Did NONE of us bring an instrument?
I’ve been thinking lately about a local pub session that I try to catch about once or twice a month. It’s in a nice pub, with a nice atmosphere–perfect for getting together for a quick drink or a bit of food with friends. This session has been going on weekly for some time now, so there has been plenty of opportunity for the group dynamic to solidify and change a few times. As it stands now, there is a line that can be drawn, almost literally, between two main groups of musicians who seem to have very different motives and goals as related to Irish music.
One group–who I’ll call “The Traditionalists,” are very interested in the music for its own sake. They generally go for “the pure drop,” that is, the music played in a traditional style without so much flash. In other words–they just want to play, and make the music sound authentic, the way it might sound in Ireland herself. They listen to the music very carefully, they are interested in improving their playing, and they are interested in encouraging and teaching anyone who feels the same. They take inspiration from other, older players who are well known for their virtuosity in the music. They know how to listen. These folks have been very welcoming to me, and I consider myself pretty much solidly in this group.
The other group I’ll call “The Performers” this group seems not to be interested as much in the music itself as are the Traditionalists. When I started attending this session some months ago, I sensed right away that there was something different about some of these folks. It’s hard to put one’s finger on it, but when one fiddler decides to play tunes outside the genre, and string five, even six such tunes together in a set, one realizes that they are not like the Traditionalists. They are performing. Their style of playing screams “WATCH ME!!! I’M PLAYING!!!” When one sees how a particular bodhrán “player” (ahem) really just isn’t any good at all, and furthermore uses other objects to inject “rhythm” (ahem) into the tunes, such as glasses, beer bottles, and using the tacks on the side of the bodhrán like a jug band washboard, one realizes that they are less than interested in the music. There are other examples, but I will not go into more detail.
On any given evening, the number of Traditionalists about equals the number of Performers. The Trads form one half of the circle, the Performers form the other. One Trad pointed out to me, only half-jokingly, that you could build a wall between the two and everyone would be happier. The tension between individual session members can be palpable at times, though mostly everyone coexists in an attitude of tolerance that the Dalai Lama himself would be proud of. That all-out war doesn’t erupt, especially given some of the stories I have heard, is nothing short of a miracle.
The questions that pop into my head are numerous–how did this dysfunctionality happen? What can be done about it? What are the “Performers” doing there to begin with? Why don’t the “Traditionalists” leave and start their own session elsewhere? Is this common at pub sessions? Why don’t they openly talk about what they all want the session to be, like adults?