways to force people of color or young women who aren’t interested to take up the concertina or fiddle. What we *DO* need to think about is whether those young people, non-cis-males, and POC who *ARE* interested in trad feel welcome when they show up at a session. I’d say the answer varies quite considerably. Unfortunately, for many sessions it’s likely a resounding "no!" And that *IS* a problem.

One way to create an inclusive space is by being proactively welcoming, rather than thinking that simply not being unwelcoming is enough. Non-cis-male and people of color are often taught, both implicitly and explicitly, to be on the sidelines rather than front-and-center. It’s hard for those of us who are white men to look at it this way, but the act of sticking out even a little bit (say, by leading a set or singing a song, or even asking to sit in) can be a lot harder for someone without white/male privilege. This is not something that can be solved passively. Simply saying, "well, they never asked to join in/lead a set/etc.!" is not an excuse. In order to be actually welcoming, we need to be actively welcoming. And yes, sometimes that means ceding the floor and giving attention to people who aren’t white males, whether that’s in a set of tunes or a conversation.

For the record, I’m 30, mostly-white (ie I’m a quarter-Asian but don’t look it), and male.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

You know, I’m not sure how the inclusiveness you speak of would manifest itself. Every musician I’ve ever played with in many genres didn’t care about anything beyond can you play. I could give you countless examples. My introduction to Irish came by way of a black guy I knew who played fiddle. His name is Richie and we had more than a nodding acquaintance and less than a personal friendship. I loved what he played but didn’t know what it was. I have often wondered what became of him. Nice, nice guy. He found the music somehow and everyone liked him. Another friend and fiddler was Howard Cho. Chinese. He played in an Irish band and could step dance. Mr. Cool, was Howard and fun as can be. Then there is Paulette Gershon. Whistle player and student of Mary Bergen. Sounded just like her. Great piper I sat next to at a session in Santa Barbara, California was also female. Many, many examples.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Ah! Gotta mention Will Tanaka. Personal friend that I played with until he moved to Seattle. Very active in the trad scene and a good buddy.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I agree with Ailin. The default power setting in the United States is still ‘old white man,’ and of course the accompanying patriarchal norms flavor sessions happening in the United States, in ways both subtle and profound. I wouldn’t know about anywhere else.

I can only come at this from the perspective of a middle-aged white woman. But from this place in which I exist, I heartily agree with bigsciota: Proactive welcome/invitation/inclusion is vital to creating an inclusive space. Same for proactive identification and removal of barriers to inclusion that might be invisible from your perspective and/or mine.

I’m also happy to say that a number of the strongest players I know here in the US are female. That does not invalidate any of the above.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I seldomly (in six years time less than a a hand) see people of color in the sessions I go to. White people are definitely over represented in Irish music. Myself Im half/half and would probably be considered most colorful.

Now the sessions Ive been going to have a relatively young player base, with the average age being between 30 and 40. I’m 34 myself.

Women are also underrepresented I’d say. Though we do have quite a few women playing in the Netherlands, you do tend to see them less at sessions. If I were to estimate probably 20% of the sessions I go to.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

What’s the point?

What’s the intrinsic, expected “demographic” for participants in a folk/Trad genre from Ireland? The ethnic correlation is surprising? It’s an IRISH cultural thing and you’re expecting the interest to align with “society as a whole”?

The gender element is definitely not a factor in Ireland. Simply nobody cares whether the next fiddle, flute of Whistler to join the session is male or female or other. Most of the (very many) OPEN sessions I go to are within the 60/40 to 50/50 mix by gender.

Players do tend to be more mature. But this is a social congregation influence more than any ageism. Certainly any of the open session I know LOVE when younger players join in. What age profile might one expect would be free, interested and capable of playing in pub settings on weekday evenings?

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

A social congregation? Not so easy at this time… Must get to Ireland when it’s allowed, last visit in 1997 when I tried - and failed - to find Grandad William’s home in West Cork. Lots of music then in Cork City, a wonderful place to be back in the day.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Older? Yes, but with a healthy number of youngsters. I suspect that the gap in the middle is just that amateur music making is something you do when you have spare time, not when you are raising a family and paying off a mortgage. White? Yes, but it’s not down to exclusion or anything sinister, it is just that it is an Irish tradition, and people of Irish descent are predominantly white, just as reggae is dominated by Jamacans and delta blues by African-Americans. Male? No. I see pretty much balanced numbers. But what I also see is a significant number of couples sharing a common interest, which can only be good and doesn’t happen in many hobbies.

As to hierachy within the session, the cream rises to the top. Generally the people that get the most respect are the good musicians who can lead lesser mortals through a set of tunes, pay attention to other players, and choose tunes that are appropriate to the group. I don’t think age, sex or gender comes into it.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Page 67 of my book (I’m too lazy to paraphrase, but it is very relevant to this thread so thought I would share):

"Several academics have highlighted the marginalization that women can face during traditional music sessions. Rapuano, for instance, describes sessions as a male-dominated activity, where ‘men still outnumber women by almost 10 to 1’ (2005:38). O’Shea also provides an interesting and important historical context, suggesting that women continue to be side-lined in pub sessions, since the pub is historically a male sphere. She surmises that sessions are primarily led and driven by males, giving them a ‘legitimacy and authority that women musicians lack. Although a small minority of women have gained employment at pub sessions, in general, women are not perceived as ‘leadership material’ (2008:107). Within the literature, there is a major discrepancy about women’s role within the session. In the 1990s, scholars suggested that women participate in sessions in greater numbers than in generations past. The instrumental tradition seemed ‘to be the equal prerogative of both sexes. Certainly in the observation of areas such as sessions and traditional music classes women are to be seen in equal, or in even greater numbers than men’ (Hamilton 1996:110). McLaughlin also suggested there was a ‘fairly even balance between males and females who attend sessions’ (1992:69). Are sessions gender balanced, as the male scholars of the 1990s suggest? Or are they still male dominated, according to female ethnographers more recently?

