Closed vs Open Sessions

357410-closedThere’s a session I go to monthly that is held in a public place, but in order to play you need to be invited. Seems kinda exclusive, right? Well, it is, really. See, there are two kinds of Irish sessions–“open,” and “closed.” Ok–not entirely true, but read on…

At an open session, anyone can play. That’s not to say that there aren’t rules around playing. There’s an etiquette in place to guide the behavior of the musicians who play at an open session to help insure that everyone gets along, and more importantly, that the music is honored and that the quality of the music remains as high as possible. You’re going to get folks who can play very well at an open session, but you’re also going to get those who play only passably, sometimes poorly. As long as the poor players follow the rules–only playing tunes they know well enough to play without too many horrible mistakes, not noodling* during tunes they don’t know–then they probably will avoid irritating their fellow sessioners, and will be welcome to return. There’s a great potential for unexpected wonderfulness at open sessions, as new players might introduce new tunes to the group that they hadn’t heard before, or new sets, or stories. It can also bring in players with no respect or knowledge of the tradition, much less skill at playing. God forbid a cocky bones or tuba player should show up. But that’s why the etiquette is in place, and hopefully folks are mature enough to enforce it without being insulting–except when absolutely necessary!

A closed session is one at which musicians may play by invitation only. There’s probably a leader, or organizer, who wants to keep the quality of the music from falling below a certain point, so they invite only those who they know who can play well. Those invited to a closed session have usually already demonstrated that they respect the tradition of the music, as well as the rules of conduct, so there’s no worry that there will be any unexpected friction. I suppose there’s some variation in leading style from various organizers, and from session to session, but that’s to be expected.

That said, some sessions are more closed than others. For example, trusted invitees can sometimes invite others who they feel can play well enough to attend–sometimes those players are further vetted by the organizer, sometimes not. Around here, in western Massachusetts, the “closed” sessions I have attended have most often been house sessions. There is one closed session I attend currently, and I think that regardless of my place as one of the least skilled musicians (my own opinion) in the group, the fact that I respect the tradition, the music, and the rules goes a long way toward making me welcome. And that is a result of the very important social aspect of sessions–it’s a place where both music AND friends are made. In fact, it’s a lot like college–you’re all interested in the same subject, and you get together periodically to practice and study. Birds of a feather, and all that.

Regardless whether the session is “open” or “closed,” or something in between, the rules apply. The music is played. Friendships are made.

Do you have experiences with closed or open sessions? Share them in the comments!

Port na Seachtaine – The Gatehouse Maid

This week for Port na Seachtaine (my tune learning and practicing endeavor on YouTube) I decided to to one from the LVISS playlist–The Gatehouse Maid. A simple tune on the surface, but as I am discovering, it really isn’t at all.

Have a look at this video of Paul O’Shaughnessy playing it in a set for Irish Traditional Music Archive. It’s the second tune. And pay close attention to his pinky! I was watching it because playing this tune would be easier if I could use the pinky instead of crossing the strings, especially in the A part. Just watch it.

A New(ish) Thing I’m Doing on YouTube

Port na Seachtaine means “Tune of the Week” in Irish Gaelic. It’s also the title of an experiment I’m doing on YouTube lately, for the last 4 weeks so far, in which I pick a tune, record and post a video of me playing it on the fiddle on Monday, then practice it during the week. The following Sunday I’ll post a new video of myself playing it to see what a week’s worth of practice has given me. I’m also experimenting with video overlays–an editing technique that makes it appear that I’m playing along with another version of myself. I’ll do concertina first, then record myself playing along on fiddle. Paste the two videos together and VOILA! I always say I wish I could clone myself.

Let me know what you think, either here, or in the comments sections under my videos on YouTube!

For example—

MASHUP:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

Na Poirt Seisiúin is Déanaí–The Galway/Mr’s Crotty’s

This past session we learned TWO hornpipes. Inspired by my last blog post, our friend Amanda decided it’d be nice to teach one, but like a good anchor, came ready with two. We had some extra time, and a little brain power, left over after the Galway, so we went ahead and learned Mr’s Crotty’s. They’re actually a nice pairing, so try them out together–The Galway first sounds nice.

Here’s a dude pluckin’ The Galway out of a banjo:

And of course, you can’t beat Youtube user Concertinette! Here she plays Mrs. Crotty’s on the instrument it’s meant to be played on:

Hornpipes! Not Necessarily Hokey!

Imagine playing for dancers. Now imagine they’ve all got one leg shorter than the other. You’re playing a hornpipe.  –thesession.org user Mark M

The Hornpipe. Cornius Pippius Musicae. At sessions a rare creature (though some musicians seem to attract them like the Irish version of Snow White.) Not always a welcome visitor, due to some subspecies tendency to appear too frequently, and often to suck the energy out of the already established jigs and reels. Though, when a particularly beautiful specimen appears it can be a real treat.

All metaphorical joking aside, the hornpipe is one of those tune types that it seems people either hate or love. They hear the same tunes over and over again played at session, and they tend to be the hokey ones.

Perhaps the hokey ones are easier to play, and so get played more often–I’m not sure. It took me awhile to come around, but I do appreciate the form now. What I needed was to hear some non-hokey examples.

In fact, the notion that hornpipes were by definition hokey was actually something I held to for some time. I think I am not the only one. So deeply rooted was this notion that when I did hear a hornpipe with some actual character, I wasn’t aware it was a hornpipe! I remember hearing a recording of Poll Ha’penny, which is a great example of how a hornpipe can be more complex and interesting. Here’s YouTube user Concertinette playing it as part of her “hornpipe a week for 2010” project:

Concertinette’s channel is a great introduction to the hornpipe–there’s 52 of the best, and they’re played well on a lovely instrument. I recommend you subscribe to her channel, all of you!

And with that, I will recommend you all check out our own LVISS collection of hornpipey specimens, which we have collected in the last few years. Click the link, then find the “hornpipes” tab at the bottom edge of the spreadsheet. LINK