Sessions at CIMW



A word from Randal Bays about sessions and the tune list (click above link to open list)...

Most Irish traditional musicians would agree that good sessions are at the heart of the music. A good session is the result of a simple formula... if you're playing music you like, with people whose company you enjoy, then it's a good session. However, if you're learning Irish traditional music you probably know the frustration of going to a session and not knowing enough tunes to take part. Everyone seems to be blazing away and having a great time and all you can do is sit there and try to look like you're enjoying yourself.

By the same token, if you do know a lot of tunes and are playing at a high level, it's frustrating to have to restrict your session to basic tunes at slow tempos. Good players usually know hundreds if not thousands of tunes. When they sit down to play together it's not that hard to find ones that everyone has in common, and the occasional outlier can add a little spice to the session.

We want everyone to be able to play in sessions at Cascadia Irish Music Week, so we will have two kinds of staff-led* sessions; “Guided” and “Free-range”. The guided sessions will be led by members of the teaching staff, working from our list of tunes and keeping a slow to moderate tempo. So if you know most of the tunes on the list, you should be able to take part. Please don't bring sheet music to the sessions... take advantage of every opportunity to improve your ear.

Other sessions will be high-level (“Free-range”) sessions in terms of repertoire and tempo, also led by members of our teaching staff. If you're not quite ready to take part in this kind of session, don't feel bad about just listening. Relax, have some fun and let the music get into your soul... it's how we all learned it.

* There will also be plenty of informal sessions that pop up throughout the week, in dorms and public campus spaces. You are encouraged to join in, or host your own!

A note about repertoire and our tune list..

Please keep in mind that this list is only meant for the “Guided Sessions”. And please, please don’t let this list be a source of stress… it’s meant to relieve your stress. If you just learn a few of the tunes on this list you’ll be guaranteed to be able to play in the guided sessions.

When you're learning, it's hard to know which tunes are the ones that people might play in a session. Bear in mind that a session is not a performance venue, but a place where the musicians play together and refresh their memory of the tunes. So to take part, you have to have at least a basic repertoire of common session tunes, and without some guidance it's hard to know which ones to spend your time learning.

For years people asked me for a "basic tune list", but even a basic list would be huge. This year's list of tunes is one I came up with and it's a totally arbitrary selection. You could easily come up with several more lists of the same length containing nothing but standard tunes that most Irish players know. Others have come up with their own lists, equally valid, and I especially recommend the series of books and CDs put out by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE), called Foinn Seisun (Session Tunes). Many of the tunes in this series are now available on YouTube.

Remember, the point of this list is just to narrow the repertoire down for our guided sessions, so that everyone will have a chance to play. It's a good starting place and the more sessions you go to, the more tunes you'll learn.

Randal Bays

P.S. If you want to read lots more about my opinions :-) on Irish sessions, have a look at