I’m considering moving back to UCD for grad school to study musicology.
So this blog could have a purpose again in the distant future.
my dad keeps taking pictures of his computer screen on his phone and sending them to me.
it’s 12:30 am.
The problem with living abroad and traveling often is that you meet people who expand your life in the most beautiful ways. And it hurts to leave them because you can’t have every person from all corners of the world with you.
All the times I’ve wished I had my friends and family from home seem so stupid because I just want to keep all these fantastic, beautiful people in my life all at once. But thats not how the world works.
And that really upsets me because I love people, especially my friends from the last four months. I don’t want to trade them for anything. But now it’s like I have to. I have two lives. One in the states and one in Ireland. And even THATS not fair because everyone here has two lives. So all these things that I’m feeling get expanded on because every single one of my friends has a double life. And who says we’ll ever be the same fantastic, beautiful people for the rest of our lives in our home lives?
Travel is wonderful and painful this way.
Well it’s no Severance… #dublin #Beethoven #choir (at The National Concert Hall)
Madness. (at The National Concert Hall)
This makes my life amazing. #dublin #ireland (at O’Donoghue’s Pub)
Question: how did I get to be sitting with the band? (at O’Donoghue’s Pub)
I wrote this as an essay for my Irish music class, but I think it applies to this blog. Enjoy! I know I did!!! (PS: i was a little drunk writing the first half of it)
An Irish music session is where a number of traditional musicians gather and play their traditional tunes as a group. Often, they are held at pubs where one or two of the musicians are paid by the owner to play on a regular schedule. Other musicians come stop by to play by word of mouth or by invitation. The setting is usually very relaxed, as it is in a pub, and it is generally to celebrate the general interest in Irish music. Etiquette asks that any musician who does not know the tune, not play until they recognize it, also that the audience, or “punters”, listen politely. The music is not necessarily for them, but for the musicians.
Open sessions are open to the public to perform in, if they feel they are at a certain level of competence with their instrument. Closed sessions are what you would assume they are, with a set list of performers and instruments. There is usually a leader of these sessions, who decides what to play usually, and the general tone of the session. They can often respond to the crowd and decide the attitude of the tunes.
The first “session” I attended in response to this assignment was one at the Old Storehouse in Temple Bar on Saturday, October 13th, 2012. I know that the location sounds suspect, but I was referred there by a “Dublin Session” website and I decided to check it out anyway, if not for authenticity, then for something to compare with the real thing. Basically when we arrived at the pub around 9pm, there were two men positioned in the corner of the bar, on sort of a stage, where they were microphoned, and set up with various amplifying equipment. There was a huge crowd of people in the bar. Ranging from about age 21 until about 50. Everyone was very crowded, seeing as it was a Saturday night, and this place was obviously a tourist trap. The two men performing seemed to be in their late 20’s to early 30’s. One man stayed with a guitar all night, and the other man rotated between the pipes, a tin whistle, an Irish flute, and a guitar. They did do some traditional sounding reels and jigs, while scattering in a few Irish songs that the crowd may know. I did recognize songs such as Galway Girl, Whisky in the Jar, Rattlin’ Bog, and Tell Me Ma’ (Bell of Belfast City). And of course, those are songs I am delighted to hear, because let’s face it. I know the words. But being an Irish-American in Temple Bar who studies Irish music, I expect to know these songs. I am not so familiar with more traditional instrumental music and songs.
Luckily, I had gone to a real traditional session beforehand and I knew what to compare this experience to.
On Wednesday November 14th 2012, after searching a few bars, (that will remain nameless) and finding nothing but two men playing guitars singing Whisky in the Jar, I found myself back at O’Donoghue’s Pub on Merrion Street. The session is, once again, advertised to be at 9 pm, but the musicians really started at about five minutes to 10. When I walked in the pub, I ordered my drink and just found myself staring at the musicians, waiting for them to start.
The leader of the group (who I recognized from the previous session) saw me and invited me to sit down with the musicians. This was the greatest thrill for me, seeing as I miss hanging out with musicians all the time, and I was desperate to talk to them to gain some of their point of view as Irish musicians.
There were only four musicians to begin the session with. The leader, and fiddle player, the guitarist, the banjo player and the man with both the Irish flute and the bodhrándrum. All of these men seemed to be in their early fifties, to early sixties.
