Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Hey all! As things are starting to open up again in my local area I’m itching to start a session.

With such an initiative I feel a need to consider ways in which I could make sure the event feels safe, open and welcoming to anyone who may wish to attend, and also that no voices present be minimised.

Being from a culturally dominant background, and therefore having the privilege not to worry about such matters in terms of my own ability to participate, I hope to reach out to others here who may have more experience with what works and what doesn’t from their point of view. It’s also important for me not to impart any unconscious bias I may have into the session, so I open myself to such input as well.

The question then is: Have you experienced sessions that felt more inclusive than others and if so what were the qualities they exhibited which made them so?

Inversely, have you ever felt excluded, either overtly or through e.g. micro-aggressions, from a session? If so, what do you think could have been handled better?

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Huge difference in the session if there are people working in them. They will lead the session. They are there for the publican to be sure that there will always be music in the pub. It is always nice if these musicians that are working ask the ones that are not working to start a set. Because they’re there the incomers won’t dare to start a set without their permission.

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I think in general it’s not hugely complex, and there are a few simple steps worth taking.

1 - when publicising, make clear your intent. No need to explain, just "we welcome musicians of X, Y, Z".

2 - when people get in touch, add in your reply the same thing and say that you welcome comments or feedback

3 - be prepared to intervene at the session, up to and including ejecting people.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I’m technically a minority, but have never noticed anything in any sessions/behaviours etc which would make them less inclusive with respect to this (but nice of you to ask/think about it!)

I have found a few general things which made sessions feel more welcoming to me as a beginner outsider though, which might be useful:

- Making sure there’s a kind of liminal seating area at the session, accessible straight from the door/without walking through the group.

Somewhere new people can join/sit down/watch without feeling they’re not part of the session but, at the same time, not feel they’re sitting in the center and awkward that they can’t play anything.

Essentially some way for a curious newbie/beginner to observe the session, and possibly talk in the break, but not feel like they’re sitting in the main session and taking up space by not playing.

- Specifically asking if new people want to play something (as it’s difficult to know if/when it’s acceptable to).

- If it’s obvious a player hasn’t joined in for a long time and doesn’t want to play, asking if they’d like the group to play a tune/s they know i.e. they don’t need to lead but can play along whilst the group play a tune they know.

- Not from me, but an anxious friend used to say they always preferred pub sessions where the location was close to an exit door/you didn’t have to walk past the bar to exit, so they felt they had an easy route to leave if something odd happened/there was a bar fight.

I appreciate however it’s entirely up to the session how they run/how it works, just some thoughts.

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All very good suggestions. As one who wouldn’t have made it far if it weren’t for welcoming beginner sessions, just like to add a couple of more points.

If you do see someone who is a beginner and struggling and/or might be committing a session faux pas, take them aside at the end of the night and tell them in a nice, helpful manner. Now this requires some patience and not everyone takes to constructive critiques (you’ll have to judge this yourself). But something along the line of “hey, I noticed you were struggling a bit here… may I give a small suggestion? Try this: ______”. I find that people who approached me from a standpoint of trying to help me made me a much more confident player and I was grateful for their advice.

If there’s someone who ends up starting all the tunes without letting others get their turn (we DEFINITELY had one person show up at our local session doing this!) go the round robin approach. This way you don’t call them out, everyone gets their turn, and it’s an established rule. And if people are too shy, it allows them to skip their turn.

All the best to your session!

Cheers,

Melany

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

John Hill, in my experience, maximal openness combined with “no voices excluded” might work if you want to limit yourself to a “round the circle” beginners format session forever.

More experienced players are not going to show up to listen to new players playing The Kesh at 70BPM and John Ryan’s polka every week with 5 guitars and four bodhrans. They are going to create their own events to play together.

If you have no hierarchical structure that encourages advancement, avoids cacophony, and provides an enticement to continually improve, the session will become a rapid race to the lowest level.

If you want a more traditional session, which I know from co-hosting mine now at the same venue and format for 20+ years, can both be open and a meritocracy, set it up so that the first hour or so newer players are encouraged to join, and when they do, offer them a chance to play a tune set. Also make it clear that later in the event, as the more experienced players arrive, if space is limited, the newer players understand that they should give up their seats to the more experienced players. Encourage them to sit nearby and watch and listen, even better, record the tunes on their phone and practice the tunes at home. Provide them with lists of tunes commonly played. This encourages them to learn more of the repertoire. Over the course of several months, perhaps they do the work, and are rewarded for their efforts by playing later in the session as they have more tunes and are able to play at faster tempos.

One other thing, and this is crucial, is to make sure your session players feel safe, and that any incident will be taken care of. Have “designated authority” from the venue management to deal with anything that might happen. Have a zero-tolerance policy for a-holes who are nasty to the other players, or who try to impose their agendas on your event. You will have to, at some point, ask someone to leave for the good of the rest of the players, be prepared to deal with that, because it’s never fun.

Also, you’ll inevitably have beginner backup players show up with a guitar who often have no idea what they really are getting themselves into. You’ll have to decide how to handle this gently, because not doing so possibly sets you up for a very unpleasant night dealing with a struggling backup player, which can destroy a session. We often say “how about you try backing one set and we’ll see how it goes”, and then if they are clearly in way over their head, we’ll ask them not to play, provide them with resources to learn, and encourage them to stay and listen. We also will generally request that there be one backup player and one bodhran player at a time and let the players figure out how to share the time.

