Creeping elitification

Creeping elitification

In the thread https://thesession.org/discussions/46359 about the Boehm flute there is mention of Philippe Barnes, an obviously highly talented musician and apparently nice guy, who has an MA in Irish Trad from University of Limerick. There is also a claim that "classically trained bodhran player" is definitely a thing: "It’s taught on the Traditional Music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. For example Craig Baxter … studies Bodhran there alongside pipe band snare drum. His bodhran tutor there was Martin O’Neill." I take it as read that he is very good at it.

What concerns me is what I tried to put into the title here. Are we getting to the stage where, if someone is to be taken seriously as a trad musician, they have to have trained at Limerick or some other hallowed institution? Is traditional music becoming something owned by elites who have spent years attending a conservatoire? Is it no longer the music of farmers and labourers (if we buy the "rural idyll" myth) or, in more modern terms, shop assistants, teachers, bank staff, truck drivers, catering staff, hairdressers, computer programmers or, well, anybody really who has at least a few tunes on an acoustic instrument and likes to get together with others and bang them out?

For many years now there has been a trend for the music to be presented on stages, with lights, mikes and mixing desks, playing "at" an essentially passive audience who have paid $$$ to sit in rows of seats and absorb the entertainment. It’s a trend that goes back to the emergence of music halls, of course, and while it may be very entertaining, and the quality may be high, it’s inimical to the idea music as a common cultural good. I worry that the eltification associated with BAs and MAs and PhDs pushes in the same direction as commercial commodification.

So here’s to those who are (hopefully moderately competent) amateurs, and who make music in kitchens and pubs and public parks, who provide background music in bars or restaurants, in the street and in their own homes.

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I really wouldn’t worry about it! I’m sure it’s interesting to study any aspects of music and it could well be an important step towards teaching, but I think only very peculiar people would genuinely care that someone playing any sort of music outside of the classical/ orchestral field had actually studied their instrument or genre.

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I think the teaching point is very important. Look at somebody like Ian Lowthian - a noted folk accordionist. Ian grew up in the borders and absorbed the local folk traditions. He became a classical player and trained in London (Royal Academy of Music) but also played for (Scottish) dancing and doing French cabaret music in his spare time. He now teaches folk music and plays in a ceilidh band. He also works at Selkirk High School. The School also has instructors in Clarsach (Scots Harp) and Pipes!

Many of his school students will have experience of folk music as there is a strong tradition in the area. In a sense it’s a formalisation of the local fiddle expert who took a few pupils in his spare time. We now have all sorts of rules about safeguarding. If we want to pass on the traditions, we need to have a standard of both performance and teaching ability.

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If I may be allowed to quote from my forthcoming book ("Is That So?" Memories, Music & Meanderings).

"Students today have the chance to take a degree course in Folk Music, an option about as useful to the student as a degree in tying your shoelaces and judging by the graduates one hears now, about as much benefit to folk music. Yes, they come out of their course technically able, almost clinically perfect in their musicianship but all sounding as empty as the word clinical would convey, there’s no “soul” to their music, no direct empathy with very core of music’s raison d’etre, the experience of the ordinary people expressed in music and song, a lack which I find rather distasteful. An analogous comparison would be that of career politicians who go to the “best” schools, attend university and gain a degree in politics but yet learn nothing and especially nothing about the ordinary people, the electorate, except as a commodity to be manipulated and they also lack the wisdom to relate to the ordinary people having never descended from the confines of their ivory towers.
For academia to take an amorphous intangible such as folk music from the folk whose music it is and to make an elitist object of it is harking back to the bad old days of English Folk Dance and Song Society of the 1920’s when it was believed that the peasantry were too unlearned to appreciate their own heritage and too ignorant of musical theory to understand it. An example of this style of thinking is well documented in the archives. Two eminent musicians were arguing over the correctness of a score taken down from a “peasant musician” in the field.
The telling line is, “Do you mean to tell me that an uneducated peasant can play a tune in a Phrygian mode when many of our most illustrious musicologists can’t even agree as to what a Phrygian mode is?”"

Jon

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It’s the creeping bit that scares me.

Dare I imagine Philippe or Eimear or another so-called elite creeping into one of our local sessions?

…oh wait a minute, they have. Lots of times. Except, they didn’t creep.

They just came in, smiled, said hello, how ye doin’?, sat down, had the craic and played along with the tunes the rest of the session players started up. No big deal. No "elitification", if such a word really exists.

Next discussion please?

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I couldn’t agree with Jon Heslop more. The sole purpose of University is to produce individuals with the skills necessary for running more efficient corporations and building better bombs. If the wee ’uns want to pursue a love of useless things like music, art, and literature, let ’em do it in their free time.

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Leo Rowsome taught uilleann pipes at the Dublin Municipal School Of Music in the 1920s.

Some great pipers were produced by his teaching. I never heard anybody complain about it.

For sure there are valid discussions to be had on the two topics the OP brings up

1) Folk music being formally taught at University

2) Folk music being played by professionals for a passive audience.

I urge people to investigate what happened to Bulgarian folk music in the Communist era. The situation in Bulgaria anticipated what’s now happening in Scotland and Ireland by a half-century.

Beginning in the 1950s the State scoured the villages for the very best folk performers and set them up in Universities as music professors and created professional ensembles who performed regularly on radio and live performances.

Many feel that the process missed the whole point of folk music and produced highly skilled performers who were out of touch with the traditional village life that had produced the music. No one can deny that the University system produced large numbers of excellent players.

See May It Fill Your Soul by Dr Timothy Rice.

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There are a couple of strands worth considering. One, the divergence in musical practice between us mere oiks and the conservatoire laureates. Some of the stuff these folk play and record is to mind nothing to do with traditional music or song, and because these people are getting radio and TV play, they have strong financial incentives to produce original material rather than engage with the tradition. I’ve said before that these courses will never produce a Peat & Diesel, or an Alex Francis MacKay, so what are they producing?

Two, the impact on local scenes. I was told a while back by a very fine guitarist of a session where he was told off by a conservatoirist for not playing an Em9add11 (or some such) at the appropriate moment, and when he did indeed play the Em9add11 on the next round was told he had used the wrong inversion. I know a lot of people in places where these courses operate have similar tales, and that operating sessions that are open to mere mortals can be practically difficult and politically fraught.

The other question I have is whether it’s much good for the musicians themselves. I’m not sure what the total numbers are, but I’d be interested to know where RCS graduates are 5-10 years after graduating, and whether they actually have secure, paying careers in music that they wouldn’t have had without the degree course.

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Joe you forgot to preface that with "creeping". Creeping music, art, and literature. To get a higher education level degree in it. Preposterous. Why should people be allowed to get good at that nonsense? Outrageous. The birch is too good for them. Bring back hanging I say.

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"The birch is too good for them" — puts me in the mood to play The Monaghan Twig and The Ash Plant, both of which are said to refer to that particular corrective technique.

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The OP’s final couple of paragraphs have me hearing the question(s) as "Is playing traditional music as a day job a good thing for traditional music (and is it still traditional music) ? "

If someone wants to study formally as part of becoming a professional musician then why restrict them to genres of music that have "traditionally" (🙂) been taught at universities? (Richard’s first point above). As someone who spends some of my disposable income on tickets to be part of a passive audience (Richard’s second point) then it’s up to me if I chose them or someone else to listen to. I have been very happy sitting on my backside listening to some of these people, usually mixed in with people who didn’t go that route (and it’s great to be able to risk doing it again).

Doesn’t stop me playing tunes with other folks who have non-musical day jobs, and a few who do it for money some or all of the time.

I think it’s far less of a threat to the music that gets plays in sessions than bands who get further and further away from tradition as their recording career develops. Seems that most full timers have an urge to broaden their horizons so getting their study of traditional music in early may help keep it in there.

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Isn’t all this just an extension of the old CCE debate in a way? Like people have been formally studying trad for a long time. (In fact most of the old ‘touchstone of tradition’ musicians from way back had teachers.) And various traveler families were full-time professionals a long time before the revival.
I notice similar things from serious ceoltas musicians as I do in recent limerick graduates. They’re technically very good - close to flawless in fact- but there can be a certain ‘sameness’ to the way they play. Not all of them necessarily and not always to the same degree, but I can understand people who don’t like it.
The thing is, a few years later most of them have maybe internalized the lessons all the way and developed their own personal sound.
It’s very tempting to look at all that competence and shore up our own image by saying “it’s technical and precise, but it doesn’t have any soul - not like me. I might be rougher around the edges but I have an authentic personal style.”
But most of the time that’s actually not very fair. Most of the time those musicians are just very technically proficient and also as ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ or ‘full of soul’ as anyone else.

In the meantime, I think the proof is usually in the pudding. When I hear someone really good I don’t immediately wonder if they have a degree in Irish music performance. I just think wow! Nice playing!
I’ve played with a lot of people and, for most of them, I don’t have a clue what academic credentials they have. I’ve been to a good few concerts and, again, I rarely knew whether the performers had won Fleadhs or had a doctorate from Limerick or whatever. I just knew I liked their playing.

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I’ve been knocking around the local folk scene for several decades, and have run into players of a wide range of standards - some who grew up immersed in a musical tradition and learned it like a language, some (like me) with a fondness for music and who gravitated towards the traditional stuff in their teens or subsequently, some who studied to go up the grades and found folk music somewhere along the line, and a very few who have taken (or taught on) a specific Folk Music university course.

Of the latter, the ones I’ve met started out as amateurs, playing for dances, Morris, clubs, sessions, etc., and/or came from families where trad tunes were being played. And very good they are too - and indeed already were before they went off to study. What I’ve never found is any evidence of elitism. I’ve never seen a less proficient player silenced by the presence of a folk-music graduate. I’ve never known anyone - of whatever level of expertise - to be dissuaded from taking part in trad music-making because they hadn’t studied it in any formal/academic way.

The discussion above has included some very sweeping statements - some, regrettably, in a rather superior and condescending tone. I’m reminded of the adage that all generalisations are false. Including this one.

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I’m hoping Danny’s brand of joking does not become normalised, if it is not already.

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AB - none of the posters above are identified as ‘Danny’. Who he?

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Joe(fidkid) - you had me going, not gonna lie. I love it 🙂

"It’s very tempting to look at all that competence and shore up our own image by saying “it’s technical and precise, but it doesn’t have any soul - not like me. I might be rougher around the edges but I have an authentic personal style.”
But most of the time that’s actually not very fair. Most of the time those musicians are just very technically proficient and also as ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ or ‘full of soul’ as anyone else."
This is bang on.

