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My very first Irish session!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a decent Jam Report around here, so I will now make up for it with a new twist on that: a Session Report!

Last night my beloved userinfosolarbird and I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in with our very first Irish session. For those of you not familiar with those, they’re events where musicians gather together to hang out and play traditional Irish music. Last night’s was one starting up for the very first time at a pub called A Terrible Beauty in Renton! Dara found out about it courtesy of someone I believe she said she’d met at the Highland Games a few months back, and Dara relayed it to me.

Since I do of course have a ton of Irish music on my iPhone, I’ve known about the custom for some time; it gets mentioned a lot in lyrics, of course. And you hear about it when you are a fan of the appropriate genre of musicians. But I’d never been to one and so when Dara told me about this one, I leapt at the chance for us to go.

Several of you who follow my blog in whatever form will be familiar with filk circles. A session is kind of like that–but not quite, at least in comparison to the filk circles and housefilks I’ve attended. The main difference, aside from the obvious focus on traditional Irish music, is that the filks I’m used to are situations where one person plays one thing, and then another person takes a turn, etc. At filks, you may or may not get people playing along with the primary performer, depending on how strict a bardic circle you’re conducting. At this session, though, everybody was playing, and focusing on the melody being played in particular.

We had an excellent balance of instruments as well, which helped. As Dara and I were a) new to sessions in general, b) new to these folks in particular, and c) the only ones with rhythm instruments being regularly played (Annie, Dara’s friend, also had a guitar but primarily focused on her fiddle), we hung out over on the side of the group trying to follow along and play accompanying chords. Everyone else drove the melodies, trading off between their instruments. It was very neat to watch and I was very impressed that these folks were all very clearly comfortable with several instruments between them.

Dara, being more heavily practiced the last couple years than I am of course, got fancier with her strumming than I did. Me, I was working very, very hard on trying to pick out the keys of several unfamiliar melodies–just to try to improve my ear. I counted it a victory when I realized a few bars in on one melody that OH HEY THAT’S IN A! But I did also have the quiet satisfaction of figuring out unfamiliar (to me) ways to strum, to try to support the melodies being played. That was a fun learning experience and I want to do more of that.

Also, not ALL of the melodies were unfamiliar. Several of them tugged at my memory just because, these being Irish trad tunes of course, I KNOW I’ve heard a lot of them as part and parcel of the dozen or so albums I have with this material all over them. I just don’t know a lot of the specific tunes by name yet. But I DID very specifically recognize “Si Bheag Si Mhor” and “Road to Lisdoonvarna”–the latter, specifically, because userinfocflute is a big fan of that one and likes playing it at Jam. 😀

I must give props to Annie for a few things. One, I noticed she had a Luna guitar, a lovely green one, and my fellow Drollerie author Heather Ingemar had been plugging those guitars to me before I bought the General. Two, Annie is a fellow GBS fan and it is always, ALWAYS a pleasure to meet another person who loves the B’ys. Three, I was sheepishly relieved that while she was the other guitarist present, she spent most of her time giving love to her fiddle, so I didn’t feel entirely dorky back there playing rhythm on the General. ;D

Props must also be given to Matt, the guy who was hosting the session. Dude can play, and he traded off adroitly between his own fiddle, an Irish flute (I am STILL coveting an Irish flute despite the dozen+ flutes I already own), and a very cool-looking harp decked out in Christmas lights which did wonderful things for lighting him up while pictures were being taken of us. I am very grateful to him for letting Dara and me sit in, and in particular for encouraging us to try to join in more by playing stuff we know.

We admitted that we know more things with vocals than without–in the parlance of a session, that means we know songs rather than tunes. So Dara nudged me in to do “Lukey”! I capoed up 2 so I could get it into a key I could credibly sing, and scooted over to sit on the floor in the middle of the circle so the others could see my changes if they wanted to follow along. And I tried to describe the arrangement I knew before I started playing, hoping to give enough data that if anybody wanted to improv something, they could! That didn’t happen but I strongly suspect that was just a function of the others not knowing the song as I was playing it per se–and even given that, they all followed along very solidly.

