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Are sessions elitist?

GUEST,American Folkie 23 Aug 02 - 12:33 PM
Nerd 23 Aug 02 - 12:41 PM
fogie 23 Aug 02 - 12:56 PM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Aug 02 - 02:01 PM
wysiwyg 23 Aug 02 - 02:10 PM
curmudgeon 23 Aug 02 - 02:18 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 23 Aug 02 - 02:26 PM
GUEST,American Folkie 23 Aug 02 - 03:22 PM
Chanteyranger 23 Aug 02 - 04:39 PM
wysiwyg 23 Aug 02 - 05:03 PM
GUEST,American Folkie 23 Aug 02 - 05:18 PM
GUEST 23 Aug 02 - 06:48 PM
treewind 23 Aug 02 - 06:56 PM
Chanteyranger 23 Aug 02 - 07:28 PM
GUEST,Colin Manning 23 Aug 02 - 07:56 PM
michaelr 23 Aug 02 - 08:00 PM
GUEST,anon fiddle player. 23 Aug 02 - 08:13 PM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Aug 02 - 08:37 PM
wysiwyg 23 Aug 02 - 11:53 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 24 Aug 02 - 01:26 AM
GUEST,sledge 24 Aug 02 - 02:32 AM
alison 24 Aug 02 - 03:32 AM
GUEST,Allan Dennehy 24 Aug 02 - 06:46 AM
wysiwyg 24 Aug 02 - 10:12 AM
Stewart 24 Aug 02 - 12:26 PM
The Shambles 24 Aug 02 - 12:51 PM
smallpiper 24 Aug 02 - 12:58 PM
The Shambles 24 Aug 02 - 02:33 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Aug 02 - 06:42 PM
C-flat 24 Aug 02 - 07:29 PM
Herga Kitty 24 Aug 02 - 07:43 PM
McGrath of Harlow 24 Aug 02 - 08:51 PM
The Shambles 24 Aug 02 - 09:03 PM
GUEST,.gargoyle 24 Aug 02 - 09:16 PM
wysiwyg 24 Aug 02 - 09:34 PM
Snuffy 25 Aug 02 - 04:54 AM
smallpiper 25 Aug 02 - 05:58 AM
McGrath of Harlow 25 Aug 02 - 06:45 AM
The Shambles 25 Aug 02 - 07:16 AM
The Shambles 25 Aug 02 - 07:27 AM
Allan Dennehy 25 Aug 02 - 08:55 AM
Melani 25 Aug 02 - 06:11 PM
selby 26 Aug 02 - 04:46 AM
GUEST 26 Aug 02 - 09:37 AM
mooman 26 Aug 02 - 10:17 AM
GUEST,Peter from Essex 26 Aug 02 - 01:54 PM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Aug 02 - 02:18 PM
McGrath of Harlow 26 Aug 02 - 02:35 PM
GUEST,anon fiddle player 26 Aug 02 - 04:12 PM
smallpiper 26 Aug 02 - 04:23 PM
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Subject: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,American Folkie
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 12:33 PM

It occurred to me just now, having reread the "Is folk music elitist" thread, that perhaps the problem of elitism is really confined to the music sessions held in public spaces, like bars, coffeehouses, and pubs. As those of us with a life time of experience with folk music knows, the music sessions aren't the only place that people gather to play together regularly. But in our post-modern world, the sessions held regularly in public spaces, regardless of the type of music being performed, has become the default folk music community for many musicians with a passion for this particular type of music, especially when no one in their everyday world exists to share it with.

It would be unusual at this point for someone to suggest that the public session doesn't dominate the folk music scene in British North America, as well as in Britain and Ireland. Since folk music historically wasn't usually performed in public places, but rather in homes and other quasi-private/public spaces (ie fairs), I would humbly suggest that perhaps it is this new (as in last half of the 20th century new) development in folk music performance that is elitist, and not really the musicians and dancers and audiences which are elitist.

It is my perception that because the demands upon our time nowadays is so great (and the time and effort it often takes to find a session in sync with what one is looking for), those people who regularly get their folk music fix from sessions do tend to be more selfish about outsiders "wasting their time" in sessions. They only have a limited amount each week or fortnight to devote to performing music with the "regulars" and so tend to be more territorial about it.

It is also my perception that since most sessions tend to be predominately populated by male musicians, that predominance lends itself to a certain relationship dynamic that isn't as noticeably present when the gender mix is more balanced, or the session is predominately female musicians (which we all know is still pretty much a rarity). It has always seemed to me the latter type sessions are more relaxed and inclusive than the former.

Anyone else have thoughts to share on this?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Nerd
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 12:41 PM

I'm not sure I'd call it elitist. Sessions have an etiquette and many sessions encompass established social relationships. I have felt excluded at a session, to be sure, but no more so than when I go into a bar where I don't know a lot of people, and everyone else is a "regular." The solution is to keep going to the session, and keep practicing the tunes you learn there, until you're known and "up to speed."

I guess the question is, is any form of interaction that has rules by which people are supposed to abide elitist? Would we call, for example, a conversation elitist if the speakers resented a stranger who couldn't speak the language but kept interjecting things anyway? If not, then at what point does session etiquette become elitist and at what point is it merely a set of unspoken rules of communication?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: fogie
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 12:56 PM

Having been through various phases of instrument playing, from singing to playing guitar, accordeons, and now saxophones, I am always amused at those who want to exclude those who havent reached their own level of technique, or have an enormous pressure to play and sing in a particular idiom. The session if open should be inclusive, and allow development. Obviously there are limits to what, in good taste, should be allowed, and this is the role of the session host. Those with urges to dominate, or with no sensitivity to what is being played, can be handled in a firm sensible way, by the company as a whole, and those who don't like a particular session often end up running their own. There are lots of potential venues for each persons type of music, and often we evolve and change from one musical expression to another. Cross pollination is good. Fusion is good. Intensity is good within limits, but often groups gather to socialise as well as prove their musical prowess, and should be allowed to- for as long as it lasts.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 02:01 PM

The following comments refer to the regular, "established" session as it occurs in Britain. The Irish experience is not, I think, fundamentally different (I'm not talking about sessions put on for the tourists); I have no experience of how things work in the USA or Canada.

