Piobaireachd Technique – Advice From An Expert

My previous post drew some comment about whether or not one had to be very experienced to interpret piobaireachd well.

I have an article written by Jim McGillivray called “Piobaireachd Technique: Perspiration before Inspiration”. Jim is very experienced player and competitor, so when he speaks on the subject, it’s usually worth listening to. The article was given to me as a photocopy by my old Pipe Major, so I can’t tell you where it’s from, but I think it is from an old copy of the magazine “The Voice”.

The article is basically in two parts: the first a short essay on why good technique is so important, and the second a description of the more common movements in piobaireachd, and how to nail them!

What is interesting to me is how Jim puts technique into perspective. He makes the case for practicing all the movements (edres, taorluaths, crunluaths, etc.) relentlessly, until you can play them effortlessly. You have to put in the repetitive work, before you can play the tunes well.

If you’re thinking about the gracenotes, the argument goes, then you can’t feel the song.

I think this is a really interesting point, and it gets to the heart of balance in performing any kind of music. Flawless technique, devoid of expression can be produced by a robot, and is boring to listen to. (When my daughter took Suzuki-method violin classes briefly, we learned this the hard way.) On the other hand, the enthusiastic and motivated performer playing a tune that is obviously too hard for them can be just as painful. (That’s me, playing my 2/4 march at the Salt Lake Games this past Summer.) Expression is vital, (or the music will not be), but you need to have at least a minimum level of technique to execute the tune you’re attempting to play.

A highlight of the games I mentioned was hearing Alex Morrill, one of our younger band members, play Struan Robertson’s Salute. He had a few note errors here and there, which is to be expected – he was playing in Grade 3, but he clearly had adequate technique for the task at hand, and he gave what I thought was a very beautiful performance. I guess John Partanen (the adjucator) agreed, because I think Alex got first place that day.

Anyway, my point is that as long as you are able to play the notes and the gracenotes on a well-tuned, steady pipe, and you can keep it up to the end of the tune, you then need to add your personal take on the expression and you will be ready to give your listeners a performance to remember. From there, the only way is up!

One Reply to “Piobaireachd Technique – Advice From An Expert”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Marc. Just to add to what you’ve quoted Jim McGillivray as saying (by the way, I think that article is downloadable from his site) I’d like to put in my two cents.

    As I’ve been taught, technique is one of the most important aspects of playing the pipes whether it’s within piobaireachd or light music and plays a very obvious and important role. The number of gracenotes, doublings and other embellishments almost double the number of notes our limited scale will play. With that, it’s understandable that these things need to be executed with precision. Technique, however, isn’t just the ability to play these sort of movements but how to play these sort of movements in time and without taking away from the melody as well as the ability to control phrasing. What I mean by this isn’t the presentation aspect but, rather, the ability to control the rhythm within a certain idiom so that when it comes to presenting the music this presentation should be the only concern. As I said, piobaireachd and light music are no different and each requires the ability to produce certain movements with accuracy but in no way should it ever get in the way of the music. I would say that, while technique is important in presenting music, the music itself is what we should be all about. The two go hand in hand and one should not be traded off for the other.

    To see examples of great technique adding to the overall musical experience, check these out:

    Ryan Canning- http://youtube.com/watch?v=ErtFfLCNtz8&mode=related&search=

    Angus MacColl- http://youtube.com/watch?v=HXAk4ca6_UU

    Gordon Duncan- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEj3ejyxjNU&mode=related&search=

    Alasdair Gillies (1)- http://youtube.com/watch?v=rz4yveITg6A

    Alasdair Gillies (2)- http://youtube.com/watch?v=lbZ-lBIWKtc&mode=related&search=

    and…just for fun, Jack Lee- http://youtube.com/watch?v=5bXX6U3SJBc

    I apologize if I got carried away with the links!

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