A friend of the blog has had Jim McGillivray send me one of his polypenco Aurora JM chanters to try out before sending it on to them. Jim has had a hand in designing several chanters, including the CE Kron Medalist and The Gael from Jim’s previous collaboration with Roddy MacLellan. The Aurora JM comes out of the shop of Dunbar bagpipe makers, which is consistent with all the work they do for him restoring pipes and making reproductions of old pipes for his piping retail business. The Aurora JM is different than both the Medalist and the Gael.
The Aurora JM is designed to be a flatter chanter (like the Gael in that respect), and it accomplishes that being a full 4 Hz flatter than a Shepherd MK 3, which I consider to be the flattest chanter used by pipe bands. Where my MK 3 comes in at 479 Hz with a Shepherd Bb reed, the Aurora comes in at 475 Hz. As an aside, this particular Bb reed is unlike my other Shepherd Bb reeds which actually tune to Bb in my Shepherd Orchestral chanter; this one is a few Hz sharp of Bb. The sharpest I got the Aurora was with an easy Gilmour playing at 25″ H2O and even then, I only got the pitch up to 480 Hz.
I found the finger spread easy to adapt to. Below is a photo with the Shepherd MK 3 on the left, Aurora JM in the middle, and a Colin Kyo on the right. You’ll notice the Aurora has a longer spread between the D and E holes, but the spread on each hand is normal, the same as the Shepherd, slightly longer than the Kyo.
I found the E to be a tad sharp and D to be a tad flat; C# and B were also flat for some reeds. After playing the chanter for 3 days in a row, I might be inclined to move B, C#, and D up the chanter a tad, leaving low A where it is. There’s plenty of room considering the gap between E and D; though that would increase the bottom hand finger spread. But, it’s not my chanter, in any sense of the phrase. One could also simply tape low A down to the rest of the notes, and that’s exactly what I did for the 3/5 reeds that had sharp low As to the rest of the bottom hand. Every reed had tape on high G.
Now for some audio. All recordings are of a set of 1950s Hendersons with X-TREME regular drone reeds; The Zoom H4n Pro field recorder is off to my left at head height. I haven’t been playing all summer due to travel and being home with the kids all day. So, my fingers aren’t in the greatest form. I particularly hate how tight my doublings are; sometimes the second grace note is non-existent. Kids are headed back to school in a few days so I’ll have to resume a more routine practice schedule once they’re out of the house. We start with recordings of the 25″ H2O easy Gilmour at 480 Hz. You’ll notice my drone reeds are set for a harder reed.
Hector the Hero – a tune I usually avoid because it’s close to being over done, but sometimes you just gotta play one of James Scott Skinner’s classics
Lark in the Morning, King of the Pipers, and Troy’s Wedding – two Irish jigs, the second of which is arranged by myself for highland pipes and a past tune of the month), followed by a popular jig by Colin Magee
Paul K’s, Battle of the Braes, and Glenlyon – a set of tunes I got from Fin Moore at a smallpipe workshop a few years ago
Next we’ll have some recordings with the Shepherd Bb reed which eased some during the session, ultimately settling at 29″ H2O, so it needed a wee push to get the drones in as well. This combination resulted in having tape on E and high G and pitched around 475 Hz.
Mrs. Duncan MacFadyen, Duncan Lamont, and Drumlithie – an MSR comprised of Donald MacLeod tunes
John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, The Doune of Invernochty, and Roderick MacDonald – another MSR set, with tunes by William Lawrie, William Grant, and again, Donald MacLeod
Burden of Innocence and Happy Days – a tune I wrote followed by a tune any Battlefield Band fan would recognize
Eileen MacDonald and Hen’s March – off key highland jigs!
For comparison the following recording was made right after those above with the same Shepherd Bb chanter reed, but set in a Shepherd MK 3 chanter. This chanter has tape on high G (half the hole!), D, and C#.
Song for Winter, Hen’s March, and Eileen MacDonald – again, a Shepherd MK 3 chanter with the Shepherd Bb reed used in the recordings just above.
Returning to the Aurora JM chanter, I tried a third reed the third day. I pulled a non-ridge cut Sound Supreme out of my solo Colin Kyo chanter. It was not as good of a match as the Gilmour or Shepherd Bb reeds above. I had to tape low A (a last resort for me) and D and C# were still a tad flat, though all the tape came off the E; so tape only on high G and low A. This was a long session as well and I think my bag is due for another seasoning as moisture seems to be accumulating on the chanter reed. Most noticeable was the pitch that fell from 475 to 473 Hz as the reed got wetter. This reed plays a little harder than the previous at 31″ H2O.
