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ETM, ITM and what we're missing in this debate


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I've been following this thread and have the following questions and observations.

 

When you decide to add a new piece to your repertoire where do you get it from?

 

Do you learn it from the dots or by ear?

 

If from the dots, do you transpose it?

 

If by ear, what instrument or instruments are you learning it from and, again, do you transpose it?

 

I almost always learn by ear and usually from a group rather than an individual. I then pick out the notes that I want to use rather than a set chordal arrangement (probably using some less usual chords in the process).

As I instinctivly hear the chordal structure behind the tune, whether it is actually being played on not on the recording that I am listening to, I play chords to almost everything that I play. Many tunes will accept different chordal structures to give them a different feel. I note that many Manx tunes are know in both major and minor scales, and this is also evident in other music. "The butterfly" seems to be played with the "C" part with both major and minor variations (I much prefer the major).

 

All of the above can determine whether your playing sounds English, Irish, Breton, Klezmer or something else.

 

I prefer not to copy from another concertina player and to help this I try learning a new piece from a player of a different instrument.

 

Robin Madge

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I've been following this thread and have the following questions and observations.

 

When you decide to add a new piece to your repertoire where do you get it from?

 

Almost always from a live or recorded performance and often from a memory of one. I also like learning one on one with a player who knows the tune.

 

Do you learn it from the dots or by ear?

 

Both. They work quite differently for me. Often I’ll start to learn a tune at a session or rehearsal then, to get all the details I’ll look at several versions of the dots. If I can’t find ‘em on the web I may make my own from a recording of the session.

 

If from the dots, do you transpose it?

 

Songs - yes, at will, tunes generally no unless there is some very good reason.

 

If by ear, what instrument or instruments are you learning it from and, again, do you transpose it?

 

Whatever/whomsoever is playing, but almost never from a concertina player.

 

I almost always learn by ear and usually from a group rather than an individual. I then pick out the notes that I want to use rather than a set chordal arrangement (probably using some less usual chords in the process).

As I instinctivly hear the chordal structure behind the tune, whether it is actually being played on not on the recording that I am listening to, I play chords to almost everything that I play. Many tunes will accept different chordal structures to give them a different feel. I note that many Manx tunes are know in both major and minor scales, and this is also evident in other music. "The butterfly" seems to be played with the "C" part with both major and minor variations (I much prefer the major).

 

All of the above can determine whether your playing sounds English, Irish, Breton, Klezmer or something else.

 

I prefer not to copy from another concertina player and to help this I try learning a new piece from a player of a different instrument.

 

Robin Madge

 

Robin, what you say makes sense to me.

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I prefer not to copy from another concertina player and to help this I try learning a new piece from a player of a different instrument.

 

when i was growing up i was advised not to listen to flute players, as i would end up sounding like them. well, during my musically formative years i did not listen to flute players, and guess what happened? i sound like my uncle, because he's a flute player and that's who i listened to. i have learned to love fiddle players and pipe players, and these are who i tend to learn from no matter what instrument i play on. i agree that learning from concertina players can be limiting, and i think the setting you may get from a fiddle player may just work better, as fiddle players tend to have very different phrasing compared to the concertina, but at the same time it is important to learn from concertina players, as you can learn what they are doing.

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David, when I was growing up I heard concertina playing for years by my brother Tom Kruskal. So when I finally picked it up I had a very clear model for playing to strive for. Hmmm, forgot about that in answering Robin's question.

 

Back on topic though, a little story... I attended the Éigse Mrs, Crotty, 2008 in Co Clare, Ireland. I was very generously hosted by a local and attended many sessions. There was a very high level of playing, lots of concertinas but plenty of other instruments as well and though I generally felt welcome to join in the playing, I tried to keep a low profile musically, most of the time.

 

At English and American sessions I can learn most unfamiliar tunes on the fly, enough to contribute and participate without messing things up too much for those who actually know the tunes. That was much less the case in Ireland and I found myself playing very quietly so as not to disturb the great music that I was hearing. I kept asking myself why I couldn’t play these tunes? I came up with several reasons: harder tunes with less repetition, fewer times played through in the session and the big one... no chords.

