I probably found The Canongate Twitch browsing through thesession.org looking for tunes that fit the range of the different kinds of bagpipes I play (6 now, I think, though 3 of those nominally have the same, Scottish, scale). I thought, “what a great tune, shame about the first line phrase endings.” So I rewrote them, as I was in a bit of a composing fit at the time.
Turns out this tune has been covered before by The Battlefield Band and The Tannahill Weavers (cannot verify). Perhaps it references the Canongate district of Edinburgh? The tune has similarities in the first part to The Woman of the House in the centre in David Glen’s Irish Tunes for for the Scottish and Irish War Pipes. Woman of the House is yet another tune that has similarities but isn’t close enough to be quite the same tune, in my opinion (I’ve added it to my list of tunes I’m going to learn on the uilleann pipes though).
If we take this source (which attributes the Tannahill Weavers for the setting), the Tannies and the Batties play very similar versions of The Canongate Twitch, so there’s history somewhere in there, I’m just not sure how to connect the dots. Below I’ve provided the Batties/Tannies version along with my own so you can decide which you like better for yourself. If you feel my setting lacks the usual number of gracenotes expected for a highland pipe setting, I decided to cut back on the number of gracenotes my brain was automatically adding because I felt it was just too much and they got in the way of the melody.
I have found that drilling out the top fraction of a chanter’s “throat” with a 3/16″ drill bit will flatten sharp high Gs. It will also flatten high A and sharpen F#. So far, it seems important to not drill all the way through the throat as then high G will be way too flat and the F# will become susceptible to collapsing all the way down to F (natural). Leaving 1/4″ to 1/2″ of original bore at the bottom of the chanter throat seems to give the best result.
Most chanter bores that I’ve measured are slightly larger than 5/32″ (0.15625″ = 3.96875 mm) but slightly smaller than 11/64″ (0.171875″ = 4.365625 mm), so my guess is 4.2 mm or thereabouts. Exceptions include the Ayrfire chanter at a full 11/64″ or slightly larger (4.5 mm?), as is an old David Glen chanter I have. The chanter throat is the cylindrical section of the bore between the reed seat and the main conical section where the finger holes are. The chanter throat’s length varies; I’ve measured them from 7/8″ to 1.5″ long.
If one accidentally drills all the way, or just too far, through the chanter throat at 3/16″, you can cut a short length (1/4″ – 1/2″) of 3/16″ OD (outer diameter) K&S Engineering hobby brass or aluminum* (my preference because it is softer and easier to work with) tubing and push it down into the bottom of the chanter throat to reduce the ID (inner diameter) back to “normal” as the wall thickness of their tubing is 0.014″ which puts the ID of the tubing at 3/16″ – 2 x 0.014″ = 0.1595″ = 4.0513 mm.
I’ve have drilled at 3/16″ into a modern chanter (drilled all the way through and then added tubing) and an old Sinclair (didn’t drill all the way through, left 1/4″ original bore at the bottom of the throat), in that chronological order. You can return the chanter to “normal” by inserting a piece of tubing that is the full length of the chanter throat.
Packs of drill bits often come with 5/32″ and 3/16″ bits. You’ll likely have to buy an 11/64″ individually, but it should be available at most hardware stores. However, I found the 11/64″ didn’t change the Sinclair’s throat bore enough to affect the desired flattening, but your results may vary. I did drill out, all the way, a Gibson chanter to 11/64″ with seemingly no ill effects, but also not much high G flattening either. Barely any material was removed as it was one of those bores between 5/32″ and 11/64″. If your chanter has a true 5/32″ bore to start, 11/64″ may be a good place to begin before jumping all the way up to 3/16″. However, 11/64″ OD tubing is not (as readily) available (not made by K&S Engineering anyway) so you couldn’t experiment with added tubing until you jump up to 3/16″.
