Talking in the session

We all love to catch up with our friends. But the raison d’etre for a session is to connect in a particular way – through making music together. So when do we chat, and when do we play?

The ‘rules’ around balancing music and talk vary greatly from one place to another. Sessions have this in common with folk clubs. At some folk clubs, you can hear a pin drop whenever a performer is onstage. Anyone daring to talk, even at the back, will receive glares and shushing from those around them. At other folk clubs, audience members chat with each other, good-naturedly heckle the performers, sing along, clap along, and are generally rowdy. Folk clubs tend to create their own individual atmosphere or microclimate, shaped by many factors including the venue, the organisers, the musicians, the style of music being played, the quality of the sound system, and the preferences of the audience. Sessions are no different.

I’ve known tune sessions to flow on from set to set without a break – individual performers get up to go to the bar or the bathroom, but the music sweeps on without them (‘Can’t talk – playing’). Singing sessions, in my experience, tend to provide more leeway – a song ends, people applaud and chat a little (‘Where did you learn that one?’ ’Interesting version’ ‘Nice flute, Linda’ ‘I met the bloke who wrote that song, at a festival back in 73…’ ‘What the hell key was THAT???’)

If the session is private (for example, at a party) it doesn’t really matter how much talk goes on relative to music – that’s up to the sessioners. If the session is taking place in a pub and there’s an expectation from management that entertainment will be provided for punters, it’s good to keep the between-songs chat to a minimum and the music flowing. Sessioners who are being paid, or receiving free drinks, need to be mindful of their obligations to the venue.

Musicians are generally polite people, and if you’re chatting, someone may be patiently waiting to begin a song. For any extended conversation, it’s best to take your conversation partner and move away from the session – keep the talk and the music separate. And if someone starts playing, everyone in the session area should stop talking.

People sitting out in the boondocks of the session, enjoying the music and maybe singing along with some choruses, often forgot that their conversation may distract musicians who are sitting right in front of them and trying to hear the other sessioners (and/or remember words, notes and chords). Again, if you want to exchange more than a few words, it’s polite to move away from the session. Think of it as avoiding ‘sound spill’!

Even experienced sessioners and session-goers forget these basic principles of chat etiquette, especially when a beverage or two has been imbibed, so don’t be offended if someone reminds you.

What about your local session or folk club – what are the ‘talking rules’?


2 thoughts on “Talking in the session

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  1. Very true. Apparently Pam Gallagher was famous for keeping the audience strictly silent at folk clubs, to ensure respect was paid to the performers. Part of it is the venue too – all the concerts I’ve been to at the Danish Club have been beautifully silent and attentive, making it possible to really hear and appreciate the performances. I love it when a session song generates its own silence – when even punters in far-flung corners of the room, who’ve come to drink and chat with music in the background, can’t help but shut up and listen 🙂


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