HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

I’ve been in hammered dulcimer land lately, but in the main and specifically the Greek santouri, which I love to bits, and it has a sustain pedal! I’ve also been listening to the hammer dulcimer playing of John Rea of County Antrim, someone I admire for his character, wit, humanity, bravery and playing. But, the one experience we’ve had of letting a hammered dulcimer player into one band was similar to the Beatles (?). Because he had - the size and presence (the instrument and his own height, width and ego), the volume, sustain, multiple strings (more than all of us combined), hammers, and the caché in places where the instrument’s numbers are few - he was under the assumption that we were all the backing group and he was the centre of focus and importance. Unable to reason with him or to temper his voluminous exuberance, he was retired from the group, sadly by devious means.

I wrote this elsewhere and felt this ‘discussion’ coming on. This is another one of those dilemmas, an instrument I love that can also be an abomination. Again, it belongs with those of a percussive nature, including the bodhran and the banjo, and is as capable of winding up a session, and for some is up there with the piano accordion running on all reeds and full volume.

I’m hoping something other than just scathing condemnations. I like all these instruments, in considerate hands, but there does seem to be a pecking order. For a short period of obsessing on the topic I did do some asking around in order to get a list in some order between heaven and hell, like that covered in Tillyard’s work, “The Elizabethan World Order”, and by Mr. Shakespear in his play Troilus and Cressida:

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre
Observe degree priority and place
Insisture course proportion season form
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthron’d and spher’d
Amidst the other, whose med’cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil
And posts like the commandment of a king,
Sans check, to good and bad. But when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
Commotion in the winds, frights changes horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure. Oh, when degree is shak’d,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick. How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns sceptres laurels,
But by degree stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away,
- - - untune that string,
And hark, what discord follows…

Always on the top of that list of ills experienced were –

bodhran / accordions of all varieties but 90% of the time specifically the piano accordion / / pipes of all varieties, though mostly full sets of the uillean sort, session designed ‘rocket ships’ in the key of ‘D’ / banjo / hammered dulcimer / electrified instruments / DADGAD strummers / harmonizing anything - - - etc…

So what’s your list and order, say keeping to just five items? What’s your worst experience?

Why? – I find that often the players of the offending instrument are completely without self-awareness, meaning their place in the larger scheme of things, like a session or a band. So, this is about ‘education’? – or that is what I’d hope, and maybe there will be some ‘defences’ made by player of the offending family of instruments, drum, strum or full blown… I know we keep bringing this sort of thing to the discussion, but also, wanting this to be constructive, as I said, I am actually fond of these instruments handled well and with consideration for others, what might be the answers, other than banning or playing a bodran with a rapier, a piano accordion with a blow torch, or a hammered dulcimer with sledge hammers…

My example is given, though the result in the end wasn’t ‘constructive’ for the hammered dulcimer player, but here’s my list, those that have caused the most aggravation in my musical life:

1. piano accordion

2. percussion (including bodhran, bones, and certain ‘names that cannot be named’ – like that Australian ‘bang-a-bang’ stick thing.) – who never pause…

3. whistle harmony players (‘vibrato’ having a similar ‘chalk on board’ effect.)

4. Uilleann pipers (of the loud ‘rocket ship’ variety, especially those with crap un-tuneable reeds and who can’t hear beyond their immediate acoustic presence.)

5. Accompaniment – strings and things, like guitars, pianos and keyboards with a limited understanding and palate.

This is a struggle for me, probably why this is such a ramble, because I also like these things when handled well and with ‘care’…

These lists can be regional, so, mine is gathered from several regions, North America, where I would have added ‘Dulcimers’ into the list, and Western Europe, currently finding habitation on these isles - just off the West Coast of France…

Oops, I missed the specifics:
Shake-Spear’s ‘comedy’: Troilus and Cressida - Act 1, Scene 3:
The Grecian camp. Before Agamemnon’s tent - - -
so, obviously another one of those folk festival camps in Eire, the speaker being your man Ulysses…

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Any musician that thinks they should be top dog by vertue of anything but their ability to play the music:
1. I have the correct instrument so I should be given defference.
2. I have a hut in Ireland so I am the best musician in the room.
3. I have been hacking away at this stuff since the 60’s or 70’s so I must be obeyed.
4. I have a degree in music so I am better at this than you.
5. I can hack out 1000’s of tunes so I can lead off every set.

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Hmmm. It should be pointed out that it’s not so much the instrument, as the player of that instrument who is the problem, which is sort of the point of baglady’s list. You’d think there’d be no such thing as fiddlers with egos, there being so many of us pesky little buggers, yet we’ve all met fiddlers who see themselves as the equivalent of a rock band’s guitar god.

It’s hilarious at some of our gigs, because I could be playing like Frankie fecking Gavin (not that I do, *sigh*), people will still walk straight by me and home in on Dirk, our uilleann piper. “What are those called?” “Wow, I’ve never seen those in person!” “You’re so good!” Yet Dirk is as humble as they come, and I’ve never seen him try to steal any limelight from any of the rest of us. He happens to be an exceptional player, especially in light of the relatively short time he’s played the pipes.