While more research on this issue is needed, from my own fieldwork, I frequently played in an array of male-dominated but also gender-balanced sessions around Cork City. Male-dominated sessions are still far more common than the feminine. In my own experience, it is still common for me to be the only (or one of the only) female players in a session. At the same time, it is also commonplace to see women leading sessions in Cork. All-female sessions are rare and stand out in my memory and fieldnotes quite strongly, one example being sessions organized by Mary O’Driscoll in Charlie’s Pub organized every 8th of March for International Women’s Day. The fact that an all-female session is still a novelty speaks volumes; it’s certainly not bizarre to come across an all-male session"

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"Here in Scotland", especially in the larger towns, there seems to more fragmentation and specialisation as far as sessions go. The younger players, many of whom are professional musicians or involved in "gigging", tend to have their own sessions and there is also a variety of styles.

There are still a few "traditional style" sessions though which attract, more generally, an older crowd. You also see these at some of the older festivals e.g. Newcastleton, Girvan, Keith and so on.

I’ve not been conscious for many years of a gender imbalance though. Many women frequent sessions which are attended by all age groups. In fact, in some areas, they often predominate.

There are also quite a few musicians who are "non white" and even white musicians who are not from "these islands" (A fashionable term , these days 🙂 ) However, sessions will generally reflect the majority of the population in the area. So, there’s obviously more of a mix in the cities and Central Belt than in the more rural areas.

Having said all that, it is still possible that players from different age groups, sex, race, sexual orientation may still feel uncomfortable attending sessions and see them as described in the opening post.
Even although the make up of sessions look OK and welcoming to me, I’m still looking at things from the perspective of a white, older, male.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Oh, I’ve just thought that there maybe another side to this discussion too.

Quite often, people may complain about the age etc and or make up of a session when it’s actually the genre and/or style of playing which they may not like or they find it hard to "fit in". So, some sessions may not welcome djembes and so on…… I’ve also heard women complain about there being too many "Mamwigs" in some sessions…. "Middle aged men with guitars". That’s not my favourite type of session either, of course. "Galway Girl" and the like can get a bit tedious after a while. 😉

While many sessions are welcoming to a variety of styles and instruments, we know (as has been discussed here so often before), that those who visit generally need to to "go with the flow" and accept the "norms" of the particular session.

Of course, the above shouldn’t apply when any musician of whatever age, gender etc does have an interest in the actual music and style of of a particular session. They should always be made to feel comfortable and welcome.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

It’s the 21st century - we have a lot of mixed race folks here in Ireland (I’m one of them). The demographic change in the country can be seen in our sports teams for example. We also have lots of folks who are of African or Asian descent who were born and raised in Ireland, meaning they are Irish.

When I lived in the States attending anything Irish music related (workshops, sessions) usually involved me being the only mixed race person, and only Irish person in the room - otherwise the events were populated pretty exclusively by older white men and women, and that was in an urban area, not rural or suburban. I think a lot of it comes down to "if you can’t see it, you can’t be it…" - if we start getting trad musicians of colour with high profiles then that may lead to more players who aren’t white increasing in the trad community. Also want to emphasise that I’m not accusing people in trad music of being exclusionary - I see the comments here from white people saying that anyone would be welcome at their session regardless of colour and I believe them, but we’ve all experienced the feeling of walking in somewhere, taking a look around and thinking "Um, maybe not for me….", right? Not because anyone in there is being an ass, but because we stick out and as such feel self conscious about it. It can take awhile to develop a thick neck and be able to walk into situations like that and brush off the fact that you stick out.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

All I’m going to say is that if you were to stumble upon a session of West African music, you probably wouldn’t expect to see a lot of older white males involved. I don’t think that older white males being the largest demographic in ITM is indicative of anything more than the fact that it’s the group that the tradition happens to be most popular with currently. In the 70s when trad was becoming popular, a lot those same people were the young social outcasts who were calling for equity and inclusiveness. Just saying…

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I’d be interested in what proportion of Irish people are involved in ITM sessions - and what conclusions - if any - to draw from that

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Mark M: "White? Yes, but it’s not down to exclusion or anything sinister, it is just that it is an Irish tradition"

Corin Meehan: "… if you were to stumble upon a session of West African music, you probably wouldn’t expect to see a lot of older white males involved …"

These are, of course a valid points. But there is a very sigificant contingent (perhaps even a majority, worldwide) of people without Irish ancestry, residency or cultural identity (myself included) that play Irish Traditional Music; in my experience, very few of them are non-white. There are, no doubt, several complex sociological reasons for this, but it would be naïve to think that old-fashioned racism, at many levels, is not a factor; the very fact that we (myself included) are making such a delineation between ‘white’ and ‘other’ is problematic.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I’m an old white male and feel like sessions are a patch of stinging nettles for me: I can only imagine what they must be like for women or people of color.

I think this is possibly less bigotry on the part of my fellow old white men, and more something baked into the format of the session itself, which bundles desire for warm community with a need to exclude: see the long list of complaints about session behavior, including sitting in the wrong chair, playing tunes that are familiar/playing tunes that are not familiar; playing too slow/playing too fast, not being traditional enough/being too conventional; talking too much/not talking enough; being too expressive in your movements etc. etc.

Lots of musical gatherings communities are like that, but the session compounds the problem by being typically in a public place and not clearly a paid performance, so the invitation/exclusion thing is more pronounced.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

A practical matter. If someone may feel self-conscious because they are not old white and male how does a group welcome them in a way that doesn’t make them even more self-conscious?

If the group feels someone needs a special welcome because they ‘stick out’ then they are already being treated as someone who is ‘different’ even if in the context of the music and the conversation they are not.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Faulty premise, or is that ‘hypothesis’?

Looking at jams today, older folks tend to dominate, years ago it was a mixed age group thing. Maybe asking the wrong question? Like, not gender but generation. If so, you may have found a new angle for research!

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

As Hark has observed, sessions can sometimes feel intimidating to visitors at the best of times.

