Scottish and Irish music sessions occur all over the world, with varying degrees of structure and with players of wide-ranging abilities. Often held in pubs, on the less formal side it’s a way for musicians to get together socially and simply enjoy a few tunes. More serious session are sometimes “closed” meaning participation is by invitation only, and are much more like performances than social gatherings. You’ll find sessions that run the gamut.
If you are a musician and interested in joining an existing session, it’s really advisable to learn about how the session you want to participate in is organized. Mostly, if you are patient and listen it becomes clear pretty quickly how a session works. Sessions are typically (again, if you aren’t sure, listen, watch and ask) somewhat egalitarian events where tune leads are passed around, and everyone gets a turn. If you aren’t sure, ask and be cognizant of NOT being a “tune-hog,” that is, a participant who (regardless of level) wants to take the lead and play all the tunes. For more advanced players, be sure that everyone gets a tune or two along the way. Fast-paced jigs, reels and hornpipes are a gas to play—but not everyone can. So be aware and a good technique is to ask a less experienced player to pick the tune(s) and lead. That helps make it enjoyable for everyone.
If there isn’t a session in your town or one close by, consider starting one. A set of Reelpipes or two, some guitars, a fiddle and you are on your way! Although there is a strong connection with pubs for these sorts of activities, house-sessions are a great way to start too. A word to the wise here; if you are looking for a pub setting, be sure you know about TVs and sporting schedules! A Monday night session may be great at the neighborhood pub, right up until it’s Monday Night Football time.
Payment and tipping
It common practice for a session musician to receive beverages from the pub as part of the deal for playing live music. If you are setting up a session, depending on the number of players and such, it may be the pub limits “compensation” to a beer or two. Another important hint here is to remember the wait staff at the end of the session with a tip of a few dollars. That practice goes a long way to win friends that can help promote sessions!
Local (Washington State Scottish Music Sessions)
There is an active and growing Scottish/Irish/Celtic music scene in the NW corner of the state of Washington. Open sessions are held at the Skagit River Brewing Company in Mount Vernon, and Anchor Pub in Everett. More information can be found on this Facebook page.