Look at it this way: a group of people who know each other play music in (say) a pub. They do this in a public room. Common interest and mutual consent (whether stated or tacit) will determine what they play and how they play it. At some point, no doubt, strangers will want to join in. How should those strangers approach the business of integrating themselves into an established social unit? In much the same way as it is done in all other walks of life, I'd suggest; gradually and with tact.

That means approaching the grouping on its terms, not on yours. Once an incomer is accepted, they then have the right to participate in the mutual determination of questions of style and repertoire. Somebody who jumps in feet-first with inappropriate material or with an aggressive attitude has only themselves to blame if they receive a less than enthusiastic reception; it's akin to interrupting a conversation between people you do not know and trying to change the subject to yourself.

This is not élitism but the normal process of social inter-action; it's far from being confined to the human species. The fact that music is being played in public does not necessarily mean that it is open for anyone who wishes to participate to do so; one should spend some time getting the measure of the thing before making assumptions. There are many sessions, for example, where beginners are welcome; they may cease to be welcome if they try to dominate proceedings. A primarily instrumental session may listen politely while a solo guitarist sings a song or two, but they will probably be itching to get back to the tunes, in which everyone, provided they have some technical abilty and, more to the point, sufficient awareness to listen to what others are doing, can join.

Those who see any session they come across as solely a platform for solo performance are unlikely to be welcome for long if they begin to behave as if they were more important than the existing social unit; that is the root of the problem, I think, in many situations where an outsider fails to understand (or even notice) group dynamics and blames others for his failure to integrate.

It is perfectly true that there are situations where skilled players may be impatient of the less-experienced, but that again is normal and scarcely a new phenomenon. Some will be kind and helpful, others will simply want to get on with the playing and will not be prepared to set the pace (I don't mean the speed of the music!) according to the slowest runner. It is a question of compromise, and an aspirant necessarily must compromise more than the established players.

The idea that anybody, no matter how untalented, should be encouraged to perform in public, and that this is somehow fundamental to folk music is a recent one, based in large on the radicalism of the early Revival. Traditional folk music belongs to everyone in the sense that it is a common inheritance, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all performances are of equal value. Examine a few situations where music is traditionally sung or played by existing communities of long standing, and you'll find all sorts of unwritten rules as to what kinds of material or behaviour are appropriate in a given situation. These rules are not always immediately apparent to the outsider.

Anyone who believes that the pub session is necessarily going to be warm and democratic may be misunderstanding the normal operation of social dynamics; I have heard sessions described as a "blood sport", and some of them are just that; chiefly some Irish and Scottish examples, though I'd say that the majority are welcoming enough.

Ultimately, it is for the incomer to join the group, not the other way around. An interesting study of such things is Ginette Duncan's book, The Fellowship of Song: Popular Singing Traditions in East Suffolk (Croom Helm, 1980). This was based on research done in the 1970s in a small group of pubs which had a singing tradition dating back to the previous century; and where such matters as appropriate behaviour, ownership of repertoire and so on, were quite strictly codified. That is how the Tradition works; it's the Revival that has insisted on a kind of egalitarianism that some people will abuse and others take for granted.

Ms. Duncan, as an outsider who learned to obey custom and practice, was accepted; others were not. She describes an evening when a group of servicemen from a nearby airbase (Americans as it happens, but no nationality has a monopoly on insensitivity) completely wrecked the session by insisting on joining in with their guitars all the time, even when they didn't know the material and the emphasis was on individual performance. That's a phenomenon that many will recognise only too well.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 02:10 PM

We attended a song circle of people who know each other well, whole we were on vacation. In place of a general welcome, they were busy having an informal meeting over an upcoiming festival they are all involved in. (It's a thriving folk community.) I took this not as their being elitists, but as a chance to learn something-- our monthly jam is tonight, with many newcomers due to the PR push I've had going. And we "core members" are going to have a mini-rehearsal ourselves for a gig that's tomorrow, since some of us have been out of twon when we might have rehearsed otherwise. *G* So I will be sure to welcome everyone first, and explain what we are doing. It can be a demo on how to prep for a gig.

These things do not need hard-and-fast judgments-- who's elitist and who's not... it's just that sometimes people do not stop and think, and when something has been going on for a long time it does take on a life of it's own. That's why we have festivals and workshops and folk societies.... because some group or person was willing to take on leadership and start something. And that's fine-- it does not mean anyone is going out of their way to be a**holes (or victims).

You just... DEAL with it, start something else if you like, do the best you can, and be as smart and helpful as you can be.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: curmudgeon
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 02:18 PM

I've been hosting a trad music session now for about 18 years. It started out as a solo gig on Tueday evening then shifted to Friday. One old friend was then able to join me. Soon, a banjo playing singing sailor joined us. Later another old friend started coming. Various and sundry singers and musicians would come by to sit in; still very loose and unstructured. The pub license required live music and I satisfied the law by playing between 5 and 8 PM.

Then the public tv station did a short feature and the flood gates started creaking open. Today we never have les than a half dozen participants, and some nights upward of two dozen (rather awkward in a limited space). No newcomer has ever been turned away, although participation is often limited by lack of space.