The "old white men" or whoever are more likely to be just a bit "precious" and protective of the music and tradition itself and just a bit wary of visiting musicians in general. It all depends on the session.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

David, the point is not to say, "hey there black fella, why not play something?" That’s obviously going to make someone feel self-conscious. Rather, it’s just to be aware of *everybody,* and if there’s someone sitting there awkwardly, maybe not really sure if they should jump in or not, or too timid to ask, make sure they know they’re welcome to join. Doesn’t mean you have to make a big show of it, it’s just acknowledging that we often assume that anyone who wants to join in will be come forward themselves, despite the fact that that might be very, very hard for some people.

It also doesn’t mean you wouldn’t do it for an old, white man who is also awkwardly sitting on the sidelines looking to join in. Inclusiveness isn’t *just* for non-male or non-white people! They just happen to be the people most often left out in the cold if inclusiveness isn’t practiced.

Also want to add on to triplet upstairs’ point about the growing number of non-white people in Ireland. I know quite a few people who are very proudly Irish but don’t "look Irish," to the point where "looking Irish" is starting to become an anachronism. It’s also important to realize that the diaspora has gone in 15,000 different directions, and there are plenty of mixed-race people out there with Irish roots. So it’s not as simple as "Irish people are white, so of course Irish music is white."

Triplet upstairs also make the very important point that not being exclusionary is different from being inclusive. One is being passively not bad, the other is being actively good. Even if you’re not racist/sexist/etc., you can still be a part of space that doesn’t feel as welcoming as it could. And you might be missing out on some phenomenal musicians because of it!

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I think the fact most sessions are in pubs/bars has something to do with the disparity continuing into modern times…

Many of my female friends mention they find pubs/their clientele intimidating.

Traditionally, pubs were exclusively “masculine” orientated, with people gathering whilst “ladies were at home looking after the kids”. Pubs are also already steeped in hierarchies (locals v out of towners etc), so the culture, I guess, could easily cross over to a session.

Possibly a take home would be to consider more neutral venues for new sessions eg why not large coffee shops etc?

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

@bigscotia. I wasn’t meaning anything as overt as that. Just that if someone *knows* they are a member of a group that is regarded by some as being "marginalised" (jcawley introduced the term to the discussion above) or feels they may "stick out" (triplet upstairs’ term) they are not starting out on the same basis as someone who doesn’t.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

> Just that if someone *knows* they are a member of a group that is regarded by some as being "marginalised"

It’s not that certain groups are "regarded by some as being marginalized," it’s that they *ARE* generally marginalized in Western society, which is why we need to recognize that. The problem won’t go away if we all just ignore it. There’s a reason, as Ailin has noted, that in the US a whole bunch of activities are older-white-male dominated.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

love being referred to as a "non-male", it makes me feel extra included!
wisecracking aside, woman, youngish (under 35), white of mixed heritage here.

practically, i dunno how you "fix" sessions in regard to women’s participation without "fixing" society as a whole, ie the pesky issue of men on average having more leisure time than women, and more disposable income, access to both being to some extent a prerequisite to the life-consuming hobby of traditional music. then the safety issues of getting yourself home at night. eg, i was thinking about checking out the blythe in london when things open back up, but i’d have to sort out an uber to catford bridge and be in a station in a strange area late at night and, well, aaaargh. a lot of expense and faff and i probably won’t even have had my first jab by then. rather play whistle on the beach and attract funny looks and the odd quid lobbed at my head.

i think a good starting point, though, for sessions looking at attracting locals, would be to advertise and make it clear that interested guests are welcome to come for a chat and a listen - take breaks, talk to punters.

i’m guilty of not doing this, probably for thinking "jeez why would anyone want to talk to me." but i think it’s worth it, since actually, a session IS fairly accessible if you are already an instrumentalist, once you get the barriers of confidence and cliquishness out of the way. and certainly plenty of girls/women learn an instrument in their youth that they could pick up again later on, fairly cheaply. (it’s what i did!)

i think, to generalise, men by and large tend to have more confidence to just walk up and be confident in their own abilities, women perhaps a little less. similarly, you get a lot less Middle Aged Women With Guitars than their male counterparts (though they tend to be great fun when they turn up, especially after a few drinks). certainly i had a great deal of trepidation when i started, and that was with a fairly high standard of playing behind me in my younger days.

i’ve been in a few all women sessions and more than a few that were female dominated, and they were great btw, felt a lot freer to have a laugh and mess up a tune but with a good standard of musicianship. many singing sessions i’ve been to have been fairly even 50/50 - lower barrier to entry again i presume.

i think myself and another, mid-30s, are the youngest attendees at my regular session but another i sometimes go to has teenagers which is lovely. there have been a couple of others a bit younger who come and go and there are plenty of young people learning. i think younger people are more likely to be employed rather than self-employed, and working full-time. Then there is the barrier of having kids or studying or working weird hours or moving around a lot, and therefore finding it harder to commit to a weekly or monthly session than it is for someone 60+ who is settled in their life and perhaps is semi/retired and flexible with fewer commitments.

as for race i don’t have much personal input, since i’m to all intents and purposes white. however my mother, who is of Jamaican/Irish heritage, phoned me while i was typing this to reminisce about when she used to play sessions with sean carroll and the fureys, so clearly it happens. perhaps establishing a link to the music is key there, i had a friend at school who like me was mixed irish/jamaican and loved the music even though he didn’t play an instrument.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Cultural art forms are by their very nature going to be apparently exclusive. Any good art though does speak to the wider human condition and will attract and repel people accordingly. I have been to quite a few open sessions where people of differing cultures perform, some I have enjoyed and others not at all. Being completely honest about it I like my trad, trad. That doesn’t mean played by a certain type of person but it does mean played in a certain way. Mostly around me that doesn’t exist and so rather than bore myself listening to what I consider ersatz performances I don’t bother any more. I wait till I cant travel to the places where the music is what I like and if I can get a tune in that environment I am made up and that sustains me in the hours of solitary noodling my playing is now reduced to.

