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Playing Since: 1985

Experience Level: Just Startin'

Tom Hanway has made 67 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Composer, Author, Studio Musician, Recording Artist.

Gender: Male

Age: 55

My Instruments:
(1) Stelling SwallowTail Deluxe and (2) Standard. I co-designed the SwallowTail banjo with Geoff Stelling, (3) Nechville Meteor (acoustic/electric) with the "Galaxy" inlay. (4) I also have a 1918 Van Eps tenor which belonged to my grandfather, John Hanway, who bought it his freshman year, playing it in the Yale Mandolin and Banjo Club and Orchestra. It has been restored by Tom Cussen (Clareen Banjos) of Clarinbridge, Co. Galway, Ireland. I fool around and play a bit of "trad" on it - both jazz and Irish traditional music.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Earl Scruggs, Don Reno (father and son), Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe, Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, Pete Wernick, Sonny Osborne, Bill Emerson, Raymond Fairchild, Eddie Adcock, Allen Shelton, Butch Robins, Béla Fleck, Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, Herb Pedersen, David Bromberg, Tim O'Brien, Sammy Shelor, Jim Mills, Scott Vestal, The Beatles, The Stones, the Grateful Dead, Jorma Kaukonen, New Grass Revival, Sam Bush, Stringbean, Joni Mitchell, Roy Huskey, Jr., The Bothy Band, Altan, Michael Coleman, Cream, Hendrix, Carole King, James Taylor, Johnson Mountain Boys, Andy McGann, Tommy Peoples, Tony DeMarco, Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Jesse Fuller, all the great bluesmen, all the early R&B and jazz cats. I love jugbands, jam bands, and rockabilly bands.

My dad, "Wild Jack", who showed the whole family what great fun it is to jam with old jazz recordings. I was tapping my foot to traditional jazz and Big Band music at a very impressionable age. I learned a lot of jazz standards that way, melodies for which I have no title.

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Visible to: Public
Created 8/31/2004
Last Visit 3/12/2017


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Meditations on the 'Irish' in Traditional Music: The Voices in the Graves Are Silent Now

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 @3:22:04 PM

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Please find Traditional Irish and Celtic Tunes in the Public Domain in my previous blog, or here.

Today, use of either English or French symbolises social and material success while use of a living Celtic language symbolises powerlessness, backwardness or clannishness. As regards Irish music or that questionable acronym “ITM” used by English-speakers—a term foreign to Irish Gaeilge speakers—people can be rigid and provincial in their thinking and try to superimpose their ideas on others. Fortunately, one can turn the other cheek, and simply get on with making traditional music—any kind of traditional music on any kind of instrument that tickles one’s fancy.

Also, one can learn a Celtic language, perhaps some dialect of Irish or Welsh or Breton, and learn to play tunes from one or more of the Celtic nations, or learn some form of social dancing that is either Gaelic or Celtic. So many English-speaking purists, especially in the New World, are full of truisms about “authenticity” and trapped using a non-Celtic language, sermonizing about ITM, Irish trad, Trad, and the like, but decidedly not in Gaeilge (the Irish language) or in another Celtic language. 

Such thinking carries hidden cultural values and hegemonic assumptions, exhibiting a kind of snobbery—call it the politics of exclusion—a trait that comes from a colonial heritage, repeating in the New World what happened in the Old World when Celtic peoples were stamped out and replaced by hegemonic cultures, on the continent, particularly Gaul, and in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (formerly known as the British Isles)—in other words: France and the modern-day UK.  In the use of the acronym “ITM” in social media, an enclave with a shared colonial heritage unwittingly propagates that same centuries-old cultural imperialism, which ironically and sadly, is anti-Irish, or anti-Welsh, or anti-Breton, and anti-Celtic nationalities.

This “simply reflects the colonial experience”* in the old Celtic nations themselves, the inexorable progression by which Celtic language cultures were driven to discard the dialects that linked them to the old ways of their forebears, and that compelled them to pass on that language rejection to their children, grandchildren, and so on.  [*See Letter to Editors by Alexei Kondratiev in Keltria.]

People who are quick to use the ITM acronym to the exclusion of the “C” word may be quick to deprecate the living Celtic world, as if it doesn’t really exist, or never existed, or is a virtually meaningless term (especially as used in English), and so on.

*          *          *          *          *

People enjoy playing whatever instruments they can get their hands on, whatever instruments they choose to get their hands on, and nobody, not even you, can take that away from them—not even well-educated English or French speakers who have an axe to grind. People play whatever music that they want to play, getting inside living traditions, within a culture, between cultures and musical sub-cultures, internationally, and in all these places, with open hearts and minds.

