September 2018 Tune of the Month: An Londubh (The Blackbird)

I’ve been listening to Mick O’Brien & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s album “Kitty Lie Over” for quite some time, primarily for the title track. However, the tune (and track) An Londubh (played as a hornpipe and reel on the album) stuck out as one that would definitely fit on the highland pipes (they play it on uilleann pipes and fiddle). Here it is on YouTube:

A gander over at the sheet music on thesession.org reveals that even after transposition from D major (because it falls below our scale) up to A major (and turning all resulting G# into G naturals), the tune has a second part that then goes above our scale. But never mind that, as it’s not too tricky to rewrite something passable and that’s just what I’ve done. You can too if you don’t like what I’ve got.

An Londubh (The Blackbird) – Sheet music

I’ve also got a slightly less modified version for those playing in G major but still limited to the highland scale:

Sheet music for this version can be found in the “G major chanter” tune book found here.

August 2018 Tune of the Month: Fhuair Mi Pòg

Allan MacDonald and Margaret Stewart’s album opens with this tune, a lovely rendition of I Got A Kiss Of The King’s Hand. It is also heard many times as a warm up tune in all the live-streamed piping contests. More recently, it was employed as the air in the St. Thomas Alumni’s medley in the grade 2 final at the 2018 World Pipe Band Championships. So, I wrote it down and now I’m sharing it with you. It doesn’t really follow the score you’d find in the Kilberry book, for instance, but a resemblance to the ground can’t really be denied. I have truncated them name to just the first part of the Gaelic name, so I think we’ve just got the “I got a kiss” part.

Fhuair Mi Pòg < ze sheet music (This has been updated [8-22-2018] because I originally wrote it in 6/8 and it’s much easier to understand in 3/4 time. My bad.)

Fhuair Mi Pòg < a quick run through on the pipes

July 2018 Tune of the Month: Maid in the Cherry Tree

July’s tune of the month has been a long time coming. I often feel inspired by a particular tune and so it’s an easy decision. But so far, no inspiration has slapped me upside the head. On another note, I often flip through the new arrangements of mostly Irish tunes that are published on thesession.org in search of new tunes that fit the highland pipe scale. I ran across one called the Curragh Races, which turned out to be a tune I already learned from Jerry O’Sullivan at the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat workshop a couple of years ago but by a different name: Maid in the Cherry Tree. What is provided here is a collection of various arrangements to make 4 parts, mostly inspired by those arrangements found on thesession.org, with some spots wholly rewritten; and I hope you do the same: make the tune your own!

I hope to see you at the Spanish Peaks workshops and concerts in beautiful Colorado!

Maid in the Cherry Tree <- pdf of sheet music

June 2018 Tune of the Month: Dusky Meadow

Dusky Meadow is a strathspey that originates from Cape Breton, as I understand. Its range technically exceeds that of pipes that utilize highland fingering, but it is easy enough to move octaves around to make it fit on our standard scale. Unlike many strathspeys that utilize triplet runs, Dusky Meadow has quadruplet runs with each note having the same length instead of emphasizing the 2nd or 3rd note as common in many triplets. These quadruplets become very cumbersome if gracenotes are added to them, even just to start them off. The way I hear them, they come across as embellishments unto themselves with no further embellishment needed. However, if the rest of the tune is peppered with “standard” gracing the quadruplets stand out like a sore thumb. It turns out, less is more.

I play the tune on the smallpipes in the video below. It is often stated that highland pipe tunes played on the smallpipes could use some trimming to remove excess gracenotes. Smallpipes increase in volume going up the scale as opposed to highland pipes which decrease in volume. This increase in volume at the top of the scale results in lots of chirpy high G gracenotes on top of relatively quiet lower notes if highland tunes go unmodified which ultimately detracts from the melody. Thus, gracenotes must be used judiciously to accent and enhance the melody. The following arrangement has a total of 1 or 2 gracenotes per bar excepting birls (purposefully without preceding high G gracenotes) and high A half doublings. Additionally, those gracenotes accent the more interesting twists the tune takes. While I can’t say I’m going to purposefully rearrange every tune I know to use fewer gracenotes so that the ones I do play have more impact (less is more), this tune has certainly forced me to reevaluate why we use gracenotes and how they should be used.

Dusky Meadow – pdf file

Prototype drone reeds and the entire practice session

There’s a LOT to conquer in this post.