So I don’t really have a list of offensive instruments, but like baglady, rather a list of people whose egos or issues can drive you up a wall.

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Muscians. Egos? Naaaa, can’t be. Say it aint so.

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

I can’t remember any incident at a session where I developed a complete dislike for an instrument because of the badness (manner, or ability-wise) of a particular player. But having said that, I have preferences, so in the spirit of Ceolachan’s thread here’s my top five:-
1 Paulo soprani boxes with heavy “swing” tuning.
2 Piano played in 1920’s ceili band style.
3 Songs with 23 verses.( not really an instrument I suppose)
4 Pint glasses played with coins.
5 Swanee whistles.

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Well, for bad experiences (from a fairly inexperienced session-goer), how ’bout:

1. Mandolin accompanyment played in “boom-chuck-a-boom-chuck” style that almosts sounds like someone strumming a ukulele to “Tiny Bubbles”.
2. The drunken girl who HAD to get drunk to muster up the nerve to sing “Whiskey in the Jar”, because she loves Metallica, and that’s what you DO at an Irish Session.
3. The guy who ends up sitting directly in front of you because when you tried to make room for newcomers by widening the circle, he just ended up scooting over.
4. The person who sheepishly sidles up and asks “Do you take requests?”, and then gets offended when you tell them that it kinda needs to be something Irish.
5. The woman who came in, said “where do I sit?”, tried to clap in time, but couldn’t, and then completely stopped the session playing by attempting to dance (“No… No… there will be NO dancing”, as the music came to a screeching halt, thanks to Pat on flute.)

So, while these didn’t necessarily turn me off to particular instruments (er, except for Mandolin - although, it can be nice when played well… and, well, whatever the guy sitting right in front of me happens to be playing…), given enough of these experiences, I might get turned off to sessions in general…

Or I might start looking forward to sessions even more, just to see what the night’s entertainment might bring. The jury is still out on that one. 😉


Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Damn, I’d better stop playing pint glasses with my wedding ring and finger…better to just drink it all in, eh? I bow to your wisdom Baglady, as I’ve said, I like all those instruments, so I’ve known and experienced good and considerate folk tottin’ them. So, fives, in your vein:

1. Those for which their instrument is a weapon, or a road-grader to sweep everything before them aside including the music, all to follow.

2. Volume over balance…

3. Speed Kills…and the fluctuation of tempo imposed by the likes of reasons 1 & 2…

4. Obscurity used in order to take command, another case of ‘see what I can do’…

5. Songs sung as sets…
Will you stop that for God’s sake Jimmy Troy. You sing like a Budweiser add anyway, one of them frogs, or was it a toad…


Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

1. Someone who starts off the session with extreme confidence and technique with a set of tunes at ful speed that are completely unknown to everyone else, and plays each tune twice only, so that the recollection of the first tune has faded before the second is completed.
2. Someone who ornaments and does variations on a tune to a level where it becomes a “spot the tune” competition. Often the same “someone” as in (1) - a born soloist if there ever was one.
3. Several guitars each with his own private interpretation of what the accompanying chords should be. Needless to say, the interpretations never coincide.
4. The lone guitarist who is obsessed with advanced jazz harmonies, even in the most modal or pentatonic of tunes. Otherwise very competent and loud. Ever sat next to such a person when you’re struggling with a tune you‘’re only just getting to grips with?
5. Three or four bohrán players spaced round the session so that no one of them can hear what the others are doing, with predictable results as far as everyone else is concerned.

Yes - twice only, or worse, once only in a long set of say six tunes on the trot, yes, I have experienced such mayhem and injustice…

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

(1) Musicians who judge you by your instrument case

(2) bodhran players who try to out do each other.. like dogs of war marking their own territory

(3) Flute players who let drool fall onto your leg.

(4) Audience participation with:
legs of tables
butt end of pistols
butterfly knives
stolen instruments
my wooden leg
drunk dancing
requests for Danny Boy
Piped music from juke boxes

(4) Cynics in a session:
a cinic is:
A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
(People play in sessions to enhance and add, so this description does not fit)…………………………………………

A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative. (Hmmmmm very fitting, drip drip!)

A member of a sect of ancient Greek philosophers who believed virtue to be the only good and self-control to be the only means of achieving virtue. (Does not fit with the the profile)

Posted by .

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

before the cynic retorts..
the second no. 4 should be 5
Oh to think I played 5 beats in this thread for a good ould reel time of 4/4

Posted by .

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

the sports channel on in the corner over the bar with people loudly applauding the athletes and ignoring the music completely. that’s 1 through 5.

Posted by .

Turn The Volume Up On The Amp - - - I Said - - - Turn The ~

Have you noticed the effect on the music from all that external distraction and noise? In order to compete it can all go up in competing waves on noise until the dynamics are completely ironed out of everything. Yeah, that can easily account for all five and then some…

People constantly slagging off other instruments:


That link is for any future crossings, if this ever gets dug out in a search. Also, my tirade giving you all respect is there…

Flute & whistle drool?

