I've decided to kick-off my music selections with a few tunes from my absolute favorite session in Scotland- Thursday nights at the Taybank in Dunkeld. When I lived in Scotland, I would try to make it out every Thursday to this fantastic session. The Taybank would usually be packed with lovely people by the time I got there and squeezed through the door with my instrument and a spare chair that I grabbed from the hallway. Standing room only!
If you're not familiar with what a session is, it's an informal gathering of musicians at a pub, a bar, or a house (or other comfy places!) playing memorized traditional tunes, some recently composed and some hundreds of years old. The musicians don't play for money or even to the audience really- a common love for the music brings them all together, and they often occupy a corner of the pub..it would be most unusual to have them up on a stage as if it were a performance! Many of the sessions that I've attended have been a weekly matter, though I know of some that happen monthly.
The majority of the sessions that I've gone to in the States have had a nice mix of Irish, Scottish, and New England tunes, with some Cape Breton and French-Canadian tunes thrown in every so often. In Scotland, the majority of the tunes played are Scottish (at least in the sessions that I frequented), with a few of the standard Irish session tunes introduced by people originally from Ireland, be it expats or others.
The amount and type of musicians coming to a session each week can be highly variable. At the Taybank in 2014, there would usually be 3-5 fiddlers, at least 1 flute player, at least 1 guitar player, a low whistle player, usually a mandolin player, and sometimes even an upright bassist and a pianist! Somewhat unusual...but most definitely a great time when either one of them showed up!
Most tunes, like those in the sample posted directly above, are played at ''session'' speed, i.e. pretty quickly! In Scotland, tunes are typically played 2 or 3 times through before moving right on to the next one- markedly different from how we do things in the States, with some tunes being drawn out and repeated many, many times. This Scottish session etiquette caught me quite off-guard at first, but I enjoy it now as it ''separates the wheat from the chaff'', so to say- you either know the tune and can play along or you don't...there's no time to fumble around!
The musicians at the Taybank are quite fond of playing tunes by the late, fantastic piper Gordon Duncan, as demonstrated in the last three tunes in the sample above. I highly recommend checking out the remaining footage of him on YouTube, especially the clips of him from the Piping Centre and of his recital.
More information on Mr. Duncan can be found here: www.gordonduncan.co.uk
I can't wait to make it back to Dunkeld and the Taybank!