In general, be welcoming, actively encourage new players, take care of the players, create a safe environment, and make sure everyone clearly understands the structure and ground rules for the events.

Congratulations on taking on starting a new session, I wish you all the best! If you have any specific questions about how we run our sessions, please feel free to send me a private message.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Yes some great suggestions.

From what I’ve seen so much of the tone of the session is set by the session leader.

I’ve seen sessions lead by welcoming, friendly, gracious, inclusive musicians. They recognise newcomers, make them feel welcome, and ask them to play if they’re comfortable with doing so.

I’ve seen exclusive sessions. Some are openly so, participation is stated to be by invitation only.

In other cases the session leader finds ways to shut out those not considered worthy (for either musical or social reasons).

These ways can be subtle, such as sticking to tunes that the leader reckons that only his cronies know.

Or they can be blatant, such as when an outsider starts a tune the leader and his cronies all stop playing and sit there with long faces until the outsider stops. I’ve seen the leader and his cronies all stand up and leave the session when an outsider starts playing. (Sometimes they go to the bar and wait it out. Sometimes they go off to another room and continue their session there.)

As Michael points out it’s challenging, perhaps impossible, to have a session that suits everyone, due to the people being at differing points in their journey. His two-phase session sounds like a great way to accommodate most people.

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The King of the Pipes, the mighty Finbar Furey playing in concert in the manky Glasgow Apollo in the eighties: "we will now have a session. People ask me "what is a session"; a session is every man for himself." ;)

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

A session where the first hour was designated slow/steady seemed to work for being inclusive over a range of experience.

The leader said it was so that people couldn’t complain that it was too fast later. It also meant that the experienced players couldn’t complain about ‘beginners tunes’ in the first hour. So the less confident and some friendly experienced players turned up early. Other experienced players didn’t arrive until later, when some of the less experienced drifted aside to where they could mainly listen.

It meant one could "find one’s place" and aspire to be in there at the end. Some experienced players being their early meant it still sounded reasonably OK, just not fast.

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David50, yes, exactly!

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Actually I forgot about this/agree with the above.
One of the best sessions we had here, pre covid, had a “slow session” for the first 30mins where we played slow/medium paced tunes which were from a fairly small set.

It allowed beginners to learn a small number but be able to participate (and it’s amazing how you can still get a lot out playing common tunes slowly when more advanced).

We then moved into a full paced session at a specific time on the clock.

Worked perfectly, regulars who didn’t like it could come later, beginners/less confident could play without worrying they were upsetting anyone, then stay to listen to the rest.
With this format, the first session always had a healthy set of beginners (more than normal), a few of whom are now good session regulars from, presumably, developing their confidence/skill there.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Thanks for the outpouring of interest and advice, folks. The slow session to begin definitely sounds like the way to go to include all levels, and I can make this clear in the advertising.

However, I’m particular curious to hear further input from people in groups who might suffer regularly from discrimination, due to gender, skin colour, disability, class or whatever else as I feel it’s also important to consider the diversity of appeal in a session.

Now, I don’t want to derail the discussion into one of picking apart language, and I’ve been delighted by the response so far, but I’d like to make a remark on the above joke about Finbar Furey, as I think it’s a good example of a kind of subtle exclusionary language

I hope simply, and in good humour, to point out in passing the kind of micro-aggression I hope to avoid in my own conduct.

By lauding him as a "king" and as "mighty", and through extolling the virtues of "manly" competitiveness, it could be seen as a reinforcement of patriarchal social norms. If said at a session I fear this might create a feeling of uneasiness amongst people with naturally reserved manners as well as those not identifying as men, and indeed anyone with reservations about the patriarchy.

Anyway, I understand it’s tongue in cheek and reiterate that I’m not hoping to start a discussion about the subtleties of language here and now. Just thought I’d expand on it given the chance.

Many thanks again for the input so far, I’m keen to hear everyone’s further thoughts! Hope your day is going great

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I’m sure you’ll have your hands full just dealing with macro-aggression. 🙂

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One thing to consider if you’re going to start this session yourself and be the de-facto session leader or "anchor," is how a session needs to be a dependable event over time to survive. You need to show up every time. Or at least have a designated substitute available. Especially if it’s a mix of beginners in the group who need encouragement and support. It may be more of a commitment than you realize.

If your session group is all high-end players this may not matter so much, they’ll be self-starters. But in a group that includes mostly beginners, they’ll need an anchor to lead tunes and keep the music flowing. You need to show up consistently, or have a good substitute leader on hand when you can’t make it.

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Since you ask, I’m part of the lgbt and to be honest have never experienced any thing/language related to this which has made me feel awkward in a session (nor would expect to).

I’m not sure if it’s particular to my area, but fundamentally everyone at a session has made a decision to spend thousands of hours by themselves practicing an instrument. Usually this is simply a love of music but, surprisingly frequently, this also seems to come from an “alternative” source of some sort (social anxiety, issues in their past etc).
I think this generally makes attendees very understanding of difference/kind to each other (but I could just be very lucky!)

