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!