Found this interesting artice  at www.stolaf.edu

The Irish “Session” (Part 2)
by Stewart Hendrickson

Irish Session - McGrory's

Last month I wrote about how the traditional Irish pub session is a recent phenomenon, which became popular only after the folk craze of the 1960s. Prior to that time Irish music was played mainly at céilí (social gatherings, dance & music) houses where people would gather around the kitchen fire to entertain themselves with music, dancing, singing and story-telling. Only after Irish musicians emigrated to America and England in the 20th century did they gather at the local pub to play their music. This new “tradition” only became popular in Ireland after the 1960s.

    So what is the nature of playing Irish music in pubs? What happens when Irish musicians get together and play? What are the preferred instruments? What is the proper session etiquette?

    If you happen upon a pub session you might find musicians gathered in a circle, sometimes around a table, engaged with each other in their music, almost oblivious to other bar patrons. The instruments might include fiddles, flutes, whistles, uilleann pipes, concertinas, accordions, mandolins, banjos, a guitar or bouzouki, and bodhran.

    The tunes played are mostly from a long tradition of Irish dance music in the form of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and polkas. Occasionally a slow air or waltz might be performed and someone might sing an unaccompanied song. Or someone might do a lively step dance to a fast jig or reel.

    If you happen to be a musician, it is important to know the proper etiquette before joining in. Most sessions are open to anyone who wants to join, provided they know how to play traditional Irish music. However sessions may vary from place to place and have different unwritten guidelines and styles. It is best to first observe the session and try to understand how it operates. Common sense and a sensitivity for the music and musicians is most important.

    If you would like to participate, you might ask the host or other musicians about joining with them. If you don’t know the tunes they are playing, just sit and listen, and only play the tunes that you do know. After all, you wouldn’t want to annoy both musicians and listeners by trying to play tunes that you don’t know. If you want to learn tunes played at a particular session, you could ask if it is okay to tape record the music for learning. That, and attentive listening, is the best way to learn.

    It is most important not to disturb the flow of music. The purpose of the session is to have fun; when this is not the case, musicians tend to leave. Guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran players should approach a session very cautiously. These are not traditional Irish instruments, and need to be played with great skill and understanding of the music. If not played properly, they tend to throw off the rhythm and melody of the other players. Only one bodhran or guitar (or bouzouki) will be tolerated at any time; two guitars or bodhrans in a session are too many! This is because different rhythms or chords are possible, but should not occur at the same time.

    As you observe the session it may not be obvious how tunes are started, and by whom. Some sessions operate by musicians taking turns around the circle to start tunes; in others, musicians seem to start tunes at random. In the latter case, a musician will start a new tune as he or she deems appropriate, but should not dominate the session. A good host will often encourage new players to lead a tune. A player who leads a tune may often follow it with another paired tune in the same key and form, or another player will follow with an appropriate paired tune.

    Often the pub owner will reward the session players with free beer or other drinks, up to a limit of course. It is best to ask the local custom, and in any case tip the bar person (it improves the service!).

    If you are not a musician but just a punter (non-musician listener), it is also important to know proper etiquette. If you provide a proper listening environment (talk quietly) the music will be heard and played better by the musicians. Don’t crowd the musicians, but give them ample room to play. If you want to be close to the music, try not to take up space that another musician might want to play in; ask a musician if it’s okay.

    When a song is called for, it is essential that everyone be absolutely quiet. Most singing is unaccompanied and solo. If everyone is quiet you will be delighted with the beautiful melodies and interesting stories that make Irish songs so great.

    If you want to photograph, video, or record a session, it is proper to first ask permission. Clapping or “whooping” is appropriate, but only at the end of a set of tunes. Musicians appreciate this because it means that you are listening and enjoying their music. But don’t clap or “whoop” during a tune as this may tend to throw them off or worse, scare them. Just enjoy the “craic” (general conversation and ambiance) and have a good time.

Stewart Hendrickson is Chemistry Professor Emeritus – St. Olaf College, Research Professor Emeritus – University of Washington, and in his new career, an unemployed folk musician (voice, fiddle, guitar; http://www.stolaf.edu/people/hend/music.html ).  Contact him at hend@stolaf.edu for questions, ideas or comments.

 

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I am new here. Want to thank Tony for this site. What a great idea. I agree with Tony. Do not be a session hog.
As a bodhran player, I always ask before joining in. If accepted, I follow the guitar player very closely for tempo and rhythm. Nothing worse than a bodhran driving a session. Remember we are the heartbeat not the melody instruments. Should be missed when not there. I agree only one bodhran per set. No need to be fighting each other. No matter how good, rhythms vary.
Enjoy!
I play in three sessions here. One adheres to the one bodhran policy, one tolerates two IF we play nice, and the third has no rules. I have to say the Best session is the first where only one bodhran is allowed per set. All in the ear of the listener, or player.