When considering why a certain type of person is apparently dominating an artform it is perhaps worth looking at where the "others" actually are. Most of the arts funding at school’s here has been removed. Only regional centres in the heartlands of traditional music ( of the genres we discuss here ) tend to have the kind of open to all encouragement and support for young people to become involved. Outside of those the lot of most kids here is riding on the backs of teachers at the local school and what if any musical inclination and input they receive from home. Given the tribal nature of kids at school and pop and identity cultures of young people on the very rare occasion that someone with a musical inclination actually gets the chance to pursue that the chances of that effort being divested into trad is really very low indeed.

It’s my observation that of the people you are most likely to bump into with an instrument these days a great many will have been privately educated, where music lessons are still actively pursued, or middle aged folks and the retired, who minus the kids at home and with more time on their hands have taken up something they have always wanted to do. Teachers and lecturers are another big group on the local trad scene it seems to me. Short working days and lots of holidays are probably the recipe that allows them time for hobbies denied many more by circumstance and finance.

Cultural activities will always appear dominated by a certain type and why would it not? I genuinely believe their are too many obstacles for most people to enjoy and participate in a fulfilling cultural life. Even festival is now a consumer rather than participatory practice. If what remains of human and personal culture can still find expression then that’s a good thing but don’t think there is some kind of best practice guide that is going to change things. Until people have the time, space and means to take up and participate in any cultural activity those practices that remain will be dominated by the people who have the most resources to engage in it.

yep you can set up slow sessions, print books and guides, teach and encourage. All good stuff. My guess is though you will just find that slowly it will be the same old show in the end.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

absolutely agree steve - the free/subsidized lessons I had 20 years ago at school are mostly not available now

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

As an aside, SJ, the reason I say "non-male" or "non-cis-male" rather than "female" or "women" is that similar dynamics are at play with trans and non-binary people, who often get overlooked in these discussions.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

then say that - no doubt the issues at hand are differing & deserving of equal respect, rather than throwing us all into the "non-male" bucket.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Last thought on this from me for now is the observation that because so many sessions are actually quite a way removed from the centres of tradition and the fact that a lot of the players are later learners what tends to happen is that very defined set lists are adopted. People master a few tunes, play them together and everyone is happy. If like me you attend a session variously, according to how many hundreds of miles and 10’s of weird hours of shifts your week has involved, and finally get to have a tune you can very easily find yourself playing to a room of blank faces. What are common session tunes for my instrument, border and smallpipes are far from in many parts, particularly when what is the local tradition is really just a few tunes from a common book.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

SJ, I apologize if my wording isn’t great. I’ve been trying to be inclusive and use language generally used elsewhere, but obviously this is one of those instances where one person’s inclusive intent doesn’t translate to another person. A good thing to think about when we weigh our intentions with our actions, so again, sorry if I came off poorly.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

no problem mate - really, as per my original comment, was wisecracking. may i propose in the same spirit you use the term "non-female" to describe minorities like males, since women as a percentage of the population are a slight majority, without even taking into account further gender diversity. 🙂

nb when i started to google "women percentage population uk", after word 2 the suggestions all related to body fat in some way, which was quite depressing, since i was in incognito mode. there is something there about the things women are encouraged to obsess over - those not often, perhaps, being the exact rhythmic nuances of a slip jig.

fk it, free music lessons for all and liberation from the tyranny of google and slimming world!

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Most ITM sessions I have attended in NC or Oregon have been about 60/40 Males to Women, can’t say I notice much as long as everyone feels included. Certainly the level of respect is related to musical ability. I would say some aspect could be most sessions do happen in Pubs/Bars where alcohol is served. Some women including my wife would rather not be a lone woman in that situation. I would say the older aspect relates to no kids in the house, extra time(being retired) and extra money.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily highly mature, pigmentally challenged w/non-female doms calling the shots?

"fk it, free music lessons for all and liberation from the tyranny of google and slimming world!"
Cheers, SJ.

It’s about 50.6% women to 49.4% non-female (minority) in the U.K.
Latvia has the biggest diff btwn female & non-.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

One interesting note I’ve found in Ireland is that schoolteachers, a female-dominant profession, generally have the summers off, and are therefore fairly well-represented at trad festivals and other such gatherings. Anecdotally, a pretty significant number of trad musicians I know are teachers, so maybe the key if you’re looking for gender balance is just to go to more sessions in the summer!

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Ben, I speak as an old, white guy. My experience is that sessions here are populated by more faces like mine than anything else. More men than women, but not by much, and mostly middle age to senior. Here’s what I find most disturbing. I have done everything I can think of to encourage younger players to join us, and I mean everything, including accommodating their every need. Only one young woman has stuck it out and I’m proud of her. Most show up once and are never seen again. That’s what worries me. Maybe when this worldwide shutdown ends things will change. I hope so.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Tell her thanks for being there & for playing, Ross. I appreciate what you’re aiming for.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Race: The important question is not whether ITM session attendees are largely white. Of course they are, for the same reason that Mariachi, reggae and African beat musicians are largely of color. The question is, are players of Irish music as welcoming to people of color who wish to learn and play the music, and join in sessions, as they would be to whites?

Not, are they welcoming to people who want to show up and do their own thing outside of the traditional style when they wouldn’t put up with that from whites. Hewing to the traditional style is part of the tradition, and there is nothing discriminatory about having that convention. You can have a different jam for those who want to branch out. So the concern to me would be, are people of color with a genuine interest in learning and participating in this tradition, made welcome? If not, there’s where it gets problematic. Along the way, we might wish to ask ourselves—are traditional music cultures of color called out when they are unwelcoming and hostile to whites who sincerely wish to learn and participate? A welcoming posture on that front is sometimes there, but is sometimes markedly and unpleasantly not there. Down with double standards.

Gender and Age: Deplorable history aside, sessions are very integrated today by gender in terms of player representation. Though ITM’s #MiseFosta movement does have a point about gender disparity in power and behavior dynamics in sessions. That’s a whole other issue, and it would seem to have legs. In Ireland and the US regions with a higher-percentage Irish-American ethnic population and concomitant ITM presence, there seem to be plenty of young people playing in sessions. They just seem to prefer to do it with age peers, which is pretty normal developmentally. This seems to be a phenom in the UK as well.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Ceemonster, my intention was not to focus the discussion on race, or gender, or age but on the privilege and dominance which is sometimes blind to itself and then enabled or normalised by saying
it’s the same in reggae, etc.