 

With no chords being stated by a musician who knows the music, I had nowhere to start learning the tunes. If I supplied chords then I could not be sure they were the right ones and when I did I made the music sound very different. When listening/playing I found myself ghosting chords, fingering them without pushing down on the buttons.

 

Without knowing the harmonic structure of a tune my right hand fingers get confused about how to play the melody and I can’t play Anglo as well. Even when I play melody only, I’m working with unheard chords in my head or chords that others are playing.

 

Many of the tunes I was hearing in those Clare pubs had an ambiguous harmonic structure. You could harmonize it this way or that way or some other way but the tune alone was not giving me enough clues to know which way to go. The chords were not being stated and for me to play harmonically seemed to impose a musical mind set on the music that was limiting it in a foreign way. I was willing and able to harmonize but had little confidence that I was making culturally appropriate choices.

 

So, I get it. In this pure drop form of Traditional music ...If there is no harmony stated as such, then the harmonic world in your mind is free to roam without restriction. To state the harmony confines the melody. Playing the chords is analogous to not telling a joke right and so although all the pieces are there, it’s just not as funny as it should be, overly obvious or trivialized. Or a better analogy might be the difference between reading a book and seeing the movie. You can make a case that all those stated movie images get in the way of the images you create in you mind, and that reading is a purer form of story telling.

 

At least that’s what I was thinking in west Clare.

Edited by Jody Kruskal
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David, when I was growing up I heard concertina playing for years by my brother Tom Kruskal. So when I finally picked it up I had a very clear model for playing to strive for. Hmmm, forgot about that in answering Robin's question.

 

Back on topic though, a little story... I attended the Éigse Mrs, Crotty, 2008 in Co Clare, Ireland. I was very generously hosted by a local and attended many sessions. There was a very high level of playing, lots of concertinas but plenty of other instruments as well and though I generally felt welcome to join in the playing, I tried to keep a low profile musically, most of the time.

 

At English and American sessions I can learn most unfamiliar tunes on the fly, enough to contribute and participate without messing things up too much for those who actually know the tunes. That was much less the case in Ireland and I found myself playing very quietly so as not to disturb the great music that I was hearing. I kept asking myself why I couldn’t play these tunes? I came up with several reasons: harder tunes with less repetition, fewer times played through in the session and the big one... no chords.

 

With no chords being stated by a musician who knows the music, I had nowhere to start learning the tunes. If I supplied chords then I could not be sure they were the right ones and when I did I made the music sound very different. When listening/playing I found myself ghosting chords, fingering them without pushing down on the buttons.

 

Without knowing the harmonic structure of a tune my right hand fingers get confused about how to play the melody and I can’t play Anglo as well. Even when I play melody only, I’m working with unheard chords in my head or chords that others are playing.

 

Many of the tunes I was hearing in those Clare pubs had an ambiguous harmonic structure. You could harmonize it this way or that way or some other way but the tune alone was not giving me enough clues to know which way to go. The chords were not being stated and for me to play harmonically seemed to impose a musical mind set on the music that was limiting it in a foreign way. I was willing and able to harmonize but had little confidence that I was making culturally appropriate choices.

 

So, I get it. In this pure drop form of Traditional music ...If there is no harmony stated as such, then the harmonic world in your mind is free to roam without restriction. To state the harmony confines the melody. Playing the chords is analogous to not telling a joke right and so although all the pieces are there, it’s just not as funny as it should be, overly obvious or trivialized. Or a better analogy might be the difference between reading a book and seeing the movie. You can make a case that all those stated movie images get in the way of the images you create in you mind, and that reading is a purer form of story telling.

 

At least that’s what I was thinking in west Clare.

 

Hi Jody.

 

Thats exactly what I'm thinking. I love the Irish style, but the lack of any (actually played) harmonic references is most confusing for a 'umble Duet player! It's as if I could quite easily have left my "Left" hand at home!

That and the fact that the speed at which some tunes are played, turns many a session into a sort of melodic soup. (I'm talking London sessions here, having not been to a session in Clare).

