Category Archives: Great Highland Bagpipe Solo

People playing solo great highland bagpipes.

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

More Highland Pipes in G

I have been working more on my highland pipes in G. The tonal quality was much compromised with earlier iterations with very heavy taping on E and C leaving not much of those holes uncovered. I have since had the idea to actually insert tacky putty into the chanter bore against the inside wall to narrow the bore around those notes and therefore flatten them. No tape is now needed on E, though C still needs some to bring it down to C natural in addition to the ~15 cents it needs to be flat to be in tune against G drones. Think of it as the opposite of carving a chanter. I do notice that the chanter cuts out more readily than before, undoubtedly caused by the bore restrictions introduced by the putty. However, it’s good practice for keeping the pressure up and allows the C and E notes to sound much more clearly. The E note is a little wonky against G drones being a 6th, I think I need a different just intonation value to tune it against. Maybe?

Seth Hamon’s Gamble & Paddy Cronin’s

Kitty Lie Over & Ulverston Volunteers

Atherton Legacy & X-TREME Bass Drone Reed

I have been loaned a set of Atherton Legacy bagpipes to feature for the blog. They were acquired as half-mounted nickel and artificial ivory but were shipped to David Davidse to have the nickel engraved. They’re tied into a medium Gannaway bag (no grommets) and played with a Colin Kyo chanter and custom Husk chanter reed. Bore dimensions lead me to believe Atherton’s Legacy model is based in the Henderson tradition. Drone reed experiments ultimately led to the use of an X-TREME bass drone reed alongside regular Ezeedrone tenor reeds. A close second was just the standard Ezeedrone bass reed, however it blended more readily and was therefore subdued relative to the power of the X-TREME bass reed. Of course the Henderson Harmonic Deluxe bass reed was also good though not as bold, but trouble with consistency from this brand bass reed keeps me from using it. Other drone reeds tested include all commercially available Crozier reeds, Selbie, original Kinnaird, Henderson Harmonic Deluxe, Redwood, and perhaps a few others. The combination of Ezeedrone tenors with a carbon fiber bass is very common as are pipes made in the Henderson tradition, more than a coincidence in my opinion. Popular carbon fiber bass reeds used in this combination include the Original Kinnaird and now Evolution Kinnaird bass drone reeds as is the previously mentioned Henderson Harmonic Deluxe.

I am here to convince you that if you have not yet tried an X-TREME bass drone reed, you have not tried the best commercially available synthetic bass drone reed on the market. I used Original Kinnaird in my Gellaitry pipes for years until acquiring the X-TREME reeds at which point the X-TREME bass drone reed was used due to its superior tone. However, the Original Kinnaird tenor reeds remain in the Gellaitry as they give the tenors the extra power they need. A recording of this setup can be heard in this mp3 recording. Original Kinnaird tenors are too powerful for Henderson based pipes, and that proved true for this Legacy pipe; they were loud and brash. Henderson based pipes are known for their tenor volume and therefore a milder drone reed is needed. The X-TREME tenor reeds are a solid choice however regular Ezeedrone tenors offer a bit more harmonic overtone without being brash or nasal sounding. Following the success of the X-TREME bass reed in my Gellaitry pipes, it is not really surprising that it was also the best reed in the Legacy. It is deep and harmonic at the same time and is tonally superior to any other bass drone reed I’ve ever played, now proven in two commercially available pipes, Gellaitry and Atherton Legacy.

Vacation and illness have taken their toll on my playing ability and endurance. I hope you enjoy the recordings below. This is only a small selection of the music I played during today’s practice. The chanter and drone interaction was harmonically strong and very pleasing. A fine pipe capable of supporting the chanter quite well.

Irree ny Greiney (Sunrise) and Cullen Bay – This slow air was featured by Chris Armstrong’s band, Scottish Power, at the World Pipe Band Championships last year.

Paddy Clancy’s, Lark in the Morning, & Merrily Kissed the Quaker – A few jigs in the Irish tradition I’m working on. The first tune was July’s Tune of the Month.

My 2 Week Competition Season

Having switched studios, my daughter’s yearly dance recital did not conflict with the Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival & Highland Games in May (Albuquerque, NM) so I finally had a chance to return to a favorite games of mine, after 15 years if I’ve done my figuring correctly. At only 5 hours away this is the closest piping competition to Lubbock, TX. Two weeks later, I competed at my first indoor competition, the Austin Piping and Drumming Competition; Austin is 6 hours away. If I were not going to Yellowstone for vacation, I’d also attend the Pikes Peak Celtic Festival in Colorado Springs in another 2 weeks (about an 8 hour drive), making my competition season 4 weeks long. But, that’s it really for games that have piping competitions. There’s one in Tulsa, OK in September but I can’t find a website, hrm.

