The Marin Irish Ceili

A wise Mr. Trimble wrote:

"Be Nice to the Irish Beginners as they learn at the ceoltas.

  • Honor the quiet consensus.

  • Play every tune...even if you don't know it (yet).

  • Especially if you play well, help tune-lead the learners.

  • Avoid sheet music PDQ.

  • Play more, talk less, ruckus not!

Our "Soft " Consensus

Consensus means agreement, or set of general agreements. To save precious minutes of playing time ceoltas asks basic agreement in advance, and new ones be accepted quickly and "softly", avoiding all ruckus (noisy confusion) during play.

Our cardinal consensus is "more play, less talk" ( e.g. with only few words about a current tune.) Hold social chatter, pontificating, etc. for later.

We don't take play-time to debate anything. Or to vote. We agree to all play now. We can softly agree to open discussion or debate late.

By consensus, individuals call one or two tunes. We don't judge others calls or play unless asked. We stop all chatter if asked "Whose turn is it?"


Veteran pub seisiun players often flush with criticism when they first hear a "ceoltas" playing.

Not hearing the crisp agility and unity of a proper seisiun, they may murmur "These people can't play! They don't know what they're doing!"

Aye, but that's what ceoltas is for!

'Tis for those who can't play that Irish villages created the ceoltas. Here, beginners are safe from musical criticism, encouraged to

  1. pick up melodies by playing them out loud repeatedly in the group and

  2. become earborne, learn to play by ear for the lilt so loved in a ceili or a seisiun play.

They do this here by trial and error.

Some arrive at the ceoltas musically feeble. Some in Marin also come with the high classical skills. But all wish to learn the good Irish by ear.

Thus ceoltas is what it is by quiet consensus...lots of trying, little talk. While seisiun players lead the tunes with joy.

Jimmy's Momma says, "If you don't have something good to say, try not saying anytning at all." We're all here at the ceoltas to learn and it's so much easier leading the horse with a carrot than smacking it with a stick...we encourage people by telling them what they do that's good and we let the other stuff just go away...trying to beat somebody into Irish music is non-productive.

From Jimmy himself: I was at a session once with a very fine Irish born flutist and we struck up several conversations that evening and in one, he related how on a recent visit back home he was sitting in a session with one of the God fathers of irish flutedom. My new friend told me that the GF was just blowing circles around the rest fo the session and when a tune ended he would turn to a fellow here and there and tell them how wonderful they were sound that evening. What I thought was amazing about the story was that the gentleman could have acted like the "tune police" and berated folks for not placing such and such an ornimentaion in a particular spot, but he was encouaging and not discouraging. We should try to be the same at our ceoltas.

Everyone at the ceoltas is a beginner. Ask for help and you'll get it. If help is not asked for...keep the lips sealed. It is not polite to correct someone.

What To Expect

The ceoltas starts at 7:00 PM, with a half hour of repeating the three Gathering Tunes and the three of the prior week...starting rather slowly. At 8:30 the same tunes will be repeated for the Farewell half hour.

Between is an hour of optional groups. Usually a Slow Play and an Intermediate Circle, taking turns calling tunes. We also host an advanced Ceili group for those who want to spread their musical wings with new tunes played more rapidily.

Everyone is invited to play all the time, every tune. If nothing else, raw beginners can grope to match notes on their instruments to notes in the tune.

Too fast for you? Always play anyway...stretch you ability to hit certain phrases or endings as they come around. Ask for a slower play if (even almost) you think you can put the whole tune together.

Now too slow for you? Play anyway to practice hearing, clarifying ornaments.

We are a friendly lot. Constructive help is appreciated, but we do not want "lectures" or non-productive criticism heaped upon beginning learners. What would be the point. From Jim's mother, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." Probably fits our Ceoltas situation pretty well.

Ceoltas in Marin

Wednesdays...7:00 PM, St. Isabella School, 1 Trinity Way, San Rafael (Terra Linda)

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