Over the years, the openness has resulted in countless friendships, new musical combinations, the inception of a first rate Irish band, and the beginning of a few musical careers.

It hasn't always been easy. We have occasional visits from a singer/guitarist who tries, but just doesn't get it. Her own songs are okay, but her loud warbling "singing" alomg is painful, and her guitar playing isn't always in the same key as others are playing; but she means well and is a fellow human being.

The thrust of the session has always been English, Scottish, Irish, American, and nautical trad songs and tunes. But we have been know, collectively and individually, to wallow in bluegrass, old timey, country, contemporary. Virtually anything goes -- once.

I'm sure that there have been some who though this session to be elitist. I don't always have the time to make sure every newcomer is called upon enough. Lack of seating may be misinterpreted by some. The fact that I frequently have to move people (including some who should know better) out of the paths of the waitresses may be misunderstood. And I really hate having to ask boors to stop talking loudly during a song.

But I am talking too much. Come up to Portsmouth and sit in for yourself. These days we start arround 4:30 and go till nine. Large instrruments can be a problem.

Sing ye well - Tom


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 02:26 PM

WYSIWYG - What arrogance!

Because your clique has not rehearsed, you will subject many invited newcomers, who are expecting a jam session to a private practice session!

You won't see those new faces again, and they won't be the ones considered donkey-butts.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,American Folkie
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 03:22 PM

I generally agree with nerd, fogie, and much of what Malcolm says. Now, I'm only talking about my perceptions here, so please everyone understand I'm not claiming my percerptions to be facts. Having said that...

Malcolm, in light of your post here, I'm curious to hear your take on the situation described at Whitby that spawned both this and the other eltitist thread. Because it is exactly that sort of situation (as described by Mike of Northumbria) that I find elitist and off-putting, as a long time American Folkie. Again, I'm speaking strictly for myself here--these are my perceptions only. But based upon Mike's description of the events at said pub, I'd say it was a textbook case of the sort of elitism in sessions I increasingly hear both insiders and outsiders complaining about these days.

Let me just add, I agree with Malcolm that the sort of session I am describing is one that is common in Britain and Ireland. Irish sessions in North America are conducted pretty much the same as they are over there in my experience. However, I view the British/Irish session as we know it today to be a newer tradition which was created out of the Anglo and Irish folk revivals (again, both sides the pond). I don't view contemporary sessions as an extension of historic traditional music gatherings of homogenous folk communities from which much of the music now performed in public music sessions are derived. I view the contemporary session scene as a very modern (ie post-1950) phenomenon of the revivals themselves, both sides the pond.

I would include both tourist sessions and non-tourist sessions in the discussion, rather than distinguish between the two, as you are. The reason I would do that is because the tourist session is often the first encounter many non-Irish and British attendees first encounter. So IMO, raising the issue of the tourist session is an important dimension of how the non-tourist session is perceived by outsiders with little knowledge of the beast.

It is hard for outsiders to distinguish, at least initially, between a tourist session and a non-tourist session. In my personal experience, the wrath one can at times encounter from the non-tourist session players can be out of all proportion to the alleged "offense" by the outsider. If newcomers/outsiders are to adhere to basic social rules of engagement regarding joining in a group as a newcomer (which Malcolm suggests, if I'm interpreting his post correctly, that newcomers/outsiders do), then musicians in the public sessions need be held accountable to thosee same standards when performing in public spaces. They too must take it upon themselves to behave decently towards outsiders who can't distinguish between the two types of sessions, or who have little experience of any kind with sessions, rather than treat the outsider rudely.

I personally have witnessed some pretty rude behaviour by musicians towards newcomers/outsiders, and in every instance my feeble mind allows me to recall at the moment, those instances were of experienced, advanced players behaving rudely, and not the other way around. Now, I know that goes against the widely held current beliefs among Irish and British session musicians that is the newcomer/outsider who is the problem, and not themselves, that are the problem. But that has been my experience. It is the regulars who I have witnessed behaving badly, not the newcomers.

So, as I said, I'd like to hear Malcolm's take on the situation described in the other thread concerning the pub session at Whitby. I agree with Mike of Northumbria. I don't think that nailing what in essence was a "KEEP OUT" sign on the door of a pub session which has been open and on-going during the festival for years, was a very wise move. I too would hope the group in question would seriously consider not repeating this year's behavior at future festivals.

It seems to me that this sort of behavior among the regulars is on increase nowadays, and I don't understand why that is. It also seems to me that those who most dare to criticize the regulars are people with roots in the revival and with experience playing in sessions for many years--not just whiny, rude newcomers and outsiders who have been treated "fairly" (but rudely) by the session regulars. This attitude that newcomers and outsiders "have it coming" disturbs me.

For those of us with roots in the revivals who consciously made a choice to make the performance of this music more (rather than less) accessible to all, in order to see it live beyond the deaths of those traditional musicians who were the last living vestiges of the traditions in their local areas, I don't think it is out of line to sugggest that sessions should be much more open and inclusive than many currently are. It seems to me the revivalists did intend that the session be democratic and open, and that it has been, in certain areas, largely co-opted as a forum for public performance and private entertainment for ever smaller, elite groups of predominately male musicians who have the best chops. That sort of competitiveness and elitism is the antithesis the revivals' leaders. And I agree again with those above, who said if you want to keep people out of your session, play in a private space, not a public one. If what you want to do is spend a regular number of hours performing exclusively with a small group of fellow musicians on a regular basis, don't meet in pubs, and the whole question of elitism in sessions will cease to be an issue.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Chanteyranger
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 04:39 PM

Some Irish pubs in the states have set up a second, "slow" session, for players who do not yet feel up to the rigors of the parent session, or anyone wanting to slow down the pace of the tunes.

