MSRHJ Society & drone reeds for Colin Kyo bagpipes

You know me, gotta get 4 birds with every stone. Today’s post is to:

  1. introduce you to a Facebook group I’ve created named the MSRHJ Society
  2. share my recent competition success in grade 2 MSR and HJ competitions
  3. share some audio that encapsulates the two above while demonstrating some drone reeds in a Colin Kyo bagpipe
  4. have a short discussion on competition tempos taken from a forum post of mine

1 – The MSRHJ Society (March, Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe, Jig), at this point, exists solely as a Facebook group because Facebook is an easy platform within which to organize group member videos and discussion. It is moderated to be a safe space to upload your own performances within the competitive light music genres (6/8 marches are okay too) where you can discuss those performances with other group members. I grew up listening to the 1984 Grant’s Piping Championship and William Livingstone Sr. Invitational albums, the former featuring Mx2 Sx2 Rx2 and the latter MSRHJ as their respective competition formats. I am very fond of both formats as I feel once through a tune isn’t really enough and I enjoy the incorporation of traditional hornpipes and jigs into the MSR. If you’re interested, jump on over and join the group on Facebook (which requires a Facebook account).

2 – I recently had success in the MSR and HJ grade 2 events at the Salado, TX Scottish Festival, winning both; I do not play piobaireachd.* Below are my score sheets and below that are recordings I made three days later of the same tunes I played in the competition to give you an idea of where I’m at with these tunes in the context of the score sheets. I did not think to do this until after I had played my competition M with a different SR, so I played a different M with my competition SR, hence why there are 3 recordings and only 2 score sheets. Again, these are not recordings made during my competition, just the same tunes save for the extra SR after the relevant M and an extra M before the relevant SR.

MSR score sheet – Jack Lee – Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen, Inveraray Castle, Rejected Suitor

Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen, Duncan Lamont, Drumlithie

Jeannie Carruthers, Inveraray Castle, Rejected Suitor

HJ score sheet – Bob Richardson – The Redundancy, Kenneth MacDonald’s Jig

The Redundancy, Kenneth MacDonald’s Jig

The recordings above feature a different set of pipes than what I played in competition. In this post, I feature Colin Kyo drones with Redwood tenors and a Crozier glass fiber bass (except for the last recording down below). I am also using a different Colin Kyo chanter and chanter reed than what I used in competition (John Elliott Sound Supreme = competition, Husk = recordings).

3 – I used to play full Ezeedrone in my Kyos but I have struggled as of late to get the sound I once had. I have set up of a local friend’s set of Kyos with Redwood tenors and I *think* original Kinnaird bass, so I opted to try Redwood tenors in my set again and they delivered. Lovely bold, but smooth tone, with a great harmonic. I paired them with a Crozier glass bass I acquired used with a set of pipes some years ago. This Crozier bass has good tone, but is unstable for some reason; perhaps the bridle is old and loose, or something. It needed drastic retuning between sets far more than the Redwoods which was quite minimal. Below are some other MSR and HJ sets I recorded with this set up before trying a different bass reed to conclude.

The Clan MacColl, MacBeth’s, Traditional – what do you think of my timing choice for Traditional (which is largely written without dot/cut rhythms in Donald MacLeod’s book 3)?

John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, Doune of Invernochty, Roderick MacDonald

Lucy Cassidy, The Herringwife – Tunes I decided to learn because of John Wilson and Hugh McCallum’s World’s Greatest Pipers albums, respectively.

Lastly, I decided this Crozier glass wasn’t stable enough for me so I threw in an older prototype of the Ackland 480 reeds that I tested back in February and only rediscovered recently as being a solid, though very bold reed; played here with the Redwood tenors from above.

Major Manson’s Farewell to Clachantrushal, Susan MacLeod, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree – Connor Sinclair recently won the Glenfiddich light music contest (Mx2 Sx2 Rx2) playing these first two tunes; I do not know his reel, Broadford Bay, so I played Iain MacFadyen’s reel from the Grant’s album I mentioned earlier (which Iain played with Kantara to El Arish and Inveraray Castle – another two of my tunes).

The old prototype Ackland is a good bass, but a bit overpowering of the Redwood tenors. I realized after the practice session that I have a spare original Kinnaird bass since I’m using an X-TREME bass with the Kinnaird tenors in my solo pipe (Gellaitry). But, I was blown out so I’ll try the original Kinnaird bass tomorrow; perhaps my local friend and I will play the exact same drone set up in our Kyos after all. Though I might just buy me another X-TREME bass, it’s a good reed I already use in my Gellaitry and 1950 Henderson.