Here is the video of me experimenting on the Sinclair chanter, trying to see if what I observed when experimenting on my modern chanter also helped fix an old chanter’s VERY sharp high G. It’s not a demonstration of how to do it, it is literally me filming the entire *experiment*, starting with an 11/64″ bit and then going to 3/16″ when that didn’t accomplish much. It’s 55 minutes long. Try this at your own risk.
I have yet again revised my G major highland bagpipe setup which involves tuning the drones to low G instead of low A and then retuning the entire chanter. This latest iteration has me running Kron Standard drones (because they’re the flattest AND most accommodating drones), Ross Omega drone reeds (due to their inherent customization) fitted to brass tubing reed extenders, laminate Colin Kyo chanter with some putty in the E and C# holes to tune them correctly to G drones (super flat because E adopts the tuning of the standard F#; the C# actually gets turned into a C natural so it needs putty AND tape), and a Gilmour reed.
I think it would be really grand for a pipe maker to make a version of this chanter where the note we call low G is tuned to concert pitch A 440 Hz. On a nominal modern highland pipe chanter that tunes around 480 Hz, low G would sound around 427 Hz so we really aren’t that far off. All it would really take is bringing low A up to concert pitch B 493.9 Hz (some modern chanters are already here!). The holes would also need to be shifted and resized to accommodate tuning to the G drones in addition to turning the C# into a C natural. But, what really happens by setting low G to A 440 Hz and turning C# into a C natural is you get what pipers would call a G Major chanter, but since it’s tuned to A 440 Hz, every other musician would call it an A Major chanter. This has the distinct advantage of there already being commercially available drone technology to tune drones to an A 440 Hz reference and it opens up a whole host of new repertoire. Yay! I’ve collected some tunes and you can see them on my Free Tunebooks page (G major chanter tunebook). My setup has low A tuning around 464 Hz which means my low G is at 413 Hz which is why it’s so hard to get my drones so flat! So really, I’m just a couple Hz shy of having a G# Major chanter since my low A is so close to Bb 466 Hz.
Here are some shots of the drone reeds and how far out the bass drone has to tune. The tenors are actually down a fair bit.
I use sticky putty (the tacky stuff college kids use to stick posters to the wall, Blue-tac or something like that) to flatten the notes that need super flattening because otherwise the holes become so taped over that the sound is greatly muffled. Occluding the chanter bore with putty is much more effective for such drastic changes and doesn’t attenuate the volume as much.
Here’s the E hole:
Here’s the C# hole (yellow tape + putty):
The chanter has two types of tape on it. I usually use automotive pin-striping tape as it holds up against the heat without getting sticky and it leaves no residue. However, the tape is rather thin and so it is not very good for taping large open areas because it can get wavy. The yellow tape is the best electrical tape I’ve found for taping chanters (it comes in black, don’t worry). It is Scotch Vinyl Electrical Tape 35 and I bought my most recent roll (brown) from Home Depot.
In order to post something different than before (mostly non-highland piping tunes that can be heard here and here), I figured I’d play some tunes highland pipers would recognize. My selection criteria were that the tunes focused a lot on low G, high G, B, and D since those harmonize the mostly readily against G drones. Jigs are my bread and butter, so I present to you:
Much ado has been made about how Rocket reeds shouldn’t be played in pipes they’re not made for. In general, I’ve found this to be mostly nothing to worry about. I’ve put all sorts of glass tongued Rockets into all sorts of pipes. The worst that ever happened was they consumed air like nothing else, but still sounded great, haha. But one day I acquired a set of carbon tongued Rockets that were made for Robertson pipes and the bass just would not work in the seller’s Hendersons, if I recall correctly. I had the exact same experience. Now, the tenors generally work in any pipe, it’s the bass reed that is selective for a specific bore design. Starting the bass sharp, as one lengthens the bass drone it comes close to in tune, but starts growling and then starts going out of tune again. Here’s what it sounds like in a set of Chris Terry pipes (which are purportedly (Duncan?) MacDougall based):
As any regular reader would know, I’ve got a friend with not one but two sets of Robertsons: 1920s ebony and 1950s blackwood. So a quick jaunt to his house to test if these reeds actually worked in some sort of pipe, and they do! They work just grand in Robertson pipes. Go figure?!