While I don't think an Irish session should make newcomers feel unwelcome, newcomers do have a responsibility to lay back a bit and see what the unwritten house rules of etiquette are. It doesn't seem elitist to me - unless the regulars outright shun newcomers, or refuse to be encouraging to beginning sessioners who observe whatever etiquette is in play, or refuse to help a newcomer observe the etiquette with some gentle prodding. There will probably always be a few clueless extreme examples who take the bull in the china shop approach, won't give a damn about etiquette, listening to others, or judging their own ability in relation to the session at hand. If gentle prodding doesn't work, every Irish session has a right to ask them to leave. The many shouldn't have to suffer the few who chronically refuse to respect other musicians and house rules of etiquette. Elitist? I don't think so. There has to be standards in order to inspire, encourage and draw in beginners and newcomers AND make the session enjoyable for the regulars. Musicmaking takes work and dedication - no less for a successful session.

Chanteyranger


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 05:03 PM

Yeah, it's awful innit, that out of a three hour jam, the working musicians will steal a whole 15 minutes to look over newly-copied arrangements played a thousand times before and agree on intro's and so forth! How AWFUL! I oughtta be SHOT!

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,American Folkie
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 05:18 PM

Attempting to discern "unwritten house rules of etiquette" is too much to ask of newcomers to the music, IMO. It is simply too complex, arcane, and preciously guarded by insiders wishing to maintain the boundaries of their "house session" to be transparent.

It is easy to explain the etiquette to newcomers when one is present. It takes precious little conversation with a newcomer to find out what they do and don't know, what sort of music they play, and what level of experience they are at. Considering that most regular sessions have a recognized leader, there is no reason why that person can't take it upon themselves to greet a newcomer, and make them feel comfortable. Not make them feel at home, but simply welcome and comfortable with a situation that is new for them. If we can't even have the decency to do that for one another, then just what will the long-term outlook be for this music, do you suppose?

There are very few remaining indigenous, homogenous folk music communities left today. Folk music communities are more and more often defined by the common love for the music, not by the fact that your family and neighbors all play the same sort of music you play. That means that each of us is responsible for the future of the music, each one of us is a steward of it for future generations. Not just for our own personal enjoyment here and now.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 06:48 PM

15 minutes stolen from 20 people is 5 hours.

Gargoyle is right. Leave your private work until later, after the crowd has left.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: treewind
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 06:56 PM

"Attempting to discern "unwritten house rules of etiquette" is too much to ask of newcomers to the music"

No. Well, yes, but that's not what is being asked, I think.
There is a difference between common sense sensistivity and having to discover arcane rules.

Also, all sessions are not the same.
Sometimes I have taken part is a session and won't go again, not because they were unfriendly, but simply because it wasn't the sort of session I want to be in. I wouldn't dream of interfering with the way it was run. In particular, there is a need for very open sessions where anything goes and all newcomers are welcome, and the musical standard may not be consistently high, and there is a need for better and more experienced singers or players to get together and enjoy listening to each other's contributions, and there is no need for anyone to insist on trying to turn one into the other.

The idea of 'slow' Irish sessions in not new - here in Cambridge there used to be at least three different grades of sessions at different places and times, and you soon found out where you fitted in best.

Anahata


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Chanteyranger
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 07:28 PM

Agreed on welcoming the newcomer, American Folkie. Seeing what the unwritten rules are includes having them welcomed and having someone explain a few basic ones, if the newcomer to that particular session seems inexperienced with session etiquette. Now, if someone is completely new to Irish music and has never been to a session - any session - before, you'd think they would have the common courtesy to observe and ask. The main point is that the newcomer has responsibilities of basic comon sense, common courtesy, and a willingness to observe and listen. The more arcane stuff comes with experience and "gentle prodding." i.e. some initial explaining to the newcomer.

I run a chantey session that has much less rules of order, and those rules are explained to everyone at the beginning. We go around singer circle style, and everyone gets to sing, or pass, or request a song. All levels are welcome - a "safe place to sing" I call it. A simpler form of music, and a different scene.

Chanteyranger

Chanteyranger


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,Colin Manning
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 07:56 PM

My input is based on my experience as both an amature musician, and an Irish person who grew up in Dublin, but has lived in various European countries since 1985, currently living in Berlin Germany.

There are in general two types of sessions, one which tends to be "hierarchical", and into which you must be accepted over time, and another type which is generally "free form", which if you can identify it as such, is very welcoming and a wonderful playing experience.

The sessions I call hierarchical, tend to have a leader who calls the shots. They are usually male dominated, as pointed out in a previous message, and in my experience rather "snobbish" and often also in my opinion rather boring, as they do not provide freedom of expression for all the participants. In these sessions, you have to earn your place, and they can be rather intimidating for new joiners. Often these sessions are run in co-operation with the proprietor of the bar/venue, and one or two "leaders" may be paid a basic "retainer". I personally hate these sessions.

The sessions I call "free-form" often grow out of one or two people wanting to explore their music with others, and find a sympathetic venue. They will happen with or without an audience, and the musicians tend to be focussing on each other, rather on performing. These sessions may start with one musician, and tend to be very fluid and dynamic, so that new people come, and old people go over time. THe session itself often migrates around the locality (my experience is always in cities, so you often find these type of sessions start in one pub, and six moths later move to another pub for all sorts of reasons - sessions may also split, if a "clique" developes, and the more "free-form" oriented members get pissed off if the session starts to become "hierarchical". I personally love the social and musical expericences of these types of sessions.