Let me add one of my favourite quotes about Irish traditional music and song:
"It is to be regretted, but it is inevitable that we should hear so much about traditional Irish music from those who are not competent to discuss it. On the one hand we have musicians who deny the element of traditional intonation. As they refuse to study the matter in the only way in which it can be studied, i.e. by listening to the best traditional singers and violin-players, their opinion can have no weight. On the other hand we have the extremists who regard every native speaker of Irish as a true exponent of traditional singing. Sometimes he is only an exponent of singing out of tune." - CATHAOIR O’BRAONAIN,UM NODLAG, 1909.

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People who condemn musicians because they studied music at a university are the real elitists here.

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Bazza: Danny - that me.

Been here years but only occasionally crawl out of the cave when someone pulls the chain.

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"People who condemn musicians because they studied music at a university…"
Did someone do that? I didn’t notice.

BTW Danny is part of a more normal name of "Someone at The Session". I presume his mis-construal of the way I used the word "creeping" in my first post is humorous rather than critical. His application of it in the sense of "creeping musicians" or "creeping music" was, I assume, an act of wit. And I’m fairly sure that his comments about:

"To get a higher education level degree in it. Preposterous. Why should people be allowed to get good at that nonsense? Outrageous. The birch is too good for them. Bring back hanging I say."

were written "tongue in cheek".

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bex: Jon Heslop did, and since he’s copied something he’s apparently publishing in a book, I’d say he’s quite serious about it. Unfortunately.

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This feels like a false straw man attack.

I know several players who went through the U of L program and I’d consider them anything but elitist.

Beyond the performance skills they also learned about recording, marketing their music, absolutely required skills for any professional musician.

I personally have no desire to produce and sell recordings of my own playing or market myself as a musician even if I might have the skills to do so. I’m happy to get paid to play the occasional wedding or movie soundtrack, but I just consider myself primarily a session player and will be for life.

If someone wants to take on the difficult challenge of being a professional musician as their chosen career and spends the money and time to acquire the skills both in performance and business to be successful, more power to them.

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My biggest concern at this point is that google now has a number of instances of "classically trained bodhran player" and that, like saying Candyman thrice, we may actually have willed the unthinkable into existence.

@Jeremy… if you’re watching - we urgently need special emoji to encapsulate any statements not intended to be taken literally.

How wonderful it is that UL are running degree level qualifications in Traditional Music.

And anybody who will ever get to spend an evening in the company of Philippe or Eimear or any other imminently qualified and talented musician is especially blessed. Even flute makers with Masters in ethnomusicology might be welcomed 🙂

Whether classical, jazz or any other genre art or folk - crossover musicians offer a distinctive perspective for refreshing the well with new ideas and ways of doing things. ITM is vibrant not because it was frozen in time but because it has assimilated great players and ideas.

I for one am most welcoming of our intellectual overlords. Crantastic!

[[PS - if Jeremy had implemented the sarcasm quotes/emoji - the "intellectual overlords" bit would be surrounded by same]]

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The flip side of traditional music being taught and studied in academic settings is, if it’s done right, it has the potential to expand the academic view of music and music theory beyond its current core focus on 18th-Century German-speaking composers, which has been a big topic of discussion in certain circles lately as music nerds have begun to look up from their manuscript paper and say to one another, "hey man, Beethoven is great and all, but have we ever thought about how many musicians out there have NOT been Beethoven? Maybe they’re worth looking into."

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I think it’s great that nowadays you can do a degree in just about any genre of music you wish. If only the opportunities had been available (and I had had the necessary talent) when I was young instead of being encouraged to "get a proper job" or "pursue a respected career". I’ve not even got Grade 0 in recorder.

Not sure, though, that I’d have wanted to be a professional musician. When it’s your day (or, if you’re performing, night) job I’m not sure you’d always want to be playing music in your down time.

Can’t say that I’ve noticed any elitism amongst those with trad music degrees. I might feel a bit differently if I was in a session on my own with half a dozen of them - but that would be my fault (or my insecurity).

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"Students today have the chance to take a degree course in Folk Music, an option about as useful to the student as a degree in tying your shoelaces…"
Jon, if you feel that spending three years in your early twenties living in Limerick and playing trad day and night is a waste of time, I can’t agree with you. Which of us did anything really vital between the ages of 19 and 21? Far better to spend the time digging deep into music and set yourself up for a lifetime of pleasure. You can go back and study accountancy or whatever when the money runs out, but you’ll have the music in you for life.

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It isn’t creeping! It is in your face, and without the need for an apology it has always been that way, if you are not a native.

To the native it is not elitist, it is the aural world where they live.

The era where the current flavor/s of it arose is largely rural, not urban. Because Ireland did not have an industrial revolution. Irish Trad is still rural today despite what is going on in Limerick. So to the tourist it may appear elitist just because the tourist does not know how to make ‘boxty’ much less what that is. IOW along with the music there is a culture. Some people today sound very like native Irish, e.g. Steph Geremia, but when push come to shove, she drops the ball to sound like a yank. Nothing wrong with that, I sound like a yank too.

Just the way the world works.

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I think the fact that we live in a world of extremely high rents, long hours of work, and a world on the edge of environmental collapse way less conducive to the playing and sharing of music than universities.

It also seems pretty fun to spend your youth immersed in music.

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Nico, I did not condemn musicians who studied at university; only the results of that study. And yes I will be publishing it eventually as part of a much larger reflection on over 55 years in folk music, sometimes serious sometimes not.Unfortunately.
Joe Evens, The courses at UL sound different to the courses offered here in the UK where a not insignificant proportion of the tutorial is taken up with "marketing the product" and how to gain the attention of the media along with securing recording contracts and all the other paraphernalia of commercialism.
I would have given my eye teeth to have spent my early twenties playing and learning trad music but alas, the world was a different place then.

Overall I am questioning the whole ethics of a degree in folk music. Whether is is ethical to take something as patently non-elitist as folk music (the clue is in the name) and to subject it to academic dissection with an end view of commercial gain or is it the way the world is going with dinosaurs like me who love and and care about the music, playing it for the fun of doing and sharing, on the way out?
Jon

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😉 The trad music degrees have a vital role in UK folk festivals by providing a supply of aspiring young professionals who’ll fill up the programme for very small fees - and often performing extremely well, of course.
😉

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"I know several players who went through the U of L program and I’d consider them anything but elitist. " - Michael Eskin

To be fair to the OP, I don’t think the "elitism" they’re positing is attitudes of the graduates necessarily, but a system in which only graduates get hired, play gigs, or make money at it. That hasn’t happened yet entirely, but I understand the concern, and also hope it doesn’t occur. It’s a funny thing, because of course I think a degree is utterly necessary for some professions, such as medicine or engineering, but not for art.

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"… a system in which only graduates get hired, play gigs, or make money at it."

might be partially explained by:

"… courses offered here in the UK where a not insignificant proportion of the tutorial is taken up with "marketing the product" and how to gain the attention of the media… "

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^^^ This! ^^^

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My main concern is that most of the musicians - in Scotland at least - coming out of these courses teaching "traditional" music, don’t seem to play much traditional music at all, preferring to play, and sell, their own compositional efforts. I remember being at one of the annual awards ceremonies a few years back. The traditional content over the whole of the evening was less than 10%.
On the rare occasion when a traditional song is performed, there seems to be an over emphasis on the musical arrangement with the story of the actual song taking second place.
Also, the art of talking to, and communicating with a live audience seems to be lost. My generation had the likes of Roy Gullane [ Tannahill Weavers ] and the best front man of them all, Andy M. Stewart with Silly Wizard, who would have an audience eating out of their hands, and in stitches with laughter over the course of an evening, as well as providing world class Scottish music, not all traditional, admittedly. Most of the bands I’ve seen in the last 10, even 20 years, you’d be as well sitting at home listening to the recordings. If they claim to teach stage skills and presentation at these courses, I’ve yet to hear or see any evidence of it.

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@Kenny: I wonder to what extent stage skills and presentation can be taught at all. Isn’t innate personality a large part of that; whether you’re a natural introvert or extrovert? Not everyone is born to be the front man or woman in a band.

I’m reminded of a piece I read somewhere about Lúnasa, saying the lads in the band would all perform while staring at their feet, until Kevin Crawford joined the band. And he’s still the live wire that handles just about all of the audience interaction in the shows I’ve seen. Perhaps there is something about the university system that weeds this kind of person out these days, in preference for pure musical skill.

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If musicians who have done these courses outcompete and displace those who have followed a more traditional path who’s fault is it - theirs or the people who pay to watch them?

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Over the last 20 years i’ve seen many oficial conservatoires here offering degrees in popular (meaning traditional folk music from Argentina and Tango, but also Latin-American music and Jazz). And while I’m full in about letting the students pursue their musical interests in the academic world besides Classical music, I’m afraid that I cannot say it has done any better for the actual music, as over and over I hear more jazzy chord changes, more cross-pollination with other genres and instruments outside the tradition. And I can hear the same in some of today’s ITM performers. Anyway I cannot tell if it’s a product of the conservatoires or it’s just the times we’re living in: while not my cup of tea, those musicians will have a broader listening base, something desirable for anyone trying to make a living from performing.

Traditional music has become a business today, but quoting Homer Simpson “I like my beer cold, my TV loud and my folk music full-trad”.

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worth noting that the Limerick MA is in ‘Irish Traditional Music Performance’, which is not quite the same thing as taking a degree in trad music and probably more geared to developing professional performance skills than grounding in the tradition (which would be a challenge in just one year). The students/graduates seem pretty varied, some have very little trad background at all and others have it in the blood. ‘Folk’ degrees in England seem even more mixed, often with not much trad input. Horses for courses I guess, not sure it has that much impact on the tradition to be honest.

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While I’m not convinced by bex’s premise that there’s a sinister, creeping elitism that’s rotting the soul of traditional Irish music, I wholeheartedly and truly without a trace of sarcasm (unlike my first post) embrace the last line in his OP:

"So here’s to those who are (hopefully moderately competent) amateurs, and who make music in kitchens and pubs and public parks, who provide background music in bars or restaurants, in the street and in their own homes."

Just didn’t want that wonderful bit to get overlooked in this conversation! I think as long as there are those of us like that, This Music will be all right.

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While I never went to school for this, if it had remained the province of the common folk, I would have never heard it, much less play it.

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As one who is 50 years older than most of these degree aspirants and graduates that you’re talking about, can I say a word or two in their defence, please?
1. On the whole, they know their stuff; they can tell you of the history and sources of the song or tune they’re about to play, rather than just say "I got it off a CD by Joe Bloggs who recorded it 2 years ago".
2. On the whole, they present themselves well: if stagecraft doesn’t come to them naturally, they do at least try to cultivate a happy and inclusive atmosphere in their concerts.
3. They hold the future of traditional music in their hands, as the rest of us exponentially expire, so don’t keep knocking them, but encourage them: it’s a dynamic situation, and things can never stay the same, whether you like it or not.
4. Don’t forget who their tutors are: some of the finest musicians and singers of our generation - passing on the tradition!
5. Of course they will want to write their own new compositions, but as with any composer, they’ll be lucky if about 5% of their brilliant compositions become well-known and stand the test of time.
Ok, I don’t like every single thing that these young folk have ever recorded, but I will continue to do my best to support them.