Of all the Celtic cultures (and their respective music and dance traditions), people who play either Irish or Scottish traditional music are carrying on Gaelic traditions which have the most overlap in terms of repertoire and playing style. In fact, the Irish and Scottish Gaels have more overlap with one another musically than with other Celtic traditions, and more overlap than any of the other Celtic traditions have with each other. 

Also, people who play trad tunes in the Celtic Diaspora, or in ex-Celtic lands, also enjoy playing whatever instruments they can get their hands on, whatever instruments they choose to get their hands on, whatever instruments they love to play, and no presumed (illusory) “consensus” can take that away from them.

Folks who would impose a kind of moralistic or quasi-legalistic framework regarding which instruments are deemed “authentic” and “traditional” are stuck with that old politics-of-exclusion trait that could reveal a colonial heritage and cultural imperialism at work. The bodies lie in the graves and are silent now.

I wouldn’t lose sleep over this: After all, we’re dealing with “living essence of Celtic tradition,” where a dynamic interplay of continuity and change is at work. Provincial thinking that builds walls while it promotes its own session also runs in the face of more enlightened thinking, whether such provincialism comes from a country where a Celtic language is still spoken (e.g. Ireland, Scotland or Wales), has been revived academically (Cornwall, Isle of Man), an ex-Celtic region where a Celtic dialect has long been dead (Cumbria and nearby border counties), or from an enclave in the Celtic Diaspora (e.g. somewhere in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Appalachia or New England).

In my estimation, promotion of a provincial “ITM” session that actively excludes new ideas, new instruments, or other sessions that don’t match its criteria is quixotic, at cross purposes and blind to its own music’s history. It’s moving backwards in the face of modernism, where Celtic revivals and festivals are happening annually around the world. It is best that we create more such environments, not less, and, in matters musical, cultural and Celtic, eschew the image of the purity police, who like the ugly American, turns a blind eye (a deaf ear?) to the cross-pollination and collaboration that is happening between like-minded folks who freely and actively participate in living Celtic traditions. 

Stubborn provincial thinkers know what ITM is, and what ITM is not. Okay, fine: be that way.

Finally, we would be wise not to be sucked or suckered into parochial use of the overused and unfortunate acronym, ITM—e.g. see ITM: Irish Traveller Movement; ITM: Irish Thoroughbread Marketing; and ITM: Irish Transverse Mercator.

Best to all ~ Tom

1 comment on “Meditations on the 'Irish' in Traditional Music: The Voices in the Graves Are Silent Now”

Don Borchelt Says:
Thursday, February 9, 2017 @10:55:31 AM

A very interesting essay, Tom. After playing old-time Appalachian music for years, I still run occasionally into folks who object to three finger picking as not traditional, or to the fact that I do it with finger picks and a resonator. I have worked very hard to develop an approach that greatly respects tradition, but for certain purists, if it wasn't on a Victor or Okeh pressing before 1945, it is not authentic. It never dawned on me until now that you may have run into some of the same resistance playing five string banjo at some of your pub sessions, even though you are undoubtedly hitting all the notes you are supposed to, and none of the ones you are supposed to leave out! Such self-styled purists want to treat the music like a museum artifact, to be copied exactly like the original, a reproduction you would buy in a museum gift shop. That rigidity is a trait you only find in the revival generation, you rarely saw it among the old players they are all trying to emulate. But for any form of traditional music to survive, it has to be treated as a living thing, it has to be able to accept and absorb the creative contributions of each succeeding generation of players, or it will eventually become stagnant, whither and disappear. Innovations which both respect and contribute to the traditional can only strengthen it.

When I am driving, I occasionally listen to a radio program called Celtic Sojourn, on the local NPR station, WGBH. It appears they are currently sponsoring a ten day tour of Galicia in northwest Spain, an area which is now being recognized as one of Europe's vibrant Celtic cultures, particularly in regards to its traditional music. They played some of the music of a Galician piper, Carlos Nunez, who recently toured with the Chieftains. Some of his tunes sounded like they could have been played in Dublin, but others, to my uneducated ear, had a wiff of the Galician Mountain air running through them. Every river benefits from the water of a fresh rain.

Now, I do want to point out, I was a little confused when I first started reading your post. As a cranky old three-finger picker, when I first saw the acronym ITM, I assumed it meant Index-Thumb-Middle. Good to see you are still a little feisty!

- Don Borchelt

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