An Irish Music story: House Sessions

Zina Lee here.

Probably my favorite kind of Irish music sessions are house sessions, where musicians are invited over to someone’s house for an evening of tunes and perhaps a few songs if there’re any singers along, and of course lots of alcohol and food.

At house sessions, things can be more relaxed than out at a scheduled pub session, since you know most of your session mates as friends, and have probably played together with most of them more than a few times. It’s nice sometimes to play with friends and be able to enjoy their company in a less public, less stressful environment. You know a lot of each other’s tunes, you know how to figure out when they’re about to change tunes, you might even know what the next tune will be before they get there.

This last weekend, fiddler Will Harmon brought his family along to our house and we enjoyed squiring them about Denver and Boulder. Along the way, we got in no few tunes, of course. We asked a few friends to come along for a house session, and a lovely time was had by all.

Towards the end of the evening when things are slowing down a bit and the first mad rush at tunes is done and you’ve started picking more carefully at the plate, as it were, considering whether perhaps a bite of this or a nibble of that would now be best suited to your almost-sated appetite, or whether you should perhaps have a second helping of the main course just for the taste, musos start asking each other, ‘what have you got? what are you working on right now?’ and we play bits and pieces at each other, perhaps a couple times through a tune to show what you can do with it, or just to give it to someone else for the next time you play together.

It’s a lovely time, probably my favorite part of a session, except for maybe those moments when the music gels and comes together and everyone is roaring out a rake of reels and everything in the world is fine, just for that single moment.

Anyway, at that point in the evening, Will picked up his fiddle and lilted his way into The Winter Queen, the reel he wrote for Jane Yolen, one of the many Winter Queens Green Man has had down the centuries, at the request of Cat Eldridge. Pete immediately picked it up on his bouzouki, and then I faltered my way in, listening to how Will plays the tune and trying to adjust my setting to his.

And a doorway opened for me, somewhere inside my head; a peek into worlds where the commonplace becomes meaningful by squinting at it a slightly different way, where you can turn your head and realize that something extraordinary has been waiting for you to notice that it has been there all along, where the magic steps forward out of the periphery of the mundane. By concentrating on the tune, I stepped a little out of time and space and sideways into Jane Yolen’s worlds, knowing the whole time that even a tiny jog of my concentration would knock me back out into my living room, sitting next to Will, playing Her Majesty’s tune.

Even while I concentrated on the playing, adjusting here, missing there, I saw gold and blue and scarlet petalled flowers falling through my mental landscape onto sparkling crisp snow, felt the rush of faery horses galloping by, and I knew that this tune would always call up wondrous dragons for me.

Will and I ended the tune, Will jumping up a slightly dorky third for a bit of flourish; we paused for a short moment to admire the tune, hanging in the air like smoke, and then broke into laughter at the goofiness of his little harmony.

Pete caught the tune on his little Zen voice recorder and sent me The Winter Queen MP3, and here it is, from my house to yours, three slightly drunk and sleep deprived musos playing a tune, written for a wondrous storyteller of the most luminous of stories, for other musos at the end of a session. No flowers, no snow, no dragons, not even the laughter at the end. But I promise you that they were there.

About Zina Lee

Zina Lee, Reviewer, is an Irish fiddler, writer, designer, and teacher (not necessarily in that order). “Career” is an excellent word for her working past; she has owned a landscaping company, designed and made wedding gowns, worked for lawyers, UPS as a delivery driver, several newspapers as a writer and editor, been a SAG/AFTRA actress, taught software, is an award-winning theatrical costumer, been a credit manager, a sales person, and a stage manager for an opera company, owns and runs several Web businesses, taught Irish stepdancing and makes Irish stepdancing solo dresses, among other things. Zina can’t quite make out how a Chinese American woman ended up with her life built largely around the arts of a tiny island country thousands of miles away. Zina plays out at sessions around the globe and with Denver area Irish traditional music band Ask My Father, and can be reached by e-mail here. Slán!