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P.S. Bex: I see I have wandered far away from your original questions, just following on other comments on the thread, but yes, where would we be without our kitchen and front-room sessions of enthusiastic amateurs (of which I am one, and so much enjoy this type of music!)

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On the topic of commercialisation of trad, I don’t see an issue with teaching musicians how to market themselves. If you love the music and want to make it your living, surely you’d want to know all the tricks for translating tunes into cash. I doubt there are many professional trad musicians out there who are purely in it for the money.

I can see how some would be uncomfortable with musicians innovating upon the music to appeal to a broader audience, but they’re not exactly eroding the foundations of the tradition. I’d wager a good number of us who weren’t raised in the tradition probably found our way down to trad bedrock by starting with "mass-market" groups like The Dubliners, Pogues, Riverdance, what have you.* The way I see it, the more popular trad-ish stuff is out there, the more musicians will trickle down our way.

*If anyone got their start listening to wax cylinder recordings of pipers from the ITMA, do share.

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I’ve seen and participated in arguments about various versions of this issue for decades now. My conclusion is that people hear and respond to music in very different ways, and no amount of pontificating is going to change anyone’s feeling about it. Many people find a trained professional presenting a polished, refined performance more appealing than an ‘untrained’ amateur delivering tunes unrehearsed and raw; others feel just the opposite, and I suppose there are some who do not fall neatly into those two categories. But no one is going to change their mind on the basis of what they are told here or elsewhere. If you think that ITM is going to hell in a handbasket, you may be right, you may be wrong, but whatever’s going to happen is going to happen, so you have the choice of finding a way to somehow accommodate yourself to it or not. Personally, I just listen to what I like, play what I want the way I want, and don’t expect to come across anyone who wants to listen or play along. So, yeah, not a session guy for years now - but I do like checking in on this forum … !

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Couldn’t agree less with John Heslop.
Who are you to judge the soul of somebody else’s music?
It’s their journey, not yours.
Elitism can be a problem equally so can inverse snobbery, and (some) players who aren’t even technically proficient are prone to the latter - if it’s beyond a level of complexity, according to them, then it must be soul-less? (Unless it was performed by an established bastion of the tradition, of course.)
No. Not buying it.
I also think its a bit of a straw-man to single out Philippe Barnes as a typical UL graduate. I know him from long before his UL days and he came into the trad music from classical & jazz and had a fair bit of influence/ teaching from Sarah Allen and the Galways i think i remember, and - while he certainly can play trad when he wants to, and would be a credit to any session, as I can certainly testify! - a lot of his recordings are not really intended to be trad, any more than eg Flook for the sake of argument. I don’t think that’s anything like the standard UL grad.
But, sure, if going and trying to immerse yourself in the music with world-class teachers is a drawback to playing the music as it’s meant to be played, at least according to some random bloke on the internet, that would surprise me. Because by the same token, the inverse snobs I have met tend to be stuck in a rut with their own playing, and are killjoys to boot - I find neither their outlook nor their playing worth emulating as a general rule. Because at bottom it’s just about finding a way of viewing the world where they can be a big fish in a small pond.
It’s just begrudgery.
I’d also add that nobody - nobody - is going to be a finished product as a trad player in their early 20’s. Part of doing something like UL is to become immersed in the music so that you can start to find your own way. What you’re saying also contains another straw-man fallacy, which is you’re expecting a mature finished product at 24. What you’ll get is a technically proficient player who’s then going to play with others and their shaired music and repetoire and influences is going to shape them.
I’m 38, i’ve been playing since 10, i’m a dedicated player. I look back to me at that age and my recordings of that time, and there was more flash over substance. Technicality over musicality. In terms of the repetoire i played, my ethos as a musician everything. That’s because I was young, with everything that entails. Not because i went to UL (I didn’t). I suspect that i’ll probably ‘evolve’ further. And most of that has been a painful and self-critical process recently with a lot of angst.
I’m a dedicated player, its been a constant of my life. Take the music out of my life, and i’d probably top myself, not an exaggeration. There is angst just as there is in any aspect of personal growth. But it is the reason i get up in the morning. No exaggeration. Its a way of life.
Somebody at 23, 24 is not a mature human being, their music is not going to have that maturity, end of. but it doesn’t mean the UL thing is a waste of time.
And no, you can’t come back with an argument that there’s 7 year old violin prodigies in classical music etc. Technicality. Musicality and maturity happens at its own pace.
Honestly your premise is offensive. Being dedicated to doing something to the best of your ability doesn’t always correlate with enjoyment but it *does* correlate with aptitude. I remember reading somewhere that most people have the natural ability to learn to play in an orchestra. To begrudge someone of a higher standard is not begrudging soul-less talent, its begrudging hard work at the end of the day. It’s somebody who’s complacent in their mediocrity finding a reason to resent the people who’ve put the work in.
CAVEAT: Not everyone has the same opportunities or starts at a young age etc. It’s always up to someone what effort they put in, and i’m not judging, but if you insist upon throwing stones, probably best not to do it from a greenhouse. What i’m saying is, you’ve written off a whole lot of young musicians as soulless who’ve cared enough to basically risk being skint for the rest of their life by becoming trad professionals!!! I’d wager they’ve made more sacrifices than you, and consequently that the music probably means more to them than it does to you.

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That’s a wager you’d lose, for many people here, and it’s not a contest about who’s made the most "sacrifices". Who’s "you" ?

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I find equally distasteful the anti-elitist idea that a folk musician should have no knowledge and understanding of music and rely on instinct and "tradition". It was something I clung to for a long time, probably because I had no musical education myself, but as I got older and hopefully wiser I came to realise that this was nonsense, and that no matter how well I can play, not being able to read music or have the vocabulary to discuss it is a real drawback. And he who teaches himself has a fool for a master. So since learning music should be a good thing, why not study the actual genre you wish to play, rather than a standard classical training which you must then try to adapt?

A subject should be worth studying for its own sake. I believe most music degrees focus on performance, but also recognise that only a minority will go one to have careers as full-time musicians, and they also teach the business aspects so graduates can go on to careers in other areas of the music business, or outside it. How many English Literature graduates become authors, or History graduates professional historians?

Whilst there may be some weight to the criticism that graduates are technically competent but lack soul, I’m afraid that applies to many non-graduates as well. There are now far more learning opportunities than there used to be, and many young players are frighteningly proficient. However many of them suffer from the arrogance and over-confidence of youth (and how many of us can say we did not at their age?). Most will grow out of it with age and maturity, and will develop musicality, and may even be able to earn at least a partial living from music. Only a tiny minority, whether they came through the degree system or not, will have that extra something which makes them special.

Whenever a group of people arrive at a session there is always a risk that they will dominate. Some people just behave like arses. That’s not confined to degree students or even the young.

It’s great fun to make music in kitchens and pubs and public parks, to provide background music in bars or restaurants, and to play in the street and in our own homes. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is something most people want to listen to for very long, or that this is the true heart of folk. The actual folk, even in Ireland, largely abandoned traditional music long ago, and it is now largely the domain of educated urban professionals. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and I love playing it, but I also want to listen to the best musicians. As a hopefully competent amateur I am all too well aware how much we depend on the elite musicians to provide us with inspiration, show us new techniques, and feed us new material.

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Longer Internet threads often drift onto issues that are quite different from where the discussion started. This is just a fact, and not necessarily a bad thing.

All the same, I’d just like to underline something it seems I may not have made clear in my initial post here. When I referred to “elitification” (which may or may not have been a word, but it is now), I had no intention of implying that the musicians who go through university courses, for example, in traditional arts do not benefit, or that their benefit is in some way tainted or sterilised by their experience. Nor, I really want to stress, did I want to imply that they suffer from hubris, conceit, pretentiousness or anything of that sort because they think that they have become part of an “elite”. I don’t suppose they’re immune to those faults, any more than you or I are, but that’s because it’s a human failing, not because they have had an opportunity to get good at something. My uneducated guess would be that they are as nice a bunch of people as any other. And it’s not what I was thinking about when I posted.

The issue I wanted to raise – and I mean it in the sense of “raise an issue”, not in the sense of “raise an alarm” or even having a conclusion – was that of “elitification” as a social and commercial process in which there is a risk that bit by bit, by creating elites, we hand “ownership” of traditional music over to academic and ultimately commercial groups whose interests may not totally coincide with those of ordinary people.

I suppose young people (i.e. not people like me) may come to our rescue. Think jazz, think skiffle, think rock ‘n’ roll, think the second folk revival, think punk. Perhaps the cycle of power accruing to the already powerful and then being taken back by the impolite revolutionaries is one we must go through as long as we have culture.

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I’d be interested to see what topics are studied whilst ‘doing’ a trad degree. Presumably general music theory, history of music, comparison of world music/ art music and actual playing one’s chosen instrument are included. Would it be much different from doing a standard music degree whilst studying oboe, ‘cello, percussion or wotteffah for instance?

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"Perhaps the cycle of power accruing to the already powerful and then being taken back by the impolite revolutionaries is one we must go through as long as we have culture."

Are you sure you’re on the right forum here? This is just a bunch of people who enjoy sitting around playing a few old tunes together. Couldn’t be more unrelated to a "cycle of power" if it tried.

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I doubt pub sessions are going to start checking for "U of L" passes at the door before letting folk in, so I’d say were grand on that front.

The whole "unwashed masses vs. the elites" thing, pitting people against each other, is being offered up in other walks of life too, usually by well off conservative politicians trying to appeal to working class voters. Smoke and mirrors to set people at each others throats.

I’ve certainly encountered players that while technically highly proficient lacked any kind of feeling in their playing - none of them were U of L grads though so I reckon that mantle can be held by anyone, regardless of whether they have a degree in trad music or not.

The whole world right now is like a giant sized skip full of flammable material with a match thrown into it - life is short, so my intention is to have a bit of craic, plenty of pints and tunes and not really devote any time or energy into worrying about whether a young one decides to do the trad degree at U of L - more power to their elbow says I! When so many are trying to drive young people into tech/coding and all that palaver I think it’s refreshing that young musicians here choose to do a degree in trad music.

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Bex said: "The issue I wanted to raise … was that of “elitification” as a social and commercial process in which there is a risk that bit by bit, by creating elites, we hand “ownership” of traditional music over to academic and ultimately commercial groups whose interests may not totally coincide with those of ordinary people."

