Dastirum gu Seinnim Piob!

Well, after patiently waiting for one of the internet piping radio shows to play the track for months, I finally got lucky last week!

Crunluath, the weekly piping show on the gaelic-language BBC radio Alba, featured “I Am Proud To Play a Pipe”, played by Allan MacDonald.

The tune is essentially the title track of Allan’s new CD, “Dastirum”. Dastirum is a slightly obscure term, adopted into Scots Gaelic, but possibly Roman in origin. It roughly translates as “pride”, but in battle-cry kind of way. In that sense, the phase translated as “I Am Proud To Play a Pipe” is a strong, declamatory statement.

Allan’s path through the tune is a very different performance from one you’re likely to hear in competition. He reinterprets many of the familiar embellishments to give a very lyrical, almost extemporaneous feel to the music. In the taorluath variations he plays a timing I have not heard before, which propels the tune forward at a moment when performances often seem to languish.

This particular interpretation aside, I Am Proud To Play a Pipe is a beautiful tune, filled with unusual note patterns. I have seen it described as “probably non-christian”, due to its frequent use of the augmented 4th – an interval called the “devil’s interval”, and historically eschewed by the church. This, of course, endears to tune to me still more!

6 Replies to “Dastirum gu Seinnim Piob!”

  1. Marc, I’m glad to see you’ve posted again. I hope your vacation was good.

    I wanted to mention that this is a great post. I heard Allan MacDonald playing Alisdair Dearg on one of the radio programs not too long ago and was very impressed. After reading the introductory sleeve notes (they can be found here: http://pibroch.net/articles/dastirum_intro.pdf) I was left thinking several things in regards to piobaireachd, what I’ve learned about it, and how I’ve heard it played. I suppose as with any other art there needs to be a strong grounding in order to have a firm basis to act as a guide. In fact, I had a music teacher tell me once, “These are the rules, you can’t break them until you really know what they are.” Unfortunately, however, it turns out that piobaireachd has seemed to stick only to the rules that have been set out with seemingly no hope of innovation. Could it be that because of this sort of standardization we’re making it more abstract than it really is? It must be hard, though, to breed innovation while not abandoning the traditions that helped us to arrive at this moment.

    Either way, this is a great post and leads to a lot of thought. It’s always great to see something come out that is accesible to both the piper and non-piper and I can’t wait to get this album to have a listen.


  2. Thanks, Justin, I’m glad you enjoyed my comments.

    I think you’re right about learning the rules before you can break them, but you are probably in a better position to do that than I am. With as much experience as you have, in addition to a top class performer as a teacher, you must by now have some sense of how you personally need to make the music flow.

    You also have the technical ability to translate that need into actual music on the pipes. For now, I’m consigned to the musical sidelines until I have the chops to express what the Big Music is trying to say through me. But that’s OK – with persistance, and the help of people like yourself, I’ll get there in the end.

    I’m enjoying the conversation en route!

  3. I read somewhere, I don’t quite remember where, a quote from Donald MacPherson; he said, “Nobody has a monopoly on taste.” Whether it was in fact him that said it there’s a very valuable point to be gotten from the words. It doesn’t matter how accomplished one person becomes their opinion is their own and just as valid anothers. It brings up another interesting point though; there is a belief (within piping) that a good competitor is a great musician but knowing the technical aspects of how something should be presented and producing them are two different things!

    When looking at any type of art I think there needs to be some sort of underlying structure. I want to avoid saying that art should be regimented and purely intellectual, always making sense to the observer, but I’m stressing the importance on this structure for the purpose of its making sense. Sense could be in regard to plot in a story, chord progression or melody line in music, composition in visual arts or just simply the aesthetic value of any of these. When it comes to piobaireachd, then, it seems as though the only thing that is taught is the structure and, sometimes, the only thing tolerated is structure. The unfortunate part of this is that it then loses it’s meaning and importance or, at least, the meaning becomes vague. Joseph Campbell mentions that myth loses its meaning when it starts to be interpreted literally and I think the same thing goes with piobaireachd. What we’re being taught is how to win competitions but not how to be musical. About a year ago on one of the Planet Pipe programs Simon McKerrell mentioned to John Wilson that he thought pipe bands and pipers should “play around” with the music more. John Wilson definitely didn’t agree, as he’s more of what he calls a purest, but agreed that music was being sacrificed instead for a technical presentation.

    Take a look at Andrew Berthoff’s latest blogpipe entry, it’s also very telling on this same point. This is wonderful to discuss, I too am enjoying the converstion.

  4. Well, Justin, I read the Blog entry by Andrew Berthoff to which you refer, and it is indeed interesting.

    Aside from the fact that I’m so out of the loop that I didn’t know Luciano Pavarotti had died, I think it’s interesting that he didn’t at first read music. From what I understand, opera in Italy occupies an unusual social position. Rather than being the highbrow artform with which we associate it, opera is to some extent a music of the masses. Evidently people from all walks of life attend the opera, and the big stars are the subject of tabloid media attention, like soap stars over here.

    There was a time, in the life of the Scottish Highlands, when piping was part of daily social life. And that piping would have been what we today know as piobaireachd. In that sense, there’s nothing particularly cerebral about it – it was simply the soundtrack of life. The tunes reflect that, even though they seem much focused on death, since the majority of them are laments. I think this probably reflects the reality of life under those harsh conditions, where life expectancy was shorter, and getting to the end harder. Still, tunes like My Dearest on Earth, Give Me Your Kiss reveal a lighter side.

    Technical ability apart (and that’s the subject of my next post), getting under the skin of these tunes is crucial to playing them truthfully.

  5. Found your interesting post by searching John Wilson and Planet Pipe and I am glad to also learn about some other piping radio programs. Can you please share exactly WHAT to click on in Gaelic on the site so I can hear the tune, “I am proud to play a pipe.” I found Crunlath listed on the link and clicked on it but…silence. Sorry – I just can’t read Gaelic yet. FYI, I am a publicist dedicated to enhancing awareness of the wonderful world of bagpipes through my blog…and I also volunteer to work on the Annual Monterey Bay School of Piping and Drumming in Pebble Beach, CA. Read more at http://www.brickmanblog.typepad.com. May I add your link to my web-blog?

  6. Hi Wendy,

    You are welcome to link to my site. I will also gladly reciprocate!

    As far as the show Crunluath is concerned, the BBC does not archive their shows, for copyright reasons. Consequently, the show containing the performance of “I Am Proud To Play a Pipe” to which I refer in the “Dastirum..” post, has now lapsed and been replaced by the current week’s show. This means that, even if you can get the show to play, you will no longer be able to hear that particular tune.

    As far as being able to get the show to play at all, I have found the BBC shows (Crunluath, Pipeline and Pipes and Drums) to be annoyingly touchy in how they play. It seems that they are highly browser-sensitive. About 50% of the time they will connect, and play right away in my browser. I use the Mozilla Suite and its bundled browser. When they don’t work, I switch to the stand-alone Firefox browser, which seems more dependable with respect to the BBC player, but which is not in general my first-choice browser. You may have to experiment with alternate browsers. Also, check your firewall settings – they sometimes block these kinds of built-in players. I opened my blog site and checked the link to Crunluath in both Mozilla and Firefox. Today, only Firefox would play the link, but it is working for me, so you should be able to find a way somehow. The link is a direct link to the current show, so you should hear piping immediately, once the link has loaded.

    As far as understanding Gaelic is concerned, you and I are in the same boat! Sorry!

    Tell me about your piping connections. Band? Teacher? Experience?

    Best regards,


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