Dusty Banjos, the trad band and music session organisers, will hold a major 10th Birthday Session on Monday October 22 in The Western Hotel, Prospect Hill, from 9.30pm.
Dusty Banjos were started in 2002 in Galway city by Mary Lovett and the Community Music Crew. The group was set up for adults who were learning Irish traditional music. Over the years, there have been Dusty Banjos groups in Oranmore, Ennis, and Clifden.
Adult learners can face numerous challenges not encountered by children and younger people such as feeling ‘too old’, lack of confidence, and difficulty and guilt in setting aside time and money for lessons. Dusty Banjos aimed to address some of these difficulties and provide a supportive atmosphere for all adult learners, regardless of ability.
“People can take lessons and maybe do workshops but they are still on their own. The real buzz of music comes from playing with and for other people. That’s what we provide for adult learners,” says Mary Lovett.
Dusty Banjo classes are divided into two groups: those starting to learn a few tunes and the more advanced who have a few tunes under their belt. The first group is not suited to complete beginners but if you can play one or two simple tunes, or even just a scale, this group could be for you.
A few years ago, Mary’s partner, Heather Greer, got involved and took over the running of the beginners’ sessions while Mary led the more advanced learners.
The success of Dustys is grounded in its relaxed atmosphere. Rather than grab the learner musicians by the scruff of the neck and throw them at an audience, they let them grow and hone their skills by experience in the class and then introduce them to sessions in the pubs.
“No matter what level you are starting off at, when you are playing in a friendly, non-judgmental setting, your confidence can grow surprisingly quickly. Many people have had bad experiences when learning instruments as children or don’t have belief in themselves. One of our aims is to give people their confidence back,” says Heather.
There are those who subscribe to the idea that unless trad tunes are played at such a furious pace that the instruments are smokin’ they simply don’t work, but Mary and Heather are guilty of no such excesses.
“A good principle is slow it down, the speed will come,” Heather said.
“Some musicians, starting out, compensate for bad playing by playing at speed. If you can’t slow down you either don’t know your instrument or the tune. We keep it slow so players can appreciate their instruments and learn the tunes well. With speed you may be glossing over things,” says Mary.
Dusty Banjos, under the leadership of Mary and Heather, have gone from strength to strength and have become a vibrant pulse of music performance and interaction within the city. They have established a reputation as a group which welcomes musicians of widely diverse backgrounds and ages and invites them in to discover the joys of trad music. Even hopefuls like myself!
Mary says: “I reckon we have had at least 1,500 musicians, Irish and foreign, pass through our doors. Some of our members may be taking up or returning to traditional music and some may be learning a second instrument.”
All are welcome and admission is free.