But this has always happened! The music of the medieval church incorporated secular tunes - presumably to distract attention from the peasants’ inabilty to understand Latin. The court of Louis XIV adopted folk dances. Great composers from Bartok to Vaughan Williams have done the same with tunes. Mike Batt is hardly what you might call a folkie, but he’s as much responsible for Steeleye Span’s "All Around My Hat" being a crossover hit as anyone. I would say it’s a sign of folk music’s enduring strength that it’s been adapted like this and, despite the literal elitism of the Catholic Church and the King of France; the cultural elitism of great classical composers, it’s still possible to hear the music stripped back and played in its basic form at sessions AND (dare I say it) at concerts. If you’re saying that it should ONLY be played like that, I reckon you’d be the elitist here! ;)
So let’s assume you’re not!

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johndsamuels complained that "Are you sure you’re on the right forum here? This is just a bunch of people who enjoy sitting around playing a few old tunes together. Couldn’t be more unrelated to a "cycle of power" if it tried."

Sorry, bad habit of mine. Thinking. Blame it on my university education.

But enough metadiscussion!

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What proportion of albums by bands (say trios and above) have music played in traditional style, rather than being "trad-based" as for example with The Bothy Band or Lunasa?

For the purpose of the question I mean "traditional" as done by those "who make music in kitchens and pubs and public parks, who provide background music in bars or restaurants, in the street and in their own homes." (from the OP).

If I’m asked to "Think jazz, think skiffle, think rock ‘n’ roll, think the second folk revival, think punk." I find my self thinking about commercial music. Why can’t I just carry on thinking about the "kitchens and pubs…" list? The OP actually seems be concerned about professional - i.e. commercial - music.

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"The issue I wanted to raise – and I mean it in the sense of “raise an issue”, not in the sense of “raise an alarm” or even having a conclusion – was that of “elitification” as a social and commercial process in which there is a risk that bit by bit, by creating elites, we hand “ownership” of traditional music over to academic and ultimately commercial groups whose interests may not totally coincide with those of ordinary people." Bex.

No, I don’t think that Irish traditional music will ever be "owned" or dominated by academic or commercial interests. Irish traditional music is still a genre of music that is played, sung, danced to, listened to, by a large number of "ordinary" people that have day jobs, are unemployed, are school children, are students (studying other subjects, or are pensioners. In Ireland there is a tradition of families/clans that pass down the music to family members. Nothing wrong or bad about going to the UL in order to teach, or become a professional musician. Here in Sweden we play at home, and the sessions are slowly starting up again. We learn new tunes, and try to improve our playing, just for the craic.

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I know it’s an unfashionable idea, but I want music to be elitist, just as I do sport. I prefer to listen to, and play alongside, good musicians rather than poor ones, and I want all musicians, at any and every level, to strive to get better. Of course I don’t want to exclude the less talented (or where would I be?), but a right to play or sing does not come with a right to be listened to.

However elitism in music, as in sport, comes from talent not qualifications. My own profession became graduate-entry many years ago, but I cannot imagine any band insisting that prospective new members must have a degree, they would want to know how well they can play. For the same reason I cannot imagine how an academic elite could claim "ownership" of traditional music, let alone attempt to exercise any control over it. However, as someone pointed out, academics have been arguing between themselves since at least the time of Cecil Sharp, and mostly the rest of us take little notice. As often as not, when their ideas leak out into the mainstream they are ridiculed.

Nevertheless the musical elite does exercise a strong influence. It is they who not only introduce new ideas but have the reach and authority to spread them. If you or I had walked into a session in the 60s with a bouzouki we’d probably have been firmly discouraged from playing it, but if we hadn’t it probably wouldn’t have spread beyond that small circle of musicians. It took well-known musicians with an established audience to show how it could work, and by doing so they gave "permission" for others to take it up. How many established session sets can be traced back to specific albums by well-known bands?

I also disagree that commercial interests don’t coincide with the interests of ordinary people. "Ordinary people" are their customers. Without the professionals to raise playing standards, introduce new ideas and release albums, where would the rest of us be? Of course, not everything is to everyone’s taste and some new ideas may clash with what you think traditional music should be. If you don’t like the direction a particular band is going then don’t listen to them. There is enough diversity in folk and traditional music for there to be something for everyone.

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Bah humbug! The elitism referenced within the OP is pejorative.

Are folk and traditional music genres from around the world somehow unworthy of academic study? Is Irish traditional music specifically to be only considered authentic in the context of kitchen get-togethers or pub sessions when played by amateur musicians?

The majority of student intake in Limerick, Maynooth, Cork and BCFE courses would wipe the floor with most regular session musicians before they ever get to college. Bursting with raw talent, many already 10+ years on the trad train before being elitified. Quite a few others are foreign students, accomplished musicians, attracted to ITM as a field of study. However they get there we are lucky to have them and most fortunate that they have the opportunity to study further their passion. If they can make careers of performance, teaching so much the better.

The contribution to ITM by academics like Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, Dr. Aoife Granville, Seán Ó Riada, Dr Ryan Molloy, Dr Niall Keegan (to name but a few) are immense in respecting and enhancing the inherent worthiness of the genre.

ITM has a place under its umbrella for players of the most diverse range of technical skill. That umbrella covers the kitchen players, solid session amateurs, untrained virtuosos, professionals who are trad or trad-inspired and those that have studied it to third level. No one group is the-one-true-way.

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@nikonimages Ireland didn’t have an industrial revolution? How do you work that one out? Belfast was developed into a global powerhouse by the mid 19th Century, no?

Anyway, just to make a comment on topic while I’m posting: In my experience I’ve seen far more distrust and, essentially, elitism _against_ trained musicians than those who are self taught or who learn through osmosis. It’s actually evident in this thread, where we can see statements like "they have no soul in their playing."

That’s not only in trad, either, I’ve seen the same expressed in the worlds of rock & pop etc. I think it’s born from a kind of defensiveness. There’s a fear of missing out regarding what is taught on these courses and that pushes the untrained musicians to find a justification for their position.

Just a thought, but I’d push anyone considering this issue to query the sources of their own feelings.

PS No one can play music without soul, come on!

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Am I the only one apart from the OP who sees this thread in terms of the social and commercial consequences of creating elites, and that has little or nothing to do with either the skills and knowledge those graduates get (often a lot - great), or with whether they have their fiddlesticks stuck in a place that’s hard to see (usally not), or whether the uni courses are appropriate and valuable (which they probably are)?

That (the first) seems like an interesting idea, but this really doesn’t seem to be the place to talk about it.

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Certificatum habeo, ergo sum applies to all aspects of life in this day and age. Fortunately as far as music is concerned the relative value of the certificate is apparant very quickly.

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Someone needs to define elite in this context. I think of it as a class that sets itself apart as being, at best, more rarified in terms of expertise or, at worst, as a closed shop to which you can’t get in without jumping through the prescribed hoops. In the world of Irish trad, I don’t believe there is any such elitism as I understand the term. Am I missing something?

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Elitists come from academic and cottage settings equally

Yet, hearing ppl write and say things like "turning tunes into cash" as I read above should make us all reflect. That type of comment turns me into an elitist. A cobble stoned style elitist, not academic but u get my drift. Go buy a hammer and a tool belt if your looking for cash

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Any time you are arguing that authenticity only lives in certain kinds of people, you’re being an elitist: you’re setting up an elite group and finding people who aren’t part of that group wanting. The elite of players could be poor farmers in Kerry, or it could be people made soulless, apparently, by book larnin’.

If you want to be this kind of elitist, at least be honest about it.

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“The issue I wanted to raise … was that of “elitification” as a social and commercial process in which there is a risk that bit by bit, by creating elites, we hand “ownership” of traditional music over to academic and ultimately commercial groups whose interests may not totally coincide with those of ordinary people."

I’m not sure about this, but I do think there’s something related about “human behaviours”/“play” becoming more and more “professionalised” in the post-internet world.

I’d argue “singing”, “dancing” and “playing music” should actually be seen as “human behaviours” (which are natural and healthy for us all to do) rather than skills you need to attain a certain level in before you can do them.

I don’t think universities have caused this, but more the ubiquity of social media (tiktok,YouTube etc) and TV exposure to xfactor etc.
I think this does stop kids from just “playing” with music, singing etc as they’re constantly exposed, through the internet, to extremely proficient people doing them (and influenced that these are marketable skills/punished if they share something not proficient).

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I wouldn’t worry about it - there’s room for everybody and everything

UL is churning out excellent musicians - win!
Excellent musicians will exist that never went on to study it formally, from all walks of life - win!

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This bears repeating: ‘I’d argue “singing”, “dancing” and “playing music” should actually be seen as “human behaviours” (which are natural and healthy for us all to do) rather than skills you need to attain a certain level in before you can do them.’

I’ve lived both in communities in which these activities were understood as natural "human behaviours" and communities in which they were understood to be aberrant outside of practice rooms or the stage (and even then, were suspect). I know which I prefer.

Chesterton wrote an essay warning of the professionalization of sports, at a time when there was, apparently, much hand-wringing in the press about England losing a cricket championship to India. His thesis was that it was far healthier for the nation that amateurs continued to play on ‘the village green’ than that they sit watching ever more skilled professionals.

John Ralston Saul has pointed out that it is not difficult to create a highly-educated elite; the more important challenge is to create a well-educated general populace.

Apply to present issue or not, FWIW.

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> I doubt pub sessions are going to start checking for "U of L" passes at the door before letting folk in, so I’d say were grand on that front.

I don’t know in Ireland but this is something that is happening in Glasgow. Many of the sessions in town are dominated by folk from the Conservatoire. Unless you’re part of "the group" do expect to be welcomed. It happened to me twice and I’ve avoided those sessions ever since. They don’t ask you to leave, but probably they won’t talk to you, ignore you and make you feel unconfortable in a very subtle way so you decide to go.

Once I went to "famous bar X" for a drink, not knowing that a session was on. A friend of mine was playing and ask me to join them. After 30 minutes of not knowing a single tune another chap asked me to play a set. I did, and everybody except my friend, this other guy and a couple of others put their instruments down and started talking. As soon as I finished, they grabbed their instruments and started playing again.

It felt like highschool, where the cool kids pushed the stranger away, only with people in ther mid twenties and thirties.

I was also told once I shouldn’t play sessions for free as they provide income to RCS musicians. And here I was thinking that, historically, sessions were some sort of informal thing. I will never go to a pub that hires musicians and tell the landlord "I’ll do it for free, fire them". If a pub comes to us to host a session we’ll discuss some sort of compensation, either money, drinks or some other form. If myself and some of my pals approach a pub because we’re looking for a place to have a session I’m not gonna ask for money.

I’ve played with loads of people in Scotland, many different backgrounds, amateurs and professionals. I’m in my early thirties and after several different attempts I mostly play with people who are my parents’ age or older. Many of them played professionally with well know bands and some still do. They don’t announce it and they have been dead nice to me, so I’ve kept going back over the years. I’m very thankful for it.