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I’ve seen a lot said here about beginners. Let me add a word or two about experienced players. The lack of inclusiveness I’ve seen or experienced includes

- clannishness with regard to set choice and socializing

- refusal to adopt and learn your sets

- I used to go to one session that specialized in polkas and another that emphasized O’Carolan. Another had an advanced player that would launch into obscure tunes at breakneck speed.

- We had an occasional visitor who maintained it was against universally accepted etiquette to play too many sets in minor keys.

Some think that there are rules regarding the number of instruments of any variety that are okay. Rule of thumb: see if there’s a problem and then deal with it. As leader, that’s your call, but remember that a session is not a performance, so in the absence of cacophony, stay loose.

The point is, a balance must be established so that everyone has enough to be satisfied and engaged. Over time, your session will develop its own flavor of inclusiveness that radiates "if you don’t like the current set, wait five minutes." There’s room for everyone, but it helps if one person is in charge and is so recognized.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Michael Eskin said, "Also make it clear that later in the event, as the more experienced players arrive, if space is limited, the newer players understand that they should give up their seats to the more experienced players."

This is fine, provided you do it in the way that Michael implies by making it clear at the beginning that the newer players may be asked to move. A danger lurks if you don’t. My true anecdote:

I was a newish arrival in Manchester. There were half a dozen, perhaps even more, sessions within practicable reach, so I was trying them out to find out which one would be the best match for my own interests and medium level of skill. I had been going to one in Grogan’s. The premises were a bit higgledy-piggledy, and the session was held in a kind of half-back room, half separated from the main bar. Nice people, though they all knew each other of old. And a little bit fast for me, but hey, I was trying to learn, and their actual repertoire was a good overlap with mine. Until (I think this was my fourth week), after about an hour I was told that I had to move and find another seat, because Barry was coming and I was in his seat! "Who’s Barry?" I asked about this person who hadn’t been coming for the last few weeks and haven’t been bothered to turn up on time. I forget the answer, but it amounted to the fact that he was important. Given the space in that bar, incidentally, another seat could scarcely have been said to exist.

I have been in restaurants where, due to some cock up, patrons have had to be asked to move, a process which in any decent establishment is accompanied by profuse apologies, excuses, and the offer of something or other, perhaps an extra course, or perhaps a couple of drinks, on the house to show that the apology was meant. So a little bit of, "I’m ever so sorry, I know this is awkward. Hey, can I buy you a beer to make up?" would have gone down fine. A paper notice pinned in advance to the seat saying something like, "Reserved for Barry" would also have been fine. But no.

I packed up my instrument, went to finish my drink standing at the bar, and never went back. Don’t let that happen to your newcomers!

For the sake of clarity, by the way, it wasn’t Manchester, the pub wasn’t Grogan’s, and the guy wasn’t called Barry. The rest is true.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

As a white straight female, the only micro-aggressions I’ve experienced are the types of things Alex and Richard and others have mentioned — sessions being sessions. The gender-related hassle I’ve had is what I would call macro-aggressions, like being hit on by random drunk dudes in the bar. If punters (or even musicians) act threatening or obnoxious, make sure that you have the backing of the venue to get rid of them.

Dealing with the cliqueyness is much harder, as other posters have already said. If you include absolutely everyone, the session will be a perennial beginner’s session, and good players won’t go near it. There are some sessions in town which are precisely that because it’s what their organizers want, which is fine, but if you want a faster, tighter session with a reasonable repertoire, you can’t welcome everyone. Once you start expecting musical standards, you will be excluding people by the very nature of the thing. I remember a mandolin player coming into a session once, and he kept starting tunes, but no one could identify them. No one. We weren’t being jerks, but you can’t join if you don’t know what it is. After his fourth or fifth attempt at starting a set, he yelled angrily, "It’s the Kesh! You know the Kesh! What a bunch of f*cking snobs!" And he stormed out. That same session also had to eject a djembe player. He would bang the hell out of the thing, always out of time. It was driving everyone nuts. Finally, the session organizer sat him down and told him that his style of playing wasn’t really right for Irish music and here were some resources for him to learn how to a play a drumming style that would fit, yadda yadda. The guy disappeared in a huff. Both people in these anecdotes were middle-aged white dudes, by the way.

Then, there are the sessions that exclude even competent players, because they’re not in the ‘in-group.’ I don’t know how you achieve ‘in-group’ status at these sort of sessions, because I’ve never been in an in-group. It’s a mystery. But if you show up at a session you don’t know (or you do), and that’s the dynamic, and you’re not ‘Barry,’ it’s not pleasant. It would be great to be Barry.

I wonder how Michael’s session works. It’s a good idea in theory. But Michael, at what point in someone’s musical journey do they *not* have to move aside for experienced players later in the night? Where do you draw the line? It seems like it could become very fraught and political.

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It’s almost never been a problem, I think because we actually trust people to know when they are out of their element and can make that judgment themselves. Many nights we have room for everyone, but on those occasional nights where we get a large number of players, some players will, on their own, move from the main circle to the bar area next to where we play and either listen or quietly play along figuring out the tunes from a distance. Rarely do I have to ask anyone, but it has happened, and in those cases there was seldom any drama involved. I think the key is as mentioned above, treat people as adults, communicate expectations, and when one does have to ask, explain why: “Hey John (newer player), would you mind giving up your seat to Sean (very experienced player), he’s visiting from Boston and we’d really like to get him in for some tunes. Thanks!” (Names changed to protect the innocent). Do we get the occasion player who doesn’t get the hint, yes, and generally we’ll try to work around it rather than ask them, unless it’s a real problem.