I hope the above discuorse is vaguely interesting to the people who have partaken in this discussion.

Regards,

Colin Manning (colin@ework4.com)


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: michaelr
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 08:00 PM

Malcolm -- as usual, your post was well-considered and informative. Is that book in print and available?

Am. Folkie -- good point about the rise of a sort of bunker mentality among session regulars. It's a little bit like the Mudcat's member/guest dynamic, isn't it?

Mostly, my experience has been different: Here in NorCal, people are so reluctant to communicate negatively, for fear of hurting someone's feelings, that criticism of other players is extremely rare. At my local Irish session, there's one guy who's been coming for years and making VERY slow progress in his fiddle playing... trust me, he's terrible, while the overall level of the session is middling to quite good. As far as I know, none of the regulars has ever said anything to this guy; but they just started a new Slow session. Should we tell him to attend that instead?

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,anon fiddle player.
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 08:13 PM

of course there are sessions that are elitist. etiquette shmetiquette, Etiquette is just common sense on both the session player and guest. (If you want to have a private session with your clique of friends & dont want other people to try and occasionally join - then dont play in a public place) Ive been playing Irish fiddle for 8+ years and have even started a session of my own that lasted a 2or 3 years - and I still have noticed that of the sessions in our town, some are elitist. One particular session - they are all good players, and like to play tight and 'in the groove'

now, Im not particularly political and want to maintain good relations with the musicians in my community - yet I went to this session for at least a year before I was asked to start a tune. (of course I would start a couple of tunes per night anyway) eventually I stopped going after a while because I like to play more than a handful of tunes.

and yet our sessions by contrast with the 'elitist one' - made everyone welcome... anyone who showed up was asked at least once to start a tune -. (We might not have been as slick but I like to think thats what the music is all about - no one owns it) of course -- if we had someone show up with a stand and sheet music for instance - or a beginner starting a lot of tunes he barely knew (and no one else did for that matter) we would try to discreetly take them aside and let them know.

ANother group in town plays regularly - and anyone who tries to join in is told - you can join us and play along but we play our tunes on our list. (I dont even call that a session) Its like anything else, human nature and just plain common sense.

but which is more rude? the unwelcoming session musicians, or the guest who just wants to play tunes?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 08:37 PM

(Referring just now to michaelr's post)

Unfortunately, the book is out of print (the useful ones always are!) but can be found secondhand from time to time. It really is a very useful look at the way sessions have worked in the (recent) past, and it's a mistake, I think, to assume that there's necessarily a great deal of difference between the internal dynamics of a session based on geographical proximity as opposed to one based on a commonality of interest. The music will be different, but the attitudes won't.

For those who have assumed in contributing to this thread that there is something inherently "Irish" about the session as a phenomenon, I should perhaps make the point that what is often thought of as a typical session arrangement is relatively recent in that country. That's largely the result of geographical and demographic factors. It's England, where population tends to be more concentrated, and where social interactivity has more traditionally revolved around licenced premises, that has provided the model that we're most used to nowadays. Here in Sheffield, for example, we have (believe it or not) a tradition of playing dance music in local pubs that can easily be traced back to the 18th century; not continuous, of course, but with surprisingly few gaps. Same goes for the local Carol tradition.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 23 Aug 02 - 11:53 PM

Love it that poeople want to tell me what to do... who were not asked... and have NO idea what we are doing here. No one who has been here has had a problem, actually, and we had 29 people here, mostly new, and all eager to come back. Sorry folks, you are barking at the wrong tree. We know our people here, as it happens, and how to get along with them, just fine.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 01:26 AM

Crack that Whip!

............................Beat them doagies!

Head Em Up

Move Em Out

!!! Seig Hiel!!!

You must be an XTC-erotic vision in black-leather pants, and high-heeled boots WIZZY-WIgged.....WHooooAAAHHH!!!!

Good Lord knows I won't be dropping by your sessions.

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,sledge
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 02:32 AM

curmudgeon, Just a quick one, Which Portsmouth and whats the venue?

Sledge (normally based in the UK Portsmouth)


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: alison
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 03:32 AM

I agree with Gargoyle in this case..... I don't think sessions are the place to practice "chunks" of your upcoming gig material..... not a personal attack WYSIWYG.... but I've seen it done many times and I think its rude to the people who are expecting a session....

now throwing in the odd song / tune set at various stages during the night so that what you are practicing isn't so obvious... that can work.......

I just think people in sessions need to consider the other people there..... I had to remind my club last night when they were all joining in heartily and drowning the poor person singing.... basic session etiquette.... if you can't hear whoever is leading the song/ tune.... back off you're too loud..... worked brilliantly for a few songs.... *grin*


slainte

alison


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,Allan Dennehy
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 06:46 AM

Lost my cookie, thats why I'm a guest. Like it or not, the person/ people who run the session is/are the boss. If they only want trad instrumental, I find that a pain in the arse but I don't have to go. In my sessions, anyone is welcome but the QUANTITY that they are welcome to contribute is dependant on the QUALITY of their skills. A good player is immediatly given as much space as the regulars. A bad singer can sing two songs in the space of the evening but no more than that. A bad instrumentalist or a learner is expected NOT to play as loud as the people who know what they are doing. Democracy? no but the best session in Copenhagen got wiped out a while when democracy was introduced. It only takes one idiot with no self-criticism to scare out the listeners and take all the fun out of the evening for the other musicians. Having said that I believe in trying to be very polite when correcting newcomers, I remember how vulnerable I was when I was starting up and we always give praise and encouragement where due. As regards female musicians, I give them preferential treatment. There are so few of them over here and the crowd loves it when one of them sings. However it appears that most of them aren't prepared to come back on a regular basis. Too bad.