I think you’re absolutely right though about sessions needing to be sensitive to their bias and welcoming people who don’t look like them. Bottom line, sessions don’t need to be dominated or at the pleasure of the privileged.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

AB, fine sentiments but as the ability to learn an instrument has already become a privileged pass time, by and large, I fear you’re really just tinkering with the window dressing rather than the view. That said standards of behaviour and hospitality ought rightfully see anyone attending a session, prepared to uphold the same, welcome and safe.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

]]]Ceemonster, my intention was not to focus the discussion on race, or gender, or age but on the privilege and dominance which is sometimes blind to itself and then enabled or normalised by saying
it’s the same in reggae, etc.[[[

Yes, it is currently very fashionable in some quarters to put on the sackcloth and ashes and proclaim one’s guilt of unspecified, generalized offenses such as "privilege and dominance which is sometimes blind to itself." The convenience of generalized guilt is that it can be assigned without little things like questioning the merits of specific allegations getting in the way.

But the original topic was not a generalized query as to whether ITM sessions were characterized by "the privilege and dominance which is sometimes blind to itself." The original topic query specifically asked whether people thought premises about race, age, and gender in trad sessions were faulty. You got a reply that addressed that query, and now you’re complaining that you didn’t get a generalized acknowledgment of guilt. Sorry ‘bout that.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

@ceemonster - "down with double standards?" How about down with false equivalency? What a tired and common trope to introduce to the conversation - as soon as someone posits that white males benefit from societal privilege i.e feeling at ease and confident to insert themselves anywhere they like, you can bet that one of them will jump in to claim "reverse racism" etc. etc., cause I’m sure you’re speaking from first hand experience and you have a LIFETIME of attending mariachi/reggae etc. gatherings and feeling less than welcome, right? And this happens in one form or another on a daily basis, correct?

Your "of course they are" comment re: sessions being mostly white would seem to imply that in your mind "white person = Irish", so where does that leave all the mixed race Irish people and Irish people of colour? I’ll tell you where it leaves us - marginalised by white gatekeepers like yourself who’ve decided that trad music is "white" music because in your mind "Irish = white". Newsflash: Irish trad music is IRISH music and nowadays in the glittering 21st century Irish people come in a variety of colours, sorry if that rains on your Quiet Man parade mate.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

While it is true that the BAME population in Ireland is increasing, the 2016 census showed that nearly 92% of the population were either "white Irish" or "other white background".

That doesn’t explain the position in other countries where the populations are more diverse. Much will depend on how people discover traditional music in the first place, especially those with no Irish roots. My entirely subjective experience of the situation in England is that on the one hand there is the Irish diaspora for whom it is a cultural as well as a musical expression, and on the other there are people without Irish roots who have usually come to ITM via folk music. The wider folk scene also carries cultural as well as artistic associations, which perhaps explains why it too is largely white, although this is changing.

As for age, sessions often seem to cover a pretty wide age range. On the other hand (and this applies to the wider folk scene as well) a lot of young people don’t want to hang around with people old enough to be their parents or grandparents and prefer to do their own thing with people of similar age.

My own experience of sessions is that they are usually fairly well gender-balanced, but this is in England where pubs (especially those likely to welcome sessions) have become a lot more female-friendly than they used to be.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Irish trad music is Irish music that is played/enjoyed by people of all kinds of backgrounds - many is the time I was playing with folks in the States where I was the only Irish person in the room, the rest would’ve had zero connection to Ireland bar loving the music.

Reiterating as well that no one is asking for a "special welcome" - my point in my first post was just that it can be daunting to walk into a situation where you stick out, some folks will persevere nonetheless while others will opt not to because it can feel uncomfortable to always be the odd one out. I’ve always persevered, and found that if you can play, folks welcome you. The point is that for there to be more representation then young people need to see more examples of mixed race/people of colour, women/LGBTQ trad musicians - we’re already seeing lots of girls picking up the tenor banjo as we have a plethora of amazing tenor banjo players who are women with high profiles in trad music. Similarly there seems to be an increase in girls picking up the uilleann pipes as well - the more girls see high profile players like Lousie Mulcahy and also the more they see other girls playing the pipes, then the more of a possibility it becomes for them too. By the same reasoning, we should start to see, given the demographic changes in Ireland, an increase in young mixed race/POC musicians over time and that will eventually filter through to sessions as well. But whether that filters through to other parts of the world (like the States) remains to be seen, since conditioned thinking there seems to involve a distinct characterisation of what "Irish" looks like.

I had a business in the States, a vocational school that I’d purchased from the person who founded it. All of their marketing material featured images of white people, and as a result all of the applicants to the school not surprisingly, were white despite the school being in a city with a diverse population. The first thing I prioritized was revamping the website/social media pages so that they reflected a variety of people of all colours and within a short space of time we were getting students from all kinds of backgrounds applying, including international students, something that had been unheard of for the school before. A very simple thing that folks advertising sessions/workshops etc. could do as well, just a thought.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Triplet upstairs, I am torn between defending you and defending Ceemonster. I don’t think there is all that much difference between your points of view, but the discussion is in danger of deteriorating into a slanging match because you are each emphasising different aspects of a contentious area.

In the session I participate in, there is a predominance of old white men, but I can think of several examples of young and old women who are very much welcomed, and two examples of young men from different racial backgrounds who are also very much welcomed. Most of these are welcomed particularly because they are good musicians who respect the tradition of the music. The few people who have not been made so welcome have been those who have tried to change the music with insensitive drumming or songs that don’t fit.

I doubt if we are more culturally sensitive than other people, but we are open to anyone who respects the music, particularly if they are competent players. I’m glad to be able to say that we are encouraging to the talentless but keen too!

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

> Not, are they welcoming to people who want to show up and do their own thing outside of the traditional style when they wouldn’t put up with that from whites. Hewing to the traditional style is part of the tradition, and there is nothing discriminatory about having that convention.