It turns out this friend has his own set of *glass* Robertson spec Rockets, which allowed us to confirm a statement that used to appear on the Kron website (I’ll post a screen shot at the bottom in case the link dies) that stated carbon Rockets were generally mellower than glass Rockets. The glass Rockets below are definitely bolder than the carbon Rockets above (same recording conditions, sorry there’s no chanter).
We didn’t record it but the carbon Rockets worked just as well in his 1920 ebony Robertsons which is curious because there are some bore size difference between the two. It’s like the reeds just know they’re in a set of Robertsons!
Now, I have gotten these carbon Rockets to work in one other pipe, Keith Jeffers. I had to dig through my archive of recordings that I never shared on the blog before to find one but I do have proof from June of 2014:
An attribution error takes us down today’s rabbit hole. I’ve played the tune Eileen MacDonald (C.M. Williamson) for a long time. PM Angus MacDonald also plays it on his Ceol Beag in the Castle album, followed by Nameless Jig he attributed to the same composer. However, it turns out Nameless Jig is listed as Unknown in Scots Guards Vol. 2 on page 150 and is by PS A. M. Lee and H. Workman. Of course, that I already had the music in a book was only realized AFTER I transcribed the tune off of Angus’ album, doh! Thanks to Mic Sorrentino for the heads up! Unfortunately I can’t share the sheet music with you due to copyright concerns, but I figured I’d play the tune along with one of my own compositions that, un-ironically, doesn’t have a name yet either.
The pipes I’m playing in the recordings below are my Chris Terry drones with Redwood tenor and inverted Selbie bass drone reeds along with a decade old plastic Colin Kyo chanter with a current model Husk reed in it. Redwood tenors are bold reeds, which is even more evident since I keep the microphone behind me. I was so taken with the high A blend that I recorded a couple of other sets that feature high A as well. Hope you enjoy!
Mic Sorrentino had suggested Unknown be a tune of the month, though I’d rather find a tune I can share the sheet music for. In the spirit of that though, if you’d like to hear my first run through Unknown and Unnamed on the pipes (a different set of pipes) and with a lot more errors, you can hear that below. Tune of the Month started as a challenge to learn a tune each month and I would post a recording at the beginning and again at the end of the month so progress could hopefully be heard. I’ve pretty much ceased doing that from the start but you’ll get to hear the progress of an hour long piping session. Pipes are 1950’s Hendersons with X-TREME drone reeds all around, Shepherd Orchestral (Bb) chanter with former model Husk chanter reed. I have several pipes and so I play each of them a little bit each day, hence the change in which bagpipe was being played between the beginning and end of my practice session.
Unknown and Unnamed <- just learning the tunes at the beginning of the recording session; the X-TREME bass is a beast is it not?
I have long been enamored with Brian McNamara’s uilleann pipe rendition of King of the Pipers from his album Fort of the Jewels (a great album you should buy). There aren’t any links for you to listen to any part of this album online that I found given a cursory search. Anyways, the tune doesn’t fit the highland pipe scale restrictions so I arranged a highland pipe version. Below you can hear me play it following Lark in the Morning. The tune has a couple of names it’s known by. The superimposed notes at the end of the first part in the sheet music are my lazy way of doing 1st (D) and 2nd (B) endings.
There’s another Irish jig that has been arranged for the highland pipes, Friar’s Britches (or Frieze Breeches). You can hear Andrew Carlisle play it in the Winter Storm Ceol Beag final on Facebook (his performance starts at 1:05:00, jig starts at 1:10:45). This seems to be Andrew’s go to jig as I’ve heard him play it at this competition several times. So there is some history to modifying cool Irish jigs to fit the highland pipe scale.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.