It’s now the first day of 2021, and after a fantastic New Year’s Eve, I’m sitting here thinking about music – what a joyful addition it is to life and how it brings people together. Last night we had a Zoom session with friends in Italy, and later with our neighbour, who lives most of the year in the UK but normally comes over to Ireland in the spring and summer. She is a lovely, almost-elderly lady who lives her life to the fullest. She has a profound love for music and knows all old Irish emigrant songs, other Irish songs, and more. She grew up with music – most of her family members play or sing, or both. That’s so common here. Music is such an important part of Ireland’s culture and very much so in our part of West Cork. Every other person you talk to will say that “oh, my father plays the accordion”, or their brother or sister sings and plays the guitar, grandma played the concertina, or whatever. Our local postman plays the guitar and he did some music in a recent video that was recorded about the local An Post services. That’s quite cool, isn’t it?
There is something special about music, that brings people together. If you play music and come to the right places you can make friends for life.
We lived here in 2008, and came to West Cork because my husband knew people here, musicians he had come to know at music sessions. It was a real treat getting to know them, and during that year we made new friendships too. It’s because of all these people that we have come back – this area has remained like our home, and it’s all because of the people we’ve come to know through music.
Traditional and folk styles, as well as bluegrass and oldtime (which is very much a folk style), are different than classical, rock, pop and similar in this matter. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say it’s very unlikely that rock musicians or classical musicians would sit down together for a jam session, unless it’s to practice for some special event. In bluegrass, trad, folk etc, an important part of the tradition or culture is to play together just for the sake of playing music together, to share tunes and songs, enjoy the music and the good company, and get to know new people.
In Ireland, these music events take place in pubs, and they are what I mean when I talk about music sessions, pub sessions or trad sessions. It has nothing to do with drinking, although many have a pint, a glass of wine or a drop of whiskey – or just a Coke or mineral water – during the session. Here the pubs are, more than anything else, meeting places, where people go to socialise, celebrate events, and the local pub can be what makes some people less lonely. In Dublin city centre my experience has been that the pubs are very much about partying (but then I’ve only been to the pubs in Temple bar and around Grafton street on weekend nights!), but down here in the rural areas they are a lot more like social meeting places where you go for a chat over a drink, where the locals hang around, although of course, also here the pubs will go wild on a busy weekend in July.
Before the pandemic we used to play in music sessions at least twice a week. We’ve had such good times! After Covid-19 broke out and socialising like that was no longer safe, of course there have been no more pub sessions. But people who love playing music won’t stay quiet. In the beginning of the first lockdown many were probably low-spirited because of the Covid events and perhaps didn’t play at all, but later we’ve been in touch with musician friends who dedicated Tuesday nights to play tunes at home, just like we normally do in the hotel pub on Tuesdays. Others have met in small groups of 2-3 people in someone’s house to practice tunes, after the most severe restrictions of the first lockdown were lifted.
We’ve been playing at home, but after I bought my new guitar, we’ve come to know another guitar player more – this was because she has a similar guitar that she let me play for a couple of days before to to try it, before buying one. When I returned it to her we ended up playing and singing for several hours! This was in August when infection rates were very low… it was the first time we played music with other people since March, and it was one of the most joyful moments of 2020.
However, because of the Covid situation, obviously most music experiences the past year have taken place online. During the summer we were invited to join a little group that meets every week online to play tunes and songs for each other. This is now one of the highlights of the week, if not THE highlight of the week. It also gives us something to work for, to learn new material, show that we develop our skills.
Through this online session we’ve got to know some new people who are now considered new friends. They are some really cool people and I can’t wait to meet them IRL!
Music isn’t only about notes, melodies, tone, the beautiful variety of different instruments (including the human voice) that create it. It’s also about people, friendships and connections. And not even a potentially deadly virus will stop this.
Because music touches people, it is a social activity, and music people will continue to get together, in whatever way is possible. And more than anything else, they will continue making music.