Bloody Fields of Flanders, Lord Lovat’s Lament, Flett from Flotta, Battle of Waterloo, and 51st Highland Division – started off with the melody chosen by Hamish Henderson for his song, Freedom Come All Ye, then worked in some 4/4 marches including a true to timing as written rendering of Flett from Flotta (note the high A quarter note in the ending phrase)
Kantara to El Arish, Murray Huggins’ Sweet Chanter, and Murdo MacGillivray of Eoligarry – Kantara is a tough tune for me, so I play it as often as I can, the strathspey is my own composition, and Murdo was a past tune of the month with MacGillivray in the title!
The Rock and Hollerin’ for Haggis – two hornpipes by Texas composers, and both tunes were previous tunes of the month (so sheet music is available on the Free Tune Page, as are my compositions and a bunch of other stuff)
Kalabakan, The Sister, and Canongate Twitch – a medley quickly becoming a standard for me, the last tune being yet another tune of the month
Turns out the wife was still at work and my daughter was, thankfully, STILL standing in for me on the Nintendo Switch playing with her little brother, so despite how tired I was from the first set of tunes on the Sound Supreme reed above, I figured I needed to knock out a couple more reeds before the weekend zapped my time. I would certainly like to get this chanter on to its real owner. So, next we have a Troy/McAllister reed. I had to tape low A to get it down to the flatter D, C#, and B. No tape on the E here, so just tape on high G and low A. I had modified this Troy reed at some point in the past, taking some cane off the very tips in an effort to bring the high G down (I don’t recall this working, oh well). It did, however, make it one of the batch I received actually playable, haha. The other two I can’t even make squawk. My McAllister reeds come from back when I was trying the RJM chanter, it being the reed that Roddy MacLeod prefers and it also brought the flat D of that chanter up to the rest of the scale.
The Blackbird and Hilton McLaurin’s Jig – another tune of the month (this one was an Irish tune I rearranged for the pipes) and a tune I wrote for my father (the 2nd tune I ever wrote, and still one of my favorites and best, I think)
Lament for the Old Volunteers (74th’s Slow March) – another tune of the month, a slow one this time
Dusky Meadow and The Foxhunter – a Cape Breton strathspey and an Irish reel, both arranged by myself and past tunes of the month
Last, we have uno recording with a Husk reed because I forgot to turn the recorder on. Doh! Again, the low A is taped down to the flatter D, C#, and B. This 32″ H2O reed came in at 473 Hz. Just a tad of tape on E and the most tape on high G of the 5 reeds tested (1/3 of the hole).
Rusty Gully (Wee Totem Fogg) – a common border tune that was recently a tune of the month
- The high G seems well controlled with regard to pitch. While every reed needed tape on high G, what chanter doesn’t?! The fact that I never needed to cover more than 1/3 of the hole AT MOST says a lot in my opinion!
- The chanter is definitely flatter than most (non-Bb) chanters, coming in at an average 474 Hz with robust 30″+ H2O reeds. Really, it is just as flat as many Bb chanters which don’t actually get to 466 Hz unless you have the right reed, though I believe the Aurora will not get to Bb naturally, that is without taping of the bottom hand after pulling the reed out to get the high A to the Bb reference.
- I believe the D, C# and B are consistently flat enough that you’ll likely find yourself taping the low A down to their pitch, depending on the reed.
- The finger spread for both hands is normal. It isn’t the smallest, but certainly not the largest.
- Low G was generally very well pitched, with only one reed coming in about 10 cents sharp of the -31 cent tuning required by just intonation (I don’t recall if it was the Troy/McAllister or the Husk), but this is easily corrected by taping a tone hole or two (though I did not because I was already into recording and I’m lazy).
- F# was also well pitched. I never put tape on it for any of the 5 reeds and it sounded good to me. I never put tape on high A if I can help it, and it never needed it here.
- The reed seat is threaded. You’ll love this feature when fine tuning a reed means a simple clockwise twist further in. You’ll hate it when you twist a reed out and it pulls the bottom wraps of hemp off the reed and you have to rewrap it entirely losing all track of where the reed was sitting before.