So, it's horses for courses I suppose. Luckily there are plenty of English/European/US/Canadian etc tunes to destroy with my perverted harmonic sensibilities, so, I tend to leave the Irish sessions alone.

All the best mate

Ralphie

PS. your book/movie analogy is spot on. That's why I worked in Radio not TV!

 

Oh, and to agree with what somebody said on page 1. The very fact that "English" style playing is more rewarding to me, is that it really is a revival. There are no right or wrong way to play a tune, No right or wrong instrument. And just confining it to tinas, you'll find just as many English tinas as Anglos (with Duets coming up fast on the rails!) in a session.

 

Very few players will have actually met, Kimber, Tester, etc in real life. Some may have heard the few recordings that exist, but, the reality is that the "New" English tradition is only a few dozen decades old. We have few rules, and therefore have fewer restrictions as to how we play the music.

 

Indeed, so cosmopolitan is the English session scene, that some people will swear blind that "The Canal in October" is absolutely English through and through! French actually, but the truth is it doesn't matter. It's a good tune!

 

Personally, If I like a tune, I'll try to learn it. The original played instrument is immaterial. And I'll probably adapt it to my style, because that is how I play. (Means leaving out the complicated bits usually!).

If people like the result, fine. If not, also fine!

 

I'll stop now R!!

Edited by Ralph Jordan
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Hey Ralphie,

 

Great to hear your voice here. We seem to agree about how we feel adrift when trying to learn tunes without chords to guide us. So I guess it's just that cool tribal, no chord Irish thing (plus an unbroken tradition of great players and tunes) that makes their music so special...

 

But wait... I have heard excellent harmonic accompaniment to Traditional Irish melodies being played on harp, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and piano. Youtube is full of these performances. They sure sound traditional to me.

 

Why do some people get so upset with the idea that a concertina might play accompaniment as well as melody? Or to take it even further (and I’m not the one to do it), I have no doubt that concertina could be played as an accompanying instrument to fiddle or flute say, and sound great in some Irish idiom. Why is that an impossible idea to some on this forum?

 

But wait... what about Micheal O'Raghallaigh?

 

Here is a guy who is a respected traditional Irish musician and concertinist. I went to his solo Anglo concert at Mrs. Crotty and he blew us all away. By the way, he was playing with almost as much harmony as I do. It sounded great. It sounded Irish. It did not sound much like the way I play, but still lots of chords all the time. Much more than on his excellent CD, THE NERVOUS MAN where, by the way, he is accompanied by:

 

Michael Rooney: harp

Eoghan O'Brien: guitar

Frank McGann: bodhran

 

I don’t get it. Is it just a Clare thing? ITM is a very nice simple acronym. I know what it means and I appreciate the sound of unison playing but as it appears, and as it has come to be defined, there is much more to Irish Traditional Music than ITM. How does Nervous Man fit into this?

 

Might you find a better term to describe your take on authentic Irish practice? How about... Pure Drop Irish. PDI. ITM covers a lot of ground that does not seem to mean what you ITM folk want it to.

 

Oh, I get it! It's all those guitar bangers who sit in on sessions and have no idea how to accompany in a way that supports and builds. Yeah, they have really messed things up for us harmonic concertina players.

 

Wait a minute... am I missing something?

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I find all these comments very interesting. I was born in 1939 grew up in an 'Irish' family in Manchester and was exposed to traditional singers and instrument players. The music was mainly solo and thus melodic and often well ornamented. There were no guitars used then, certainly no bouzokis and any banjos were tenors played 'like a fiddle'. There was occasionally a piano which was just a vamp really and often out key! Any dances had music that ws not amplified and the volume was made up by synchronous playing so the only chords would be incidental as the players followed their own melody lines.

 

78s had pianos on but the chords never seemed to register ,again just a vamp by a pianist who , I now realize, often wasn't a traditional player.