For some reason many people in my age bracket seem to react differently. I know many of them individually and they are absolutely lovely, but when they’re in a group with others they seem to build a big wall around them. This seems to be quite specific to Glasgow and quite specific to people who are in their thirties or younger. I’ve been to many other sessions around Scotland and never experienced that, there are folks who are friendly and others not so much. I’ve even played with people who teach those RCS folk in Glasgow, but never that feeling of "we don’t want you here, we’re too polite to say it, but you can’t feel it… right?"

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"Elitism" in traditional music didn’t need University programs. That’s about, being raised in it and playing it to an extremely high standard, as to the manner born (often mis-quoted as to the "manor born."). People will be polite at the festival session, but there is a bar being applied whether you hear anything said or not. And that’s independent of Uni Trad programs.

Where the Uni Trad phenom comes in is, the increasing emphasis on highly professionalized and trained performance (some of us might term it over-professionalized and over-trained). There’s been quite a bit of discussion of this phenom RE Scottish trad and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland crowd. There are some incredibly sincere tradition-keepers teaching and doing degrees in these programs, but.

These programs are also cranking out players who are stone virtuosos, but in an extremely professionalized manner that bears little relation to what we might think of as folk musicianship. Most are classically trained starting knee-high, even if they won’t put that on their performer bio, along with starting their trad training in the cradle. They are not in these programs to become "folk"musicians in any traditional sense of the term. They are there to become "professionals" and have "careers."

Paddy Canny told one interviewer he and the Tulla Ceili Band greats were happy to get a little beer money for a night of playing. This was the case with Willy Clancy and other greats. Few products of these Uni programs will ever touch the emotion, swing, and lift of Paddy Canny or Willie Clancy. But these Uni grads don’t want to work a job and play for the folk in a folk-tradition manner. They want "careers." And they want you to make that all possible for them by forking over your money to watch them perform, and to buy their often very tiresome "compositions" and other products. They don’t see you as a fellow sessioner or folk musician, they see you as a potential audience member or buyer.

As noted upthread, they learn marketing and business in these programs, not that it brings income to more than a teensy fraction of them. The "sessions" they want to play are with their fellow hot "professionals," hopefully with you paying to watch them. A dismaying percentage of them are dissatisfied playing traditional folk music—they want to "compose." And they want you to purchase recordings stuffed with their "compositions" that often are completely fungible and forgettable at best, ghastly at worst. The "elitism" isn’t deliberate, perhaps—it’s a byproduct of the careerism. It’s all tiresome as hell and potentially the ruination of the joy of folk music.

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Why must so many disparage what they cannot have and cannot do?

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Are there any sessions in areas with music programs (Limerick, Glasgow) where student compositions are being played, or at least learnt by some session goers?

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I can’t stand this reverse snobbery.

Those who have studied music are far grander for it - I wish more could do it.

And who’s to say this music must be rural or must never be showcased in concert form?

If people want it injected into their veins - beamed via satellite from Pluto - our tradition is rich (& richer for its learned performers).

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So, how does what gets featured on various Facebook groups factor into all this?

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Which Facebook Groups are you thinking about, Michael?

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All of them.

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Public & private?

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Both, and not specific to any instrument, just something I’ve wondered about previously in the context of this discussion.

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perhaps there needs to be a new facebook group with "this" as the topic.

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Elitism isn’t even a real thing!

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So, we’re discussing something which does not even exist? Thanks, Gobby. I’m relieved. Phew!
Yet I kinda wish I had saved the window I had just come back to after four hours and reread what had been said.
If anyone is interested here is an article which I found which might shed some light on the matter.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/20557723

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@Choons. please don’t take my comment as me being against people studying traditional music at the conservatoire. I think it’s good for them and anyone who wants to make a career out of music would certainly benefit from it.

What I am against, and will always be vocally against is the closedness in certain areas. Everywhere I’ve been, in many different countries, I’ve been to sessions and I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Only in two places I haven’t, Doolin, where they were mic’d up and it seemed to be more of a "performance/session" for tourists and certain sessions in Glasgow where (some) RCS people are involved.

I’ve been living in Glasgow for a few years now and I can honestly say it’s one of the friendliest cities in the world, in every aspect, not just musicians. However, for some reason, that friendliness seems to disappear when I try to attend sessions where people my age go. You’re one of the very few people around my age that I get to play tunes with, coincidentally you have nothing to do with the RCS 🙂

Funnily enough, I know loads of people who graduated from the RSAMD, before it changed its name to RCS and their attitude is completely different. I don’t know if "something " changed when the name changed or simply they’re older, but they’re much more welcoming to people like me.

> They don’t see you as a fellow sessioner or folk musician, they see you as a potential audience member or buyer.
I’ve been told this many times by older folk in Glasgow and I have to say I agree. That attitude might backfire though. I will never buy an album from someone who decided to be a **** to me just because I’m not part of "the group".

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"So, we’re discussing something which does not even exist? ,,,, Well it’s not real in as much as it’s an ideology. i.e., it only exists in people minds; Like ‘beauty’ and ‘perfection’, it is just an idealized judgement with no basis in actuality. It’s all in the mind, you know…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAhpwc19nM4

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"Elitism isn’t even a real thing!" When were you last at a session in Glasgow, Gobby ? DaveF has experienced it, - see above - and so have I.

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The only elitification I see would be the self appointed gate keepers and the sense of entitlement they’re airing here. I’m working class and a farmer in rural Ireland - that doesn’t make me more entitled to play this music than other folk. I’m not owed anything, I don’t assume I’ll be welcome at every session I walk into. What rarified world do ye live in where you’ve been able to walk into any setting and always be welcomed and if that doesn’t happen ye throw your toys out of the pram and say that trad music is being "ruined" because uni grads at the local session play tunes you don’t know or didn’t make ye feel all warm and fuzzy when you walked in the door. You don’t like the self composed tunes on someone’s album? Great, don’t buy it then - they’ll not cry salty tears over it.

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I guess part of that message is directed at me. Let me clarify:

1) I don’t need to be "made feel warm and fuzzy".
2) I’m definitely not "throwing my toys out of the pram and saying tad music is being ruined".

I’m just comparing the attitude of certain group of people in a very specific location in response to a message that stated "I doubt pub sessions are going to start checking for "U of L" passes at the door before letting folk in, so I’d say were grand on that front". Well, in certain sessions in Glasgow it’s not an "U of L" pass but an RCS pass.

I don’t think I live in a "rarified world". One of the advantages of travelling as much as I do (or did), is having many different experiences. Again, I’ve been welcomed to every session I’ve showed up at, from Finland to Spain, without any issues and the ONLY sessions I’ve felt uncorfortable at were the ones where certain people from the RCS were involved. Who knows, maybe I’ve been lucky.

If you don’t want me joining a session, say it. The set up was very clear in Doolin so I didn’t even ask, I’m OK with that. However, if you say it’s OK that I join in, don’t start pushing me out in a very passive agressive way.

It’s easy, even I can do it, and English isn’t my first language:
- Can I join in?
- No, sorry, this is a closed session.
- Cool, thanks!

Also, I’m sure they won’t "cry salty tears" over me not buying one of their albums. I like some new albums and buy them, and I don’t like others. However, as I said earlier, annoying your potential customers is probably not really a good idea. If I don’t like someone I won’t buy their album, tunebook or pay for private classes or workshops if they’re involved. Surely one person doesn’t matter, but 1 + 1 + 1…

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I think it’s unfair to expect someone to explicitly tell you that it’s a closed session.
I’ve heard of fights near breaking out in similar scenarios when someone inevitably took umbrage.

The session is a flawed concept, sometimes it works, but usually it’s a mish mash of musicians with widely varying abilities, clashing egos, etc. I don’t see many other genres doing this - maybe open mic nights would be more beneficial to the future of the tradition

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I’m also from the non-academic, rural side of things - as rural as it gets!

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As a frequenter of the Glasgow session scene, I could probably name at least some of the sessions that DaveF is talking about, but there are normally enough sessions in Glasgow and it’s surrounds to get to play any night of the week you want (pre covid that is).

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I’ve never been to a session in Glasgow, but I’ve heard of similar experiences, and reports of similar in Newcastle with the students there. I wonder whether this reflects a failure by their tutors to instil in them ideas of session etiquette and behaviour? Perhaps the assumption is that by the time they get to uni they will all be experienced session players and should know this already. However how they behave in public, including at sessions, is all part of how professional musicians should present themselves. It’s very difficult to undo a bad impression once it’s been made.

Nevertheless, I’m not sure to what extent it can all be blamed on the academies and how much is the natural and often unintentional cliqueiness that can arise among any group of people who are used to playing together regularly. The dynamics of such a group are bound to be different from one made up of relative strangers, and an outsider might feel excluded even when this is not intended. Talking when someone is playing might be considered rude, but on the other hand trying to join in a tune you don’t know can also be objectionable. A session is also a social occasion, not a performance.

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I’ve only once been made to feel unwelcome by UofL graduate musicians. Compare this to the dozens of times I’ve been glared at by grumpy old guitar-owners who spent their days playing Whiskey in the Jar and couldn’t back a slip jig if their lives depended on it, claiming I was "playing too fast", "adding to much diddly", "showing off", etc. So yeah, elitification, definitely, sure…

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Has anyone here ever thought "What’s the point of my continuing to play my instrument when there are so many better players than me in the world?" At every stage of my own musical path I’ve had some version of this question invade my consciousness when confronted with musical skill that seemed impossible to achieve.
Did it ever actually stop me from continuing to play music. No, it didn’t. I think every musician confronts this. Someone mentioned that youtube virtuosos are making it harder for younger musicians to be persistent on their instruments because this virtuosity is so easily available at the click of a mouse, that there is no point in bothering to learn if one will never become a virtuoso. When I was learning the guitar starting in 1975, I never was able to play the guitar solo in Stairway to Heaven. That didn’t stop me from slowing down the record and trying anyway. I still can’t play the solo. But along the way, I learned a million other things about music, including Irish music. I am not worried about "elitification" in ITM. The more young virtuosos the better I think. Every musician will have a path. Music is a calling from the soul. Nothing will stop any musician from pursuing the path of musicianship. Most musicians start out and struggle and must go through a thousand continuous incremental steps of improvement. Many will stop because it’s just too difficult or tedious or any of a thousand other reasons for not continuing on. But many will just persist on and on and on, and will have some level of satisfaction at every level because music itself is driving them. Just give every child an instrument, or let them experiment with every instrument, and also have them sing. Encourage, encourage, encourage, at every step. Many will drop out. But the musicians in every generation will emerge and if they want degrees, let them pursue degrees. If they want to create original music, they will do it no matter what obstacles are in the way. I’m not worried about elitism in Irish music.

