I dropped by The Irish Cultural center in Canton Ma. for their weekly Saturday night Irish singing session to, well hear some Irish songs and some session tunes as well. This post, I hope will help people and musicians to understand there is a difference between, an Irish session, an Irish singing session (sing song), and an acoustic jam session. I first must take off my hat to the Irish session players and venues as they stay true to the tunes and are most respectful of the Irish music as it has been handed down from ear to ear. An Irish session is made by instruments, fiddles and flutes, whistles and accordions, bouzoukis and bodhrans. The playing, and sharing, and appreciating, and learning of the tunes by skilled musicians has a certain energy that is a joy to listen to. Occasionally, you will hear an Irish song at a session, normally sung unaccompanied, and hopefully sung without much crowd noise. Some will say ” sing us another song” or ”do you know carrickfergus” or such, so this is lesson one: the session musicians play to do justice to the music, if the audience enjoys the playing that’s a nice side effect. The singers give the musicians a break and are usually prompted by the session leader to gives us a song.
An Irish session band favorite “The Ivy Leaf”
Irish singing sessions, or a sing song, are completely different. They are Irish folk music, lots of guitars and harmonicas with hopefully a good fiddle player or two. These Irish sing songs will be where you should find some familiar songs you grew up with. Irish songs like; The Gypsy rover, Irish rover, the wild rover, my dog rover. All good fun, the singers will need a break and you will get some session type play of a jig or reel, or maybe a slow air from a whistle player (my favorite). You can also sing a song, I encourage you to sing a song, as it is a singing session, Lesson two: Singing sessions welcome all levels to sing, just know the words to your song, commit yourself to sing and let her go. The best Irish tune I ever heard was sung by a woman in Kinsale with absolutely no talent.
And now to my pet peeve and the reason I penned this post, the acoustic jam session. First off I love an acoustic jam session, it’s perfect for a night out. When the sign says acoustic jam session tonight, I know I might hear some nice bluegrass or cajun music, some different folk styles and maybe some country folk tunes, hey, great. When I come to an Irish session night I expect IRISH session TUNES, and when I travel three towns away to an Irish singing session I expect Irish songs. So after listening to some so so instrumental renderings in the almost Irish genre, some American folk music that was interesting but vague, I broke one of my session rules and blurted out “can you give us an Irish Song”? Now the etiquette was not too bad cause besides the musicians there were only myself and another fella left in the place. One young fiddler gave his best and sang a song he kind of knew, I sang a song for fun, and the other fella sang one too, it was the only energy of the night. This was not an irish singing session it was an acoustic jam session, turns out the players where in a band starting out and didn’t really know what a session was.
Now that I got that off my chest, you are more apt to find good Irish session music as that world is special to the players of traditional Irish music. The Druid in Cambride Ma., The Brendan Behan in Jamaica Plain Ma., are a couple of nice ones, all tunes. Singing sessions are harder to find, usually you have performances of Irish folk music, where you get to listen and sing along. Some session organizers will do some crossover so find one you like and enjoy. And if you show up and its an acoustic cajun bluegrass jam session, start singing an Irish tune and reclaim the session for the Irish music.