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Shall we "Take Back The Session" for harpers and harpists?


An Irish session is an informal gathering of musicians playing sets of tradition Irish dance tunes on Irish instruments, most commonly fiddle, flute, tin whistle, concertina, button accordion, bodhran (frame drum) and Uilliean pipes. Traditional sessions keep Irish music alive! For various reasons, the Irish harp has not been a part of the session tradition for the last 200 years. Let’s change that! Are you interested in forming a “slow harp friendly session” to enjoy the distinct feel, sound and beauty of traditional dance tunes?

Unlike other styles of music, players of Irish instruments play the melody in unison with no harmony lines. If you are interested in learning and playing traditional tunes in an Irish session structure, but want to learn how, or join in, let me know. With enough interest, we can “Take Back the Session” and open this traditional genre for harpers and harpists.

This could take the form of a class, workshop, open session or whatever interest dictates. I’m more than happy to host sessions, workshops, classes or whatever form it will take to make the music come alive for harpers and harpists.

Please respond and let me know if there is enough interest out there, and what form you imagine would work best for you!

Tudy (Susan) McLain (Teacher at Dusty Strings)
206 932-1861


I am interested. I have been playing for about 6 months. I still have much to learn, so it would help if we could mix some classes and workshops into the schedule. I live in Olympia, so weekends might be the only option for me on a regular basis.



I’m surprised there are no harmony lines- I’d always heard Irish accordionists play at least chord backup? At any rate, I’d love to come to an open session/class/workshop or anything of that sort, but I’m over on the east coast!

BTW, in the spring, I was working on entering Randy Miller & Jack Perron’s New England Fiddler’s Repertoire into Finale, but am just now getting my life and “office” back in order after a move and general life upheaval; if I can figure out which box the MIDI keyboard is in I’ll get back to it. I had gotten to “Les Fraises et les Framboises.” Then, of course, there’s all of O’Neill’s after that. And once my apartment is no longer a construction zone, I’ll be hosting regular musical gatherings.


I would be interested in joining ensemble work that would include harp, whether only with other harpers or with instrumentalists of all kinds – I’m actively looking for such an opportunity. I’ve lately become interested in contra dance as a hobby and would like to know more about the musician’s side of playing dance music, ideally something transferable to the local dance community. I’d be interested in a group any night except Tuesday or Friday.


Gail, when Tudy said there are no harmony lines, that does not preclude chords. In Irish and Scottish sessions, most people play the melody, and any instrument that is capable of chords also plays chords. If you can only do one or the other, you may. But dedicated harmony lines that track the melody are traditionally not played. That gives the music a special energy that would be dissipated if too many people were trying play harmonies - which also could clash with each other if not planned out. Sessions are all about not playing planned ensemble arrangements, but instead enjoying getting in the “zone” instead of concentrating too hard on harmonic complexity.
These days, however, the tradition is changing and occasionally you will hear harmonies. But not by more than one or two participants.