Tune of the Month December 2018: The Curragh

This jig, when played on accordion anyway, sounds like it comes right out of a Scottish country dance band repertoire. The last 3 notes of the first line need to be played an octave up from the original but I think it fits nicely. Paddy O’Brien was a famous accordion player and composer who died in 1991. A book of his compositions is for sale which makes me hesitant to share the sheet music, though the dots can be had from thesession.org which is where I found them when researching a previous tune of the month: The Maid in the Cherry Tree which is also known as the Curragh Races; however, I don’t really have sympathy for composers’ rights holders when they let their book fall out of print/availability. Since the book seems to no longer be in print, until that’s rectified, I’ll post the sheet music here.

The Curragh <- pdf of sheet music

The Curragh <- mp3 on the highland bagpipe

November 2018 Tune of the Month: Kitty O’Neil’s Champion Jig

There’s quite the history that goes into November 2018’s Tune of the Month. I first heard this tune on Fred Morrison’s “Broken Chanter” album (first tune on track 4 which is just labeled “Hornpipes”). I thought I found the title of the tune some time ago: Kitty O’Shea. However, this isn’t the correct title of the tune. It seems the famed Irish musician Tommy Peoples mixed up the name and it stuck. The actual title is Kitty O’Neil’s Champion Jig. Considering Fred listed it as a hornpipe, more about its “jig” nature is printed on the actual sheet music provided below and even further details can be found about the tune and its famed fiddler namesake who played a 7 part version of it can be found on this website: www.blarneystar.com/articles.html.

The version here is only, and very roughly, the first two parts. This tune was likely my first introduction to accidentals: C natural and F natural. Since recently rediscovering the tune with a now working set of border pipes and a Shepherd Orchestral chanter which plays better accidentals than even my border pipe chanter as evidenced in the October 2018 Tune of the Month post, I have arranged the tune myself beyond Fred’s version incorporating more bits of the original, inspiration from Irish sources, and my own preferences.

Kitty O’Neil’s Champion Jig < Sheet Music

Kitty O’Neil’s Champion Jig < MP3 file

Kitty O’Neil’s Champion Jig Simple Version < Sheet Music of a simpler version

There is currently no audio of the simpler version.

I’ll conclude with my distaste for the practice chanter. Pipers learn on a 9-note instrument and then graduate to a pipe chanter that can play accidentals with cross fingering giving 11+ notes. Cross fingering is a technique that does not work on practice chanters due to their cylindrical bore. I feel pipe chanter design and our common highland repertoire is adversely affected by the lack of accidentals in our music perpetuated by the use of practice chanters as a learning and practice instrument. The only reason practice chanters are in continual use is the high degree of technique our instrument has developed, though even uilleann pipers start on the actual, conically bored, instrument/chanter. Thus, it must only be the ridiculous strength of highland pipe reeds that ultimately demands one learn the fingering on a practice chanter before wrestling the big nasty octopus that is a highland bagpipe. What a shame. As you can tell, I’m still in the process of incorporating crossfingered notes into my scale, as such the tempo is a little slow. Join me in the challenge and let’s see where we are by the end of the month!

Recall that most chanters attain a C natural by playing with your bottom hand ring finger down *instead* of your pinkie and the F natural with your top hand ring finger down, all else being the same as the usual C# and F# notes. Take note that what pipers usually call “C” and “F” are actually C# and F# on the chromatic scale. C (natural) and F (natural) are the accidentals, being not contained within the D major (A mixolydian) highland pipe scale. If you would like to learn more about these things, go to this page on my blog.

October 2018 Tune of the Month: Ducks on the Mill Pond

Crazy (and long) post that includes the following: 1. Tune of the Month 2. The Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat 3. A Cocuswood David Glen highland pipe 4. Shepherd Bb chanter 5. Accidentals 6. Tunes outside the highland piping tradition. Whew!

This was my fifth year attending the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat organized by Jim Conley in conjunction with the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival in La Veta, Colorado. The retreat/workshop focuses on the playing of Scottish smallpipes. Returning as an instructor this year was Tim(othy) Cummings who gave us a couple more Appalachian tunes to augment our repertoire from the year before; additionally Tim gave me a couple “challenge” tunes which have been quite fun and in line with my desire to increase my own repertoire beyond the highland tradition, both of these tunes can be heard below. A short plug for Tim: he is an awesome smallpipe instructor, music collector, and all around nice guy. Any workshop with him will be worthwhile. The band Heron Valley was over from Scotland playing at the festival and so their piper, Euan McNab, also taught a few tunes in the Scottish tradition when he had time to escape his performance responsibilities. What a great, young band.

