Another nice session in Fergus tonight.  Good tunes, a few laughs, some new faces and one or two folks back after some time away.  At one point I counted twenty players.  Sometimes we all played along, sometimes most of us listened, a great balance.  I managed to pass along another verse of a traditional song that someone’s been doing a great job of, heard another version of a Dylan tune I’m sneaking up on learning, oh yeah and I did another new piece so I’m on a bit of a roll.  And folks don’t mind me thumping along for much of the night, so I’m having a good time.

Ah, but I don’t want to leave you with the impression that everything is perfect all night at these sessions.  A few new faces means that some folks are learning as we go, and sessions like these are deceptive in many ways.  Volume, for instance.  A good rule of thumb when you’re playing without a sound system, especially in a social setting, is don’t play your instrument louder than you can sing.  And of course the same goes for someone else’s singing, right?  If you can’t hear ‘em singing don’t play louder, play quieter.  It’s a mark of a really good session when we can play groovy and quiet at the same time.  But no, not everyone gets that in any given moment.

As a matter of fact that was a bit of a thing a few times tonight.  At one point I counted no less than three different grooves and tempos (okay, technically ‘tempii’, but who says that any more?) being played at the same time.  None of which were what the person who was leading the song was playing, which I only knew because I could see their strumming hand was moving up and down in a way that had nothing to do with any sounds I could hear.  So I’m busy trying to figure out the groove from the way they’re singing, an imperfect science at best.  In the meantime I’m hearing three other grooves being played around me.  But I’m pretty sure no one playing any one of those grooves can hear the others.  So apparently it’s my job to find some kind of average so we can keep this thing moving along.  Most of the time it’s okay, but every once in a while I get conflicting musical signals, the hypothalamus creaks and it’s all over for me at least for a bar or two while I regroup and look for fresh clues (I believe this is referred to as the breakdown of the bi-cameral mind, or hemiola, I forget which, you can look it up).  Meantime everyone happily playing their own groove wonders what’s up with the bass player.

And so it goes to the end of the tune, and then smiles, laughter, and yes applause.  You see, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that while I might be searching for the perfect groove, the average listener and most of my fellow musicians are getting their joy from other things we’re laying down.  Maybe it’s the meaning of the words, or the beauty of the melody, or the emotional content of that cool hook that buddy’s figured out, or maybe their memory of when they first fell in love with the song.  In any case, what I’m after might just be my own trip and nobody else’s.

Which is why I came up with house rule #1.  If it’s your performance, let the first thing you say about it be a positive thing.  No really.  Look at it this way–if someone’s really enjoying what you’re playing, and then the first thing you say when it’s over is how much you thought it sucked, you are in fact explaining to them that they have no musical taste.  (I got a belly full of that kind of attitude in my time wandering through the professional folk scene–’what, you like that??  Obviously you’re an idiot.’  This from people who hadn’t had an original musical thought their entire lives and yet somehow managed to set themselves up as professional tastemakers.  Little ponds, big fish, and ignorance becomes its own reward, you know how it is…)  So while I don’t lean on the rule too heavily, I will gently chide from time to time.  You see it turns out that my own internal experience of the song has very little to do with anyone else’s experience of the same performance.  And I must not dishonour their experience.

So, no, not perfect.  But still a really good time, and working on getting better.  And that friend, is about as good as it gets.

Yay team.