 

The same thing applied to any traditional English or Scots songs we heard in what was a community with a lot of first or second generation immigrants. Again on 78s the tunes seemed to be mediated by classically trained musicians. It wasn't until Topic started putting out recordings of traditinal musicians in the post war period that we heard the real thing. Even then trained English concertinal players like Alf Edwards and banjo players from America were often the accompanists.Programmes on BBC or Radio Eireann were also great.

 

English music was learned in school with a teacher on piano or 78s arranged by Cecil Sharp or Vaughan Williams et al.

 

The skiffle and rock and roll craze of the 50s brought American chordal structures into British folk as we sought to enlarge our repertoire e.g. Maggie May,Barnyards of Delgaty. this led a lot of us to explore our own heritage but the chords were still not quite appropriate.

 

The use of what I call modal chords that seemed to hark back to the roots of our music seemed to come in the 60s when Davey Graham, Martin Carthy and oters introduced DADGAD etc. I remember sitting in our flat with Bert Jansch playing and singing Blackwaterside and being knocked out in 1962 ( wish I'd kept that reel to reel recording!)

 

 

Parallel to all this was the popular and classical music we were steeped in from concerts and radio and records and I do remeber concertina recordings on radio which were attractive. I'm sure a lot of the material on Anglo and English International reflects that music.

 

As this debate is about ETM and ITM I won't explore popular music further other than the observations about the interplay between the folk and pop worlds.

 

 

When I got into tunes for social and 'ritual' dancing in the 70s as opposed to songs and their accompaniment I immersed myself in old recordings like those of Jimmy Shand, William Kimber etc.. His (WK)chordal structures are well analysed in Dan Worrall's book and I realise that they are quite simple and probably determined by the 2 row Anglo as much as any 'old' accompaniment as he learned from his father and they were the first concertina players for morris. Any chords from fiddlers and tabor players would be incidental 'concords' from jostling melody lines.

 

In Scotalnd it was common for cello to accompany fiddle but was that only in polite society. Joshua Jackson and other 18th C fiddlers obviously played in parts so harmony and chords we recognie as pleasant had come in during the Baroque period. Samuel Pepys ( 17th C)talks of viol consorts.

 

 

I noticed that when I listened to Morris On and other revival records by John Kirkptrick and others of the new wave that they used much more elaborate chords than Kimber. This seems to have been influenced by folk rock and listening to the tunes by the early players. I have heard Roger Digby say that Reg Hall reckons there is no place for 7th in trad music. I have heard a lot in revival music !

 

 

I think we are witnessing an introduction of more slkeletal chording into 'ITM' with the bouzouki and guitar styles being more understated unless we meet a 'thrasher' influenced by that early skiffle/ Spinners/ Dubliners generation.

 

 

So what has this got to do with concertina players?

 

 

I think Irish traditional music doesn't need blocked chords but that some arise incidentally and this has been built on by accompanists. The pipers, harpers and fiddlers use some chords and a drone is a permanent chord. After all any two notes form a chord even if wee don't like them. that's cultural or possibly physiological if it makes you feel ill!

 

English and American and other Europen tunes seem to be more accepting of chordal accompaniment and unless we find a lot of old recordings can we adopt a revivalist approach and treat the music with respect and informed interpretation, ITM does seem to have survived in a continuum but even that was in trouble in the 50s as i rember.(Paddy Murphy is recored saying people hadn't seen concertinas when he played in competition in Cavan)

 

I am assuming American dance music recordings from the 1920s are authentic.. We in Britain don't have much of that kind of ensemble playing recorded although we read of Thomas hardy's bands and we know the village musicians played quite arranged pieces.

 

 

From my , admittedly restricted, reading and knowledge slower tunes can allow for chords but they need to be appropriate. faster tunes don't allow too much other than dromnes or occasional broken chords. this applies to Scottish, Northumbrian and Od lancashire 3/2 hornpipes or Northumberland pipe reels.

 

 

As to the best or appropriate concertinas to play this music. Well..... :unsure:

Edited by michael sam wild
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Now if you want to hear chorded Irish music on concertina you should hear the vigorous playing of Colm Delaney. Young and talented, and uses lots of chords in his music. Although I think his use of chords differs from common practice in the UK. Instead of the recurring oempahpah thing, it is used to mark phrases, create dynamics etc. He recorded a CD together with a young fiddle player but somehow it was never released, which is a pity as he deserves to be known.