Damn! - Sorry Eoino…

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Hey Ceol..
no probs,
will see you in my solicitors office Monday!!!

Posted by .

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Hey, you were bare footed, it was probably the first good wash they’d had in ages…

I had a couple of contributions come my way via others, and noticed some missing elements:

* Music stands and sheet music, including ABCs…

* dancers - but especially step dancers and kids where it is expected that all things should be set aside for their half hour show. What really caused commotion at a recent event was that they didn’t want live music and brought their boom box with them. I was there too, an I have to agree here. Total time, with setting up and warming up and the eventual ‘display’ was more like 40 minutes, the musicians having gone to the bar.

Re: HAMMERING ON! - - - your top 5?

Wow, after reading all this, sessoins don’t sound like much fun at all -- w ith everybody bickering and complaining about self-absorbed musicians. As an HD player, I liked your opening story about how you saw lots of opportunity by adding an HD to your band. Too bad you had to fire the player for being too self-absorbed.

I agree with Zina, the real issue is the person and attitude, not the instrument.

I’ve seen that sort of behavior in all sorts of bands. The instrument is never the issue; it’s the player.

Good players know when to step out front and when to step back. One of the weaknesses of ITRAD sessions is that many players can only play the melody and just don’t know how to be musicians.

Rayz On, Raybans - the light is hurting my eyes - - -

I think it is all in the blend, and while certain instruments have the potential to dominate and push, it isn’t the instruments fault, as most of us seem to agree, it is the person who does the pushing. That said, I’ve never felt that kind of domination from a mandolin player or an Appalachian dulcimer. Volume seems to be part of the problem, or that potential to volume, and things that can roar and cut through the softer parts of the music and other instruments, like trampling flutes and mandolin players. So, while I love these instruments, and I’ve been blessed by knowing some really outstanding and considerate players, it still is true that among those with the POWER TO TOWER over others, the following hold lead:

Bagpipes - even worse when they are rocket ships and out of tune. But that is also the ‘maker’, and I love the pipes, some of them, sadly not many. In the right hands from the right hands - they are beautiful, and I’ve played with and danced to some great music made on various types…

Accordions - all sets of reed blaring and the worse like the out of tune pipes being the overly wet - wide tunings, and letting it all blare, bass and chords as well. And the joy and amazement of knowing some folks here who could weave in and out and where you could still hear the flute and other instruments, and just occassionally they’d use that potential for volume to goose the music…

Percussion - yeah, in the main the likes of the bodhran, bones and spoons, they can be so exhuberant and amusical - “What’s a melody?” - and grabbing anything to hit and make an ‘impression’ with, too often ‘the louder the better’. I think the worst case was the congas, jeez… However, I’ve played with some great and together tabla players.

Hammered things - dulcimers with hard hammers flailing, mad sustain as intrusive and muddying as a bunch of drunk uni students, pianos with open tops, cimbalom - but here too I’ve known some great and considerate ‘blenders’, with ears and who know how to use them. And again, I love those instruments directed by considerate and aware ears.

It is because sessions can be such a kick, such good craic and fun, that we are all aware of how one bad apple can have the potential to spoil the whole thing. But mostly, it’s a great social gathering, with the slagging and the humour, with the music and with friends. The trick is to know how to survive the occassional attack from the inconsiderate asshole. Sometimes it is just a bit of insight and understanding, and we have all been in the place of ignorance, something we can never fully divorce ourselves from. There will always be something we don’t understand and potential for rudeness because of that. And, if there is no chance of self-awareness, as happened with our insistant hammered dulcimer player, well, you have to send such folk on their way, somehow. It wasn’t the instrument we wanted to go, we liked what it could do, and had heard some fine and considerate players, but, like the bodhran and the accordion, some folks are attracted to size and volume and apparent ease - and just want to bang on incessently without dynamics or understanding or respect for the music or those others of us who love the whole social milieau of it all - the ‘craic’ is about community, not tyranny…

No, we don’t spend an over amount of bickering and complaing, but it helps to get it off our shoulders somewhere, and why not here, with some attempt to be constructive. Rather than murdering someone or taking a sledge hammer to their instrument, we can release a bit of steam here, and maybe try to find humour in it as a community on this site, strength to laugh it off, and also a better understanding of it all. It is also nice to know WE ARE NOT ALONE - others have suffered such indignations as the ‘PUSH’ - whether in a dance, too often in the wrong direction, or in a set of tunes, also usually in the wrong direction…

I think we all live in hope, have belief that there is a cure for ignorance - courtesy and consideration through knowledge and understanding. Sadly, sometimes, the only answer is to be forthright and speak up. After putting up with this one case who liked to sing his songs in sets, several sets in an evening, and after trying to explain something about how our session worked, and failing to get through to this singer-strummer, someone told him to feck off. We never saw him again and the session went back to a nice social event without any single person towering over us. This guy never sat with us anyway, choosing to stand alongside with his jumbo guitar.

Damn, sorry - must be the result of two long days and nights fighting notation software…and other digital demons…