4 Common Misconceptions of an Irish Session

by Katrina VanTyne

If you’re not versed in Irish music and you happen to stumble into a place like Bagitos on a Saturday afternoon when the place is filled with musicians, you might not know exactly what to make of it. There is definitely an art to sessioning and a few unwritten rules you should know before you either jump in and play or call your friends to come listen to the band.

Here are 4 common misconceptions of an Irish session:

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Celtic Music in Vermont

For the next couple of weeks there are some great musicians coming to town and shows that should not be missed. It all starts tomorrow. Here’s a video of Karan Casey and Lúnasa.

The list of upcoming shows are below:

Friday, Nov 22, 2013
Wendy MacIsaac and Mary Jane Lamond  – Cape Breton Music
Place: UVM Recital Hall, Burlington, VT
Time: 7:30
Cost: $25
Tickets: call 802.656.4455

Saturday, Nov 23, 2013
Tony DeMarco,
Irish fiddler
Place: Vermont Violins, Burlington, VT
Time: 6:00pm
Cost: $15 suggested donation
Tickets: email mark.sustic@gmail.com

Sunday, Nov 24, 2013
Long Time Courting –
Non-traditional Irish, Scottish and American Music
Place:  House Concert at 1060 Bent Hill Road, Braintree, VT
Time: 7:00pm
Cost: $15 suggested donation
Tickets: call 802.728.6351

Saturday, Nov 30, 2013
Lunasa and Karan Casey –
Irish music
Place:  Barre Opera House, Barre, VT
Time: 7:30pm
Cost: $18-32
Tickets: call 802.476.8188

Wednesday, Dec 4, 2013
Natalie MacMaster  – Cape Breton Fiddler
Place:  Barre Opera House, Barre, VT
Time: 7pm
Cost: $20-58
Tickets: call 802.476.8188

Music and Dancing, Like Peas and Carrots

Learning music isn’t just about learning the tunes. Anyone can memorize notes. But when it comes to traditional Donegal music, knowing the dances can help tell the story of the tunes, making it easier to feel the music and help it sink in.

At the Donegal Fiddle School I attended in Glencomcille, learning the dances was an important part of learning the music. For a half day on Thursday, we had no fiddle classes. Instead we had dancing lessons in preparation for the Ceilidh dance that night.

In Donegal music, most of the dances are couple dances because they were done in kitchens where there wasn’t much room. Here are a few examples of the dances we learned:

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A Bow Meant for Me

violin bow

photo credit: BenoitRolland.com

Recently, my bow has been in the shop and I have been using loaner bows while it is being repaired. As I was showing the broken bow to my friend the other day he said “why not just buy a new one, what is so great about your bow?”

As you can probably guess my friend is not a fiddle player. A good bow usually starts at about $1,000. And buying a cheap one, well, let’s just say you get what you pay for. Comparing the two is like comparing a BMW to a Ford (sorry to all you Ford drivers). Both cars will get you from point A to point B but one will be more comfortable, more luxurious, more detailed and will just be a better ride.

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Sessions, Lessons and Dancing, Oh My…

Irish Music Festival

Photo provided by Carolan Festival

Consistently going to sessions has definitely improved my playing over the years. But there is nothing like hitting some workshops and festivals to get you excited about your music, meet new people and learn new tunes. This weekend (June 14-15) marks the 7th Annual Carolan Festival in Worcester, VT.

The festival celebrates the music Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738), Irish harper and composer. The weekend kicks off with an English Country and contra dance at the Montpelier Grange on Friday night and workshops, sessions, dancing and concerts on Saturday.

Here’s the full schedule of events:

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Learning to Dance

learning to danceAt one point in my life I moved to New York City to try my luck on Broadway. I had no training whatsoever, but I had a dream. And that seemed to be enough for me to leave my job, my boyfriend and my life. I set out to accomplish something some people only dream about.

I was there for a better part of a year and went to audition after audition only to realize that if I was ever going to get called back, I needed me some training.

So I took this tap dancing class with one of the coolest guys I have ever known. He must have been about 65 or 70 years old with the energy of a 12-year old. He’d show up to class every morning in jeans and sneakers with taps on the soles. This man loved what he did and it showed in not only his ease of the dance, but the look in his eyes when we actually got his steps down. Which for me wasn’t that often, admittedly.

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Martin Hayes and the Teetotallers

Irish FiddlerWhen I first started playing Irish music, someone gave me a Martin Hayes CD to listen to. I have to admit his playing didn’t really touch me at that time. I thought his music was a bit slow for my taste. I wanted to play fast, hoppy tunes because that’s what my beginner ear thought Irish music was. All I knew at the time was Danu, Lunasa and Solas. And I wanted to play like just like them. So I put his music on the back burner in case there was a tune or two I might want to learn later.

Many years later, I was at Celtic Connections, a Celtic music festival in Scotland, where I not only got to see Martin play, I  also took a master class with him to find out just what makes him tick musically. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized just how talented this man was. There is nothing like seeing a musician perform live and listening to the them tell you what these tunes mean to them. The experience was one I’ll never forget.

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