Category Archives: Tune of the Month

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Tune of the Month – October 2017

I just recently attended the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat held in conjunction with the Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival in La Veta/Walsenburg, Colorado. The concert highlight of the festival was Old Blind Dogs featuring Ali Hutton on the pipes. Kevin Burke (fiddle, solo) was also a delight to listen to.

One nice thing about the smallpiping retreat (there’s an uilleann pipe retreat also) is that La Veta is basically a higher elevation version of Lubbock, so all my pipes work exactly the same more or less, no worries about differences in humidity.

The piping retreat was taught by two instructors 1. Tim Cummings and 2. Ben Miller. Ben had his playing partner with him, Anita MacDonald on fiddle, so it was a treat to learn a couple of tunes from their band’s repertoire after getting to hear them play together at the kick off party. Tim Cummings taught mostly Appalachian tunes like the Tombigbee Waltz and Old Joe Clark, which was really cool. He has published many such tunes and sells them through his website. I also got a border tune and Breton tune from him which are unique in their own right. It’s always good to challenge yourself with new idioms! Many thanks go to the smallpipe retreat organizer, Jim Conley!

Linking the concert and workshop together: on Old Blind Dogs’ newly released album, and at their concert, they play a couple of Appalachian tunes, Bunker Hill and Sandy Boys. This set was electrifying in concert and coincidentally relevant to the workshop with Tim over Appalachian music. While Tim didn’t cover the tune Sandy Boys, I cannot let it pass without it being a tune of the month. This tune is so good, and so versatile, I’m just waiting for an innovative pipe band to end their medley with it.

There are so many awesome versions of this tune. Variations galore! I’ve gone through and found a few of them and mashed them together. However, there are no gracenotes in the sheet music I’m providing. This is for two reasons. 1. This is folk music, play it how YOU like and different every time. I don’t just mean changing the gracenotes, change the big notes too! 2. If you want to mark up your own version with gracenotes and/or change the big notes, I’ll give you the “code” in ABC format so you can change it yourself. My hope is you’ll keep it in ABC notation because it’s so easy, free, has accommodations for bagpipe notation, and EVERY OTHER FOLK TRADITION ALREADY USES IT making it easy to transpose tunes from other traditions into the highland bagpipe key. Here’s your introduction to a wider world of music if you haven’t already used ABC notation. Many bagpipe specific music programs are capable of importing ABC notation if you insist on sticking with software you might have already paid for.

In ABC notation, the bagpipe scale is ‘G A B c d e f g a’, bar lines are the pipe | on the backslash key (repeats with a colon :), and anything in curly brackets {} are gracenotes, e.g. high g gracenote = {g} and taorluath = {GdGe}. Set the key in the header of the file to K:Hp and it automatically adjusts formatting for bagpipes! My preferred program for rendering ABC notation files, EasyABC, is no longer being developed by the original programmer but it is still available for download from his website. It went open source but I can’t get any of the newer releases for mac on SourceForge to execute, so I stick to the last version released by Nils.

Sandy Boys – pdf file (the last iteration is repeated only because I didn’t bother to further modify the version that had the note B in it)

Sandy Boys – link to my Dropbox to download the ABC file

Me playing through all the versions in the pdf file:

If you want to hear someone really bang this tune out on clawhammer banjo, go here:

Clawhammer Tune and Tab of the Week: “Sandy Boys/Clinch Mountain Backstep”

Tune of the Month – September 2017

The epitome of pipe band life that was August always leaves me a bit reinvigorated for piping. There’s not much around Lubbock, TX to really keep the motivation up but being able to tune into the live streams of Piping Live! events (through the Inner Ear channel on and the World Pipe Band Championships (BBC) really motivates me to get the pipes out and play.

September’s Tune of the Month is a tune I heard several times during August, and while it’s new to me it’s not a new tune. The 4 part reel by Peter R. MacLeod Jr.: Arnish Light, was played by (at least) 3 different bands.

  1. Most will recognize a rounded version played at the end of St Laurence O’Toole’s medley during the grade 1 finals; they won 2nd in the event and 3rd overall. View the performance here.
  2. The original version was played by Lomond & Clyde in their MSR during the grade 2 finals; they went on to place 2nd. View the performance here.
  3. Shotts & Dykehead played their own rounded version during the pre-Worlds concert “Rise” at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall the Wednesday before the Worlds. View the performance here.

