Music Session Etiquette


Now that fall has, well, fallen upon us, and the sun is hovering a bit lower in the sky, are you thinking ahead and starting to plan how you’ll spend the long, cold winter months (especially if you live in Vermont)? Are you a budding musician looking to play music with others? If so, you might be interested in joining a traditional session this winter. But, before I launch into music session etiquette, for those of you who don’t know what one is, let me define it for you here: Simply called “session,” it’s a term that describes a gathering of musicians who typically play Irish, Scottish, or old-time music. They can take place at a bar, restaurant, hotel, or a private residence. These are unpaid gigs, though some musicians  (usually those with experience) may be paid to “lead” a session. Some of the most common instruments played at sessions are guitars, violins, mandolins, whistles, and accordions.  Musicians usually play without amplification, or “unplugged.” I recall the first session I attended eight years ago – I thought my heart would burst through my chest. So, yes, sessions for newbies can be intimidating, but they are somewhat casual events where musicians play for pleasure. A certain amount of etiquette, however, is expected, and worth noting.

Guidelines, and tunes, vary form one session to the next, so it’s a good idea to listen for a little while if you are new to the session. In advanced sessions, where the musicians are experienced, you might not be as welcome to sit in the circle as you had hoped. I understand this may sound pretentious and unwelcoming, but these “closed sessions” typically cater to familiar, more respected musicians. And sessions are not places for practice, or “noodling.” If you don’t know the tune, don’t use this time to learn it. You might want to record tunes you don’t know so you can learn them at home when you’re not feeling under great pressure to play perfectly the first, or second or third, time around.

In a session, musicians typically play 2 to 3 tunes in succession. Tunes with multiple parts, like hornpipes, are usually played fewer than three times through. If you start one, make sure you can play it in its entirety without stopping, or faltering. It’s okay to play tunes that others don’t know, but be courteous and also play more common tunes. If you know the name of the tunes you are about to play, as a courtesy, ask others if they know it before starting. But there are an uncountable number of tunes to memorize, and many have similar names, so it’s not uncommon for session musicians to not know the names of them. The individual who starts the tune sets the tempo, which should remain the same throughout the set. If the speed is above your skill level, don’t try to keep up. It’s better to play slowly and well than quickly like hell.

If you are a novice fiddler, guitar player, whistler, mandolin picker, or accordion squeezer, don’t fret. There are beginner sessions out there that are more structured, with leaders who start the tunes and who may be open to handing out a list to participants. If you don’t know of a venue that holds sessions in your area, how about starting one with a few musical friends in your home? Or reach out to other musicians on social media.

To learn more about session etiquette, I invite you to click here and here. The Session is a user-friendly website where you’ll find a variety of tunes from which to choose to learn, and it’s a great place to engage in all kinds of discussions about music.


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Depression and Traumatic Brain Injuries

depression and TBI

Are you struggling with depression as a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Do you feel as if you are emotionally drowning, as if your existence is meaningless? Or maybe you don’t have a TBI, but also feel saturated with hopelessness. Depression is as real as a broken bone, a slipped disc, a migraine. It is more than feeling blue. Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It can impact every day life: work, sleep, relationships.

About fifty percent of those who have sustained a TBI suffer from depression within the first year of injury, and two-thirds are affected within seven years. More than half of all TBI survivors who are depressed also experience significant symptoms of anxiety. In the general population, the rate of depression is much lower, affecting one in ten people.

TBI survivors may suffer from depression as a result of changes in the level of chemicals in the brain, and injury to the area of the brain that regulates emotions. Depression also stems from an emotional response to the struggles of adjusting to life after a TBI. Some people have a family history of depression, placing them at greater risk.

On October 4, I joined Donna O’Donnell Figurski, the host of “Another Fork in the Road,” and Juliet Madsen, a TBI survivor, on the Brain Injury Radio Network for a discussion about TBIs and depression. If you missed the show, here’s your chance to listen to the archived version.

*If you, or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, here are a few resources.

Suicide prevention

Crisis text line

Vermont Department of Health

If you are suffering from depression, please know: You are not alone.

* The information provided in this post is intended as a suggestion, and not my endorsement of any or all of the resources listed.  Nor am I providing medical or professional advice of any kind.

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Under The Gum Tree


Under the Gum Tree is celebrating its fourth anniversary this month. An independent literary arts micro-magazine, the mission of the publisher and staff is to “strive for authentic connections through vulnerability.” To that end, they publish creative nonfiction and works of visual art.

