I Am Proud To Play A Pipe – new performances

Because this wonderful tune is on the Piobaireachd Society’s Silver Medal Tune List for 2008, I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot of it this year.

Alex Gandy (Bruce Gandy’s son) played it at the Winter Storm competition in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. You can hear Alex’s performance courtesy of The Captain, Ken Eller, on his website. Alex was second in the Silver Medal ceol mor with this performance.

Also, you can listen to (and watch) new arrival to the United States, Dave Mason, play the tune on YouTube. He has posted his performance for EUSPBA grading purposes, but has given me permission to link to it.

Allan MacDonald has already brought his talent to bear on his interpretation of the tune on his new CD Dastirum.

Now we can hear how (slightly) lesser mortals play it.

Something Blue? Winter Storm Piobaireachd.

Well, I guess it’s a stretch, but I had this literary device hanging over me, so I decided to use part of it right away.

Two weeks ago the Midwest Highland Arts Fund held their Annual Winter Storm Weekend, an indoor piping and drumming competition. The competition draws top pipers from across North America and even a few overseas competitors. The judging panel is drawn from the World’s top pipers and many other distinguished players show up to perform at the big concert and give workshops. Angus MacColl is a regular in Kansas City and others you can expect to find in town include Alasdair Gillies, Mike Cusack, Willie McCallum, Andrew Wright, Fred Morrison, and so the list goes on – you get the idea.

The performers in the Gold and Silver Medal competitions played tunes from the respective 2008 Piobaireachd Society set tune lists, the first outings for these tunes this year. A few recordings of the proceedings are now available. Go to Ken Eller’s Captain’s Corner site for the prize winning tunes. Ken was MC for the events and also made recordings.

In addition, a couple of the performances have shown up on YouTube. I particularly enjoyed Donald MacPhee’s performance of The Clan MacNab’s Salute. This is not a tune I knew before, but I have listened to it several times now and it’s really growing on me. You have to listen in two parts, but it’s still worth the effort.

I hope there were some people there with professional sound equipment, since it would be good if some of the piping radio shows would carry these performances. In any case, enjoy the tunes!

Piobaireachd Resources – Something Old, Something New

Something New first.

A couple of months ago I wrote about an incipient new piobaireachd resource I had discovered while speculatively trawling the web – a site of performance downloads from Roddy MacLeod, M.B.E.

Roddy is one of the World’s top pipers and is the Principal of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. His piobaireachd site is now up and running, with a great list of big tunes for download. His performances are always a joy to listen to, and this site makes available performances, together with music scores and canntaireachd, so it becomes a useful teaching resource. Like the teaching recordings of his namesake, Donald, I think this will become a beneficial resource for all pipers interested in piobaireachd.

And now for Something Old:

Ceol Sean, the publisher of bagpipe music books on CD, has been working with world-renowned piobaireachd performer Jim McGillivray and Dr. William Donaldson, author of the excellent series of articles on piobaireachd on Pipes|Drums, to make some original piobaireachd manuscripts available online. It would appear that more will be available in the future, but for now they have posted:

• Angus MacKay’s MS
• David Glen’s MS
• Peter Reid’s MS
• The Nether Lorn MS (the Campbell Canntaireachd)

…just to get you started! The Angus MacKay MS dates from the 1830’s and it alone contains almost 200 tunes. I have only just begun to explore the contents of these old manuscripts, but I’m sure it will repay the effort. There are tunes I have never heard of and that are rarely played – it’s great that these tunes will most likely become an active part of the repertoire once more.

Look out for Somethings Borrowed and Blue in future posts…

The Old Men of the Shells – A Watery Grave

At this point I have access to over 100 different piobaireachd tunes, gleaned from various sources – many freely available on the web. I have decided to spend some quality time with a few of the tunes for which I have multiple performances, to get a handle on how different pipers interpret the tunes.

Ken Eller, on his estimable site “The Captain’s Corner”, has made available many recordings of recitals and performances he has attended over the past two years or so, and it is from his archives that I draw my two examples for today.

“The Old Men of the Shells” is one of those intriguingly titled tunes that just begs an explanation. Two possible backstories are given at the end Dr. William Donaldson’s article on the tune, which is part of his excellent series on Andrew Berthoff’s Pipes|Drums website. Whichever story you believe, the tune apparently commemorates a series of reciprocal deaths by drowning, hence the allusion to prolonged life among the creatures of the sea bed.

As far as the tune is concerned, the various manuscript versions available are nicely discussed in the Donaldson article, but whichever path you take through the tune it is a very beautiful and lyrical one. This beauty is heightened in the thumb variation of the urlar, which swoops across the entire register of the bagpipe – very dramatic!