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DSS’s story about the mandolin player reminded me of a similar situation one time in Girvan.

More bizarrely, it was a bodhran player who was trying to lead the tunes! He was even more astonished that nobody knew them. 🙂

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DrSilverSpear’s story is essentially identical to a situation we had several years ago at our session, but it was a very drunk tenor banjo player. Kept starting sets and we’d try to figure out what he was playing, but it just sounded like random noise, didn’t help that the banjo was completely out of tune.

At the end of the cacophony, he was very upset and asked "you don’t know the Kesh Jig?" Eventually, he got himself permanently uninvited from the session, was a mean drunk as well as poor banjo player.

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"The Kesh - jig of choice for drunken arseholes!"

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Paradoxically, by far the most inclusive sessions I’ve been in have been ones with a strong leader. The "democratic" style is one that works very well for regulars, but it ends up with a lot of unwritten rules and etiquette that can be extremely hard for a newcomer to parse. The "round the circle" method alleviates that to a degree, but not everyone is equally willing or able to lead sets. And people tend to overestimate just how universal "session etiquette" is, making it hard on a newcomer who’s left guessing what rules they need to follow. For example, I’ve been at sessions where it’s considered common courtesy to shout the guitar/bodhran player the key to the next tune just before you start it, and at others where the accompanying players find it rude/condescending! It’s just really hard to figure out the nuances of each individual session, especially since you’ve usually only got 2-3 hours to do it!

The best sessions I’ve been to have had one or two clear leaders. These are not necessarily the best players, although usually they are. The key is that they are clearly the leader of the session, and even as a newcomer it’s easy to see that. They’ll generally start about 50% of the sets themselves, but will alternate their sets with others in the group. When a newcomer comes in, they’ll let them get settled in with a set or two, then ask them to start something. They can then gauge where the newcomer stands, and make sure that they’re neither left out nor put in a position where they’re over their head.

I know this sounds intimidating or dictatorial, but the key is really in the execution. The best leaders I’ve been around have been able to balance keeping tight control with a warm, friendly persona that in no way makes it seems like this is "their" session or that they are some kind of dictator. For example, yes, they’re using the first set the newcomer plays to gauge their ability level. They should in no way let on that this is the case, and the point isn’t "oh, they’re not as good as us, we’ll ignore them for the rest of the night." Instead, it’s A) to make sure the player isn’t completely out of their depth, B) to "throw them a bone" early on and let them know they’re welcome in the group, and C) to clearly establish the rules of the session and how sets are initiated.

I’ve seen great leaders handle all the usual "trouble" gracefully and often without the person even knowing that they’re being "handled." One key that people usually don’t understand is the concept of buy-in. If a person feels like they’re accepted at a session, and they *like* the session and the people in it, they’re much more likely to follow whatever rules are laid down. And a good leader will be able to make everyone feel at home, even if they’re not actually playing all that much. The social aspect is as important as the music in this regard, and making people feel accepted socially can go a long way. It’ll also make them more receptive to any tips you might want to give them, up to and including "this may not be the best place for you to play XYZ."

The *least* inclusive sessions I’ve been to are the ones that leave most of the burden of "fitting in" to the newcomer. They’re forced to discern unspoken rules, punished for any unknowing faux pas they might commit without any idea as to how or why, and ignored for in-group chitchat in between sets. Some I’ve been to have been more "catch-up sessions between friends" than music sessions, with every 5 minute set of tunes followed by 10 minutes of talk about people, places and things that no one but the people in the in-group have any knowledge of or interest in. Some have been "let’s leave this guy in the dust" sessions, where the rep is entirely tunes in unorthodox keys off of obscure albums played at breakneck speed. Some have been "purer than thou" groups, where strict rules about what is or isn’t traditional mean that everything but a narrow band of music is disregarded. And some have just been downright cold, great music played by people who simply don’t care to make anyone feel welcome.

One thing to note is that I think it’s perfectly OK to have non-inclusive sessions. To a certain exttent, you *have* to be exclusive, as has been noted, because you need a certain level of experience and defined rep to have a successful trad session in the first place. Also, sometimes you just want to play with your friends, or play specific rep, or fly through everything at Mach 9, or test out your Eb flutes or flat sets of pipes. In fact, I think Eb and other odd-key sessions are fantastic, because they are very up-front about their exclusiveness. They let you know right off the bat that they’re not particularly interested in just anyone joining in. The issue is when a session purports to be open/inclusive in some way and then is anything but. I’d much rather know I’m not welcome right off the bat than have it slowly dawn on me as a creeping feeling over the course of 3 hours.

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I think you might need to be a little careful being too inclusive - not race/gender/sexual preference-wise, but music-wise. If you’re shooting for specifically an Irish session, but there aren’t that many experienced Irish musicians around, you may end up with a hodgepodge of musical styles, from people that treat it like an open mic night to players who only know other forms of traditional music.