I’m pumped-up with excitement that the editors connected with my personal story, “Right Foot, Left Foot,” and featured it in the  the October issue. The piece is adapted from my memoir in progress, which follows my literal, and metaphorical, walk toward recovery after an elderly driver confused the gas pedal for the brake and ran me down. As can be said for much of my work, the piece reaches beyond my solitary existence and addresses elusive, brain-draining themes like the body, identity, independence, loss, and grief.

Under the Gum Tree is a one-of-a-kind literary magazine: full-color, glossy pages flush with visual art and stories told without shame. To purchase either a digital or hard copy, visit Under the Gum Tree here. Make room on your coffee table!

As part of the celebration, on October 21, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Under the Gum Tree will host Gum Tree Live, a quarterly web reading series, where you can hear writers published in the October issue read live on Google Hangouts and YouTube.

Hope you can make it!

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Domestic Violence and Traumatic Brain Injuries


Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I thought this would be a perfect time to share with you a societal problem that has been largely ignored. Not only do war veterans, football players, and accident survivors sustain traumatic brain injuries, but women who are victims of domestic violence sustain TBIs too. Here’s the tragic truth: Close to five million women in the United States experience domestic-related assaults every year, and the injuries they suffer are mostly to the head, neck, and face. Men experience approximately three million domestic-related assaults each year. The CDC estimates that nearly one hundred sixty thousand TBI-related deaths, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits in the U.S. every year are a result of physical assaults. But the actual numbers are unknown. Why?

Many victims don’t report the abuse to family, friends, or the police because they worry others will not believe them. And victims are often dependent on their abusers, financial and physically. Also, a TBI can make it difficult to communicate clearly, preventing victims from reporting the abuse. The perpetrator may convince others that the victim shouldn’t be taken seriously because of her TBI-related cognitive problems, and victims may be unwilling to admit that they have a TBI out of fear of the fallout: losing custody of children for instance.

An obvious trauma does not have to occur for a TBI to exist. Women who suffer a blow to the head in a domestic violence incident may not lose consciousness, and, therefore, they may not seek medical attention. Symptoms may not be easily recognized and women are often misdiagnosed with a mental health illness. In an article from the Huffington Post, a woman who was interviewed about her experience subjected to a two-and-a-half year abusive relationship says, “When you are in a relationship with that much trauma and violence, you don’t know what’s physical or what’s emotional or mental.”

In a past study conducted by the American Psychological Association, trained staff surveyed one hundred sixty nine women who visited three different emergency rooms with injuries sustained over a period of seven to nine months. Of the forty-six women who answered all the survey questions, seventy-one assaults were reported. Thirty-five percent of the women were identified as possibly having sustained a mild traumatic brain injury.

Women with traumatic brain injuries caused by domestic violence have below average recoveries and are more likely to develop post-concussive syndrome. Researchers don’t know the reasons for this, but suspect it’s due to the nature of the injury to the head, that female hormones may affect recovery, or that female victims of domestic violence have sustained multiple injuries.

Overall, researchers found that sixty-seven percent of the women who participated in the survey exhibited symptoms of a TBI.

What is being done about this dire reality? Researchers have advocated for further exploration into the nature and consequences of domestic violence and TBIs. They are also proponents of early screening for TBIs, so women have access to treatment, thus preventing further injuries.

The New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence has made available to those likely to encounter victims of domestic violence a list of statistics, TBI symptoms, and questions to ask when assessing for abuse. Though the document is geared toward professionals, I encourage all of us to read it, to be better aware of the connection between domestic violence and TBIs.


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On The Air with Melissa: Depression and Suicide


As a result of a traumatic brain injury, do you suffer from Depression? Do you have thoughts of suicide? Or maybe you know someone with a TBI who is struggling with depression. Either way, I invite you to join me, a TBI survivor, in a discussion about depression and suicide on the “Another Fork in the Road,” a broadcast of the Brain Injury Radio Network. Juliet Madsen, also a TBI survivor, will be joining me, along with the host of the show, Donna O’Donnell Figurski.

I will be speaking live, on the air, on October 4, 2015 at  8:30pm Eastern Time (5:30pm PT,6:30 MT, 7:30 CT).

Please don’t be shy! Call in with any questions or comments at:(424) 243-9540.


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