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At the other end of the spectrum are players whose skill level is so low that it’s disruptive of even intermediate level sessions. Out of tune, off-beat, struggling with the demands of Harvest Home, Mountain Road, The Kesh. I’m not talking about people who are just starting out to learn their instrument and the music, but people who have been at it for years. Almost every session scene seems to have a few. Enthusiastic, nice people but in the throes of a full-blown Dunning-Kruger effect. And when they show up the music goes to pot.

Some people say you should welcome all comers, it’s a social occasion. Otherwise, you are an elitist. A session should be open to everyone. The bodhran player who can’t keep the beat. The tone-deaf fiddler. To be honest, most people want to avoid confrontation so these people are tolerated, but my heart sinks when I see them walk in the door, and even more when they sit down beside me.

I try to keep that perspective in mind when I join a session and the level of play is clearly out of my league. The comedian George Carlin said something like "Everyone who drives slower than me is an idiot, and everyone who drives faster than me is a jerk."

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I’ve only been on the edge of this discussion, seeing as how the thread went off in so many different directions with so many understandings of what elitism and elitification are. As someone pointed out, we badly needed to agree some definitions. But hey, that’s how internet discussions go - they end up discussing what participants want to discuss. And there is benefit to that.

But I have to strongly take the very opposite view to tullycar’s "I think it’s unfair to expect someone to explicitly tell you that it’s a closed session." I think it’s seriously unfair, mean even, NOT to make it explicitly clear when what is being passed off as a session is closed. Nothing wrong with a session-shaped performance, if that’s what the tourists want (someone above mentioned Doolin - yeah, I saw that one too), but the organizers or players should be quite clear with the public about what it is.

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Ninglepingle - The problem is, if you go to tell someone that it is closed, you’ll be called an elitist!

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Given that they are there at the sufferance of the owner/manager/landlord/lady it may not be up to the session attendees to decide whether it’s a closed session or not.

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"The session is a flawed concept, sometimes it works, but usually it’s a mish mash of musicians with widely varying abilities, clashing egos, etc. I don’t see many other genres doing this"

It does exist in other genres, to a greater or lesser degree. From the Americana side of things, there are amateur Bluegrass jams with players at mixed skill levels. While they’re generally friendly, there can be clashing egos and jockeying for position in a genre where everyone is expected to step back and be supportive when someone takes a solo break. Competing with other players can be even more direct in a "head cutting" Jazz session.

Jazz of course, and even Bluegrass, have their own own issues with the Academy and formally trained players. Berkeley School of Music keeps pumping out graduates in both disciplines.

And then at the other extreme there are more relaxed amateur OldTime and Blues jams, maybe because the required skill level for beginners isn’t that high (woops, now I’ve gone and upset players of that music). Irish trad isn’t complex music, but it does require dance tempos that may be faster than your typical OldTime or Blues jam.

Tempos that are fast enough to make a jig or reel come alive instead of sounding like a dirge, is a barrier any beginner in ITM needs to conquer before they can start with the finer points of expression. I think that’s a form of natural and understandable elitism common to any Irish session beyond the beginner level. Can you keep up with the group? Sometimes that’s seen as elitist by those who can’t do it.

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@Conical Bore Is that peculiar to Irish sessions? One time a couple people came out who it seemed were coming from a different genre (OT maybe, but idk for sure) and the fiddler was like “You play so fast! (We weren’t, really.) How is anyone supposed to learn the tunes?” I said “I guess you just keep coming until you know them and then you practice then on your own.” I didn’t occur to me that you would do it any other way.

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‘Given that they are there at the sufferance of the owner/manager/landlord/lady it may not be up to the session attendees to decide whether it’s a closed session or not.’

I think this is a real problem, and leads to some bad feeling. It put me off session-playing - a tremendous loss to the world of trad, if there ever was one! Arrived at one-too-many occasions advertised in a manner that suggested they were "open", only to find they were anything but. Sometimes the management is just not on the same page as the sessioneers, and are trying to attract patrons by hook or by crook; sometimes I suspect that sessioneers are aware that they are ‘supposed to be’ hosting an open session, and are passively resisting by closing ranks and turning a cold shoulder to all comers (mixed metaphor? you tell me; I have no military training).

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Up above I posted a link to an article in Jstor. "Irish Traditional Music in a Modern World"
It’s a bit inconvenient to read beyond the 1st page because you have to ‘login’ though it’s free to register and read online. It does have references to Irish musicians including Paddy Glackin, Desi Wilkinson & Hammy Hamilton.
I cannot find the article referenced to from an interview with Paddy Glackin (1995). However I did find this more recent interview with him (2003). Here’s a quote, "I’m fascinated with the whole musical tradition. It’s not all about the performance of the music on a stage. For me, that personal contact is very important. When I meet musicians I’m just as interested in speaking with them as listening to them play. It’s about getting to know them and what shapes their music, what they’re communicating. It’s not about technique, its about where the music comes from and the social aspect, spending time together - that’s where the real buzz comes from."
Here’s a link. https://www.folkmusic.net/htmfiles/inart726.htm

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Thanks - good article!

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Interesting discussion.

I’ve come across many of the graduates of trad music courses at (for example) Newcastle and Plockton. Don’t quote me on that, but that’s where I seem to remember they studied.

I’ve sat in sessions where a whole crew of them play sets of tunes that they ,(presumably) learnt in the course, possibly from teachers that were bored with the same old tunes, but they don’t know, or won’t play, any of the "old chestnuts". It’s not just that you don’t know any of their tunes, it’s when they don’t seem to recognise any of your old chestnuts.

But by and large, for every one the young trad grads that wants to play nothing but rhythmically complex unmemorable recently composed melodies all night, there are one of two more who enjoy a relaxed session with the old codgers and even enjoy some of our old chestnuts.

It is a bit worrying though when a seasoned campaigner like Kenny can feel alienated by a session but I note that it was in Glasgow where there is a choice of sessions. Not much comfort if that’s the one night you are there and venturing out for a bit of music and crack, but it would be far worse if that was the only session in town all week/month etc.

Maybe that’s where the bad feeling comes from, understandably.

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Sorry, Bren - I need to explain a few points. First off, on my part there’s never "bad feeling". There are sessions I can play with, and for various reasons, some when I can’t, or choose not to. That is no problem to me at all. What I do have a big problem with is lack of common manners and respect for other musicians. I was a guest at a festival on the south west coast of Scotland around 9 years ago, must have been. We’d done our set, finished for the night so, I went and found a session. It was very big, not something I usually enjoy, but I joined in anyway. After around 4 hours or so, a bunch of young musicians arrived, and found seats up at the other end of the hall. They formed their seats around 1 table in a circle, half of them with their backs to the rest of the session and proceeded to play together, completely over the top of, and totally ignoring, the musicians who had been there all night. One of the other players near me saw me looking at this in disbelief, shrugged, and by way of explanation simply said "RSAMD". It would be very unfair, and totally illogical, to condemn them all on the basis of one bad incident, but I have heard similar stories on several occasions in the years since, and if that’s not an instance of blatant "elitism" I don’t know what is.

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That’s just rude.

I’d have as a group walked over and asked "Excuse me, WTF do you think you’re doing?"

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Interesting discussion as always.

Does this elitism exist? Yes! Elitism and that sense of the "closed shop" within the tradition is certainly a thing, certainly in Ireland anyways, and has been as long as I’ve played. Often this is a sign of a dilution or a reduction in popularity if it is increasing - I’m not sure that this is necessarily the case. As others have suggested, I think the universities are a straw man in this whole debate - the undergraduate degrees mentioned seem to attract a clique that would exist irregardless and many of the trad and folk music university societies and PhD-level research are preserving and maintaining the tradition in a way that is quite vibrant and genuine.

On a separate point, I think the number of genuine ITM sessions is falling off all over the place, and the amount of spontaneous music I hear is lessening. I think the pandemic has accelerated this, and I hope to see it recover pretty soon

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Fair enough Kenny - I thought you meant you’d encountered it at a regular pub session.

I presume it was not one of those festival venues big enough to accommodate several sessions at once.

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There have been a few discussions re this here and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve found that most former students of these courses and other highly musically educated traditional musicians tend to become "absorbed" into the traditional music community rather than taking it over as such. However, they do bring their skills and ideas.

Not all will make a living out out of playing professionally and those who do are are often involved in several projects. Many also involve themselves in teaching, organising and so on as they progress through the years.
There may, indeed, be a short period while they actually at University or afterwards when some appear to be a bit "full of themselves" but this is just a phase.

However, I appreciate the efforts of young musicians in general. Yes, they do compose their own tunes but the better ones do eventually find their way into sessions. Also, when they do join "our sessions", they are usually happy enough "go with the flow" too.
Of course, they will also play together by themselves but we all do that to a certain extent. Every regular session has its own usual repertoire and pace, regardless of whetehr the music is strictly traditional or not.

Re Kenny’s festival incident, I have encountered this sort of thing many times over the years but RSAMD or (Royal Conservatoire ) are not the only offenders in this respect.
I’ve also seen tune sessions hijacked by groups of singers and vice versa(though less so) although the worst culprits seem to be the "wandering cowboy/girl" variety and the more "mixed session" crowd.
In general, folk festival sessions can be a bit of a "hit or miss". They can sometimes be wonderful but sometimes it is just a case of everyone for themselves competing for a place to play or grab a bit of the limelight.

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" everyone for themselves competing for a place to play or grab a bit of the limelight." Not interested in either of those. Shouldn’t be what traditional music is about, IMHO, and if that’s what it’s come to, I’d rather stay at home and let them get on with it.

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Bren says…

"I’ve sat in sessions where a whole crew of them play sets of tunes that they ,(presumably) learnt in the course, possibly from teachers that were bored with the same old tunes, but they don’t know, or won’t play, any of the "old chestnuts". It’s not just that you don’t know any of their tunes, it’s when they don’t seem to recognise any of your old chestnuts."

That’s not something which is unique to students of University Trad courses but which has been quite common over the last 20-30 years or so with older adults too who have learned much of their repertoire from organisations such as The ALP(SMG to some) and, I’d imagine SCAT, Glasgow Fiddle Workshop etc too. Also, workshops and so on in general.
Tutors don’t want to teach the standards and the "learners" are often looking for something different too!
I remember Angus Grant Jnr telling us. "You can play tunes like Mrs McLeod if you want but you will have to learn them yourself."
Many of us did just that, of course, along with the new stuff. Yet quite a number of students wouldn’t and/or couldn’t. So, as Bren says, you had lots of musicians playing these "fancy tunes" but they didn’t know the standards.

However, those players who are really interested in the music will eventually become more "rounded" but this all takes time and experience.

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"Not interested in either of those"

Nor me, Kenny.
That’s why I said it can sometimes be a "hit or a miss" at some festivals.

