McDonnell's Traditional Irish Music Slow Session

History of McDonnell’s Slow & Steady Sessions

Our traditional Irish music slow & steady sessions began in 2001 as a once-a-month opportunity for beginning musicians and accomplished musicians new to the Irish tradition involved in the Melbourne branch of  Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to play at a session. The regular weekly sessions around town were much too fast for beginners to play along. We established a set of core tunes and played them very slowly many times while gradually increasing the tempo. Unlike many faster sessions, we accommodated musicians that needed to read the sheet music but provided them with the support to ultimately play the tunes by ear. This session format has been very successful at getting most of the musicians playing most of the tunes.

Our slow & steady sessions developed independently from the Melbourne branch of Comhaltas and it was held at a variety of venues including Farther Flanagan’s Pub, Clifton Hill Hotel, Normandy Hotel and The Corkman Irish Pub.  Our sessions were organised using emails and the web, as well as word of mouth.  The Pubs kindly provided the venue, but there was never any financial arrangement between our slow sessions and the pub owners. The slow session had no organisational structure or official membership and was run solely as a hobby to facilitate the passing on of Irish traditional music. There was no charge to attend, be we encouraged everyone to buy food and drinks at the pub in order to support the establishment.

Our musicians possessed a wide range of technical and musical skills. We had a number of classically trained musicians that wanted to learn to play traditional Irish music at sessions and we also had complete beginners. To enjoy any session it is best if players have enough skill on their instrument to play a few tunes. We indicated to everyone that the sessions should not be viewed as a music lesson and we encouraged beginners, and more accomplished players to seek music tuition (ie, lessons) to improve their technical skills on their instruments. As you can understand, it was hard for us to include complete beginners who are just learning where the notes are on their instruments. Because you need to hear the music to play it, we strongly suggested that everyone come to the sessions and just listen and record to hear the tunes while continuing to improve your playing with a music teacher.

To facilitate musicians joining our sessions we created a list of tunes, tune books and sheet music booklets, MP3 downloads and an Irish rhythm tutor.    All of these tools are available on this website.  The key to learning to participate in traditional Irish music sessions is to practice the tunes at home and join slow sessions as often as possible to play with a group. You will be amazed at how quickly the tunes begin to roll off your fingers.

The interest in our slow sessions grew steadily over the 15 years and we had well over 150 musicians that play a variety of common Irish traditional instruments on our mailing list. Typically, we had between 25 and 40 musicians at our sessions. In addition to just playing at our evening sessions, we occasionally played at charity events and festivals under the name “Flanagan’s Mob”.  Click on the Kerry Polka Set music icon to hear the group play for a Benefit Concert at the Normandy Hotel in October 2007. The tunes are played at our performance tempo. This provided another opportunity for musicians to improve their skills and share the music with a greater audience. To avoid the complications of financial reporting we did not accept money to play at these events. Our goal was to keep the session and our other activities simple in order to maximize our music playing.

After some 15 years of running our slow sessions in Melbourne, the closing of our last session venue, the Corkman Pub in Carlton VIC, in late 2016 was a sign and we decided to call it quits. It has been a wonderful experience sharing our music with so many people.  We are very thankful to everyone who joined us at our sessions over the years.   We feel honoured to be part of such a vibrant Irish traditional music community which extended well beyond our Melbourne sessions. Although we are no longer running our sessions, we plan to maintain the music resources on this website and add more resources in the future.