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On Mentoring

Wise words from friends Chris Corrigan and Tim Merry on the Art of Hosting List Serve. On mentoring and eldering.

From Chris

Everything 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.  Traditional Irish music is played and kept alive in a structure called a “sessiun.”  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 easilymake for a long evening of playing together.  Sessiuns are hosted by the oct experienced musicians (traditionally a Fir a Ti, or Ban a Ti man or woman of the house).  These guys are responsible for inviting people in, inviting tunes, keeping a tempo that everyone can play with, resolving any conflicts…in short they are the hosts. 

But they are also the teachers and the mentors and they dispense wisdom, lessons, encouragement and direction during and between tune sets.  If you are smart and you are learning you try to sit near them in the circle to pick up teachings. 

With Irish music, the best mentors I ever had always did a few things well:

  • They were better musicians themselves than I could ever imagine myself to be
  • They created space for me to play with them.  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
  • 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 what they meant.  There was never any abstract conversations about the music or technique.
  • They protected me from “hot shots” who like to show off by playing tunes you have just learned 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.

What was beautiful about all that was that, even when i became colleagues with my mentors I never lost the sense of gratitude of being able to play with them.  Even today 20 years later, it is a treat for me to play with those who taught me.

My experience with hosting practice is exactly 100% the same.  

From Tim

When I was working in Ontario on the YSI project, I was hosting a large youth gathering with an Ojibwe Elder called Gerrard. Some folks on the list know him. I asked him how you become an elder … and he said “when the community starts treating you like one”.

Loved that. I wonder how this consciousness could apply to mentorship ..?

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