Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Music Sessions and Manners

Last night, I went to the weekly Irish Music Session down at the pub as I usually do when I have the time. I love being able to play and sing and listen in the cozy atmosphere that is provided there, exchanging a few words with the friendly staff, and having a pint now and then. Last night, however, things took a quite different turn.
There were very few of us, six heads counted at the most, and it looked like it could turn into one of those slightly quiet, but intimate and positive sessions, and for a while it was. Then we got company.
Now, let it first be said that I don't mind it at all that new people join in with the session; quite the contrary! I love the freshness it brings when a new sound or voice fills the musical picture with a new hue! I also don't mind it at all when non-musicians join us to listen and enjoy our company. BUT, this is all on the condition that they understand the unwritten rules of a Music Session. You don't talk (and if you have to, you keep it low and muted) while someone is singing or playing and you don't interrupt others who have just started singing or playing because you want to sing or play or talk. Of course, everyone buggers this up from time to time, but good sessioners make a point out of trying their best to listen and observe. Yes, sometimes it can be a bit hard to get through because people get caught in the moment, and one tune leads to another, which leads to a song and then a reel and so forth, but perhaps that is the time to lean back and simply enjoy the magic happening in front of you?
Going back to last night's events, the two fellows who joined in were kind enough to buy us all a round of drinks. We all thanked them as they took a seat, although I found myself flinching a bit at their timing, because they started to distribute it while music was being played, but thought to myself that it was simply an unhappy accident. It all started out rather well, one of the fellows proclaiming his love for Irish Music and how much he enjoyed listening, but as the night progressed, it became clear that he wasn't so much interested in a live Irish Session, so much as an Irish Music jukebox, with which he could request songs and expect to have them played in return for payment in beer.
While most sessioners don't have a problem with a request or two from time to time, it becomes very tiresome when the pause between each song or tune is filled with an outsider's call for something from his Spotify playlist. The point where it tipped over was when these requests began to happen in the middle of people playing as well as in between. As some added seasoning to this particular tale, it can also be noted that the guy who did most of the talking, couldn't help himself from bragging about his income, and starting to tell people how he could fix them up with a recording studio, and then as the the crowd (all six us us :p) started to thing out as people got sick of the negative atmosphere being emitted, he started to suggest that we move "the party" to his flat (which, he made sure to point out, was over 200 sqm large ...) just asround the corner, proclaiming it in such a way that one would think it was indeed an honour to be invited to such a fine place. I believe it was at this point we all started packing the moment they had disappeared out for a fag, and made ourselves scarce. I lingered a bit behind as I needed to pick up my phone, which had been charging in the bar, and took a moment to chat with some of the staff. They had observed a lot of the goings on, and were as appalled as I.
I'm sure these two probably meant well, and I doubt they are awful human beings, they were, however, completely void of social antennas, common sense and manners, and in a matter of just a few hours, they, the chatty one in particular, had managed to insult most of the sessioners and even get the staff to raise their eyebrows. I was left with the impression of new money toffs with the mindset that anything and anyone can be bought, and it disgusted me. The fact that they ruined what could have been a lovely little session, disgusts and enrages me further.
The lesson to be learned from this, for us sessioners is, I suppose, to be outspoken about these unwritten rules when people break them, and to do at the first instance, making it clear that if they do not abide by these rules, we will, unfortunately have to ask them to sit down in another area of the bar, so that those who are actually there to enjoy it may continue to do so.
The lesson for anyone who is not a part of a Music Session, is to be humble about imposing on other people's art. If a session allows you to join them, be polite, quiet and listen. By all means contribute if you yourself are a musician, but do so on their terms, not your own. As one of my fellow musicians present last night explained, this is a place where people are allowing themselves to be very emotionally open and sensitive, baring their souls and feelings for the sake of artistic and musical passion and enjoyment. It is a very brave thing to do, and it is not just bad form, but also downright cruel to disregard that bravery.

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