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, thesession.org.
Having switched studios, my daughter’s yearly dance recital did not conflict with the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival & Highland Games in May (Albuquerque, NM) so I finally had a chance to return to a favorite games of mine, after 15 years if I’ve done my figuring correctly. At only 5 hours away this is the closest piping competition to Lubbock, TX. Two weeks later, I competed at my first indoor competition, the Austin Piping and Drumming Competition; Austin is 6 hours away. If I were not going to Yellowstone for vacation, I’d also attend the Pikes Peak Celtic Festival in Colorado Springs in another 2 weeks (about an 8 hour drive), making my competition season 4 weeks long. But, that’s it really for games that have piping competitions. There’s one in Tulsa, OK in September but I can’t find a website, hrm.
With owning many pipes, the first thing to do is pick which set of pipes to play in competition. The pipes I play most are my band pipes, my old Hendersons. The only other two currently in rotation are my Colin Kyo and Tim Gellaitry sets. It had been some time since I featured Tim’s pipe in competition and so I decided to go with them. This decision was reinforced by the glorious drone tone I’ve been getting with them. I have always loved the tone of them as one of the best and most stable using all original Kinnaird drone reeds, however I have recently switched to Chris Armstrong’s X-TREME bass drone reed and it is all sorts of fantastic. THE BEST BASS DRONE I HAVE EVER HEARD. Coupled with the tenors still using original Kinnaird, I get a most excellent, harmonic drone tone. I got many compliments from fellow competitors and judges alike on the tone of the drones. It should come as no surprise, my chanter of choice is Colin Kyo. A custom straight cut Husk was used in ABQ as their weather is similar to Lubbock’s but it started double toning on F in the humidity of Austin so about 10 minutes before I was to start my series of performances in Austin, I had to switch to a different CK chanter equipped with a Gilmour reed that’s as probably as old as my 7 year old son, luckily it played nicer with the humidity.
Below, you’ll find recordings of the pipes as played in Austin, though the chanter isn’t quite settled in for non-humid Lubbock as I’m still moving the reed and tape back to where they were prior to Austin. EJ Jones once told me it takes days to tune a bagpipe. TRUTH.
The mic is behind me so you can hear the drones clearly (understatement of the month). Most of the tunes below are competition tunes and some are ones I actually played, but not all.
One topic I have pondered much in recent years is tempo. I grew up listening to recordings of pipe music about as old as I was. Much of my MSR repertoire mimics the 1984 Grant’s Piping Championship album (available on iTunes if you can tolerate the random distortion from the “old” recording). While digitizing this album yesterday from my old cassette tape, I took a few tempo measurements. Iain MacFadyen played one of my MSR: Kantara to El Arish at 74 bpm, Inveraray Castle at 142 bpm, and Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree at 95 bpm. Truly an engaging performance. The slowest reel came from Hugh MacCallum’s John MacKechnie at 85 bpm, Malcolm MacRae’s at 98, Murray Henderson’s at 92, Gavin Stoddart’s at 90, and Bill Livingstone’s at 94. Other strathspey tempos were anywhere from 128-138. Marches in the low 70s. I feel that common tempos have fallen to slightly lower values at the current time. Marches are often in the mid 60s, strathspeys right around 120, and reels in the low to mid 80s. While I have enjoyed more measured performances, with great care taken in rhythm, and have tried to mimic them on occasion, I have come to the conclusion that I prefer slightly faster tempos. Marches are for marching and strathspeys & reels are dance music (and I don’t mean modern highland dancing). Strathspeys are a derivative of reels evidenced by, if nothing else, the often quoted SWMW emphasis in 4/4 time strathspeys which directly coincides with the cut time of reels: 2/2. Piping has many idioms, and I find myself favoring the THIS IS A HIGHLAND BAGPIPE AND I’M GOING TO GET YOUR BLOOD PUMPING style because MACPHERSON HOLDS THE FLOOR.
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 (www.ceolsean.net). 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.