  1. I’m unemployed now so I figure I’ll start practicing for real, haha. Expect a lot more posts, although the kids get out for summer in a month so we’ll see how that goes. Got any topics you want covered?
  2. I’m testing some prototype drone reeds. This post has them in Colin Kyo bagpipes with the mic in front of me. Yesterday had them in Gellaitry bagpipes with the mic behind me; a single recording of that is HERE. The chanter is exactly the same as it fits in both pipes (older Colin Kyo with Sound Supreme reed). I like to stand behind people when I’m listening to them play so that I can hear the drones at their best, but when listening for chanter drone balance, those consulted thought it best to record from the front. However, the mic is still up high at about 6’4″. What do YOU think of the drone tone?
  3. These reeds are a second iteration, the first having VERY bold tenors with harmonics flying everywhere. The tenors have been dialed back a bit but still have non-negligible overtones, more overtone amplitude than many commercially available reeds currently on the market. What we’ll see below is that the drones go out of tune more often due to these overtones (not really). A while back I wrote a couple of posts (The Illusion of Drone Locking and Tuning Tenor Bold Pipes) about how there was a trend in pipes (MacDougall-ish) and reeds (mellow tenor, big bass) that posited the stability (why such pipes were/are in demand) perceived with such pipes with dominant bass and mellower tenors was not actually stability, but the inability to hear the drones going out of tune because the higher frequency overtones weren’t loud enough to be heard (the beating frequency is faster for overtones than for the fundamental for the same amount of out-of-tuneness). In the recordings that follow, you can hear the drones go out of tune and it’s not super obvious sometimes, but the overall tone just sounds…dirty. They eventually settle in a bit, but even the last track has me retuning beforehand. It is terribly fun to play with such overtones WHEN they’re in tune! But it is a bit distracting when the drones start to drift. If your tenors weren’t as full of overtones, it would be harder to notice the drones drifting because the lower frequency fundamental wouldn’t sound out of tune over the length of a typical note. Take note that retuning involved moving all 3 drones in the same direction every time, so they’re largely moving together, but not with the chanter pitch. Note that I tune the outside tenor first with the other drones off followed by tuning the middle tenor to outside tenor with the bass off, then I turn the bass on and the middle tenor off. Also note that most movements of the drone are tiny little twists that move the drone very small amounts up and down. I usually hate tenors with overtones because I can never get them tuned, but these reeds are very easy to tune. Also, these two tenor reeds are not identical as one has a smaller aperture than the other; this is on purpose as various designs are tried. Perhaps if they were more similar I’d experience even less difference in tuning drift.
  4. I played for the first time in a month yesterday, the hiatus due to sinus illness. So this is my second day back on the job. What follows is my entire practice session, tuning included, broken into chunks. Some of it is garbage but I’m posting it anyway. Maybe you’d like to hear me suck at playing? If you’re interested in listening to me tune to these audible overtones, listen to the tuning clips. *If you’re just here to listen to the audio that’s in tune with minimal flubs, look for asterisks to denote less-sucky recordings.*

1_jeannie_carruthers – don’t bother, warming up

2_reels_that_sucked – ugh, how does that tune go again?

3_drone_tuning – straightforward drone tuning, a little bit of wondering if I need to do something about high G

4_donella_beaton-curlew – something like that, I should buy a metronome, huh, not the tune I meant to switch to

5_drone_tuning – high G gets a little mod too

6_pm_calum_campbells_caprice-big_yin-arnish_light – yeah…keeping tunes straight is HARD, and huh, phrasing needs “work” – you can hear the drones start to drift at the end

7_drone_tuning

8_kalabakan-sleepy_maggie-dancing_feet – hey, I didn’t totally screw up, just maybe started a little faster than my brain could remember how the tune went

9_E_tuning – notice how it just sounds dirty with hard to hear beat frequencies

10_king_of_laois-lark_in_the_morning_merrily_kissed_the_quaker – I hate that the drones were out for this set, from the get go, my bad, can you tell?