With owning many pipes, the first thing to do is pick which set of pipes to play in competition. The pipes I play most are my band pipes, my old Hendersons. The only other two currently in rotation are my Colin Kyo and Tim Gellaitry sets. It had been some time since I featured Tim’s pipe in competition and so I decided to go with them. This decision was reinforced by the glorious drone tone I’ve been getting with them. I have always loved the tone of them as one of the best and most stable using all original Kinnaird drone reeds, however I have recently switched to Chris Armstrong’s X-TREME bass drone reed and it is all sorts of fantastic. THE BEST BASS DRONE I HAVE EVER HEARD. Coupled with the tenors still using original Kinnaird, I get a most excellent, harmonic drone tone. I got many compliments from fellow competitors and judges alike on the tone of the drones. It should come as no surprise, my chanter of choice is Colin Kyo. A custom straight cut Husk was used in ABQ as their weather is similar to Lubbock’s but it started double toning on F in the humidity of Austin so about 10 minutes before I was to start my series of performances in Austin, I had to switch to a different CK chanter equipped with a Gilmour reed that’s as probably as old as my 7 year old son, luckily it played nicer with the humidity.

Below, you’ll find recordings of the pipes as played in Austin, though the chanter isn’t quite settled in for non-humid Lubbock as I’m still moving the reed and tape back to where they were prior to Austin. EJ Jones once told me it takes days to tune a bagpipe. TRUTH.

The mic is behind me so you can hear the drones clearly (understatement of the month). Most of the tunes below are competition tunes and some are ones I actually played, but not all.

Bessie McIntyre, Alick C MacGregor, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree – I almost make it to 90 bpm by the end!

Highland Harry and Charlie’s Welcome – a bit quick into the terminal taorluaths in Highland Harry and just outright missing a few gracenotes in Charlie’s, haha. Someday I’ll get it!

Clachnacuddin Hornpipe and Rakes of Kildare – Clachnacuddin Hornpipe is an old version of The Inverness Gathering arranged by Capt. John A. MacLellan and son, Colin, and is a previous tune of the month with sheet music available in the archive.

One topic I have pondered much in recent years is tempo. I grew up listening to recordings of pipe music about as old as I was. Much of my MSR repertoire mimics the 1984 Grant’s Piping Championship album (available on iTunes if you can tolerate the random distortion from the “old” recording). While digitizing this album yesterday from my old cassette tape, I took a few tempo measurements. Iain MacFadyen played one of my MSR: 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, 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. I feel that common tempos have fallen to slightly lower values at the current time. Marches are often in the mid 60s, strathspeys right around 120, and reels in the low to mid 80s. While I have enjoyed more measured performances, with great care taken in rhythm, and have tried to mimic them on occasion, I have come to the conclusion that I prefer slightly faster tempos. Marches are for marching and strathspeys & reels are dance music (and I don’t mean modern highland dancing). Strathspeys are a derivative of reels evidenced by, if nothing else, the often quoted SWMW emphasis in 4/4 time strathspeys which directly coincides with the cut time of reels: 2/2. Piping has many idioms, and I find myself favoring the THIS IS A HIGHLAND BAGPIPE AND I’M GOING TO GET YOUR BLOOD PUMPING style because MACPHERSON HOLDS THE FLOOR.

Tune of the Month – April 2017

The Rock – a round hornpipe by Jimmy Mitchell (“The Rock” is a nickname that was given to Jimmy)

Growing up in Texas, I got to hear this tune from various groups Jimmy was associated with: Hamilton Pipe Band (precursor to the St. Thomas Alumni Pipe Band) and The Rogues. Hamilton featured the tune on their album “First and Ten” coupled with Hector the Hero (by James Scott Skinner). As with many other albums, these groups and their music influenced my repertoire and I’ve played The Rock for many years. Fate would have it that the first two parts became our introductory tune for the Lyon College Pipe Band medley at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2001 (2nd place in grade 3B under Willie Muirhead). I ran into Jimmy after a long hiatus at the North Texas Irish Festival where he and The Rogues are still jammin’ with Doug Frobese filling out the pipe section (Doug followed Donald MacPhee as pipe major of Hamilton). I get a request for the sheet music to The Rock regularly and so I asked Jimmy if I could share it as a tune of the month and he agreed! Yay!

