All the best stuff I have learned about mentoring has been in the context of traditional culture, whether with indigenous Elders from Canada or in the traditional Irish music community. Â Traditional Irish music is played and kept alive in a structure called a “sessiun.” Â There is a repertoire of thousands of tunes, but most musicians who have played for a while will have a hundred or more in common, and that can easily make for a long evening of playing together. Â Sessiuns are hosted by the most experienced musicians (traditionally a Fir a Ti, or Ban a Ti; the man or woman of the house). Â These guys are responsible for inviting people in, inviting tunes, keeping a tempo that everyone can play with, resolving any conflictsâ€¦in short they are the hosts.
- They were better musicians themselves than I could ever imagine myself to be
- They created space for me to play with them and gave me increasingly more responsibility from starting tune sets to perhaps playing a solo air to eventually sitting in for them if they couldn’t make it out to host a sessiun. Â But they didn’t invite me to lead the session when I was just beginning.
- When they knew I had a set of tunes down they invited me to lead that set. Â If I had a slow air they knew I could play, they would invite me to play a solo.
- They pointed out things that I could DO, rather than things not to do, and if they played flute (my instrument) they showed me on their instrument what they meant. Â There was never any abstract conversations about the music or technique. Â If I was doing something wrong, they would suggest an alternative (indigenous Elders, and especially Anichinaabe elders are very good at this. Â There is something peculiar to traditional Anishinaabe culture that makes it very hard for an Elder to tell you NOT to do something. Â They always point to doing something else.)
- They protected me from “hot shots” who like to show off by playing tunes too fast for you to play with them.
- And when I was ready I got invited into more and more responsibility with the sessions and was eventually invited to perform with them. Â The day of becoming a colleague is a big deal, and I still feel that I can’t hold a candle to my teachers, even though they insist that we have moved into a co-mentoring relationship.