Radio Degrees of Separation

This week’s BBC Radio Scotland Pipeline show is definitely worth checking out, particularly if you are a piobaireachd fan.

In the middle of the show is an archive segment from 1971, when the show’s forerunner was presented by Donald MacLeod, himself a piobaireachd legend. During the segment Donald introduces part of a beautiful performance by Jimmy MacIntosh of the tune Tulloch Ard, recorded at the Northern Meeting in Inverness that year. While attending the Meeting, Donald met and recorded an interview with Angus MacPherson, who was 95 at the time, and had been to every competition there since 1894. MacPherson’s grandfather had been a competing piper going back to the mid 1800s. MacLeod asks him about the influence of the “new” pipers coming to Scotland from Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia, and MacPherson talks clearly and enthusiastically about these “up-and-coming” performers from the early ’70s, many of whom are now retired!

It’s amazing to hear a clear voice from so long ago talking about competitions that go back generations further. I wonder how many such interviews the BBC has in its archives?

A Busy Weekend

It was Memorial Day in the United States yesterday and my band was busy!

We had three cemetery performances and four of our band members played with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for their weekly TV show “Music and the Spoken Word”.

The other bands along the Wasatch Front were busy too. Here is a nice multimedia presentation from the website of a local paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, featuring Jason Killpack, the PM of the Salt Lake Scots.

In addition, several Utah pipers, including some from my band were competing at a Highland Games in Costa Mesa, California. I haven’t heard all the results yet, but it sounds like they all did well.

Familiar Piobaireachd, less familiar version

If you like the tune “Too Long in this Condition” (and what’s not to like?) you should check out this week’s edition of Pipeline.

The tune is played by Pipe Major Roddy Weir (formerly of the Army School of Piping) but, unlike most performances I have heard recently, Roddy chooses to play the Binneas is Boreraig version. This version of the tune includes a variation not usually played. It falls between the ground and what is usually played as the first variation and takes the form of a kind of triplet variation. It’s interesting because it appears to interrupt what is usually the increasing level of complexity in a tune as the variations progress.

Justin, if you’re reading this, have a listen to the tune and tell me what you think.

Cherede Darievea – the tune with no name

Lovers of piobaireachd should definitely check out BBC Radio Scotland’s Pipeline show this week.

The star of the show this week (10th November, 2007) is a beautiful performance of a tune that actually has no name. I suppose this is an artifact of oral transmission, but many tunes in the ancient piobaireachd canon have come down to us with no name. When this has happened the tunes are left designated as “Nameless”, although the first few canntaireachd vocables are usually attached to the designation. In the case of the tune played on Pipeline this week, the tune shows up in only one manuscript source – Colin Mor Campbell’s Nether Lorn canntaireachd – and is usually referred to by those vocables, “Cherede Darievea”.

Cherede Darievea is one of the very long tunes in the repertoire. Iain Speirs is the performer this week, the recording having been taken from the recent Glenfiddich Piping Championships. He keeps a good level of forward momentum in the tune, but even so he comes in at a little under 19 minutes.

With the nameless tunes one wonders what they might once have been called. Still, even deprived of a back story, Cherede Darievea has a lyrical and haunting melody and Iain Speirs’ performance and beautifully set-up bagpipe are a delight to listen to.

The show switches editions on Saturday evenings so you still have a couple of days to listen. The tune is not often played, so be sure not to miss this rare treat.

Dastirum – the pipers speak!

Before the week is out, be sure to listen to BBC Scotland’s Pipeline show.

This week’s edition features an interview with two of the big hitters in contemporary piobaireachd interpretation, Barnaby Brown and Allan MacDonald, and performances from the new CD release on Barnaby’s Siubhal label, Dastirum.

I have written about this CD recently, but it’s worth pointing out again that the cutting edge of piobaireachd these days seems to be in revisiting its roots. I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing the competition style of playing piobaireachd that has evolved over the past 200 years. Whatever its detractors may say, I still think it produces beautiful performances, many of which I listen to on an almost daily basis! Conversely, I think I have a pretty good handle on the criticisms leveled at the Piobaireachd Society, and its historical control of the form. The late 19th and early 20th century saw a post-Victorian elite seize control of piobaireachd, and while this certainly resulted in a lot of standardization (and some corruption), I think we have the Piobaireachd Society to thank for preserving the music, albeit in a rather conservative manner.

The situation today is changing. The Piobaireachd Society is transforming itself into a very active tool for the study of the Big Music, as it continues to promote the publication and explanation of old manuscripts. Into this atmosphere of inquiry come Barnaby Brown and Allan MacDonald with their new/old approach to piobaireachd. Barnaby is a fountain of knowledge regarding bagpipes and piping traditions all over the world and Allan is a seasoned performer of piobaireachd in the conventional style. His frustrations with that style, and his research into other gaelic musics have brought him to a new, highly personalized approach informed by oral traditions and singing styles. The performances captured on the new CD Dastirum exemplify that approach, and are beautiful and lyrical.

In this week’s radio show Allan performs The End of the Little Bridge, an odd, chromatic-sounding piobaireachd (to me it sounds like The Fingerlock on speed) and I Am Proud To Play a Pipe. Gary West, the host, also interviews Barnaby and Allan about the music and plays a track from an earlier Siubhal release, Living Legend, which features the piping of Donald MacPherson. The track selected is Donald Gruamach’s March, a towering tune, sadly cut short on the radio show. I will have to find out if the whole performance is on the CD itself.

Well, that’s a lot of words! Now go listen!

Piobaireachd on old instruments

I heard an interesting pairing of tunes on this week’s edition of the BBC Radio show Pipeline. Gary West’s guest was Glenn Brown of Ontario, and he gave a fine performance of The Big Spree. On the same show Gary featured a tune called The Gathering of the MacDonalds of Clanranald. This was performed by Decker Forrest on a reproduction of a Donald MacDonald chanter, which would mean that the instrument should sound like those from the early 1800’s.

The differences between the tone of the modern instrument and the “old” one were quite marked. To my ears, I preferred the sound of the older instrument, but maybe that’s just my enthusiasm for archaia speaking. In any case, there is a movement within piping (similar to that in classical music), toward playing tunes on period instruments. I know the purists on either side will argue that their sound is the “correct” one – either true to the original, or allowing the evolution of the instrument to speak for itself – but I’m personally happy to listen to both.

Glenn Brown and Decker Forrest both gave beautiful performances of two great tunes, and I’m glad to live in times when I can hear both side by side.