11_out_of_tune – confirming out of tuneness

12_drone_tuning – fairly straightforward

13_mo_ghile_mear-neilis-ger_the_rigger*Listen to this one*

14_high_G_tuning

15_snug_in_a_blanket-thornton_jig-humours_of_trim – did they settle yet? maybe not…*Okay you can listen to this one also*

16_drone_tuning – just a tad bit out as suspected

17_seth_hamons_gamble-paddy_cronins-ballater_rant-lady_doll_sinclair – *Listen to this one* I think it went okay despite not remembering how a tune I wrote goes

18_cowal_gathering-susan_macleod-murdo_macgillivray_of_eoligarry – yeah….ugh……meh…..phrasing sucks in the march, especially the ending phrase; focal dystonia is lame, I thought it was going a lot better than it sounds in this recording, haha

19_aires_de_pontevedra-muineira_de_casu – *Listen to this one* high G, you are my favorite note! It is probably obvious there are lots of versions of the second tune, as I fumble between them, lol

20_ellenor-quaker – haven’t played either in ages, at least that’s the way it feels! Drones seem to be holding well enough to this point.

21_drone_tuning – just a little out, and then I make them a lot out, and then I fixed it…

22_irish_giant-humours_of_whiskey-eavesdropper-paddy_clancys – a few muffs due to fatigue so I decided to turn around half way through so you can hear them with the mic in front of me at the beginning and behind me at the end

April 2018 Tune of the Month: Marquis of Tullibardine

I was listening to Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas’ Stirling Castle set which contains Jenny Dang the Weaver, one of the coolest reels ever. So I arranged a version for myself and thought about posting that as the tune of the month, but it is already a fairly common tune. But in studying all the old settings available at Ceol Sean you run across a bunch of other cool tunes on the same page! One really cool tune was the Marquis of Tullibardine’s Reel. While David Glen’s version of Jenny Dang the Weaver is rather lacking, his is the best arrangement of Marquis; except that the ending shared by all versions is super lame. Such a great tune debased by its ending. So, I rewrote the ending! Perhaps you can come up with something better than I did?

Marquis of Tullibardine

Marquis of Tullibardine’s Reel – youtube

March 2018 Tune of the Month: Fraher’s Jig

I forgot to publish a tune of the month at the beginning of March! That, combined with a request for sheet music and today being St. Patrick’s day, brings you a jig I associate with the Irish music tradition: Fraher’s Jig. What you’ll find below is a myriad of arrangements that I’ve collected or written myself.

The Tune of the Month series quickly stopped being a vehicle to promote competition tunes not long after it was started. What it turned into was, “Hey, look at this cool new session/kitchen piping tune I found!” So, while Fraher’s Jig isn’t new to me, it does give me the opportunity to point out the need for variability in our arrangements. Non-piping audiences need us to play through tunes as least twice/thrice! They need to be given the opportunity to get into the groove so as to understand the tune. It is then imperative for us to explore all the possible ways to play a tune and still be playing the same tune! It’s akin to composing a new tune, except that the theme is already set, we just need to find all the variations. What variations can you find in the music you already play?

Fraher’s Jig < PDF sheet music (you’ll see some harmony at the end that corresponds with some mucking about I did in Apple’s Garageband a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.)

Fraher’s Jig < Garageband

Audio that more closely resembles the variations (I start playing some reels afterwards):

February 2018 – Tune of the Month

Back when I played “A” smallpipes in an Irish session, one of the tunes I could play along with was the High Reel. I believe the whole set of tunes I would play were the High Reel, Dinky Dorian’s, and Dick Gossip’s. It’s been ages since I’ve played the High Reel and I felt it needed an update so I changed the arrangement a tad and subsequently figured it would make a good tune of the month.

High Reel – pdf

Below is a set of tunes I used to play with some Irish session musicians as they kindly played along with me on my “A” Scottish smallpipes; though I’ve arranged High Reel differently now.

High Reel x2, Dinky Dorian’s, and Dick Gossip’s

More Highland Pipes in G

I have been working more on my highland pipes in G. The tonal quality was much compromised with earlier iterations with very heavy taping on E and C leaving not much of those holes uncovered. I have since had the idea to actually insert tacky putty into the chanter bore against the inside wall to narrow the bore around those notes and therefore flatten them. No tape is now needed on E, though C still needs some to bring it down to C natural in addition to the ~15 cents it needs to be flat to be in tune against G drones. Think of it as the opposite of carving a chanter. I do notice that the chanter cuts out more readily than before, undoubtedly caused by the bore restrictions introduced by the putty. However, it’s good practice for keeping the pressure up and allows the C and E notes to sound much more clearly. The E note is a little wonky against G drones being a 6th, I think I need a different just intonation value to tune it against. Maybe?

Seth Hamon’s Gamble & Paddy Cronin’s

Kitty Lie Over & Ulverston Volunteers