Edited by chiton1
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Like Jody and Ralph, I too find it difficult to play right hand melody without the left hand supporting it. It's the same on melodeon - if I play the melody without the left hand chords, whether for effect or as an intro for dancers, I find it much more difficult. The two hands seem to be inextricably linked.

 

Harmony has been part of traditional music for years, possibly influenced by popular music and also by the increasing popularity of harmonising instruments. The melodeon and accordion almost demand a chordal accompaniment. Dulcimer players fill in the melody with arpeggios. Then there's Daisy Bulwer's piano playing, or Peerie Willie Johnson's jazz-influenced guitar. The banjo came in from minstrel music. On anglo concertina, the few examples of traditional players we have in England seem to have used some form of harmony. Even in Irish music, concert bands have been introducing harmonies for decades, going back at least to the Chieftains, Planxty, Bothy Band etc.

 

What we cannot avoid is that as modern players we have grown up in a world where we are surrounded by music, and harmonised music at that, for almost all our waking hours - not just when we choose to put on an album for serious listening, but in our cars, in shops and public areas, perhaps at work, and of course from iPods. We are also exposed to far more examples of outstanding players of our chosen instruments than most traditional players would have been, musicians who explore the limits of the instrument and inspire us to emulate them. It is hardly surprising that most of us think, consciously or unconsciously, in terms of harmony, or that it is now more established in traditional music (or at least in revival forms of it). This is particularly true of English music, where as Ralph has pointed out there are no rules, but Irish music seems to be coming under increasing pressure.

 

I came to concertina from guitar, but I had little musical education so I've always learned and thought of chords as fingering patterns rather than groups of notes. When I was working out chord shapes on anglo by trial and error, I found that "less is more" - more complex chords can quickly sound mushy, especially on the lower-quality instrument I was playing at the time. I found that leaving out the thirds made a better, clearer sound. As a result many of the chord shapes I still use are fairly ambiguous and could be either major or minor. This often suits traditional music where the harmonies (as Jody pointed out) can often be ambiguous - the mind fills in whatever harmony it thinks most appropriate. And I agree with Reg Hall, and avoid 7th chords for traditional music.

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Interesting stuff, all of you. I very rarely say anything regarding Irish music because it's not my field of expertise, but - for what it's worth...

 

But wait... I have heard excellent harmonic accompaniment to Traditional Irish melodies being played on harp, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and piano. Youtube is full of these performances. They sure sound traditional to me.

Yes, but there are still plenty of people who prefer their Irish music to be a single melody line, played in unison by whatever instruments are in the room. The popularity of the bouzouki in some Irish bands (which only goes back to the 1970s) owes something to the fact that it's not a guitar - which is still a big no-no in some circles.

 

Why do some people get so upset with the idea that a concertina might play accompaniment as well as melody? Or to take it even further (and I’m not the one to do it), I have no doubt that concertina could be played as an accompanying instrument to fiddle or flute say, and sound great in some Irish idiom. Why is that an impossible idea to some on this forum?

If an anglo is playing melody and accompaniment, both the harmony and the note lengths on the left hand are determined to some extent by bellows movements which depend in turn on the how the melody is being played on the right hand. My theory is that 'Oom-pah' accompaniment has developed at least partly from the need to leave gaps in the chording to accommodate the regular bellows reversals that come with along-the-row playing. Any kind of anglo self-accompaniment that hits the 'on' beat - as much 'English-style' accompaniment does - is necessarily going to sound 'lumpy' in the context of fast Irish instrumentals. But even if an anglo were being played purely as an accompanying instrument, it has limited options. It can do a vamp accompaniment or it can play sustained chords (at least until the air runs out). What it can't do is to combine sustained chording with rhythmic drive. For instance, a decent guitar accompanist is going to know how to play in 6/8, with a chuck-a-da-chuck-a-da rhythm (not as simple as it sounds since plectrum up- and down- strokes have to alternate between on and off beats). An anglo simply can't do that. An english or duet could, at least in theory, by holding the chord and using the bellows to give the rhythm - I've heard John K do it on his button box, which of course has an accordion LH.