Allan from Copenhagen


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 10:12 AM

NO, you are not HEARING me.

The way we run a jam or song circle (NOT a "session"), the group makes the decisions on what happens. That's what happened last night, about all aspects of it. People here know they can say what they think, and they do, without any sucking up. I htink they donp;t think of themselves as victims, but as good people working together to have a good time.

I think the elitism that is being so decried here is being applied to what we did-- "how to run a proper session." What we are doing is letting a thing evolve based on what is actually occurring, and responding to that, flexibly. It's a brand-new thing we are doing, and everyone here treats it that way. Maybe it's hard to imagine that, without being here. But the people here trust us to lead a good thing, and the only complaints are coming from this thread.

Last month, we had a sub-group of people among us who play together regularly, professionally. I was thrilled, and so was everyone else, when they gave us a taste of what they do, and let us see how they work together. We had two different sub-groups like that last night. One included young ladies ages 7-13 (and their parents) playing fiddle tunes like nobody's business. They ran through their repertory for a good chunk of the time, and people loved it and learned a lot from them. Another grouping, when I called upon them, leapt into some completely different material. Because we had so many young people present (another family group of tiny, just-starting fiddlers), we elected not to do our material, but not becuase the group objected. In fact I never raised the issue, because as it happened there was something more important going on with the yonng people. But I do know that those present would have just as happily heard us work through some of our stuff, because it's from another genre they like a lot.

According to what has been said above, everyone present last night broke some "session protocol." But their faces told another story, and you know, I think I will stick with that. If you can't imagine it, then I am sorry to have described it so poorly.

My from the remarks above is that maybe sessions ARE elitist, and God save me from ever being in one, because I suspect that we are doing something better.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Stewart
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 12:26 PM

Recommended reading - "Field Guide to the Irish Music Session" by Barry Foy ("A guide to enjoying Irish traditional music in its natural habitat!") - a humorous, yet accurate analysis of proper session etiquette.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: The Shambles
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 12:51 PM

Is it elitist, or would it appear so to try and maintain a tune session as just that?

It would appear to me that some singers on seeing that tunes are what the majority of the players expect, then think that it is almost a duty to introduce a song to the proceedings and that they are the only person present who is capable or willing to do so.

Locally there is a weekly song session that caters perfectly for singers but for some reason, it appears to be an irresistable challenge for some visitors, to try and turn our tune session into a singing one. It places the regulars in a difficult position, when despite the obvious nature of the session, a person starts a song or asks if they can.

Of course if a song is sung, it goes down very well with the listeners, as it is a pleasant change to wall to wall tunes. But the singer is then encouraged and will probably sing another and so on.

In all truth, when asked what do you answer? It is a public house and open to everyone to do as they wish. But I would not dream of starting or asking to start a set of tunes, when it was quite obviously a singaround and I would expect to be given short shift, if I did.

Amazingly the person who has talked all through the tunes, then expects and usually receives perfect silence for their song! Am I elitist in expecting people to respect and to follow the obvious example they find?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: smallpiper
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 12:58 PM

Well said sir!

There are plenty of sessions going on all over the place, sing at sing arounds and play at musicians sessions do both at mixed sessions and leave it at that.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: The Shambles
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 02:33 PM

Well said sir! And if you don't like what you find, then leave it and start something you do like.

I would add to that that the concept of 'proper session etiquette' is not helpful. It tends to be not much more than a personal prejudice and it builds in a sort of permission to be rude, when one sees someone else doing what 'proper session etiquette' says that they should not.

Common sense and mutual respect will cover it all perfectly well and it matters little if what is going on has been going on from the year dot, or is a new concept. Whatever is happening in public and for the public, is a fragile thing and a heavy approach places the whole concept in danger.

Let us play and let play!

Or let us sing and let sing!

Or let us play and sing and let play and sing!

Or............


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 06:42 PM

I suppose there must be some sessions that are elitist, but I've never found one myself that I didn't find welcoming.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: C-flat
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 07:29 PM

I have been to one or two folk clubs that, while advertising their event, seemed less than happy that a stranger should appear in their midst.
One particular meeting I recall was poorly attended and I suspected that it was the same handful of folks each week that came together to swap songs.
I could feel their discomfort as soon as I entered but hoped that, after a song or two, the atmosphere would loosen up.
After the first ten minutes I knew it would be a long night.
I'd like to think that in their position I would be happy to have someone new join the group. Maybe a chance to learn a song I hadn't known, or who knows, maybe even make a friend. I am sure that I would be more welcoming, if only as good manners, but then it was my good manners that stopped me getting up and walking straight out!
Needless to say I haven't returned and can count these negative experiences as rare.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 07:43 PM

I've already posted to the other thread, but FWIW, the singarounds in the Tap & Spile at Whitby weren't elitist. It's just that when you've got a small space for a quiet singaround you can't get everyone in the room, let alone everyone in the pub to sing a song. There are loads of thrashes in the pubs at Whitby, but not many where people will listen while you sing an unaccompanied song.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 08:51 PM

"I've never found one myself that I didn't find welcoming." Of course it may just be that I'm insensitive and don't pick up the hostility...

But I think so long as you recognise that you are a guest, and that that means respecting the way people do things and not try to bounce in and take over and show off, it's very rare for newcomers to find anything but a friendly welcome.

That applies to guest and GUESTS.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: The Shambles
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 09:03 PM

There are loads of thrashes in the pubs at Whitby, but not many where people will listen while you sing an unaccompanied song.

Talking festivals generally, it is my experience, as detailed above that practically every pub that has a session will sit and listen while you sing an unaccompanied song - but perhaps not exclusively this style of music making all night?