The tune of the month for October 2018 is a tune Tim gave us during the retreat: Ducks on the Mill Pond. This is a great little hornpipey reel from the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the U.S. Sheet music can be obtained from Tim for $1.00. Just uno dinero. He’s got a bunch of other tunes that can also be purchased for that paltry sum, some of which are featured further down in this post. Note that this and some other sheet music obtained from Tim’s website comes with two versions of the tune, a simple melody that accompanies the included lyrics and also a “hoedown” version; I am playing only the hoedown version. Listen here on my new-to-me 1910ish David Glen cocuswood bagpipe (more on that below):

Ducks on the Mill Pond and The High Drive (Gordon Duncan)

A tune that surfaced during a jam session at the retreat was The High Drive by Gordon Duncan, but all mayhem broke loose when we reached the last line of the tune, as it seemed I was at odds with a few of the other versions out there. Without realizing it when I learned the tune from the music book “Gordon Duncan’s Tunes”, the last line has 5 bars! The others did a good job of having me question my sanity but upon returning home from the retreat I was vindicated by the sheet music, muahahahahahaha. You can hear Stuart Liddell play the extra bar as well in this youtube clip:

On to the 1910ish cocuswood David Glen bagpipe. CITES developments have made me nervous for a while so when this pipe came up for sale I jumped on it. It comes with the original chanter which is mostly for provenance now as I haven’t found a reed that doesn’t squeal yet (a thought just hit me, maybe a border pipe reed?). The pipe was located in Canada and had 2 rings that were still ivory along with the chanter sole. I had the seller ship the pipes to Dunbar to have the ivory removed and replaced with Mexican royal ebony, also known as katalox. I think Rick at Dunbar did a great job, at a great price, and at great speed. The saying about car repair, “you can have it done fast, well done, and cheap; but you can only pick two” doesn’t apply to Dunbar bagpipes, you get ALL THREE.

Before:

After:

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the pipes, but they don’t seem the most forgiving when it comes to drone reed selection. I’ve got a set of Rocket reeds in there now and they seem to go quite well. Canning reeds also seem to go well. For whatever reason, a lot of drone reeds just shut off. I’ve tied them into an old L&M bag and since my stash of Airtight smelled more gross than I remember a new bottle smelling, I’ve settled for seasoning the bag with 100% vegetable glycerin which turns out to be very runny. During the recording session I actually had some leak out around the chanter while I was playing! So I drained the bag a second time afterwards. Perhaps I need to get some more Airtight ordered? The drones come in right around concert Bb, 466 Hz, so I’ve paired them with a Shepherd “Orchestral” chanter, which is a solid Bb chanter. I’m playing a previous model Husk chanter reed. What will be obvious from the remaining recordings in this post is how well this chanter and reed combination plays the C and F natural accidentals!

You may have noticed I have not been posting much recently, save for the Tunes of the Month. I have been playing a lot of bagpipes in my new found unemployment, but not just highland bagpipes. In addition to Scottish smallpipes and border pipes, I am also playing in a border pipe ensemble using Jon Swayne border pipes in G. I understand they are English border pipes in G with some French chanter design influences, so I call them the Frenglish pipes. The chanter has the back thumb hole for the C natural (in highland terminology), and also plays the F natural and G sharp accidentals really well, in addition to having high B, C, C#, and D readily accessible in the next octave. This pipe has done a wonderful job making my fingers do new and crazy fingerings. Our repertoire is mostly English, French, Breton, and Galician. Here I am playing a Galician tune:

I also have a Seivane gaita chanter in Do (C) whose cork-like tenon wrapping fits perfectly into my 1960s Sinclair chanter stock whose drones I have tuned all the way up to concert C (Redwood bass reed, single Colin Kyo tenor reed, other tenor is plugged). Here I am playing a Galician tune:

Back to the highland pipes, influenced by my playing of non-highland bagpipes, I’ve got some more tunes for you on the new-to-me Glen pipes. First up is another Appalachian tune Tim gave us at the 2017 retreat followed by a jig I picked up from a Facebook video of uilleann piper Tiarnan O Duinnchinn. The Appalachian tune, Cluck Old Hen, utilizes C natural instead of our usual C#, which is fingered with the ring finger down instead of the pinkie. I play the song arrangement through twice followed by the hoedown version twice through. The jig that follows has no accidentals outside our normal A mixolydian scale, but it is also about a chicken so I figured they’d go well together despite being different time signatures.

Cluck Old Hen and When the Cock Crows it is Day

Next we have some bourrées. The first one is in 3/8 and is one of Tim’s challenge tunes. The rest are in some version of common time from the border pipe ensemble repertoire. You’ll hear heavy use of both the C and F naturals in the first and third tunes. You’ll also hear a mistake in each of the first three tunes, but the fourth managed to go unscathed.

Bourrees – the first one, “Calarem, calarem pas“, can also be bought from Tim’s website.

Lastly are some 3/2 hornpipes. If you have Gary West’s “Hinterlands” album he plays this set, turns out. However, I got the tunes from other sources. The first tune I’ve heard more recently in this very entrancing video on Facebook:

Comments in the video indicated the tune is called “Came Ye O’er Frae France”, however, what sheet music I can find doesn’t match what is played in the video so I transcribed it from the video (I have doubts about my transcription so I’ll have to work on it a bit more to make sure). I’m just gonna call it “A Lancashire Hornpipe”. Let’s just say, low G to C natural is tricky due to the ring finger and pinkie switch. The second tune is another of Tim’s challenge tunes: Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe. You may notice a dearth of gracenotes, which are less common in other piping traditions, which is just my excuse for sight reading the tunes and throwing gracenotes in there when I have the spare brain capacity to do so.

A Lancashire Hornpipe and Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe

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