Music Monday: the Irish Traditional Music Session

If you’re looking for some great music, you’ve come to the right spot.

I’m following up on last week’s Music Monday where I noted I needed to get more in touch with my Irish roots and start learning more about Irish music. Last week’s post featured the great Irish folk music group, The High Kings.

This week I thought I’d share info about the Irish Traditional Music Session, a tradition that is at the heart of Irish culture.

Here’s a video of such a session, followed by background info on the Irish Traditional Music Session, courtesy of Wikipedia. Don’t worry, I’ve provided a few more videos at the end. And before you hit play, you may want to grab a Guinness so that you can feel one with the musicians.

Irish traditional music sessions are mostly informal gatherings at which people play Irish traditional music.

The general session scheme is that someone starts a tune, and those who know it join in. Good session etiquette requires not playing if one does not know the tune (or at least quietly playing an accompaniment part) and waiting until a tune one knows comes along. In an “open” session, anyone who is able to play Irish music is welcome. Most often there are more-or-less recognized session leaders; sometimes there are no leaders. At times a song will be sung or a slow air played by a single musician between sets.

The objective in a session is not to provide music for an audience of passive listeners; although the punters (non-playing attendees) often come for the express purpose of listening, the music is most of all for the musicians themselves. The session is an experience that is shared, not a performance that is bought and sold.

The sessions are a key aspect of traditional music; it is the main sphere in which the music is formulated and innovated. Further, the sessions enable less advanced musicians to practice in a group. Socially, sessions have often been compared to an evening of playing card games, where the conversation and camaraderie are an essential component. In many rural communities in Ireland, sessions are an integral part of community life.

Typically, the first tune is followed by another two or three tunes in a set. After one set ends, someone will usually start another. The origin and spirit of the session, playing standard sets for dancers, ensures that individual musical virtuosity is less valued than the collective effort. It also ensures that visitors from other sessions will know many of the tunes and be able to participate, in true ‘bothántiocht’ style.

Sessions are usually held in public houses or taverns. 

We were fortunate to see such a session when we visited Ireland back in 2003. It took place in a small pub in Galway, and personally, I could have sat there all afternoon listening to the music. One of our favorite memories was of the musicians taking “tea breaks”, drinking what looked suspiciously just like Guinness.

You may have noticed the beer on the table in the video above, and you will see it featured in the videos below as well. A night at the pub is a key part of Irish culture, and the music is just icing on the cake.

Here are a few more videos; make sure you’ve got another Guinness close by.

The next video is filmed by a family on vacation in Ireland, and there is a bit of narration that explains what is happening. It’s great to see the little kids just breaking out into dance spontaneously:

This next video is of an impromptu session at an airport. Thier flight was delayed, so the musicians thought they would entertain their fellow passengers with some traditional Irish music:

This next one features an amazing “box” player, and more than a few Guinness:

And here’s the last one, perhaps the most impressive musically:

So there you have it.

And yes, if you ever get to Ireland, an Irish Traditional Music Session is a must-see part of your itinerary.

*image from Lowry’s bar in Ireland

7 thoughts on “Music Monday: the Irish Traditional Music Session

  1. Wow I’ve grown to love Irish music ….. SUPER THANKS TO YOU, DEAR JIM!!! 😊❤️☀️

    Oh yes, would love to send you a special message …. may I please know your email add? ….. OR would you kindly email me:
    YBP@passcodelove.com

    Thanks! 💛

    💚☘️💚☘️💚☘️

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