I was at an "inclusive and welcoming" session many years ago, and here are a few of the things that happened: A woman showed up with a tambourine. She played along happily for a while, but then someone asked her if she could tape up the zills, so that they would stop jingling so much. She was so offended that she stormed out in a huff. The leader asked us not to play any tunes that they didn’t have in their fake books, and we had to announce what tune we would play before playing it, so people could find it in their books. And then we were asked not to play sets, because people couldn’t change pages in their books that fast. And finally, there was a blues guitarist that showed up with an electric guitar and amp, and couldn’t understand why we wanted him to turn the volume down.

So be inclusive, but also be clear about your goals, rules, and expectations. Making people feel welcome is great, and one of the great things about Irish traditional music, but part of the way you make people feel welcome is by letting them know what the boundaries are (instead of passive-aggressively expecting them to figure it out on their own…)

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"The Kesh - jig of choice for drunken arseholes!"
Is that right ?

Of course not! It was in reference to the two above stories involving the poor, innocent tune!

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Kenny, did you even read the memo? 🙂

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It’s not the Kesh’s fault. I quite like it. But you don’t forget someone so drunk he could barely stand, waving a mandolin around and shouting angrily, "It’s the KESH. You’re all f*cking snobs!!" Poor Kesh.

I think I’ve been at the same session as the Rev, where I was shouted at for stringing some tunes together that weren’t beside one another in the Fiddler’s Fakebook. I was quite baffled. I didn’t know slinging a couple tunes together on the fly was considered unacceptable in the etiquette of that particular session.

"Which page is it on?’ someone frantically asked me.
"Uhhhhh…. I don’t know," I said. I didn’t even know if it was in the bloody book.
"You have to give people page numbers," someone told me irritably.

But then you get bigsciota’s eloquent description, which perfectly encapsulates many of the sessions in this town.

"The *least* inclusive sessions I’ve been to are the ones that leave most of the burden of "fitting in" to the newcomer. They’re forced to discern unspoken rules, punished for any unknowing faux pas they might commit without any idea as to how or why, and ignored for in-group chitchat in between sets. Some I’ve been to have been more "catch-up sessions between friends" than music sessions, with every 5 minute set of tunes followed by 10 minutes of talk about people, places and things that no one but the people in the in-group have any knowledge of or interest in. Some have been "let’s leave this guy in the dust" sessions, where the rep is entirely tunes in unorthodox keys off of obscure albums played at breakneck speed."

For a while, I’d been attending one, on and off, and they didn’t give me the time of day. I questioned my playing…Maybe rightly. But I felt less sh1t about my playing when a German piper appeared at aforesaid session one night. Nice chap and a hell of a player. Better than me. Session leaders didn’t give him the time of day, either. He found that confusing and asked me what was going on. I said, ‘Yeah, they do this here." He said the sessions in Hamburg or Berlin or wherever he was from were a lot friendler. I don’t doubt.

Maybe when the sessions can all come back in a post-COVID world, people will be more open and less clannish (not too nice, though, because you don’t want the tamborines). But probably not.

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Don’t count on it. 🙂

I figure 6 weeks of session nirvana and back to the same old shite.

Other people are odd creatures.

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As my uncle used to say, "They can’t all be like us!"

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"The leader asked us not to play any tunes that they didn’t have in their fake books, and we had to announce what tune we would play before playing it, so people could find it in their books. And then we were asked not to play sets, because people couldn’t change pages in their books that fast."

Reverend it sounds like the session I attended where everybody showed up at the same time, set up music stands, and plopped identical binders on the stands.

The leader would say "page 23" and everyone would play whatever was on that page.

As a complete outsider (visiting from another State) I had no idea that it was a sightreading session.

I’m a sightreader and I’m fine with the idea of a sightreading session (though I’d never seen such a thing) but I wish I had known beforehand, so I could have arranged to get whatever book it was. Were I running such a session I would have loaner books for visitors.

(BTW the tunes were mostly familiar tunes, but usually in odd arrangements, and often in strange keys.)

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> For a while, I’d been attending one, on and off, and they didn’t give me the time of day. I questioned my playing…Maybe rightly. But I felt less sh1t about my playing when a German piper appeared at aforesaid session one night. Nice chap and a hell of a player. Better than me. Session leaders didn’t give him the time of day, either. He found that confusing and asked me what was going on. I said, ‘Yeah, they do this here." He said the sessions in Hamburg or Berlin or wherever he was from were a lot friendler. I don’t doubt.

DSS, I had that exact experience! It was at a session I popped into occasionally, good music but you’d swear you were just a bad smell in the corner by the way they treated you. A guy about my age (at the time, mid-20s) was in one time, phenomenal player, had been featured on TG4’s trad programmes and everything. Same treatment. At one point he leans over to me and asks "is this…normal?" I just said yes, and pointed him towards some friendlier sessions in town. That session lost a hell of a musician, he was new to town and would have been a great addition if they’d just asked him a question or two!

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

This is an interesting discussion, even although it covers a lot of old ground here.

Every session is different in one way or another. However, there should be no excuse for deliberate rudeness or exclusion on "non musical grounds" unless the the visitor’s behaviour/character is obviously "beyond the pale" as well. Unfortunately, even much of this can be quite subjective. "Musical grounds" could also cover a multitude of possibilities including seating arrangements especially if space is limited.