 

But wait... what about Micheal O'Raghallaigh?

Isn't it great when someone mentions a player you've never heard of, and you can just cut and paste their name into a Youtube search! Very nice playing. It's a little difficult to hear his left hand over the backing musicians, but to me it sounds as if he's playing a lot of short, stabbed harmony notes on the off-beats but not on the on-beats. Was that your impression, Jody? In which case it gives you that driving 'backbeat' rhythm without the bellows reversals getting in the way (because the notes are so short).

 

That's my twopennyworth, anyway.

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Micheal O'Raghallaigh's two cds are both wonderful listening. There are some nice clips on youtube but in the usual way, they don't do justice to his playing the way a cd does!

 

On the cds he's playing some of the time without any accompaniment from other instruments. The harmony backing he does seems to me to owe much more to uilleann pipe regulators than to conventional chordal accompaniment.

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I like playing Irish music (among other kinds), to the best of my ability. I neither play nor care about IT-uM.

I also find this term ETM horribly grating. If you ask me what I play in sessions I'll say English music or English dance music. I'd never say ETM because it's, well, just ghastly.

 

Chris

 

PS it's also dreadful, hideously offputting and, well, just ghastly.

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This isn't exactly ITM vs. ETM but... I got my new (and only) Anglo from a forum member yesterday. I hadn't picked one up in 30 years but have been playing melodeon sporadically for that long. I took the instrument out last night to give it a try and found it pretty easy to play a couple of Morris tunes on the right hand, although the pull notes are a button off compared to the melodeon. I tried playing two button chords on the left hand and was all over the place seeing what things sounded like (a mixed metaphor I know) without thinking about what notes I was playing. On the melodeon it was pretty much 1-4-5-1 with the occasional extra chord thrown in where needed. But improvising on the Anglo some of the chords sounded "normal" (G-C-D-A), some sounded awful but some although not traditional harmonically, totally sounded "right" and gave the tune a whole other feel. I got really excited about the possibilities for playing "outside the box" (sorry).

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I like playing Irish music (among other kinds), to the best of my ability. I neither play nor care about IT-uM.

I also find this term ETM horribly grating. If you ask me what I play in sessions I'll say English music or English dance music. I'd never say ETM because it's, well, just ghastly.

 

Chris

 

PS it's also dreadful, hideously offputting and, well, just ghastly.

 

Spot on Chris, definitely ghastly but thankfully, other than in this thread, never been used in my earshot (eyeshot?) and long may it remain that way.

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Yes, but there are still plenty of people who prefer their Irish music to be a single melody line, played in unison by whatever instruments are in the room.

 

Yes, exactly. I think this is what most people who aren't really into ITM don't get. Melody is what we strive for mainly. I'm not talking for all ITM fans, but I'm sure a good portion of it. I like guitar backup when well played, but melody should always come first. Over-chording and over-harmonizing dillutes the melody, again IMHO as a ITM fan.

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Micheal O'Raghallaigh also seems to be playing occasional phrases in octaves. And with a keyboard harmony backing!

 

Also, musicians who play on CDs will often play quite differently than if they'd be playing with friends in a session. A recording won't necesseraly tell you how the musician would really play his stuff if he were in another context.

 

I heard Mick O'Brian on flute and pipes, Kevin Burke on flute, in sessions, and they both play quite differently than on their recordings.

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I agree with Az, as usual. Except for this typo: Kevin Burke on flute.

I play much faster in a session than when on my own.

I think of ITM as linear and ETM as vertical - as regards the importance of the melody line rather than the chordal structure- or, hopefully, the lack of one - in ITM.

There is chordal accompaniment possible but it's very tricky and most often inappropriate and best left to people like Michael Rooney and Trina O'Domhnaill. Even their accompanimnt seems to me to be more in the nature of a gentle accompanying harmony than chords banged out a la John Doyle, which I find generally rather abrasive.

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