(Published in the Montreal Gazette on November 10, 2012)
Early last September, by chance, I dropped into the Old Orchard pub on Prince Arthur Street, near St. Urbain. Much to my surprise, way in the back of the neighbourhood watering – hole, a significant number of people were gathered about in a quadrangle playing various Celtic instruments, and seemingly having a grand old time doing it. I later learned that, with the warm-hearted permission of public house manager Chris Stewart, it was more or less a regular Saturday afternoon ritual at the establishment.
Individuals of all ages, from eighteen to eighty, come together regularly to share their passion for Celtic music. They call it their ‘Slow Session’. Most who attend are regular students at Siamsa (pronounced ‘Sheemsa’), School of Irish Music now located at Marianopolis College.
The Siamsa (Irish for ‘pleasant musical diversion’) School holds weekly group classes in traditional Irish fiddle, tin whistle, button accordion, flute, harp, bodhran (an Irish skin drum), ensemble, singing, mandolin, set dancing and Irish drama.
The “Slow Session” used to take place at the Wesley United Church on NDG Avenue. Students would assemble just inside the church door before and after their classes held in those days elsewhere in that same building. Then and there, instruments would come out and pupils would have a go at playing, on the musical device of their choice, the tunes they were learning. As time passed, more and more students stopped by, learning each other’s melody. Together, they jokingly referred to themselves as The Church Door Band. Today, they are known as the ‘Slow Session’ Group.
Eventually, the Church Door Band migrated from NDG to the now defunct O’Regan’s Pub on Bishop Street. Nowadays, O’Regan’s has re-opened under the name Fiddler’s Green, and while there is no direct connection between the new bar and the Slow Session Group, it is not uncommon to find some of its members there on Wednesday nights.
Wherever ‘Slow Sessions’ take place, they are open to anyone who would like to attend, either as participants or observers. New faces are particularly welcome.
Learning a musical instrument is one thing; however, playing it publicly always seems to present a greater challenge for many. Playing at a relaxed pace, a lot of time is spent chatting about the refrain while all the while repeating the melody very slowly so that those unfamiliar with the air can acquaint themselves with it in a leisurely and non-stressful fashion.
Nevertheless, if a person is still a little shy to jump in, they can always just sit quietly and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere that is so prevailing. More often than not, a few notes will be played here and there but no pressure is exerted on anyone who wishes just to remain seated and observe.
Teachers from the Siamsa School will frequently attend the ‘Slow Session’ in order to encourage gently their students to join in the musical happening. There are also several good singers who show up from time to time in order to participate. They, too, are more than welcome.
The Siamsa School of Irish Music is a non – profit organization whose declared purpose is to attempt to develop within the general public an appreciation for Irish culture and traditions in addition to cultivating a strong sense of fellowship.
Weekly ‘Slow Sessions’ take place at the Old Orchard Pub on Prince Arthur Street on Saturdays at 2:00 and at Hurley’s Irish Pub on Crescent Street on Monday evenings at 8:00 P.M.
(a typical Saturday afternoon at the Old Orchard Pub on Prince Arthur Street)