Tucked away on a cozy corner wall in Matt Molloy’s Pub hangs a humble request calligraphed neatly on a bodhran skin: “Please reserve for musicians when there is a session.” When the session unfolds we’ll be standing shoulder-to-shoulder, pint-to-pint, similar in feel to a crowded underground at rush hour. Even so I gladly reserve space for the musicians: the fiddlers, button accordion players, tin whistlers and flautists, four-string banjo, guitar and mandolin pickers and the uilleann pipers. I know that in a Session I will be transported to mystical places evoked by time-tested jigs and slip jigs, reels, ballads and hornpipes…music played with a fierce intensity, received with an equally fierce joy. Few things rattle and please my core as deeply as the energy bouncing between pub walls during an Irish Trad Session in fine form and full swing.
In the dimly-lit session corner of this timeworn and renowned pub named for owner and brilliant flautist, there are no microphones, no mic stands, no pulsing colored lights or—perhaps most remarkable of all—no music stands or sheets of music for the vibrant tunes that soar out of the instruments and careen off the walls, absorbed by those of us lucky enough to find ourselves packed in the wood-paneled room. In this age of arena concerts and megatron TV screens, the closeness, simplicity, and raw energy of the music and musicians is refreshing and gratifyingly human; these tunes, skills and—often–instruments have been passed down for generations yet still hold the power to fill a room.
I catch myself thinking, if only the walls could talk—what sessions they could tell. Then I realize the walls are talking, they continue to talk, to reverberate with ageless tunes…Drowsy Maggie, Banish Misfortune, Morrison’s Jig, The Maid Behind the Bar. Surrounding the bodhran skin is a rich photo gallery of influential Irish Traditional Music players who have carried tunes across time and who now stand sentinel for the current generation as they bow, pick, drum and whistle their way through melodies that have withstood, lamented for, or brought about a glimmer of hope across the landscape of Irish history. Some I recognize, most I do not, though it scarcely matters once a session begins. Please reserve space for the musicians and the magic will prevail.