Is it the perception of an intolerant attitude on the part of unaccompanied singers that is causing this elitist problem? I am thinking of the 'middle bar singers' at Sidmouth and the forthcoming Wareham Wail, where instruments are not encouraged.

If it is perceived as this, then maybe one should expect some form of a 'backlash' from generally tolerant folkies?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 09:16 PM

Snuzy Suzy

So happy that you listened to the voices of reason - and had a wonderful session.

You arn't as rigid/frigid as you sometimes appear.

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Oft Times Go Astray

Practice Hard, Have Fun, A be ready to Improvise

Sincerely,
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 Aug 02 - 09:34 PM

No, you idiot, I decided it all by myself without any of the input here distracting me from listening to the people who were actually HERE.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Snuffy
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 04:54 AM

From: The Shambles Date: 24-Aug-02 - 12:51 PM

Is it elitist, or would it appear so to try and maintain a tune session as just that?

----------------------------------- From: The Shambles Date: 24-Aug-02 - 09:03 PM

Is it the perception of an intolerant attitude on the part of unaccompanied singers that is causing this elitist problem? I am thinking of the 'middle bar singers' at Sidmouth and the forthcoming Wareham Wail, where instruments are not encouraged.

----------------------------------

So it's not elitist to keep a tune session as just that, but it is to keep a song session as just that? You can't have it both ways, Rog!

Wassail! V


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: smallpiper
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 05:58 AM

In my experience, as I have said in another thread, I find that singing sessions are elitist. Everyone can join in a tune session even if its just by clapping along, but not so with singing. Singers demand respect and quiet (as it should be) but will talk all the way through a set of tunes. Its just basic good manners in't it.

(And before anyone bites my head off this is from MY 44 years of experience in the fok world and I am sure is not everyone's experience nor am I condemming anyone!)


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 06:45 AM

People are confusing three different things here. Elitism is where people are excluded because they aren't seen as up to the mark. There's a place for that, but not in public sessions.

And it's different from a sirtuation where people are unwelcome for olther reasons, maybe because they are strangers.

And both are completely different thing from a situation where a boundary is set on the type of music or whatever that is welcomed in a particular session.

"You're welcome to take part in our game of football - but just remember it's football we're playing, not cricket." Nothing in any way elitist about that.

As for the business of unaccompanied singing, that's the least elitist type of session you can have. It gets away from a situation where people who don't play an instrument are marginalised. Instruments are great for tunes, but there are very few people whose singing is really improved by musical accompaniment, and any number of singers whose songs get pretty well lost in the sound.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: The Shambles
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 07:16 AM

So it's not elitist to keep a tune session as just that, but it is to keep a song session as just that? You can't have it both ways, Rog!

Good point but I think there is a difference in expecting folk to respect what they find, and generally I feel that instrumental players just expect this. I did point out the difficuties when one is asked if someone can sing at a regular tune session. However, I feel that there is beginning to be evidence that some unaccompanied singers believe they are on a crusade.

I feel there is a difference at general folk festivals, in taking steps to ensure that seats are reserved and other types of music making are excluded in what are public places. Not sure if this was the case at Whitby but it can add to the problem if it also states in a festival programme that the pub is a venue for a particular form of session, or is to be led by such and such, as many may not have read this and wonder why an individual arrives and starts to boss them around.

This would appear to be the case in the issue at point, if not at a festival organised and devoted to a particular form of music making, like the Wareham Wail, this I use more as an example of an attitude that would appear to be gaining ground. In the latter, one can decide to attend or not but in the former, no one (but the licensee) has the really right to insist on excluding anyone.

Is it not a question, as it is when you are not making music in a pub, of first come, gets the seats? If the 'regulars' arrive to find a 'old time' session in progress, or whatever, should they not just respect what is going on?

The alternative is to hire a room as a private party and then you can invite or exclude who you wish. Some folk were under the impression that this event (at Whitby) was a private affair. That would be elitist but it is at least fair. For the self-appointed public to choose which of the public is admitted to a public party, is not fair.

At a festival recently I found an empty bar (one that had been empty for some hours), and asked the licensee if I could use the room to make some music in. He was more than happy and I started playing and was soon joined by a few young musicians (escaping from the outside massed melodeons).

A group of people later arrived 'en masse' and without speaking to us or recognising and respecting what was already going on They effectivly took over both the room and the nature of the music making. I suspect that they had probably used the room previously. The issue here is less about music but one of territory and I have not found this determined defence of territory to be confined to the male gender either.

It is pefectly understandable, if you have had a good night or even a previous week at a pub, to wish to repeat it, but then the onus is really on you to get there first and set the tone that later arrivals can respect.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: The Shambles
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 07:27 AM

Is Folk Music Elitist?


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Allan Dennehy
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 08:55 AM

I don't think that it's wrong to have a tune only session, but generally speaking, I don't think that we are good enough at giving clear ground rules to newcomers. It's ten times more considerate to take a newcomer aside and explaining what the story is than saying nothing and just freezing him out, which I have seen manys the time. Mc Graths description of football and cricket is very good. And I will stick to my guns and say that somebody who is thrashing the livin' shite out of his guitar/bodhran or whatever in the wrong key/tempo and murdering another players rendition has to be told (politely at first) to take it easy. Personally, I use an ultra-light pick with my guitar when I'm trying to accompany something that I'm not quite sure of. I might learn something but I won't be screwing it up for someone else whilst I'm doing it.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Melani
Date: 25 Aug 02 - 06:11 PM

