With its beginnings in December 2009, we are now well into the 4th year for my Irish Trad ‘slow session’ group, the Fairhope Irish Trad Workshop Players, meeting every other Sunday afternoon in the choir room at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Fairhope, Alabama.
The group started with requests from a few of my adult fiddle students who wanted to play some of the jigs and reels that my friends and I play at the long-standing Irish trad sessions at McSharry’s Irish Pub in Fairhope. “Can’t we play together but more slowly than that?” they asked. Well of course they could!
The first session drew about a dozen players, mostly fiddle students or former students, plus a couple people on other instruments. It quickly grew to an open community session. (I was fortunate to be a presenter at the 2012 American String Teachers Association conference in Atlanta where my talk was about growing a community group like this.) Most weeks, the session draws around 15-20 players, ranging in age from 15 to 80. They love the opportunity to play together, but it’s incredibly rewarding to me as a teacher to have this impact—and to see a teenage boy playing alongside a guy in his 60s and both having a great time.
I teach with a combination of written music and ear training but always encourage the students to work on playing the tunes by heart as well. It’s a challenge for most of them, but they’re learning!
Fairhope isn’t Boston—by a long shot! There’s no established Irish community and until Ronan McSharry moved here from Sligo and opened his pub about 6 years ago, there were no local sessions. Now, we have a thriving, growing community of both musicians and fans, and I’m pleased to be part of it.
Have any of you similar experience, either leading or taking part in a slow session like this? What’s your best advice to keep it going?