This is quite the cracking tune, especially arranged as a round ‘hornreel’. SLOT and Shott’s arrangements stay fairly faithful to the original in their hornpipe arrangements, however I have gone and done taken it a bit further with my own arrangement. The tune is modern enough that it is still under copyright so I cannot share the music with you, however there are several sources for the tune, including Jim McGillivray’s site where it can be picked up for a few hundred pennies. Additionally, this tune is so adaptable, providing just one set of dots for the tune doesn’t do it, or you, justice. You may want to incorporate it into your competition reel repertoire (get it from Jim) or play it for fun as a hornpipey reel (it’s in Ryan Canning’s second book) with your own arrangement like I did (I borrowed a bit of nuance from the first 2 parts of SLOT’s arrangement, not gonna lie). If you do arrange your own, I would start with the original dot/cut reel and go from there.

Arnish Light – Chris Terry pipes with Rocket drone reeds, Colin Kyo chanter and John Elliott (Canada) chanter reed

Tune of the Month – August 2017

I have been listening to Ed Miller sing Scottish folk songs all my life. Pipers will recognize the playing of EJ Jones on many of Ed’s more recent albums. Ed collaborates regularly with Brian McNeill, one of the founding members of Battlefield Band, awesome fiddler, and songwriter as well. Despite the many pipe tunes EJ contributes on pipes, the Tune of the Month for August is actually a song, Wark o’ the Weavers. It is a song about how many trades serve a limited segment of the population, but everyone needs the work of the weavers. Unless you’re a nudist I guess, not something covered in the song, haha. It’s arranged here as a 2 part 2/4 march.

Wark o’ the Weavers – pdf file

A video of me playing the tune on my Ray Hughes smallpipes can be found on YouTube:

Tune of the Month – July 2017

The Piping Press (Robert Wallace’s web presence since he left the College of Piping) posted the audio of an informal recital by Donald McBride on SoundCloud last month. I first met Donald a few years ago when he came down with a couple of his students to the Salado Scottish Games. I don’t remember if his student Griffin Hall was beating me in competition at the time (probably, just to be safe) but I’m sure he could now! We were treated to Donald’s playing in the open competition that year and he sat down down with us Lubbockites for a wee chat later that morning. Back to the recital recordings, Donald reveals a repertoire true to the many places he’s lived with both Scottish and Irish tunes, traditional and modern. I enjoyed his unique arrangements of The Jig of Slurs and The Gravel Walk(s). Another tune that stood out to me was Paddy Clancy’s, July’s tune of the month. It is a happy 2 part jig that I’ve arranged myself based on Donald’s playing mixed with settings found on the popular Irish music website,

Paddy Clancy’s – pdf

Tune of the Month – June 2017

I have not been in the music as much recently and so this is the first month I didn’t have a plan for the tune of the month (or I forgot the plan, haha). While digitizing an old cassette tape of the 1985 William Livingstone Sr. Memorial Invitational (a fantastic event requiring an MSRHJ) I ran across a hornpipe I did not recognize as it is not in the common repertoire. Of all the tune types, I know the fewest 4 part hornpipes and so I figured I could feature a 4 part hornpipe as tune of the month, perhaps the one played by Ed Neigh on this album, “The Owl’s Hoot” by Bruce Anderson. I discovered this tune could be found in Chris Hamilton’s “The Tone Czar Collection” Vol. 1 on page 78 using the Bob Pekaar Tune Encyclopedia (thank you Bob!). Luck would have it, I have that book and if you do too you’ll note this is a neat 4 part hornpipe. However, the ending phrase is a dreaded lone E gracenote from B to low A followed by a terminal birl. As you’ll note in some recordings on the blog, I have worked a lot to retrain my E gracenote in compound movements (GDE, taorluaths, etc.), but lone E gracenotes have no pattern to rewire in my brain and so the focal dystonia still manifests mightily in such instances. The same movement appears in Doctor MacInnes’ Fancy, another tune I considered since I need to sit down and learn more 4 part hornpipes. Since I’m a bit obligated to play the tune for the blog, I decided to shy away from this nice tune. I then considered my reworked version of “Doctor MacInnes’ Fancy” but thought that might be a bit heretical for such a classic tune. Another good 4 part hornpipe is on the facing page from “Doctor MacInnes’ Fancy” in Donald MacLeod’s book 3, “Clydeside”. So, there’s 3 good hornpipes you might want to seek out, but none of them are the tune of the month.

