Category Archives: Tune of the Month

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July 2019 Tune of the Month: Within a Mile of Dublin

You probably know that I’ve spent some time learning uilleann pipes so I’ve been staring at a lot of Irish music recently. July’s tune is one that has previously found its way to the highland bagpipe repertoire as it can be found in Terry Tully’s Collection of Traditional Irish Music and on pipetunes.ca (both arranged by Terry), though the setting I provide here is different.

Within a Mile of Dublin <- pdf of sheet music (I didn’t play all the gracenotes written here in the video below, and neither should you!)

June 2019 Tune of the Month: The Mooncoin Jig

You may be aware that I’ve been collecting and arranging tunes for the Scottish smallpipes which are applicable to those interested in playing in Irish music sessions. Most of the tunes are for A smallpipes, though no small number require you to turn your drones off as the tunes resolve on G instead of our usual A or D. In addition to that, a similar number require you to have the C natural note which uses an extra hole on smallpipe chanters as their cylindrical bore does not facilitate alternate fingerings to achieve “accidentals” (notes outside the default key). You could very heavily tape the normal C# down to C natural, but the note becomes very muted. However, for the tune of the month, I have identified The Mooncoin Jig as being one of the more behaved tunes with only a single high B that I have also taken the liberty of arranging a replacement phrase for those of us without a high B key.

The Mooncoin Jig <- pdf

You might notice in the video below that on the repeat of the first part I reverse the order of the end of the 5th bar with the beginning of the 6th bar (swapping the birl with the GDE on low A), as suggested in the notes in the sheet music (although I referenced them as the first and second bars in the pdf). The second time through the tune, in the *2nd* part: I also play the 7th bar twice (as the 6th and 7th bars) as an alternative to the high B section.

May 2019 Tune of the Month: The Rusty Gulley

Shout out to dunholmpiper on Instagram (Paul Martin) for making me aware of this awesome tune: The Rusty Gulley (Wee Totum Fogg). The first three lines are pretty much his setting and then from there out I arranged it based on an amalgamation of other versions I found (which include thesession.org, Breabach’s track Farsund off their most recent album Astar, and my own head). It can also be found in LBPS’s suggested Session Tunes tunebook. If you’ve got a high B key, there’s some cool stuff you can do in the 4th line on the high hand in the first bar as is done on the low hand in the 3rd bar.

The Rusty Gulley <- pdf

April 2019 Tune of the Month – The Wild Irishman

Just a tune I found scouring thesession.org and recognized from some highland pipe recording; the ending of the first part is rather distinctive. It is embellished rather simply, preferring half doublings over full doublings, especially for smallpipes (trying to minimize use of the piercing high G grace note). This tune is one that can be played in Irish sessions as it is already in the correct key signature for smallpipes in “A”. I have taken 2 versions of the tune that fit the range of the smallpipes from thesession.org and simply added highland bagpipe embellishments. Along these lines, I have created a new page on the blog cataloging the tunes I’m aware of that (mostly) fit the A smallpipe scale and can be played at Irish sessions, borrowing from the Irish session repertoire. The tunes that I don’t risk violating copyright are located in a Free Tune Book. Please let me know if you are aware of any other tunes that need to be in the list and/or in the tune book, it’s a group effort!

Tunes for Irish Session Playing (and other lists of specialized tunes) <- link

The Wild Irishman <- pdf

March 2019 Tune of the Month

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.

The Canongate Twitch <-pdf

January 2019 Tune of the Month: Franc A’Phoill / King of the Pipers

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.

Lark in the Morning & Franc A’Phoill <- mp3

Franc A’Phoill / King of the Pipers <- pdf

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.

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