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Some thoughts on session etiquette:
Common courtesy / Keeping the seisiun in good condition / Resources

Finally, I've had a chance to summarize your thoughts about seisiun etiquette at O'Flaherty's.

Some of you responded by asking "What problem are you trying to solve?" By and large I think the seisiuns are running smoothly, with relatively few problems. The purpose of this conversation is to get people thinking, and possibly make some improvements. There seem to be two broad (and overlapping) categories of interest:

The most frequent comment is that no one person should dominate (ie, start all the tunes), though deference should be given to highly experienced players when we're lucky enough to have them. The leader should be willing to step in when someone starts too many tunes in a row. One person mentioned that John and I are sometimes too polite when this happens. Can't speak for John here, but I certainly have the capacity to become far more obnoxious -- so be careful what you wish for....:)

Another interesting point concerns tempo. When someone starts a tune at a moderate speed, there's often a good reason. For one thing, the tune may sound better that way. Or it just may be time to take a break from fast reels. Or it could be that the person who started the tune can't play it at a faster speed. Anyway, it seems reasonable to let the person who starts the tune set the pace. It gives us some variety and helps us accommodate an intermediate level player without making it a slow session. Of course, all of us are guilty of kicking up the tempo at one time or another. What if someone asks to play a fast tune (eg, George White's) at a slow tempo? Perhaps we could play a slow setting of the tune, followed by a fast one?

One person suggested we minimize conversation and maximize tunes by encouraging players to take lengthy conversations away from the center of the circle.

Common courtesy / Keeping the seisiun in good condition / Resources

Most of the replies in this category are based on bad experiences people have had at other seisiuns (whew!). People expressed concern that if a seisiun is open to all players without restriction, the inexperienced players could eventually take over and the better players could leave. FYI, here are some of the suggestions that speak to this concern. I haven't tried to integrate these into a "policy", and I'm not sure that I will. You'll notice that some of these ideas may contradict one another.

  • Have different sessions for different playing levels. [Note: If anyone has info about other seisiuns in the area that specialize in slow or intermediate level play, I'll be glad to pass it along.]
  • There are people listening, and sessions should not be for practice - they are a performance. Thus if you do not play a tune well don't start it. There is nothing worse than sitting in a bar listening to people struggling through tunes. OTOH, if you're sitting off to the side and can noodle quietly without disturbing others while a tune is being played, that should be ok.
  • Allow for a variety of tune types including slower pieces.
  • Publish a list of commonly played tunes so people can learn and practice them.
  • Do your best to stay in tune.
  • One person hates the tune "Harvest Home" and would like it to be permanently banned (just kidding (sort of):).
  • Welcome less-experienced players, but remind them to sit a bit away from the center of the circle so the more experienced players can hear each other.
  • Other suggestions include limiting the number of each type of instrument, and restricting participation to players who are invited by the leader. I'd prefer not to formalize this idea, though I do appreciate being asked. It's very rare that I ask a person not to participate, but it has happened.

Common courtesy / Keeping the seisiun in good condition / Resources has a searchable discussion area.

Barry Foy's book on seisiun etiquette: Field Guide to the Irish Music Session:      A Guide to Enjoying Irish Traditional Music in Its Natural Habitat

And finally, a song called the "Spoons Murder"
about a spoons player who drives people at a session nuts!

Please feel free to tell me about any other ideas or concerns you may have. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Best Regards,


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