There’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!