EDIT: 2019-11-13 Below are two recordings with the original Kinnaird bass. I like! The first is a HJ preceded by me tuning the drones; this recording is drone heavy because of the mic placement.

Tuning, PM George Allan, Alan MacPherson of Mosspark – not bad for not having played the jig in years, I’m thinking

74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Shepherd’s Crook, Alick C MacGregor – this MSR is basically opposite of the HJ above with regard to mic placement


The rest of the Glenfiddich performances can be heard by going to The National Piping Centre’s VIMEO page.

4 – Here are the tempos from the Glenfiddich competition as best as I could tell (M S R):

Connor 69 120 80
Finlay 65 115 79
Niall 67 120 82
Callum 66 117 83
Stuart 66 113 81
Glenn 68 120 85
Gordon 70 121 79
Iain 70 117 78
Andrew 67 114 80
Jack 64 115 78

Strathspeys were the hardest as the tempo would fluctuate up to 25 bpm sometimes (125 down to 100) over technical or heavily navigated sections.

Contrasting with the same competition in 1984 (Grant’s):

Iain MacFadyen: 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. Other reels included 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.

You know where I’m going with this. Modern competition tempos have slowed. Personally, I think at modern tempos, some tunes are losing their melodies.

*I played through Hiharin Dro O Dro (twice!), I am proud to play a pipe, and Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon over the span of two days since returning from competition, so maybe there’s a piobaireachd player in there somewhere after all.

October 2019 Tune of the Month: Joseph MacDonald’s Jig

A large part of my repertoire is taken from my favorite albums. One of those is Battlefield Band’s album Home is Where the Van Is. How can you match the talent of Brian McNeill, Duncan McGillivray, Ged Foley, and Alan Reid? Duncan’s playing of The Cowal Gathering has inspired me to continue using it as one of my longest running 2/4 marches for competition. Brian’s playing of James Scott Skinner’s The Iron Man is a masterclass in strathspey playing (not for highland dancers, though). If you’re not tapping your foot in Miss Thompson, you’re dead. If The Keelman Ower Land doesn’t make you want to buy Northumbrian pipes, or at least play it on your Scottish smallpipes with 1.5″ brass tubes in the end of your drones so that they tune to G and cover almost the entirety of your C# hole with tape so that it sounds C natural instead (sheet music here in the G major tunebook). The piobaireachd-ish excerpt at the end of The Boar & The Fox, itself set to Sleep Dearie Sleep, makes one actually enjoy listening to piobaireachd, especially given the brevity in this case. You should buy the album.

Getting to the point, track 6 is a set of three jigs, the latter two I’ve been playing for some time: The Snuff Wife and The Thief of Lochaber. I can’t actually play The Snuff Wife without then going into The Thief of Lochaber; they are married to each other never to be separated. I’ve fingered along with the first jig, but just recently got around to writing it down: Joseph MacDonald’s Jig. It’s a great tune and should be played more often as a 4 part jig.

The first two parts are traditional but the 3rd and 4th parts were written by Duncan McGillivray, which prevents me from publishing the entire score. I’m not going to publish any sheet music this time around. You can find the sheet music in a couple different places:

Without gracenotes in ABC notation – first 2 parts in ABC notation; if you aren’t using ABC notation what are you doing with your life? Paying for bagpipe specific notation software? Why?! ABC has a highland bagpipe setting and allows you to grab most any traditional tune (because every other folk music already uses ABC notation) and see if it transposes (which most ABC programs do automatically) to the bagpipe key. Yeah, and ABC is free as is most graphical software that interfaces to ABC. I use EasyABC (which you may need to get from sourceforge instead). Here’s your opportunity to listen to the tune played by Duncan (above) or myself (below) and finish out the 3rd and 4th parts yourself in ABC notation! Gracenotes go in curly braces {} and set the key field like this to put it in bagpipe mode: K:Hp

A highland pipe setting from Jim McGillivray – first 2 parts arranged for the highland pipes already

The 4 part version played by Duncan on the album is available in Forward With Scotland’s Past, a book of Battlefield Band’s sheet music that spans multiple albums for £12 (mine should be in the mail shortly!).

Joseph MacDonald’s Jig <- here’s me sight reading my transcription of the tune, Colin Kyo drones and chanter with Ackland 480 drone reeds and Husk chanter reed