On the subject of practicing new material at a session--some friends and I have established a monthly session for the very purpose of practicing new material, but it is held in a private home and is invitational, though we continually invite virtually everybody we know. So far a grand total of seven people have ever participated, and usually four or five. The idea behind it is to have at least a couple of other people at chanteyranger's open session who can sing along on the first run-through of songs with more complex choruses or unusual tunes.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: selby
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 04:46 AM

When you read the 2 threads that are running in the same vain, it realy shows up how people involved in folk music have difficulty in keeping to a narrow path. That I think is the essence of what we all enjoy, there are so many areas in the tradition that they are bound to overlap, bound to ignore each other and have jelousies about their own individual prefrences.I always woory that in fighting will eventualy kill the tradition,therfore my view is enjoy it all while we can.In a session at WFW in the Plough a group of musicians played and sang any one was invited and encouraged to join in a gentleman a little worse for wear sang Wild Rover to the tune Ghost Riders in the Sky somthing I have never heard before.No elitism just enjoyment surely thats what folk music is all about. Keith


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 09:37 AM

I'm wearing my best asbestos suit as I venture forth here. In my experience, there is often an intolerance of singing and dancing at sessions where instrumental players dominate. The downside of this, as far as sessions go, is that there is a direct correlation between the ill health of the dance and song traditions, and the robust health of the tune traditions.

As several people have pointed out, sessions as they exist today have a new "etiquette" (if that is what people wish to call it) that usually only allows for tunes to be played in sessions. There are usually separate sessions for dancers, and then again, separate sessions for singers. I know that is a Sweeping Generalization (tm), but it is pretty much the case no matter where you go on the Anglo, Scots, and Irish folk scenes. This segregation of the music is roughly the equivalent of musical apartheid, with the boundaries being patrolled by session fascists. [Won't that get them going, he says to himself.]

In my experience, it seems the instrumental players are much less tolerant of the singers and dancers than the other way around. Now, some sessions will invite a good, known singer up for a song or two. But I've sat countless times in pubs and bars where the well known singer can sit all night in a tune session without ever being invited to sing. In other words, they are intentionally frozen out by the session players (who know full well when the singer is present), who are adamnant about their "tunes only" rule of law. While people dancing at sessions is sometimes tolerated by the session players, it usuaally isn't. Just as with the singers, they freeze the dancers out by refusing to make the next set a danceable one.

Considering how healthy the instrumental session scene is, and how precariously the song and dance traditions are teetering on the brink of extinction, I would think those with a supposed "love for the music" could find it in their hearts to be a bit more accomodating to the singers and dancers. Session players, in my experience, are much more interested in their personal satisfaction level on the night, than they are in the music or the traditions. But that is just one man's opinion.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: mooman
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 10:17 AM

It depends on the character of those present. Some are elitist (I particularly remember a couple of sessions run by two...(oh forget it, it's a long time ago now!) in London)....most aren't. I don't bother with the former sort any more as life's too short!

Sensitivity, tolerance and good humour tend to characterise a good and welcoming session. Excellent music and/or singing is an added plus. When you get all this together a session can be mighty indeed!

Peace

mooman


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,Peter from Essex
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 01:54 PM

I'm not sure what Guest 26-Aug-02 - 09:37 AM means by the ill health of the dance traditions. Social dance is not, and never has been part of the English session tradition and judging by the age range and turn out at ceilidhs like Oxfolk is in very good health. There is a definite revival in stepping and I have always found musicians very supportive. Partly due to the face that some of the best step dancers are also fine musicians.

This photo of a session in 2001 is an example


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 02:18 PM

Quite apart from anything else, there isn't room in the average bar for much in the way of social dancing, though we've managed to fit in the occasional Rapper team at a pinch. The only session I get to regularly at the moment is primarily instrumental and English (Anglo is the wrong term to use), though people sing if they feel like it. We got some interesting songs out of a group of Taiwanese students who wandered in last week, though they had come to listen and were a bit shy at first.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 02:35 PM

Nothing intolerant about having separate tune sessions and song sessions. I like a bit of a mix myself, but mostly they tend to be predominently or or the other, with the occasional song, or the occasional tune there as a bit of variety.

Most singing sessions I've been to are quite accepting of it if someone wants to accompany themselves on some musical instrument, maybe because they lack the confidence to sing without it, or have a song that they feel goes better with an accompaniment. Quite rightly there's less tolerance of people who try to play uninvited accompaniments to other singers who don't want it. (One confusing thing can be when, knowing a particular person does like an accompaniment, someone play one for them, and that is then misunderstood by a visitor as an indication that doing this is normal practice, and that most people like it when they are singing.

I think we should dump this idea of formalised rules of "etiquette", and replace it by a committment to just showing respect for each other, good manners.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: GUEST,anon fiddle player
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 04:12 PM

that book on session etiquette belongs in the bin. the people Ive seen touting it and 'session etiquette' are the same ones that phoned up a friend of mine and told him not to come again. (my friend was quite hurt by that and almost stopped playing as result.) (and yet hes a fine player, has a huge repertoire, and more experience than any of them, but he didnt fit in to their 'groove')

(the other guy in town runs a session where the only tunes that are played are ones on their list - youre welcome to join in but dont expect to start a tune- this is the same guy that came to my session and played his tunes for over an hour.) as Ive said before etiquette is just common sense - being mindful of others.

Ive played in many sessions, in Canada, US, Scotland and Ireland - and still I consider calling someone up and telling them not to come again worse than any breach of 'so called etiquette'.


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Subject: RE: Are sessions elitist?
From: smallpiper
Date: 26 Aug 02 - 04:23 PM

Too true its just plain bloody rude and clearly the guy who did the calling was clearly threatened in some way. His loss I think - your fiddle player will be welcome at our session


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