Last Tuesday I attended the first local home Irish session I've been to in about 5 1/2 years. It was a come and go affair, with some people coming early and leaving early, and some people coming late and staying late. The session leader is a button box player, and is quite friendly. One of the younger mainstays of the session is a young flute player who sounds like he's been practicing continually in the 5 years since I last saw him- he's QUITE good now, and quite capable of playing QUITE fast- reels especially. So it's a bit challenging for me in the speed department- still, the leader was quite encouraging and told me to bring the fiddle to the Friday afternoon pub session, which I did. The noisyness of most bars is a real turn off for me, but I can hear the buttonbox accordion quite well over it all. Still, they had a Giants game, and the roar when some good hits were made by the Giants was rather startling!!! I sat next to a harp player, and we chatted a bit during the break, and all of a sudden it hit me that I was looking at a CARBON FIBER harp!!! She says is only 8 pounds compared to her 35 pound wooden harp, plus it's a lot tougher, so there is no question which gets taken to pub sessions!! There was a guest player down from Oregon with a mandolin- he looked almost as bewildered and forlorn as I felt! He says his town has a GOOD Irish session that's not as fast, and a good Old Time session too- why, that could tempt a fellow to move to Oregon. In fact, a young fellow who plays Uillean pipes already moved to Portland (OR).
I admit to being torn- the local session is clearly VERY much into playing LOTS of tunes VERY fast... and I'm more about playing a moderate number of tunes at moderate speed, but giving it my best shot at playing them VERY well Some Irish tunes TOTALLY grab me, and others totally BORE me... so I can't see learning the boring ones... at least not until I can play Irish tunes so well that they are a "piece of cake". Only excellent tunes motivate me to put in the work to make them sound the best I can make them sound.
One nice thing about Old Time tunes is that there is more room for individual variation, so if you encounter a tune that seems mediocre, you can either wait until you hear a good version, or you could get creative and, within the tradition, come up with a better version of the tune. I think when Irish players come up with a better version of the tune, it gets a new name... for instance, I only detect small differences between "Man of the House" and "Paddy Carthy's" reel- differences small enough that they would be considered the same tune in Old Time.
At the Tuesday session, I played one of the tunes that I had heard in my head one morning a few weeks back- and they didn't recognize it. And this group plays 4,000 tunes!!! The first phrase is the same as Considine's Reel or the Pride of Rathmore- but after that it gets quite different- I wonder if my subconscious didn't cobble together an Irish tune from parts when I was asleep!!!
Saturday I went to the Farmer's Market because things have been getting a bit tight lately financially. I didn't equal my best take, not even half of it- but it was still worthwhile, partly because I made some contacts that may result in future gigs. I NEVER look forward to going busking- but I DO enjoy it once the first group of people stops to listen, and the first dollar bills land in the can.
One thing I noticed though was that playing in public like that, my recently-learned Irish tunes just aren't ready- my comfort level with Old Time tunes allows me to play them MUCH better in such a distracting environment. The Old Time tunes are showing some signs of neglect- mostly stumbles with the left hand, but not too bad.
On the other hand I saw a video recently that indicates that learning new things in your later years is GOOD for the hippocampus area of the brain, so learning lots of Irish tunes may be GOOD for me, and help keep my brain young!6 comments
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