I’ll have to say, ceemonster, that I have never in my life seen/heard a person of color walk into a session and try to do something different/inappropriate to the tradition. I have, however, heard plenty of older white guys (mostly the dreaded "MAMWIG," great acronym!) do that. So I’m a little confused as to why you’d use that as an explanation for exclusion. Maybe your experiences are different?

It’s also interesting that some are still talking in hypotheticals when by my count three people of mixed race have commented on this thread, one of whom has specifically noted discomfort. It’s not a hypothetical, there are plenty of people of color who are very interested in trad, and if current demographic trends prevail there will be a hell of a lot more in the future. So it’s probably best to figure out ways to make them feel comfortable!

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"So it’s probably best to figure out ways to make them feel comfortable!" Which is where I tried to come in, being practical but not liking the idea of "special welcomes". So let’s ask.

@triplet upstairs. What should I do or not do? I can’t stop being an old white male. I’m not going to stop going to a session to change the gender or ethnic balance. Any suggestions other than to carry on taking people as I find them and not making assumptions based on things that are not a matter of how they chose to present themselves.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

@David50 - certainly no one is suggesting that older white fellas stop attending sessions. Like I mentioned in a previous post, if you’re someone who organises sessions/workshops then simple things like using imagery that depicts all kinds of people if putting up a flyer/posting on social media can make a difference. If you’re someone who doesn’t take an organisational role but regularly attends a session/sessions, then just carry on being welcoming.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

David50, here’s an example of inclusiveness for everyone, that doesn’t involve singling someone out on the basis of any particular trait:

At many sessions, the focus is "inwards." Everyone’s sitting in a circle, chatting to each other, generally aware of but not really paying much attention to anything going on outside that little circle. If a player, especially a new player no one in the session recognizes/knows, wants to join in, it often takes a fair bit of poking in to even ask if it’s OK. And I can’t be the only one who has on occasion asked quite politely, sat down, and then been more or less ignored the rest of the night, musically and socially.

I’m all for session etiquette, so I’m definitely not going to advocate for the new player just grabbing a seat and jumping in without consulting, or trying to take over a session once invited in. But these are the kinds of experiences that turn people into "one and dones." So, it’s worth just being a little more aware of the people around you, especially the new ones, and giving them a little bump. Be the one to start a conversation rather than them having to speak up. Ask them if they want to lead a set or sing a song instead of waiting for them to ask. If there’s someone who’s sitting on the periphery with an instrument case in their hand, or otherwise looking like they might want to participate, ask them if they want to join. Just in general, make people feel welcome.

It doesn’t mean throwing away the concepts of tradition. If someone’s got a djembe and is threatening to use it, there’s a nice way to tell them that that isn’t the best way to participate. If someone’s rude, it’s well within your rights to tell them off. But it can also be a way to perhaps gently guide people who just don’t know any better. I started out going to sessions with a guitar. I quickly realized that I should learn a melody instrument, and I had some very patient friends stick with me while I squeaked out the Kesh and other "favorites" in my first few sessions on the whistle. The reason I stuck with it, bought a flute, and dove head-on into the music is because I found a welcoming space where people were advocates for the music and figured "the more the merrier" when it came to people playing it.

Plenty of session leaders already do this, but in my experience many also do not. And that extends far beyond the bounds of race, gender, age, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that, ultimately, the music only survives if there are people to play it. So keeping things welcoming is in the best interest of the music as a whole, whoever it is actually holding the instruments. Look up Alexander Suarez Mendez; he was one-third of the session I mentioned above that is so far the only majority-POC session I’ve been in. A cool guy and a good piper from Havana, he was on his first trip to Ireland when I played a few tunes with him. The other guy playing with us was from Japan. It was a great reminder that love for this music can come from surprising places, if we’re open to it.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

The Online Academy of Irish Music, OAIM, hosts and online session on YT. A single tune, posts as I recall, once a month. People from all over the world participate. It has been amazing to me how widely ITM is appreciated. Seeing such a diverse group of people joining together to play a tune is encouraging.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

@bigscotia. What you suggest is common practice in my experience and I don’t see how it influences the demographics of a session.

There are sessions and there are sessions. It could be a festival session where people work out for themselves whether they fit in and will probably be tolerated if they don’t and they don’t. People just drift off and start again somewhere else if it takes a direction not to their liking. Then there is four people who have known each other for years and get together in the pub on a Wednesday for a few tunes the way others may meet up for a game of darts.

Looks like people are here mainly talking about organised open sessions.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

David, I specifically wrote that what I was *not* talking about inclusiveness in relation to a particular demographic group, and I also noted that much of what I wrote *is* standard practice at many sessions. It’s not the case everywhere, though, even in a lot of sessions that profess to be open and welcoming.

And I should state that I know that some sessions are closed/exclusionary by design, and that’s the right of the people in them to do it. I’ve played my share of them, often session-gig hybrids that aren’t really open but aren’t a full-on concert performance. It’s obviously not great if the exclusion is explicitly on racial or gender grounds rather than on musical ones, but I can’t imagine there are many/any of those around.

I understand that a lot of this comes across as a shot across the bow of older white men. This is not how it’s meant at all. But the question was raised, "are sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant?" It’s hard to see the answer as being anything other that "yes" for a whole bunch of sessions out there. The unspoken question is "is this a good thing?" Maybe for some it is, or they at least so no problem with it. I don’t think it’s *inherently* a bad thing, as I have mentioned many times (which some seemingly read past), but if someone who doesn’t fit into that demographic feels unwelcome or unwanted, that *IS* a major problem. And I think it’s pretty clear that that happens a fair bit, whether it’s intentional or not.

Which gets to…

> I’ve always figured if you like to play the same type of music as the folks in the session that you’re welcome.

Hopefully reading this thread will help see that this isn’t always the case.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Ben didn’t ask "what can we do to change this?" - he simply asked if it’s other people’s experience that sessions in their areas are dominated by white older men, it was a straw poll if you like. I don’t recall him trying to guilt anyone into changing their session or their habits or asking anyone to come up with strategies or solutions, that wasn’t the purpose of the thread, not as I read it anyway.