I mentioned earlier, two recordings are available on The Captain’s Corner website. Listen first to Lionel Tupman playing the tune at the William Livingstone Memorial Invitational Competition in 2007 and then to Andrew Hayes playing at the same competition one year earlier. Both performers take the same route through the tune, but Tupman plays the tune at a considerably slower pace. I thought that the juxtaposition of these two tempi was interesting, and I invite your comments. I will not tell you which tempo I preferred, but either way, enjoy the tune – it’s a classic!

Lost – several pibrochs. If found, please return to the present.

The Bob Dunsire Forums are a mine of interesting information, beyond being a simple meeting place for pipers and drummers.

I recently started a discussion thread at the forums asking for more information about “The Lost Pibroch”, the story I wrote about last month. That thread has been the scene of some interesting discussion and today one of the forum members has spliced it with another thread dealing with the current state of piobaireachd composition.

It appears that, whether or not the Neil Munro short story is based in fact, there are a number of lost piobaireachds out there. These are tunes referred to in various places (obituaries, journals, etc.) but for which no manuscripts are currently available. The composers of such tunes include such piping illuminati as John MacColl and Angus Lawrie. The enterprising forum member has put out a call to compile as many piobaireachds as possible that have been written in the past 100 years or so.

I think it may be time to contact Bob McFie again, since he has a tune which could reasonably be added to this list. In addition, one of the “lost” tunes by John MacColl is a “Lament for Donald MacPhee”, and you know I’m not going to let that one lie!

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.

New Piobaireachd Website

I’m not sure if this is old news, but today I came across an incipient website from Roddy MacLeod, M.B.E., the principal of the National Piping Centre in Scotland.

It looks as if Roddy is going to be making available recordings of his own performances of piobaireachd. The contents of Volume 1 have already been posted. This is one to watch…

Piobaireachd stories – no joking matter!

When I wrote about Peg Kingman’s new novel “Not Yet Drown’d” earlier this month I created a new category, to include it and the Cynthia Thayer novel “A Certain Slant of Light”, since I could hardly believe that there would be more than one novel written about piobaireachd.

Turns out I should remove my tongue from my cheek. I have discovered another story about piobaireachd, this one from 1896. At this point I can only assume that what I thought would be a joke category is likely to be used some more in the future.

This story is called “The Lost Pibroch” by Neil Munro, and is the title story from a collection of short stories involving life in the Scottish Highlands. Munro grew up in the Highlands but, like so many others of his generation, left for the big city when he was barely 18. By the time he was 23 he was Chief Reporter at the Glasgow Evening News. His first successful attempt at writing fiction was the set of short stories that are the subject of this post, and after their success he scaled back his journalism and focussed on fiction for the rest of his life. He was under-appreciated in the years following his death in 1930, as his career coincided with a proliferation of over-romanticized Scottish fiction, but it has been suggested more recently that he was to some extent satirizing that same genre.

“The Lost Pibroch” seems to bear that out. More gothic than romantic, it turns about the playing of a tune that only a handful of pipers are ever able to (or should ever) play. I will not give away the plot, but the playing of the tune has unforseen consequences that appear to be in evidence in some of the later stories in the collection. If you live in North America you can download the whole volume and start reading, using Google Books. Apparently, this will not work for you outside North America (possibly because of copyright restrictions) so you will have to scour your local bookshops and libraries. Good luck!

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!

Not another novel about piobaireachd!

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve just come across another novel that features piobaireachd.

Dedicated readers of this site (you know who you are) will recall that back in July I wrote about the novel “A Certain Slant of Light”, by Cynthia Thayer. That story used pipe tunes (many of them piobaireachd) as chapter headings, and made the playing of ceol mor an integral part of the plot.

During one of my oddly intuitive searches of the Salt Lake City Library’s catalog, I came across a novel just published this September called “Not Yet Drown’d”, by Peg Kingman. In this book, the protagonist sets out on a search for her missing (supposed dead) brother. The search is in part provoked by the sister’s posthumous receipt of a collection of his possessions, including the manuscript for a piobaireachd enigmatically retitled “Not Yet Drown’d”, that the bagpipe-playing brother had been working on before his “death”.

So, I should say at this point that I have not yet read the book – I just picked it up from the library yesterday. [I did notice (in a little pre-read flip) that the novel contains a moment of some family relevance: the protagonist is a witness to the historic landing of King George IV at Leith in 1822. A direct ancestor of mine, John Macfie, was the senior Magistrate of Leith at the time, and the first to greet the King when he alighted that day.] The piobaireachd presence in the book centers on the tune already mentioned, and bundles it together with the long-lost manuscript of Joseph MacDonald.

The author, Peg Kingman is a piper herself (not surprisingly) who also happens to be an ex-tea merchant. Not a lot of those around, I suppose. You can hear an interview with her by Rick Kleffel on his podcast Agony Column. So I now have music for two piobaireachds specifically written to be part of novels in just the past few years. I’ve discovered a whole new genre, and the Piobaireachd Society is blissfully unaware. I should add it to my categories – will there be more?