One of my favorite things to do in this genre is to partake in the collective music making opportunity known as the session. Although my teaching schedule can make regular session attendance a challenge, I do try to get to the Nashville/McNamara's Pub session and the Birmingham/Bham Sesh as much as possible. It can be quite a drive for me, but I am always glad afterwards that I made the trip.
As some of you are aware, playing in sessions (especially as a bodhrán player) can present some unique challenges. After many years of sessions in the U.S. and Ireland, here are some of the things that have helped me...
Enjoy the Hang
When I was a newer player, I felt that my mission at a session was to play in order to establish recognition of my abilities on the drum. In short, it was arrogant and it was wrong. I should have focused on the community- meeting people, learning names, and learning about those around me who are sharing this musical moment. When I started to treat session less like an audition and more like a soirée with tunes and pints, my level of enjoyment increased exponentially.
Identify Your Focus
As bodhrán players, our chief responsibility is to accompany the tune. (As I heard Donal Lunny say in a class, "...playing with the music, not on the music.") As such, I always try to play to serve those ends. The best tactic that I can employ to accomplish that is to find out who or what is my focus. If I find myself in a session that lacks chordal accompaniment instruments (i.e., guitar or bouzouki), I will focus on doing my best to make sure that my rhythms compliment and support the interpretation of the tune by the session leader. However, some sessions will have some really strong guitarists and/or bouzouki players that know how to fit in with a particular group of session musicians. In that case, I find that it is easier to focus on the those rhythm players in order to support the rhythm first. Finding that focus quickly can help you get into a new session with less stress.
Build a Bigger Table, Not a Higher Wall
I have been to sessions where only one drummer was permitted to play at a time, and on occasion, the established drummer for that session would not equitably share tunes. Although those circumstances left me disgruntled regarding my lack of playing, they served as the perfect lesson of what not to do when I find myslef in a position of seniority. I have to be mindful to share the tunes with the other drummers around me. I also need to know if and when to play with newer players in order to act as a real-time guide and coach them in the session. Finally, I need to assess the ability and musicality of the drummers around me to see if it would be possible to play with more that one drummer. (This can be done. Communicate with the other drummers, know when to back off, and try to play in such a manner that supports the music of the group.)
It Is Always a Classroom
Finally, every session is another opportunity to help grow your knowledge of Irish traditional music. Listen to the conversations of the melody players. Ask for tune names. If you are granted permission, record the session for later study. Try to figure out how the guitarist employs rhythms that compliments the tunes. Try to figure out if that guitarist is doing so in a formulaic or predictable manner. Watch other drummers. Listen to them in the same analytical way as with the guitarist. There are so many things that you can take away from a session...
The session is such a great way to help you improve your abilities on the drum. I hope that you make attendance a priority for your development, and that these tips help you enjoy these event as much as possible!