You can still get some good sessions too, of course. I went to Kelso this weekend and wasn’t expecting too much in the way of sessions but there were some really nice moments including a couple of good tune sessions(mainly Irish) in The Legion and Cross Keys.
I think those who attending were a lot more discerning about things and interested in what was going on unlike at many festivals in recent years.

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We shouldn’t be surprised if conservatoire-trained bright young things want to play with their pals and not with old codgers who they don’t know and are not so accomplished technically (although they might remember that they may have owed their first lessons to an old codger). But they are not the only ones. I’ve been to many festivals to find in the main bar of a pub a group of 5-7 musicians (amateurs, but proficient) tightly packed around a single table, playing sets of very fast reels with nary a pause in between. Little chance for anyone else to start a set, and indeed, that might be the purpose. I’ve wondered whether slow tunes are avoided by many musicians at festivals and sessions just because it makes it less easy for others to join in.

But so many of the cases described by so many in this thread make me sad. The essence of traditional music is that it is passed on from older players to younger ones, and good players to less experienced ones.

It seems that most musicians want to play with people who are better than them (although not miles better) but it doesn’t work the other way round so often. And I admit myself that even as a pretty average fiddler, I get annoyed with the guitarist who only knows three chords or the bodhran player who insists on banging along to slow airs. So I would try to avoid them - am I guilty of being exclusivist?

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Yes, and these young players will soon become the "older"(at least) codgers too.

The new younger players will still be doing their own thing but, as these musicians find their way in the world, they may have less opportunity to play with their peers who may have other commitments including career(musical or otherwise) and family.
So, they are now likely to involve themselves more in the general traditional music scene as they age and mature. "Absorbed", as I mentioned earlier, but bringing along their own ideas too of course.

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"I’d have as a group walked over and asked "Excuse me, WTF do you think you’re doing?""
Not me. I’d listen to them long enough to sort out if one of them (or more) was *not* trying to outdo the others. Maybe one of the young players might actually be able to appreciate the session Kenny was with but sticking with their RCS mates because they came together. It’s reaching but I won’t stereotype the whole lot.
If I could sort out even one of them I’d love to be able to pull them aside long enough to play this bit & see if maybe, just maybe, they show some interest.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkrILJ8HJNk

I’m dreaming but I would do something like that before I’d ever have an entire session walk over to another session to ask a provocative question. YMWAV!

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Sorry, that was Irish. My bad. Since the festival was in Scotland I don’t know if anyone would appreciate the 2 Paddys (Glackin & Keenan). Most likely I’d sit there in a state of disbelief for awhile. My plan seems to have hit a snag; run aground; left without a way to proceed. You’re on your own, Scotland. I cannot help you now.

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This thread has left me wondering if there is anyone on these boards who fits the description posed in the original post — someone with a trad music degree from UL or RSAMD or another of those acronymic institutions — who would care to comment?

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I have to say, the way music students, an entire city, and even two posts above, an entire country has been painted with the same brush in this thread is grossly naive and deeply ignorant. RCS are not a bunch of gangsters that control a city. If you don’t like particular session then go to another you like, or start one. Maybe, like a troupe of spoons players turning up at an average session, these just aren’t for you.

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I agree bogman.

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Nail on the head bogman!

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Re finding other sessions, I agree. However, sometimes things can be taken out of our hands or organised on our behalf 🙁 .

Several years ago now, "Here in Scotland", we had a phenomenon called "McEwan Sessions".

The idea was that session musicians would be employed in pubs which sold McEwans beer to encourage custom.

There was a lot of controversy at the time about which musicians were chosen especially as regards those pubs which already featured traditional music. Sometimes, it was the case that the regular musicians were ignored for these duties while more "elite" players were "planted" in the premises for these sessions.

Several tweaks were made and The TMSA were eventually tasked with organising these sessions(for better or worse) and they also made up a few rules re how these should be run. It was now the case that visiting musicians should be "welcomed" etc. However, in most cases, those involved still just seemed to play for themslves. I’m not suggesting that they were being cliquish but other musicians may have felt reluctant to join them for various reasons.

Naturally, organisations such as RSAMD etc were ideal recruiting grounds for such ventures.
Many folk festivals have also done similar things over the years and sometimes just pick the youngest and most promising players they can find to anchor a session which isn’t really fair on either those who have been chosen or the other players.

Personally, I believe that there is room for all types of sessions. Young or old, trad or trendy, or a mixture of all as long as they are allowed to develop and occur naturally. Just as long as they aren’t "imposed" in premises which already host music or to the detriment of existing sessions.

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The Glasgow session scene is pretty weird, or was until Covid shut the whole thing down. I’ve lived and traveled elsewhere, including Limerick, and it isn’t as weird. All trad scenes are a morass of politics to one degree or another, but it feels stickier here than in other places. My experience totally mirrors Dave’s. And Dave is one of the few other 30-somethings I regularly played music with for all the reasons he illustrated.

I live here, so I can characterize it. LOL.

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I have to admit, I read things like this, stories of what people do when someone does something "wrong" at a session — and stories of people who clap at the "wrong" times in classical concerts — and all it does is convince me that I’d sooner get my gall bladder removed with an oyster fork than play music of any kind with anyone else. I’ll stay with my piano in my own damn living room and play opera tunes on my flute and the occasional jig or reel when I’m watching Shannon and Matt Heaton’s live sessions on my computer, and that’ll do me. Better that than walking into a damn minefield.

I’ll stay in my living room, drop some dosh into Shannon Heaton’s tip jar, and learn a few tunes so I can play along where I don’t have to worry about starting a fight by tripping someone’s invisible cultural tripwire with my unworthiness.

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I also appreciate that if you are someone who is welcomed into these rarefied sessions, you will have a totally different view of it. The issue isn’t that they exist. Fair enough if people want to play with their mates. The issue is that they dominate the scene in the part of this city where I live. There are also a few novice-friendly slow sessions around as well, which is fantastic for inexperienced players, but if you’re a sort of competent amateur player who wants something in between those extremes, you are SOL. I was in fact told by someone at an RCS session to join the slow session up the road. I didn’t even have the pipes with me! I’d gone to the pub unarmed, just for a drink with mates, and I’d politely walked up to the session (which happened to be playing loads of Irish tunes I knew) and said I’m local and play uilleann pipes and could I drop by and have a tune some day. So yeah, that was cool.

There aren’t many options. That’s why it’s weird. Didn’t used to be like that here, but it’s crept in over the years.

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I’m reminded when I read discussion such as this that experiences vary significantly according to location.

I also recall a discussion (where?) explaining why certain traditional musics from central and Eastern Europe have struggled (dying, academic study only) yet others have continued to flourish as folk musics played and appreciated by reasonably healthy audiences of amateurs.

Stumbling into a performance which ‘looks like’ an open session is an easy mistake to make (once!).

The issues raised in this discussion feel otherworldly to the trad universe in the Kildare/Wicklow/Dublin area. Thankfully.

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Johnny Jay:
I got inveigled by a well-regarded fiddler into one of those McEwans sessions.
Not so much elitism as desperation, "any warm body will do".

It was down the road a way from here. We got petrol money and small fee.
It wasn’t remotely a normal session pub, or a normal session for that matter, but the punters enjoyed it, and so did I, once I relaxed a bit.

SilverSpear:
a Glaswegian asked me if I’d been to any sessions in that city and I mentioned a well-known Saturday afternoon one.

"Ah, the auld fellas’ session" was the reply, and she wasn’t wrong.

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Actually I’m grateful to be reading bogman & the Dr’s posts. I was hoping to hear from them because I really don’t like linking to old posts if we can get it from the horses’ mouth/keyboard. Bogman, if you feel my post w/"Scotland you’re on your own" was painting with a broad brush I understand how some might take it as such. So, I want to say again I’m not here to promote stereotypes, especially about places I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met. Having said that it’s great to have this forum for getting to know something about where each of you live & play music. Interesting group discussion.

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gbyrne wrote:
"I also recall a discussion (where?) explaining why certain traditional musics from central and Eastern Europe have struggled (dying, academic study only) yet others have continued to flourish as folk musics played and appreciated by reasonably healthy audiences of amateurs."

This one?
Why is traditional Irish music tradition so alive? (July 2014)
https://thesession.org/discussions/34298

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The Saturday afternoon one in question is actually fine. One of the nicest ones around, really. It’s just at a bloody awkward time because of horses, doing other things on weekends, etc. Even if there were no Covid at this moment, I would not have any chance in hell of making mid/late afternoon ones for some time, sadly.

The average age is, however, older than myself, and a fair few are retired, hence the afternoons. Some take trains in from wherever, and the timing is really good for that. So there’s a lot of truth to what Bren said.

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Some of them are even older than me!

If I’m in Glasgow, I’m on a weekend away, so Saturday afternoon is perfect, but I can see how it would be different if you live thereabouts, not to mention having horses.

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The horse I bought in February had a surprise foal at the start of June (didn’t know she was pregnant until a week before she foaled…that was interesting), so I’m more tied up than I was before, and getting to that session always took some schedule faff without the horse soap opera.

A weeknight session as nice as that afternoon one would be living the bloody dream.

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🙂
Thanks, Bren.

I see it’s under new management now. The new owners also run Rab Ha’s.
Some of my work colleagues often referred to me by that name in the seventies as I, apparently, had a very healthy appetite….

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Aye, but also mid-afternoon.

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So this thread’s still alive.
@Kenny, although i’m generally more on the side of thinking ‘don’t disparage people because they come out of a music degree course’ it seems like you definitely had a bad experience up in Glasgow. And i think that from what you’ve said they acted like knobs frankly. Unless they genuinely don’t know the set.
Its been a good few years but i was in a belting session in Buchanan St, with a lot of young RSAMD dafties and the likes of Mohsen Amini. It did get faster and more mental as the night went on, i’ll admit, but it seemed like a natural turn of events as the night drew out and numbers dwindled. Perhaps we got a bit carried away I dunno, but i am pretty sure it wasn’t deliberately exclusive. Hopefully ur experience was in the minority.
——————-
My local’s good, so i feel blessed (apart from the landlord lol) the people are outstanding, there’s some awesome players and some maybe not so outstanding but i’d like to think everyone’s welcome and valued, everyone loves the music (and by the same token session-hogs and poseurs would be told nicely to cop on to themselves). It’s a nice mix, and feels like a home-from-home. Occasionally somebody will cut loose with a mighty set, or somebody’ll be minded to sing, but it’s never going to get exclusive. Also there’s a knack to coaxing a set out of some of our fine players who are very modest and would just happily play along in the background, but who have serious tunes in them! We’ve got a couple who play box & fiddle in particular, i’ll not embarass them by naming them but they are brilliant, sensitive players with vast repetoire and great ornaments. I have actually amused myself once or twice by starting something obscure (but still trad, not the latest mike mcgoldrick tune) because i just know they’ll have it covered!
That said, it’s been a long while, but sometimes I have had a yen to play a tasty little private session (usually when i’ve met some players i enjoy playing with at a festival) and then try and find a quiet corner or park if the weather’s good for it. In fact, that’s how the band i played in started, at Sidmouth. And that’s also part of the tradition, as i see it. But it’s a bit much to go to a public session and do that. Because obvs that would be selfish.

