A few older folkies are on record declaring that people shouldn’t write new songs. Their reasoning goes: Unless a song is sung regularly in public, it will be forgotten. Since opportunities to sing are limited, every time you sing a new song you’re starving some wonderful old song of attention, causing the old songs to die of neglect (no, there is no Freudian identification going on here whatsoever).
Others (including plenty of older folkies) applaud and encourage songwriting. Their reasoning goes: People have always expressed themselves and their times through music; that’s how we got those old songs, and why we keep getting new ones. Today’s songwriters enrich tomorrow’s repertoire, and songs that remain relevant will stay current – the birth of a new song doesn’t mean the death of an old one.
If we accept the latter reasoning (which I, for one, do) there remains the question of whether it’s okay to sing original songs in a session.
We’ve all had this experience: a newbie sessioner launches into a song with incomprehensible lyrics and no discernible form. As they hit the final chord and gaze round the circle with an expression of blissful self-satisfaction, a more seasoned sessioner asks gently, ‘Is that one of yours?’ The newbie, delighted at having their talent recognised, affirms eagerly that yes, yes it is. No more is said. Eloquently.
Every now and then it’s different. Every now and then the song is poignant and evocative and beautiful, everyone in the pub cranes to listen with eyes wide and heart enthralled, and as the song finishes we burst into wild applause and clamour in one voice for another such show-stopping treat (you know who you are Sally Harris). Magic does happen.
In general, though, the same ‘rules’ apply for original songs as for others – a session is participatory, and consists mostly of songs that offer ample opportunity for joining in. Refrains and choruses are good. Simple chords and singable keys are great. If I bring any song to my local session that the group has never heard before, it takes three to five outings before everyone’s comfortable joining in (depending on the degree of repetition in the song). If no-one’s even attempting to join in your original song on a second exposure, you may need to rethink whether the session is the best setting for this song.
Is it more of a performance song? Does it require more of the listener’s attention than is possible in a noisy, informal session environment? Is it in a key or time signature that lies outside the range of the musicians present? Does the mood of the song clash with the mood of the session? There may be nothing ‘wrong’ with the song – maybe it’s just not the best fit for this particular time and place. Sessioning is an art, and song choice is a skill that requires experience and practice.
If you’ve sung an original song and you’re unsure how it’s been received, ask a few people quietly for honest feedback. Hopefully they’ll be constructive, and help you decide what to do next – work on the song some more, find a more suitable place to sing it, or bring it back next week.
Whatever happens, kudos for taking the risk and putting yourself out there. It’s fabulous that you wrote the song, and even better that you shared it with others. Go you good thing.