If you still need a few pointers on Session Etiquette, watch this... Video

Now, imagine you are this musician, watching yourself in this video, the following day!

I know it's not always easy to see ourselves as others see us, but observing the rules of plain common sense, should usually be enough to help you avoid making a total eejit of yourself.

Cheers,

Dick

"This new “tradition” only became popular in Ireland after the 1960s."

The All Ireland Fleadhs had been going since 1951, so I'd suggest that Pub Sessions were actually popular in Ireland, all through the 1950s too.

"Guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran .. are not traditional Irish instruments .."

Granted, they are more recent additions to the Tradition, but I believe they have now been an integral part of the Tradition, for long enough, to now be considered a part of it. Otherwise, we would have to exclude outstanding musicians like Donal Lunny, Arty McGlynn & John Joe Kelly & no one could seriously suggest that these players are not part of the Tradition!

"Clapping or “whooping” is appropriate, but only at the end of a set of tunes."

This is not true, as most whooping, in my experience, comes at the turn of a tune or at the change from one tune to another, perhaps when that includes an interesting key change or change of tempo. This is perhaps most obvious when playing for Set Dancers, but also occurs regularly at sessions.

Cheers,

Dick

Yeah - I agree Dick, you absolutely whoop or hup a the change sometimes if they go into a brilliant tune or something. Why on earth wouldn't you? 

On the subject of Session Etiquette, we had an incident at our session last night, which demonstrated that etiquette is all about simple common sense.

A new Bodhran player who joined our session last night, managed to get himself thrown out by one of our singers & the owners of the Pub, not, I hasten to add, because he was a Bodhran player, but because he crossed the line! 

Our regular Bodhran Player had given his Bodhran to a teenage girl who plays the Bodhran, while he took a break. During this time, the new man decided to point out to this girl, all the faults {as he saw them} in her playing, claiming that he was an expert & gave lessons in the noble art of Bodhran playing. However, not content with criticising her playing style, which is of course a very ignorant way for any tutor to behave, he made the fatal mistake & committed the cardinal sin, of actually grabbing her hand in the middle of a tune & forcing her to play to his beat! 

The young girl was clearly very upset at being manhandled in such an ignorant manner & in tears complained, which quite naturally upset her Dad too, who quite rightly, promptly told the man to leave the Pub. Naturally his request was quickly backed up by the Pub owners.

Never mind Session Etiquette, common sense should have told this man that it is not OK to grab hold of a teenage girl in a Pub. .... Duh!

Quite apart from that, any tutor worth his salt, should know that there are many correct ways to play any instrument & by criticising her tutor, all he was doing was displaying his own blatant lack of knowledge as a tutor.

However, as well as that, he forgot the 1st rule of common sense : Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Can you imagine how you would feel, if some know-all grabbed your hand, mid-tune, & proceeded to show you how to play correctly? ...... I'd be rather surprised if the first words you uttered were ... Oh Thank You! ;-)

Fortunately, the girl wasn't too upset & happily carried on playing with us, to the end of the session!

I know of a fiddle player who tunes his fiddle higher than normal, he is a good player, but there are times when he butchers the tradition content,  I  love going to Clare  the music is great, the musicians their are respected, a musician that does not know the tunes should not join in,   a session in Ennis  lasted  seven hours, the music was out of this world because the best in the world managed to get together, we all have our favorate muso, and ones we would not cross the road to listen to, I dont like a player who starts a tune , out of tune.

 

Well-said. Agree 100%, but based on my experience, more than one accompanist is a much greater liability than more than one bodhran. Really swamps the sets.

If we can´t talk about tuning, then the seisiun tradition is doomed.

frank p mcenroe said:

I know of a fiddle player who tunes his fiddle higher than normal, he is a good player, but there are times when he butchers the tradition content,  I  love going to Clare  the music is great, the musicians their are respected, a musician that does not know the tunes should not join in,   a session in Ennis  lasted  seven hours, the music was out of this world because the best in the world managed to get together, we all have our favorate muso, and ones we would not cross the road to listen to, I dont like a player who starts a tune , out of tune.

 

I just wish when their is a pause for breathing or a particular mastery of a phrase occurs with singing, that folks who are listening would interject with a "quite right" or even join in singing the refrain towards the end.

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