Someone mentioned earlier that attempts to make sessions inclusive can often have the opposite effect which is very true. It’s impossible to please or cater for everybody. For instance, encouraging beginners and learners to an excessive extent can exclude more experienced musicians or restrict their activities when they attend. So, if you haven’t a copy of the "blue book" or whatever, you can’t play unless you already know the tunes. Most experienced players probably will, of course, but will feel constrained when thinking about starting tunes off themselves.

Personally, I think it’s inevitable that there will always be a variety of different arrangements. Some sessions will be friendly, more inclusive, and welcoming than others as long as human beings wish to gather together for a common purpose. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. You can either adapt to "fit in" or go somewhere else if this proves impossible or not worth the effort.

Of course, the last paragraph still doesn’t excuse discrimination on grounds such as race, sex, gender, class and so on which should always be unacceptable in a public space.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

"discrimination on grounds such as race, sex, gender, class and so on which should always be unacceptable in a public space." Seems like it might be a matter of discrimination on the basis of culture - musical culture.

Or assumed musical culture…

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I appreciate so much in this discussion. Plenty of what I’m hearing from ya’ll is similar to my own experiences. Personally I think we need to keep this thread going because it is bringing out so much which is vital for sessions. Vital for the regulars, newbies, visiting musicians, session hosts.

"So be inclusive, but also be clear about your goals, rules, and expectations. Making people feel welcome is great, and one of the great things about Irish traditional music, but part of the way you make people feel welcome is by letting them know what the boundaries are (instead of passive-aggressively expecting them to figure it out on their own…)"

ps ~ I like The Kesh. Any problem with this jig is not because of the tune.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

"ps ~ I like The Kesh. Any problem with this jig is not because of the tune."

The Kesh is a great tune. However, because it’s one of the first beginner tunes people learn, it’s often played in beginner-friendly sessions at a much slower tempo than it needs. And then it’s deadly dull and lifeless.

It needs to be played at a proper dance tempo like that Bothy Band clip above, and sessions where everyone can play it at that tempo have likely moved on to other repertoire.

As with some other great tunes, the Kesh jig’s association with "beginner repertoire" has been cemented over the years with tune books, teachers and YouTube as a beginner’s tune. It’s a shame that has happened, but a group of talented players can resurrect these tunes and give them life again.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

> The Kesh is a great tune. However, because it’s one of the first beginner tunes people learn, it’s often played in beginner-friendly sessions at a much slower tempo than it needs. And then it’s deadly dull and lifeless.

True of a ton of polkas as well.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Does anyone here not know the top 10 popular tunes trending this week on The Mustard Chart?
https://thesession.org/tunes/popular
😀

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

"discrimination on the basis of culture - musical culture.

Or assumed musical culture…"

I wonder what is meant here. It’s ambiguous due to the multiple meanings of the word "assumed" (id est which party is doing the assuming).

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

In my experience, sessions are usually inclusive of people from minority groups. Of course, I’m a straight white man, so maybe I’m missing some subtle exclusionary stuff. But, usually when I see people get the cold shoulder it’s because they don’t seem to get the session culture, or because they don’t belong to the clique.
I’m also not sure how these kind of microaggressions would typically happen. Like mostly the conversation at sessions is very shallow small talk stuff, or the kind of deep conversations long term friends have. Or about tunes and players and festivals and stuff, but again, the ‘microaggressions’ are more musical than anything else. “You’ve a liking for those flashy modern tunes don’t you?” , “you play a lot of polkas. We don’t play so many of them around here.”
In terms of being inclusive to gay people, women etc… I noticed a lot of pubs put up small rainbow flags and things around the time of the referendum and in many cases didn’t take them down afterwards. Sort of a quiet “we’re on your side” message. I can’t say for sure that this makes a difference, but I think if I were gay it would be encouraging. (And generally, if a space is welcoming to one minority group, they’re pretty alright with the others too).

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I wouldn’t call those ‘micro-aggressions’ - I’d call them ‘hints’, maybe.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I wouldn’t either really. I’d call them anything from friendly hints to snide remarks depending on the tone and context.
But, from my limited understanding, that’s roughly the territory “micro-aggressions” covers, only usually about who someone is rather than what they’re doing.
I don’t really hear many ethnic or gender or sexuality microaggressions in sessions, although like I said, since they wouldn’t usually be aimed at me, maybe they’re happening but flying under my radar.
Mostly you could get through the average session with three or four phrases about tune provenance and whether or not you want a pint.
If you’ve known the other people there for a long time it’s different, but if you’ve known them a long time and feel comfortable with them, maybe the microaggressions issue doesn’t really come up?

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

John Hill,

Pre COVID, I traveled for a living and I had the honor of joining sessions in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Denver, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, Portland, Dublin (OH), Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and I’m sure to be missing a few…

At none of these sessions have I ever witnessed racial insensitivity or exclusion. I’ve never seen people excluded or aggressed based on gender or identity. I’ve never seen anyone excluded or aggressed for ageism or ableism. In fact, I’d say that in all my experiences, Irish Trad sessions in the U.S. may be one of the most inclusive environments I’ve been in. I HAVE seen people interpret “suggestions” or “hints” as gender aggression (and I’m not entirely sure the accusation was accurate).

THAT BEING SAID….

Irish Trad Sessions in the U.S. can be some of the most clic-ish and hierarchical environments I’ve ever been in. But, the exclusivity is based usually on one’s ability, experience, personality, friendliness or cooperation with the culture. It can also be based on whether or not you are part of the “club.”

