This Tuesday will be week three of Irish session night at The Electric Lady in lovely Madison. I’ve found that when I tell people I’m going to Irish session night, there seems to be some confusion as to exactly what that means. So let me follow the lead of all my students and give you the answer I found on Wikipedia.
An Irish music session night is kind of like game night, in a pub, with musical instruments. It’s not really a performance that’s geared toward an audience, but more about the musicians themselves. It’s social and informal, with a lot of talking in between playing. Sometimes everyone knows the song being played, and sometimes they don’t. It’s a great opportunity for less experienced musicians (that would be me) to get an opportunity to play with other people.
Ever since I started playing the fiddle in January I’ve been looking for people to play with. Originally, there was going to be a girl band, kind of like Uncle Earl. But that didn’t so much happen. And then there was a lot of searching for a jam to go to, but not much actually going to any jam’s.
When you take music lessons as a child, you kind of hate the recital. But when you take music lessons as an adult, you start to see the point of the recital. It gave you something to work towards. And a definite kind of motivation. When you don’t have a recital, and you don’t have a group of people you’re playing with, it will eventually become harder and harder to make yourself practice and play. This is true even when you really, really, really love playing, which I do.
Despite knowing this, I had not yet found a solution to my fiddle loneliness until Irish session night. The problem is that you know that if you want to get better, you have to play with other people. And yet you don’t really feel like you actually are good enough to play with other people. Learning an instrument as an adult brings back all those feelings we can pretty safely avoid later in life. The paralysis of not really knowing what you’re doing. The fear of being discovered as a phony. The horror that someone might laugh at you. The suspicion that everyone is looking at you and wondering what you’re doing there. But if you want to play with other people, you have to face all those fears. You have to get over it.
Luckily for me, in a small town, you can start small, often with people you know. Irish session night is organized partly by my fiddle teacher and her husband. So I figured she had heard me play and yet still invited me to join. I couldn’t be that bad. The first night I sat down next to a man who played Irish whistles, who confessed that he doesn’t read music or know what key he’s in and plays by ear. Which was good to hear, because I don’t really read music either, I can’t really tell you what key I’m in, and I play by ear. I kind of hate trying to read music.
There are all levels of musical knowledge at Irish session night, and I imagine that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But there are some songs we can all muddle through together, and sometimes we actually sound pretty good. Every now and then, a fairly inebriated individual stumbles up to the circle to add their own two cents. That also seems appropriate to an Irish music session. Every now and then the one or two other people in the bar give us a round of applause, which is always good to hear.
At the end of our first night at Irish music session, someone said that as long as you have music, you’ll always have friends. I certainly felt when I started playing the fiddle that music could open up whole new worlds for you. A whole new way of thinking and being and enjoying the world. But with Irish music session night, I’m beginning to see that music can also open up a whole new social world for you. A whole new way of interacting. And that there’s something valuable about experiencing all those fears all over again, and then remembering that it’s worth while to get over it.