I’m not naive enough to ask people to change their habits - I have no illusions of any kind of mass reckoning or light bulb moment occurring. If you’re happy with the balance at your session then you’ll carry on as always. Just a note though that the fact that some of the white and/or male posters here think this conversation is pointless just illustrates your privilege - you have the luxury of thinking this conversation is pointless because it doesn’t affect you. Nothing about some of the replies here comes as a surprise - any conversation I’ve ever witnessed or participated in about inclusion in other walks of life or more accurately, the lack of it, tends to result in a percentage of white people (or in issues of gender equality, men) 1) chiming in to say that there isn’t a problem, 2) contributing a lot of "yeah but" -isms defending why of course a space or environment is and should be dominated by white people or by men, 3) making false equivalencies, I could go on and on but I won’t bore you with more as it gets really tired and really old fast, speaking as someone who has dealt with this my entire life.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"..really tired and really old fast.."

I thought that was what white old men like me get.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

It’s a societal problem, if we can call it that. In any society there is naturally going to be a hierarchy often linked to physical attributes (like tall people tend to earn more money than short people, people with nice teeth get preferred for jobs over people with discoloured squint teeth, etc). Some forms of discrimination seem more acceptable than others, though none should really be acceptable.
As an old white male, living, where I do, in an area largely inhabited by old white males and females, it’s not easy for me to comment on the inclusivity of trad sessions. But I would like to think that anyone coming along to my regular session would be judged solely on the quality of their music and humanity and not on any physical attributes.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

And you wouldn’t even mind if they were from Hawick or Gala, Donald?
😛

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I even welcome the Pailmerks, Johnny.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

🙂

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Exclusion or marginalisation on the basis of racial, ethnic or any "otherness" is unacceptable. Always and anywhere, and dumb as a rock. It would thankfully be strongly and directly confronted in any of the many groups I’ve played or am associated with. The sessions which, for various reasons, are insular and not especially open or welcoming to new members are actually quite rare. Thankfully.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?"

Depends where you are situated geographically doesn’t it? In Kyoto a nice session we attended was made up of Japanese men and women in their twenties and thirties. One American was present, and he was Jewish.

In Sweden Irish traditional music sessions are usually made up of musicians of different genders and age groups in my experience. Sweden has it’s own healthy Swedish traditional music scene, so not so many people playing Irish trad. So when anyone "new" shows up at our Irish trad. session they would get a friendly welcome unless they were wearing one of those red caps saying "Make America great again", or a swastika armband.

At our weekly local session (pre-covid-19) the ages of the woman and men, range between the early twenties up to the early seventies, The musicians are/were from Sweden, Danmark, Chile, Faroe Islands, England, Columbia, Germany, Slovakia, Ireland, USA, Iran. Their religious persuasions are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim.

I have no links to Ireland except my love of Irish traditional music, and the wonderful people I’ve met there, and the friends I’ve made, on my visits. I’m black and play the pipes and flute. I’ve always felt welcome in Ireland even back as a beginner, when I was certainly making more noise, than music, on the pipes.

In Ireland I’ve only felt a bad vibe from some, not all, of the visiting American musicians at the Willie Clancy festival. You can almost hear the cog wheels turning as they try to process my presence at a session. It’s never been an issue though as the Irish musicians, female and male, and musicians from other countries are friendly and normal.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Well, I’m going back 10 years or more now, but we were on holiday across the north of Ireland and booked a night in Letterkenny, co Donegal, partly as it said there would be a folk session on the night we were there. The session musicians sat in a tight huddle in the middle of a large dance floor, while we, "the audience", sat far away on high bar stools far distant from the action. Little interaction between players and "audience" - I did ask a female accordion player the name of a tune she had played, but beyond that, no interaction at all. I also asked if they ever did any songs? "Oh, our singer is not here tonight" she said. They never asked if anyone in the "audience" would like to play something or sing.
Very different, I would hope, from the reception any newcomer would get at any of our sessions, male/female, black/white, old/young, or whatever: they would at least be welcomed and asked if they wanted to contribute something.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Unfortunately, I’ve not been to Ireland on a proper holiday since the nineties although we stopped off there a couple of times more recently on cruises….. Even the latter isn’t possible these days. 🙁

Anyway, I found quite a mixture of sessions over there. The majority were very welcoming back then even although most of them seemed to be comprised of "paid musicians" especially in the more tourist areas "through the West".
I thought that Doolin seemed the most cliquish but I may have just been there on a bad day. However(I’ve mentioned this before), I remember seeing Micho Russell in O’Connor’s pub. The bar woman phoned him up as there was a coach arriving and "It would be grand" if they came into the pub and he "just happened to be playing".
So, it was worth being there for that experience alone. Sadly, this would be last time I heard him play.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"And you wouldn’t even mind if they were from Hawick or Gala, Donald?
😛"

"I even welcome the Pailmerks, Johnny."

I’d appreciate if any of the people who are familiar with the locations could fill me in about the local "humours" or whatnot.

Cheers!

edit: Found it on Wikipedia…
"Galashiels’ citizens often refer to their rival as dirty Hawick while the ‘Teries’ retort that Galashiels’s residents are pail merks, supposedly because their town was the last to be plumbed into the mains water system and so residents had to rely on buckets as toilets."

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Love the thread, everyone. It was more than I expected.
Full disclosure: I am 67 years now. White; with more freckles than any of you. I identify as male.
Like walks on the beach. Hate M.A.G.A. baseball caps. Love trad tunes w/anyone, any skill level.
I hope I stayed back enough so everyone could listen & hear the array of comments all of you posted.
Take care,
Ben

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Trish, that’s still a damn sight better than the time I wandered, alone, into pub near Glencolmcille looking for a session, and there clearly wasn’t one (even though it had been advertised). Juke box was blasting some pop rubbish. Fine, whatever. I started shuffling out of the pub when some lads blockaded my escape route and asked what/who I was looking for.

"A session," I said. "I guess it’s not on tonight?"

"Oh, aye, lass, we can show you a session."