The first tune they played was a reel with the banjo starting, followed by the fiddle, guitar and bodhrán. After they played, the fiddle player introduced himself to me. His name was Brandon and he introduced me to the rest of the men playing at the time. They were all very nice, and very welcoming to me. I was just so pleased to sit and observe.
The second tune they played was a jig where the fiddle started, eventually followed by the banjo and guitar. A few minutes into the jig, the man on both flute and drum (Martin, as I learn) starts to play the flute for a few bars. After that, he drops the flute and starts with the drum again. This tune is so familiar to me, but I cannot for the life of me remember what I know it from.
To give the rest of the musicians a break, the guitarist starts singing I will by the Beatles. The banjo and violin join in on interludes to add some color. Brandon does some nice solo fiddle work that weaves in and out of the vocals. Somewhere between the last two songs, a woman joins the session with her concertina. Her name is Ciara, and she seems to be in her late forties.
There is a lot of chatter for a few minutes between the musicians (and myself) but then the fiddle starts playing again. First he starts playing some random melody, but then it turns into some kind of reel. He is joined by the guitar and then banjo. A few minutes into the tune, the concertina joins. During this tune, all of the instruments seem to take genuine turns with soloing, and backing off to hear the others play.
There is about a 15-minute break where I get to speak with Brandon about coming to O’Donoghue’s. I explain to him that I had actually seen his group perform there before, and that I enjoyed the session. I told him I was a music student, and he was very eager to give me information on being a pub session musician. He was telling me that the man playing the bodhrán toured with a group whose name I should remember, and that the banjo player was a member of Stockings Wing. He explained that the great Irish musicians of the 1960’s and 70’s used to play at O’Donoghue’s. The pictures all over the walls depicted the Dubliners and even had drawn portraits of them next to the bar. Brandon and the rest of the musicians were lamenting the noise of the bar, wishing it were like when they were young and everyone paid attention to the music at a session. There were a few people close to the music that were there, paying attention, but for the most part, the audience saw the music as background instead of the focus of their attention.
Another reel is played, and then I get to talk to Robert, or “Bobby”, the guitarist. He and I talk about studying music. He learned everything he knows about music by listening and doing. Robert said that he actually just started earning his degree in music six weeks ago. It’s always intrigued me how certain people just play music by ear, and others read music and play it. Every time I meet one kind of musician, they wish that they were the other.
Now, somewhere in all of this, an accordion player has joined the group. The next tune is a jig where the fiddle starts. Followed by the guitar and the accordion. Eventually the concertina and banjo join as well. After a few minutes, Martin on the bodhrán plays that for about a minute of the tune. He quickly dropped that and went to his tin whistle.
Next, Robert started playing the Ballad of the Faithful Departed on the guitar. This was mostly just him on guitar with Brandon doing some interludes on his fiddle. It was a really nice song to hear while the rest of the group went to refill their drinks.
After all of this, Robert goes to take a break, and Brandon gave the guitar to Martin (on the bodhrán and flute). He had promised me that Martin was an amazing singer, and he made good on his promise. After Brandon got most of the people in the bar to quiet down, Martin sang All the Ways You Wander by John Spillane. After that, he sang a song he called “Helsby Hill” or something like that. I have yet to confirm where it’s from. Either way, the rest of the musicians didn’t seem phased by the tune. The banjo, accordion, Irish flute, and fiddle joined in to accompany.
After all this, Robert made me sing an old Bob Dylan song, Make You Feel My Love, with him and his guitar. I’m sorry to say that I was not loud enough to accompany his vocals, but it was still fun.
Next was the song Trip Through Holyhead by Kieran Halpin. Robert sang this with his guitar with the banjo, fiddle, accordion and tin whistle accompanying. Following this, was the final tune of the night. It was a reel that involved everyone from the session, including a man in his mid seventies who showed up at the end with his tin whistle and was participating in the last few tunes.
At the end, Brandon gave me his card and invited me to stay in touch with him this week to come see them play again, and maybe perform myself. I’m not really sure what I would do, seeing as I’m not very competent in Irish folk music, but I’ll see where it leads. I’ll at least be back for the last few Wednesdays of my stay in Dublin.
Dreams do come true kids.