While I had Chris’ book out I was flipping pages and came across a tune I’ve heard before and liked very much. A two part hornpipe by William MacDonald, “The Champion of the Seas”.  This is a lovely tune as arranged in Chris’ book, page 68. This is an older tune and it appears in several collections as indicated by the Pekaar Encyclopedia. In fact, an older arrangement can be found for free online in Logan’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music as provided freely by Ceol Sean ( The sheet music to the arrangement I play here will not be provided as I do not want to violate Chris’ copyright, you should buy his book (if you still can, I dunno). Since a slightly older arrangement is available already in Logan’s Collection (click the link above to be taken straight to the sheet music), please use that as a resource and you can mark up the differences.

The Champion of the Seas

Tunes of the Month – May 2017

Howdy Y’all,

We’ll continue April’s trend of a hornpipe composed by someone who has spent a lot of time playing in Texas, and specifically The (Scottish) Rogues, with “Hollerin’ for Haggis” by Thomas Campbell. Also included are two 4 part jigs written by Tom, “Henry Blessed the Kitchen” and “Binker’s Birthday.” If you’ve ever played in a band with Tom, you would have received the music to these three tunes in a sheet music pack and Tom has generously allowed me to publish them for all to consume. These tunes are recorded on a couple of The Rogues’ albums. I have recorded Hollerin’ for Haggis before, it can be heard below following April’s tune of the month, The Rock.

Thomas Campbell Compositions

The Rock, Hollerin’ for Haggis


Tune of the Month – April 2017

The Rock – a round hornpipe by Jimmy Mitchell (“The Rock” is a nickname that was given to Jimmy)

Growing up in Texas, I got to hear this tune from various groups Jimmy was associated with: Hamilton Pipe Band (precursor to the St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band) and The Rogues. Hamilton featured the tune on their album “First and Ten” coupled with Hector the Hero (by James Scott Skinner). As with many other albums, these groups and their music influenced my repertoire and I’ve played The Rock for many years. Fate would have it that the first two parts became our introductory tune for the Lyon College Pipe Band medley at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2001 (2nd place in grade 3B under Willie Muirhead). I ran into Jimmy after a long hiatus at the North Texas Irish Festival where he and The Rogues are still jammin’ with Doug Frobese filling out the pipe section (Doug followed Donald MacPhee as pipe major of Hamilton). I get a request for the sheet music to The Rock regularly and so I asked Jimmy if I could share it as a tune of the month and he agreed! Yay!

In homage to its roots, I perform it here with Hector the Hero and the graduated tempo increase into The Rock. Played on my Gellaitry pipes (original Kinnaird tenors/X-TREME bass) and Colin Kyo chanter (Shepherd Bb reed that is as hard as a rock, pun intended).

Hector the Hero and The Rock

Tunes of the Month – March 2017

Howdy Ho Y’all!

Well, I’m just about done being sick since Thanksgiving. Being married to a pediatrician, having 2 kids, and teaching at a university of 35,000 students keeps one exposed and infected with every respiratory illness that goes around each year. But I’m coming back.

My original goal for Tunes of the Month was to expose people to great competition type tunes that were seldom played, e.g. Murdo MacGillivray of Eoligarry. However, I got into a really big Irish music kick (could you tell? polka polka polka) over the winter break and so I’ve been throwing that stuff at you instead. And…it continues! Sort of.

Willie’s Fling – Novice Tune of the Month – A great little 2 line strathspey you’re supposed to play like a reel. Don’t let the tempo catch you off guard, it sounds good slow also.

Muineira de Casu – Intermediate Tune of the Month – A great 3 part “jig” from Galicia that’s a hoot to play and will challenge your Scottish based idiomatic playing like no other. I’m playing the first of 2 versions provided in the file; the second version is more common in the folk bands I’ve heard play the tune.

Here’s some audio of me playing these tunes in a set together, though if you keep up with the blog recent posts have included these tunes for a little while.