Like f**ck you will. Not that kind of session, mate. I swung my large pipes case in their general direction, which forced them aside, and then I bolted out of there, jumped into my car, and fired off down the road. Lead-f*cking-footed on the gas.

On another note, it’s always a bit laughable when a demographic who has never experienced this bullsh*t goes on to excuse bad behaviour, or blow it off, because they’re not in a longstanding disenfranchised, hassled, and under-represented demographic. It’s an easy life. Not your problem. Would those lads in the above situation have made my night that bit more miserable if I’d been a middle-aged white dude? I bet you a million pounds that I would have been completely ignored when I walked into the pub, ascertained that there was no session, and then walked out. Nae bother. Privilege is not worrying about this stuff. I used to worry less and just do whatever, but since those heady days of giving no f*cks, I’ve had so many stressful experiences waltzing into pubs, as a lone (albeit white) female, to play in a sessions that I now choose my venues cautiously.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I haven’t been to very many sessions compared to others who have been involved with the music as long as I have, but I can say that one thing I have come to expect is some form of diversity, sexually and racially. I can’t say that I’ve been to very many sessions where there were no women at all, and just as well I can’t say that I’ve been to very many where I was the only person of color. The only black guy? Sure. But I’ve also been the only black guy in rooms of 20+ people, much larger than any standard Irish music session. I live in a white majority area, it’s not just expected to happen, it’s an inevitability.

On the other hand, the only other space related to the Irish music session space that I’m familiar with is the contra dance space. That space is notably one of the most diverse spaces I’ve ever been in, and you can throw in by age and lifestyle into that metric.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

"Would those lads in the above situation have made my night that bit more miserable if I’d been a middle-aged white dude?"

Very likely not. But if you’d been a young white dude … ? I was one once, lo these many years ago. I was not nearly as cautious as I should have been - but there were plenty of drinking establishments that I would not set foot in, and some that I might cross the street if I had to pass - and I would always suss out an unfamiliar place before I considered letting down my guard. As an old white dude? No problem; I’ll walk in anywhere I have business walking into ….. FWIW.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Well, as a middle aged white woman, I’d say they can be. At one of our local sessions I am fairly often the only/one of very few women and below the average age of the session. However, I am aware there are other sessions fairly nearby where that is not the case.

Why is this so? I suspect the fifty plus years ago, fewer women played as much (no trad music degrees etc) and pubs were less welcoming/more forbidding to women on their own. Add that to lack of baby sitters and more traditional (for want of a better phrase) attitudes to gender roles and life in general and you can see why sessions were more male dominated.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I would totally agree with this statement from my experience.

I’m from Co. Louth and for the past few years of being session active, and an active professional musician in the area, I am the only woman in her 20s playing at sessions that I know of. Co. Louth is the smallest county of course, but it is rich with musicians. The next women up from me would be in their 50s usually, but I’m very regularly the only woman in a session.

I was talking to a few old friends of mine that I grew up playing with as kids over the Mise Fosta discussion last year, and it turns out nearly all of us had either been sexually assaulted or dreadfully harassed - outside of music, but in a pub or club environment which made them stop attending sessions, some giving up music completely.

There are a few upcoming female musicians around the age of 18/19 usually accompanied by a parent who also plays which is great to see, perhaps the visibility of women in sessions won’t be an issue for much longer.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

My understanding is that it was old, white men who initiated the revival of ITM in Ireland, which caught fire with younger musicians in the country, which ultimately led to its spreading throughout the world. Our local sessions are generally open to all players of adequate playing (i.e. be respectful of other musicians and don’t disrupt the session) ability regardless of age, race, faith, or gender.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

At an actual real session I recently attended (outdoors!), an older white guy on a 5 string banjo was gently told he should play less and listen more, while at roughly the same time a non-white young lady was invited to attend a private session at someone’s house. The difference between the two as far as I could tell was that she had clearly taken the time to learn the tunes and he had not. It seemed to me, as an observer, that competence and an understanding of session etiquette were more highly valued than any particular demographic by the participants of this session.

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

I think this is more about the venue than the people. As a few commentators have said, the bar/club environment at night may not be a location that women on their own feel comfortable attending. By contrast, any musical events or groups that I have been involved with, that are located at different venues, and not late at night, are well-attended by women, and mixed age and background individuals. For example, a monthly ukulele jam/session held in the late afternoon at the bar at an Italian restaurant here used to get about 30 people attending regularly. Food and drinks could be ordered and people had a great time. All levels welcomed and included. A wider range of people and ages will be seen in other musical locales, such as festivals. At the Boxwood festival in Nova Scotia, sessions broke out all over the place , and late at night, and informal playing under trees in the afternoon, etc. Safety and not being harassed by drunks is a key factor. Is the place located down some dodgy streets after dark, or is it in an easily accessible and well-lit location where people can come and go easily? Kitchen/ house/ community hall/restaurant sessions may be more appealing to many people than a bar (or change the hours for the session).

Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

Thanks for the diversity of replies everyone! Just when I thought the discussion had run it’s course a few of you came to make some well appreciated comments.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

fair point Roisin - had nearly forgotten but I had a guy follow me out from my regular session into another bar and aggressively proposition me - luckily a friend’s dad was there so I could safely ignore the idiot! he still turns up as well.

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Re: Are ITM sessions primarily older, white, male-dominant or is this a faulty premise about trad sessions?

15 years ago when I discovered this website I was a mamwig. (I learned this new word from this discussion. Look above for the meaning - a few people used the word. Apparently this word is sometimes preceded by the word "dreaded".) Now due to the passage of time and the fact that I’m still here, I’m now an omwig. (I made up this word and all the others below just now.) I think it’s time for me to accept my new status.
The cool thing about progressing from mamwig to omwig is that I actually think I’m a better player after all this time. I’m also now an omwib and an omwim so other pwigs (persons with guitars) get a chance to pluck and strum, if they are present. Sooner or later all the optpaim (old people that play Irish music) are not going to be here, so it’s important that lots of ym and yw learn the music so that it will be here for future generations when we are gone. Therefore ANYONE who knows this music or wants to learn this music is welcome at the sessions I frequent.