The best sessions that people feel included in are sessions that fit their ability and satisfy the reason they came out to play. I try to ask people I’m sitting next to what they like about the session and they’ll usually tell me something about the nice folks who are there or the excellence of certain players. If they don’t like it, they’ll usually tell me what’s better about another session that I “should really go to” instead- “we have much nicer people!” or “the tunes are WAY faster,” or “So-and-so leads THAT session.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is no way to make your session utterly inclusive. People have different motives for going and you can’t satisfy even most of them. As far as worrying about the relationship between equity and inclusion and Irish Trad…don’t worry about it!

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

@ Richard D Cook. "It’s ambiguous due to the multiple meanings of the word "assumed" "

I meant an assumption about whether someone would ‘fit in’ musically based on what they looked like or how they spoke. Rather than discrimination against them personally based on what they looked like or how they spoke.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

"Rather than discrimination against them personally based on what they looked like or how they spoke."

I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any of my fellow session players. I spend the whole session staring at the ceiling trying to remember tunes. 🙂

Re: Qualities of Actual Sessions

I play with a number of married couples and they do not wear kid gloves. There’s no *hinting*. It’s all above board.

Small-talk, shallow conversations…are we talking about Irish sessions? Maybe no talking when tunes are being played. Sure, most conversation is before or after the session; sometimes between tunes but ‘there’s always gossip’.

Is it idle chit-chat all the time in many Irish sessions? I’m not saying there’s no small talk just it’s rarely the whole story if you look beyond the surface.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

John - I think a clear message here is that players of the same skill level will play together- even if they hate eachother’s guts.

For this reason I’d suggest focusing on increasing access to instruments for poorer people & access to excellent music tuition- the prices of instruments are often prohibitive.

This will have a far bigger impact on reducing the effects of patriarchy than policing idioms, using bad faith interpretations. A focus on the impacts on people’s lives of idioms vs having no instrument and so on will show the relative impotence and irrelevance of policing language vs widening access.

Though harmful racists, sexists, Islamophobes, homophobes, poor blamers should (and probably already do) receive a prompt boot in the sore bits and a one way ticket out of there.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

What are "poor blamers"?

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Sorry AB - people who are disparaging of poor people!

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I figured that much just not sure of the context in this thread.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Choons, it took me awhile to unpack what you were saying in your penultimate reply.
It was a bit difficult for me to comprehend. There are some qualifiers in the reply which don’t work for me.
I understand your intent though I’m not signing off on everything you are suggesting; not 100%.
Cheers! Sorry it took me so long to process.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

No bother -

People are often more comfortable with, & unaware of, discrimination against the poor.

It’s a far less visible discrimination partly as corporations do not fund its eradication. Not as much as they fund other (important) forms of popular discrimination.

Someone saying “every man for himself” is not a real barrier to a session - not affording an instrument and tuition is.

Sign off on it if you like or not - it’s patently and sadly true ;)

This thread is about inclusion -

Im not surprised you struggle to see the relevance - you don’t recognise discrimination against the poor as relevant to the issue of inclusion - many others will also be blinded to this very real barrier to sessions.

It should be the first thing we think of when it comes to inclusion.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

A lot has been said already about how race/gender/ethnicity/class issues are not really issues when at session, so here’s another take on inclusivity: make information about your session publicly accessible.

Way too often nowadays the only source of information about a session is some Facebook group. If you want a schedule - check FB, if you want updates - check FB, if you want to contact the organizer - send them a FB message.

But here’s a catch: you can’t do any of these things unless you create a Facebook account (and, therefore, give consent to FB’s ToS). If you think "but everyone has a FB account these days" - you’re a part of the problem 🙂

So - please, please, please publish information about your session elsewhere (e.g. here, at TSO), and have a working secondary communication channel (e.g. an email address which you actually read). This way you’ll make the world a bit better.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Re: discrimination against the poor.

IMO, the Irish traditional music is more accessible nowadays than it ever was, and more accessible than any other genre of music. A pennywhistle costs how much, €7? Given how much time you’re going to spend on it, more or less anyone can afford that - and that’s a real, actual musical instrument; for some - the only instrument they’ll ever need.

Tuition is not free indeed, but there’s more than enough free educational information on the web, even before you raise the Jolly Rodger and go yarr harr (which you totally should, if you’re poor).

Music is almost-free. A lot of free stuff on Youtube, Spotify subscriptions are cheap, and there’s always the Jolly Rodger option too (which, again, you absolutely should use if you’re poor and can’t afford buying CDs).

Yes, you won’t be able to get a €6000 concertina and €100 weekly private lessons, but you know what? These things are optional. Unlike with jazz, or classical music, or even heavy metal, you absolutely can get into Irish traditional music with €7 and enough determination - and that’s the beauty of it. Its inclusiveness, if I may.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Quite agree Artyom. I choose not to do Facebook as it has, in my opinion, become a troll cesspit of mis-information.
So yes please - bear in mind all those who wouldn’t have Facebook even as a prize. If you want to know what I really think of Facebook - feel free to message me.😛

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Choons, I never said discrimination against poor people was irrelevant. Individuals who struggle to make ends meet matter. I simply could not easily follow your sentences. It took reading through about three times but
I think now I have the gist of it.