Willie’s Fling, Teampall an Ghleanntain, and Muineira de Casu – the 2 tunes of the month with some other tune in between.

The pipes were going pretty well so I figured I’d challenge myself as I work to get my chops back from the long string of illnesses.

Jeannie Carruthers, The Cowal Gathering, Inveraray Castle, Susan MacLeod, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree, and Alick C. McGregor – an MMSSRR in the style of the Former Winners March Strathspey and Reel competition at the Northern Meeting.

The Redundancy, The Clachnacuddin Hornpipe, Rakes of Kildare, and Donella Beaton – a HHJJ because why not? The Hornpipe/Jig competition is often only HJ even at the highest levels, which I declare to be lame.

You might be wondering which pipes I’m playing. Colin Kyo with full Ezeedrone reeds and an old beat up Gilmour chanter reed in an older CK chanter.

Tunes of the Month – February 2017

Novice Level: Tom Billy’s Polka, a follow up polka to January’s novice Tune of the Month. This tune is fun, no doubt, with a great melody.

Tom Billy’s – keep your arrangement simple so you don’t get tied up in technique, polkas are meant to be played quickly!

Patrick O’Connor’s & Tom Billy’s Polkas – coupled with January’s novice tune, Patrick O’Connor’s Polka.


Intermediate Level: The Uist Reel, which packs a punch for being only 2 parts! The tricky thing about this tune is the back and forth between birls and C# which really gives your pinkie a work out. One source of the tune is Elizabeth Ross’ Manuscript on page 180, tune number 146.

Uist Reel – simple and embellished arrangements inspired by Iain MacInnes from his album Tryst.

Tunes of the Month – January 2017

Tunes of the Month is a series designed to engage the readers of the blog to learn a new tune (or two) each month. Come learn with us and expand your piping repertoire!

Novice Level: 2 Part Tune of the Month is Patrick O’Connor’s Polka. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “polkas are cheesy.” Well, good thing you don’t play the accordion. I like to think of polkas as easy little reels. They are great tunes that are easy to play, and easy to play quickly which is what makes them so fun. Next month we’ll have another polka (Tom Billy’s) you can pair with this one; both were obtained from Jerry O’Sullivan at the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat back in September 2016.

Patrick O’Connor’s Polka – sheet music

Patrick O’Connor’s & Tom Billy’s Polkas – Tom Billy’s will be the Novice Tune of the Month for February 2017

Intermediate Level: January’s 4 Part Tune of the Month is actually a 5 part reel. The Foxhunter’s Reel, usually played in the key of G in Irish sessions, actually goes beyond the highland bagpipe scale even if transposed up to the key of A. Most importantly, it requires a low E in the 2nd part which we simply don’t have. However, the tune is so cool it’s worthwhile to play on the pipes even with the modifications it takes to make it fit our scale.

To get some potential confusion out of the way first, this is NOT a reel version of the 9/8 jig that is so popular; Alasdair Gillies was well known for playing jig, reel, and waltz versions of that tune. But this month’s The Foxhunter’s Reel is not that tune at all. It is a completely different tune. Here it is, doesn’t it just sound like a party you want to be part of!?

If you search for the tune in the Pekaar Tune Encyclopedia, there’s only one result that is pertinent to the version heard above; all the other references are to the 9/8 jig and its many manifestations. The version found in Barry Shear’s Cape Breton Collection Of Bagpipe Music is the only relevant published version I could find. Handily enough, Barry gives you the sheet music as a snapshot of his collection on his website (scroll down to the green book for the pdf of the sheet music). Apparently this tune survives in the Cape Breton tradition as evidenced by its inclusion in Barry’s book.

I did not come across Barry’s version until compiling this blog entry having first heard the tune in a facebook video played by a couple fiddlers playing it together on one fiddle, one bowing the other fingering (anyone have a link to this band/video? It is super cool). Barry’s version is different than mine by how it adapts the tune to fit the highland bagpipe scale. Try arranging the tune yourself! The stripped down score can be found on in ABC format. Transpose up from G major to A major, ignore all the transient G sharps and just play our usual G naturals instead, and then adapt the rest!

The Foxhunter’s Reel – Patrick McLaurin’s version


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