Once upon a time, I was sessioning in a pub (as you do) and a young woman, somewhat under the weather, approached the session table and picked up someone’s guitar, presumably intending to launch into song. The owner, startled, reached out to reclaim it. ‘You can’t just grab someone’s instrument without asking,’ he protested.
‘Why not?’ the girl demanded belligerently.
Nonplussed that anyone could even ask, he managed, ‘It’s against session etiquette.’
The girl flounced back to her friend and announced in an aggrieved tone, ‘Apparently, there’s an etiquette!’
Of course there is. Every social situation is bounded by rules – usually unspoken – a code of conduct that people abide by. One problem with sessions is that people get over-excited, especially if they’ve had a few. They can be carried away by the music and the craic, start believing they can fly or play guitar like Tommy Emmanuel or that everyone unconditionally loves them no matter what they do. If sessions are an unfamiliar social situation for them, they can lose sight of the usual rules of common sense, common courtesy and respect, and think that anything goes.
At a general level, session etiquette is simply about making sure everyone has a good time – not some people enjoying themselves at the expense of others. The subtleties and nuances of what that means in a session are worth exploring and articulating for the uninitiated, and for sessioners who’ve never given ‘etiquette’ a lot of conscious thought.
That’s what this blog’s about. It’s not intended as a list of ‘thou shalts’. I’m hoping for lively dialogue from all over the globe about how the art of sessioning works and doesn’t work – how to choose the right song for the moment, what to do when someone next to you is playing in the wrong key, whether and when to applaud, kids in the session, mobile phones in the session – anything that has ever bugged, intrigued or concerned you about session culture. I was inspired by a Facebook discussion, a while ago, that went on for pages, about whether or not it’s okay to sing a song from another sessioner’s repertoire. People had strong opinions in many directions: ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes if’, ‘no unless’… Everyone expressed their ideas courteously and respectfully, without descending into name-calling, and the whole debate was exhilarating to follow. I’d love to see the same kind of energy develop around this blog.