"People are often more comfortable with, & unaware of, discrimination against the poor."
I talk to homeless, impoverished, title 8 housing, single parent, unemployed, underemployed… TBIs, military PTSD vets, etc. often. It can be alot to take in but I listen and help when I can. As far as the discrimination
against poor people it is a huge issue. I am aware.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions ~ "Widening access"

I’m not too proud to acknowledge the possibility I may be missing something crucial. If so, how should I think about discrimination against poor players locally? If it’s a question of paying for tuition or an instrument I’m assuming our local community of trad players can provide either of these. Many here have instruments
they don’t play regularly and I know the loan of an instrument has happened as long as I’ve been playing trad.
I have borrowed, loaned, sold & given various flutes and whistles over the years.

For lessons Chico has plenty of mentors and self-employed music instructors who probably would be willing
to work with anyone strapped for cash. I cannot speak for anyone other than myself though I hope my musical community is willing to reach out to anyone in need if it helps bring them into trad.

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

“ In terms of being inclusive to gay people, women etc… I noticed a lot of pubs put up small rainbow flags and things around the time of the referendum and in many cases didn’t take them down afterwards. Sort of a quiet “we’re on your side” message. I can’t say for sure that this makes a difference, but I think if I were gay it would be encouraging.”

Actually… (again only since this is specifically the question of the poster), I hadn’t thought about it but I do find this a little unwelcoming…

I’m not sure if it’s the same globally, but in the UK the public took on “the rainbow” as a symbol of hope during COVID and put it everywhere (windows, pubs etc), which was a lovely/great thing.

However, there’s a very specific 6 striped rainbow symbol, which is the pride flag, and historically was put on certain pub doors to let you know it was a safe space (bar people were trained to intervene if you started being harassed by other pub goers etc.) and you might meet other people going through the same things/could be yourself a little there etc.

Due to it’s easy availability in shops/internet, everyone started buying/repurposing the pride flag and putting it everywhere (oddly most frequently in the scarier local pubs) as a tribute to the NHS/Covid.
Even our health secretary (main politician) has repurposed a badge aimed at improving visibility of gay people in the NHS and wears it permanently as a Covid symbol.

That’s fine and their right (and gay people have no right to rainbows!), but I do find it a little uncomfortable when I go into a pub covered in Pride flags when I know they’ve been put up for Covid as (however irrationally), it feels a little like a bit of our culture/indicators of safe spaces has been taken.
It also, on a tiny level, makes me feel a little odd why the owners have made the decision to do this (you can buy plenty of rainbow flags that aren’t the pride flag/are a more convincing rainbow).

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

"gay people have no right to rainbows!" Was that a typo?

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I meant, I understand we have no ownership of using rainbows as a symbol over other people using it for whatever they want, just because of its historical use in pride flags.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions 🌈

Cheers, I would have phrased it differently. Rainbows are for everyone(?) Hard to say since I’m just waking up.
Thanks for clarifying, belayatron

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

This is getting complicated … !

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

I get the hint, meself. 😀

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Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

AB- no problem - I’m not surprised to hear you’re a lovey guy when it comes to this- and the lack of awareness point was not aimed directly at yourself.

As someone who works to address inclusion, directly as part of my main living, I am more wound up by a general trend for society’s discussions around inclusion to consistently be blind to the inclusion of the poor.

As you’ll know - the sessions we have globally will normally be a huge leveller and all types will be welcomed if able to contribute to (or appreciate) the music. However, as we know, that ability to contribute comes with a price tag - a conducive home environment - and normally good teaching.

I’m sorry if the grumpy rant came across as needlessly confrontational - really having popped into sessions globally I know there is little ill will towards players of different protected characteristics (or at least the same amount 😛). But I do know that it’s easy not to appreciate the funds that afford us our positions & abilities - funds that many people do not have, not due to their own failings.

If my grumpy rant has reminded of that then it’s done it’s job - apologies for the collateral damages…!

Artyom- we are indeed in a great position to address inclusion of all - and the cheap whistles are definable party of that solution - just not the whole thing - and we’d be at a loss if we underestimated the integral nature of in person teaching to our tradition. So there’s lots we can do - such as make sure that any projects we are involved in ensure they can still allow poorer people etc.. ;) whistles don’t solve everything - no matter how awesome they are!

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

@ Choons. Are you using ‘poor’ to mean something other than just not having much/enough money?

Not having enough money and ‘a conducive home environment’ may be correlated in many societies but they don’t have to go together. When I was a kid many of the adults I knew who played instruments did it partly because once they had the instrument practising and playing it was almost cost-free. A cheap harmonic may have been a special present for a kid but getting good at playing it took time not money.

As you say music is a great leveller. At many sessions I have been to ‘being inclusive’ includes being aware that some people who make a drink last an hour or more are doing it because the cost of another means doing without something else. Or that being there is thanks to someone giving them a lift because thought they have a car it only has fuel for essential purposes, or this week being able to feed the family without doing a shift at the second low-paid job. ‘Being aware’ including not going on and on about things that to some people are luxuries beyond their reach.

Re: Qualities of Inclusive Sessions

Thanks David,

Aye - there are definitely times when money is unfairly a barrier to music - and there are still some who are unaware.