There is something heady and magical about whipping out a fairly solid performance of a song with people you have never played with before in your life. Not to mention HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS, I have played AND SUNG “Lukey” in an actual Irish pub. In front of COMPLETE AND TOTAL STRANGERS. *^_^*;; I hope I did my B’ys proud. <3

And I totally want to do this again, in no small part because it'll give me an excuse to play my instruments more often. I say instruments because the opportunity to swap out between the General and my long and sadly neglected zouk and octave mandolin, not to mention my flutes, is too shiny to resist!

And oh yeah, it must also be said that A Terrible Beauty is a lovely place, and the food Dara and I ordered was nommable. And served us by a guy who from the sound of him was either Irish or doing a damn good impression of it. 😉

Last but not least, I must plug the photos taken of all of us musicians by one Liz Jackson, a very nice lady who clearly knows the business end of a camera. And the crowning pic of her collection would be this one right here! Please go over and give her some comment love, people!

Thank you Matt and Annie and Liz and everyone else for welcoming us, and I hope we can play with you all some more!

Great Big Sea, Music

More guitar geeking!

So unless a more awesome name presents itself, my shiny new guitar is going to be henceforth known as “General Taylor”. I am, yes, quite cognizant of the irony of naming a guitar for a song performed without any instruments whatsoever.

I have also realized that as I was grabbing shinies to go with the General at Dusty Strings, I forgot to get one other critical thing: a capo. The capo I bought for Rags was intended for nylon string guitars; it works okay on the new guitar, but isn’t optimal and I keep expecting it to pop off. So I’ll need to pick up another one. Oh DARN, I’ll have to go into a music store again! Twist my arm. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Meanwhile I have retuned Rags to DADGAD tuning. Poor Rags really sounds kind of feeble compared to the Taylor, but going into that tuning adds some really nice complexity to his tone. I’ve printed off a chord chart to see what I can learn, and also went and re-printed the chords to “Boston and St. John’s”–which is played in said tuning. It’ll be fun to properly learn that song.

About Me, Music

Awesome Guitar Acquisition of Awesomeness

Ladies and gentlemen, as promised, today I went with my beloved userinfosolarbird to Dusty Strings and got myself a shiny brand new guitar! It took a bit of deciding, especially given that the place was a madhouse (they were having an open house and concert and they were packed wall to wall with people), but I ultimately settled on a Taylor 210.

Description of the afternoon–and most importantly, PICTURES–behind the cut!

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Great Big Sea

Speaking of the guitar pick of awesomeness

There’s a ridiculous amount of fangirly glee I can get out of something as simple as a well-used guitar pick!

I am not a professional guitarist by any stretch of the imagination; I’m barely at the level of competent amateur, really, and then only because I can play decent rhythm on a small set of songs, and slightly more complex stuff on exactly one song so far. But, that said? I know just enough to be able to make some fun guesses about the guitar pick userinfosksouth snagged for me at the GBS show!

I don’t know how fast The Doyle goes through his picks, or whether this one was new going into the show–but if it was, he played the hell out of it. The tip of it as well as a good bit of one edge are worn quite ragged, and part of the words beneath the logo are worn off. I get this kind of wear and tear on my own picks after I’ve played with them, but only after a while; I suspect this is a function of the fact that a) I don’t play that often, b) I play on a nylon-stringed instrument, and c) I don’t play with anything resembling the amount of power that Alan Doyle does! Metal strings would tear up picks a lot faster, of course. I have observed this directly with any pick I play with for a while on my zouk or my octave mandolin.

I’m amused though to note the thickness of the pick as well. It’s pretty thin as guitar picks go and comparable to several I’ve got. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this exact brand of guitar pick either at Trading Musician or at Dusty Strings, too. The logo on it is familiar!

I have had it suggested to me that I should frame this thing. My immediate plan for it is, I think, to use it for exactly one purpose: getting footage of me playing the guitar for our little contest video. And hope that maybe some of Alan’s guitar fu may wear off.

Then I’m going to put this thing safely away so I won’t lose it. 😀