Re: Creeping elitification

.. basically being a good egg is more important than being a $hit-hot player, is the bottom line. But most of the top-notch musicians I know have nothing to prove and are dead humble. Most of the bigheads are either young and will probably grow out of it, or a bit insecure.
And don’t hate the greats! One of the best things about this music is you get to play with and sit in with your musical heroes from time to time!!! And when you’re lucky enough to be in a session with a great player I for one WANT to hear them really go for it once or twice. Preferably on a set that I know :P

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I’ve come across exactly the attitude Dave and DrSS are describing, only in an American city, not in Glasgow, and not connected to any trad uni course. Younger people (20s/30s, same age range as me) who don’t really care much for anyone not already part of their group, and won’t necessarily explicitly bar you but will more or less ignore you if you deign to sit down near them. I’ve always chalked it up as a social rather than strictly skill/talent thing. They’ve come up playing together, so that’s built their “in” group, and they just don’t really gives two ****s about anyone else.

TBH I’d much rather they just close the session. I’ve got no problem being told I’m not welcome or the seat isn’t open for whatever reason, it’s being completely ignored and made to *feel* unwelcome even after I’ve asked to join and they’ve said yes that really bugs me. And while I’m no great player, I’ve certainly played with plenty of exceptional (and well-known) players who have made me feel incredibly welcome and included, so I don’t buy the whole “you’re just not able to keep up” excuse.

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Eek, just read some of that bit about not making people feel welcome. Any shy folks besides me who probably unintentionally do that due to said shyness and not any sense of rudeness? Like seriously between the shyness and all the music my brain goes blank and basic like phrases like, "how’s it going?" and "Cool you’re here with us today" or even "what are you drinking?" tend to evaporate like gentle dew in the hot sun in my brain.

Like, is there a place for shy folk at the sessions, or strategies to somehow like put people at ease even if you can’t like "words" at the time? lol

About the general subject matter of the thread, I kind of see where the OP is going with it, especially because with a lot of musical experiences in the US, converging with a lot of entertainment media, I feel like the US has kind of forgotten (save for cool sessions and ITM players and other such exclusions to this point) that music can and should be a community experience and virtuosic skill should not be required to be able to participate. And yet, I don’t think we’re there yet with the sessions I’ve been too. Yes you get your folk who have to play everything at 200 or more bpm, or who decide that they thought the starting tempo was too slow and decide to push it over the starter’s tempo (pet peeve of mine, but maybe it shouldn’t be?) but also at least in my area, the players generally are super humble (even the "session stars" who are so damn good and I’ll be lucky to be half as good with a quarter of as many tunes when I am their age!) and willing to play easier tunes at slower tempos and just put their effort into making them beautiful and making them speak to folks.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, at this point, I’m not worried about ITM "elitism" yet, but also am relatively I guess new to it also, so there’s that.

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Re: Creeping elitification

"Strategies"? Um … start with a moment of eye contact … move on to a bobbing of the eyebrows … then, the merest hint of a smile … work up to some not-entirely-disapproving vocal emanation such as "Hmmm!" … and you’re there! Once you’ve mastered that, you may even, before the night is over, want to try making some mundane comment along the lines of, "Hope you enjoyed yourself. Bye!"

As opposed to, say, blatantly turning yourself away at such an angle that the newcomer doesn’t catch a glimpse of your face for the rest of the night … !

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"I’ve come across exactly the attitude Dave and DrSS are describing, only in an American city, not in Glasgow, and not connected to any trad uni course. Younger people (20s/30s, same age range as me) who don’t really care much for anyone not already part of their group, and won’t necessarily explicitly bar you but will more or less ignore you if you deign to sit down near them. I’ve always chalked it up as a social rather than strictly skill/talent thing. They’ve come up playing together, so that’s built their “in” group, and they just don’t really gives two ****s about anyone else."

Yes, it’s plain that it’s more of a social thing than an ability thing. Not long before Covid shut the pubs down, I was at one of these sessions, being ignored as per SOP, when a lad from Germany came in and sat down next to me. He also played the pipes, and he was a lot better than me. A really lovely player. Guess what? The session leaders ignored him too. I was chatting away to him, but it was obvious to anyone with a brain that I was also an outsider. He seemed baffled by how closed-off the session leadership seemed to the punters (even if they played well) on the edge of the circle. "Are they normally this unfriendly?" he asked. "Yup," I replied.

Re: Creeping elitification

"Yes, it’s plain that it’s more of a social thing than an ability thing. Not long before Covid shut the pubs down, I was at one of these sessions, being ignored as per SOP, when a lad from Germany came in and sat down next to me. He also played the pipes, and he was a lot better than me. A really lovely player. Guess what? The session leaders ignored him too. I was chatting away to him, but it was obvious to anyone with a brain that I was also an outsider. He seemed baffled by how closed-off the session leadership seemed to the punters (even if they played well) on the edge of the circle. "Are they normally this unfriendly?" he asked. "Yup," I replied."

Just yikes, Dr. Silverspear! Someone bring the Silverspear mobile and grab the decency capes. They are so needed!

Just in contrast remember a time that a dude from the UK came to visit our session…it was a little tough because our session knew very different tunes on the whole than the guy did, but we definitely invited him to start some tunes, play (super talented fiddler if memory recalls) and those that didn’t suffer from major shyness in the session definitely spoke with him and did their best to make him feel welcome. Just reading the above thinking, "yikes" and also bless that Piper for continually going back and playing anyway. Hope he continues and maybe warms the group up a little bit towards outsiders.

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SarahC, I love reading anything you post. There’s no shame in being a shy person. If you’re feeling down because you think your shyness keeps other players from feeling welcome it shows just how kind you are.
You’re generous, very generous. I guess the only thing I can think of to say is, "Don’t beat yourself up.
Your welcoming nature may be low key but it is genuine."

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"Happy Camper" - here’s a coincidence for you. Need to explain first, the "session takeover" didn’t happen in the city of Glasgow, it was at a weekend festival south of the city. You mention Mohsen Amini. Mohsen was one of the players who had been there for most of the night, sitting about 4 people along to my right, playing brilliantly on concertina, and if I remember correctly, whistle as well. They ignored him too.
I do need to emphasise that although this was the worst example of disrespect for other musicians in a session I’ve ever come across, it was a very, very rare occurence, thankfully, and should not be regarded as typical at all. I would hope the guilty parties may have grown up a bit since. Maybe my own fault, but it still rankles, 9 years later. Time I got over it.

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Re: Creeping elitification

You remember correctly Kenny, Mohsen is a tremendous whistle player - for bodhran competitions he was my instrumentalist of choice when he was younger, and available.

If you are looking at the youger generationn of Comhaltus players then Rory Stark would be the one to watch out for.

https://www.facebook.com/paddyandrory/videos/2897722886961656

Re: Creeping elitification

You were at that session too, Davy. Remember ?

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I think it must be either Girvan or Moniaive?

There are probably only around four well known festivals in SW Scotland. Of the other two, one only started a few years ago while the other is much smaller.
You’re not going to tell us though….
🙂

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Those festivals are always something of a scrabble, with plenty of bad behaviour to go around, and that doesn’t include the knife fight one year or the lads setting a caravan on fire (closer to my tent than I would have liked!). What happens at Girvan stays at Girvan.

Then there was Moniaive, where some people not too far from my camp lit one of those big Butane bottles on fire. A bunch of us hid behind the stone wall on the edge of the campsite, but it turns out those bottles don’t explode. Or this one didn’t.

Anyway, I was having lovely session at Girvan, which had been cooking along for a few hours, and a group of guitarists wandered into the pub, sat in their own circle adjacent to our circle, and then at even the smallest gap between tune sets, they kicked off with songs. We tried to not have gaps, and they stopped caring and just played and sang over the tunes. They won, and we left to start or join another session elsewhere.

Maybe we were the elitists in that scenario, not joining with their song circle (or wanting to). They still behaved like tw**ts though.

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Johnny, it would be Girvan, that was the last time that Kenny and I crossed paths.

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Thanks, Davy. 🙂

Sadly, quite a few Scottish festivals fall into the "bad behaviour" category although it’s mostly locals and/or people from nearby villages who like to go for the "occasion" but who have little or no interest in the music. Other locations such as Newcastleton, Keith, and Auchtermuchty have all had their moments over the years.

It’s even less forgivable, of course, when musicians and singers who should know better behave in a bad mannered way.

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Festival sessions anywhere can be a very different animal from your regular session in your local pub, and I have also seen good and bad manners in my various travels, as well as certain misunderstandings as to whether sessions were hosted, and if so, were they "open" or "closed"? And yes, I have seen these invasions of cliques of (usually, but not exclusively)young folk intent on playing hell for leather without stopping or letting anyone else in to their "elitist" world.
At our own festival, we used to try to issue a "session guide" via posters in pub windows and on lamp-posts - e.g. Bluegrass session in W pub, tunes session in X pub, singers’ session in Y, mixed session in Z. It didn’t always work out, as musicians or singers would, of course, just start up wherever they found a space. For hosted sessions, we asked the hosts not to treat it as a concert for themselves, but to make it as inclusive as possible, and to facilitate the happy running of the session. And Committee members would keep a quietly watchful eye for any "dominators" and respectfully ask them to let others have a chance: this wasn’t often necessary, but if done politely, rarely caused any aggro.
We did once have a situation at Girvan where 2 disparate groups of people turned up at the start time at a certain session venue: we plainly had different repertoires, but we were accommodating of each other’s preferences, more or less taking it in turns to play or sing something: eventually the other group (Bluegrass afficionados) did get up and leave, but there had been no rudeness or unpleasantness.

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"…some people … lit one of those big Butane bottles on fire… but it turns out those bottles don’t explode."

They do, DSS, if you put them in a really big bonfire. We stopped having our valley bonfire because one year some idiot surreptitiously put a butane bottle in it. A louder bang would have been hard to imagine. It’s a miracle no one was hurt.

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Of course they do. It’s all about how hot is the fire (absolutely bonfires) & how much pressure builds inside the bottle.
KaBoom!

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This one wasn’t in a bonfire, luckily. It was spewing sparks and flame out of the top. I have no idea how it got to that stage or what people had done to it. I’d just crawled into my tent after returning from a session at 4am and hadn’t been there long, when everyone whose tent was in that general area was woken up by people shouting about a gas canister on fire. So there we all were, at 5am, hiding behind a wall while this thing spurted fire. Fun.