In homage to its roots, I perform it here with Hector the Hero and the graduated tempo increase into The Rock. Played on my Gellaitry pipes (original Kinnaird tenors/X-TREME bass) and Colin Kyo chanter (Shepherd Bb reed that is as hard as a rock, pun intended).

Hector the Hero and The Rock

Tunes of the Month – March 2017

Howdy Ho Y’all!

Well, I’m just about done being sick since Thanksgiving. Being married to a pediatrician, having 2 kids, and teaching at a university of 35,000 students keeps one exposed and infected with every respiratory illness that goes around each year. But I’m coming back.

My original goal for Tunes of the Month was to expose people to great competition type tunes that were seldom played, e.g. Murdo MacGillivray of Eoligarry. However, I got into a really big Irish music kick (could you tell? polka polka polka) over the winter break and so I’ve been throwing that stuff at you instead. And…it continues! Sort of.

Willie’s Fling – Novice Tune of the Month – A great little 2 line strathspey you’re supposed to play like a reel. Don’t let the tempo catch you off guard, it sounds good slow also.

Muineira de Casu – Intermediate Tune of the Month – A great 3 part “jig” from Galicia that’s a hoot to play and will challenge your Scottish based idiomatic playing like no other. I’m playing the first of 2 versions provided in the file; the second version is more common in the folk bands I’ve heard play the tune.

Here’s some audio of me playing these tunes in a set together, though if you keep up with the blog recent posts have included these tunes for a little while.

Willie’s Fling, Teampall an Ghleanntain, and Muineira de Casu – the 2 tunes of the month with some other tune in between.

The pipes were going pretty well so I figured I’d challenge myself as I work to get my chops back from the long string of illnesses.

Jeannie Carruthers, The Cowal Gathering, Inveraray Castle, Susan MacLeod, Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree, and Alick C. McGregor – an MMSSRR in the style of the Former Winners March Strathspey and Reel competition at the Northern Meeting.

The Redundancy, The Clachnacuddin Hornpipe, Rakes of Kildare, and Donella Beaton – a HHJJ because why not? The Hornpipe/Jig competition is often only HJ even at the highest levels, which I declare to be lame.

You might be wondering which pipes I’m playing. Colin Kyo with full Ezeedrone reeds and an old beat up Gilmour chanter reed in an older CK chanter.

Colin Kyo pipes tied into an “old” L&M bag

When I first acquired my Colin Kyo bagpipes from a friend they were “tied” into a grommetted Gannaway bag. At the time this did not bother me. On a tangent, I’ve longed neglected my old Henderson pipes due to difficulties with reeding the drones. With X-treme tenor reeds, a short, inverted Ezeedrone bass reed, and a new bass bottom with a bigger bore the Hendersons have been singing tied into an old L&M bag I got off of someone for $50. So, I’ve been playing my old Hendersons a lot. In addition, my Glencoe and Terry sets are also both tied into old L&M bags. I LOVE THEM. Anyways, my Colin Kyo pipes weren’t being used much due to the bag issue as I came to dislike the bulk of the grommets on the Gannaway. So, on the hunt for old L&M bags I came across one that never even had the holes cut. Sweet! So, I’m set to go now. And they sound fantastic with their new bag.

The problem started when I thought a live Facebook broadcast of a practice session of me playing my newly set up Colin Kyo bagpipes was a good idea. Lots of people tuned in, but when I went back to listen to it, there was a lot of audio quality loss. This was a Facebook thing as I guess they think video is more important. The source of the audio was my Zoom H2 recorder wired into the lightning port of my iPhone via a Blue Mikey Digital. So, this post is to offer the audio simultaneously recorded by my Zoom H2 during that session so you can hear what the pipes really sounded like. I haven’t included all the recordings because the first few were during warm up and had me sorting the chanter tuning. I last played the chanter with the bag unseasoned and so it was setup for a wet reed (pushed farther in the seat), but the bag having been seasoned since then left the reed dry and therefore sharp, and then flat because I pulled it out too much, and then just about right.

Colin Kyo drones + Colin Kyo chanter + regular Ezeedrone reeds + 5+ year old Gilmour chanter reed that just won’t quit.

Kind of Laois & Rakes of Kildare

Mo Ghile Mear, Neili’s Polka, & Ger the Rigger

Angus MacKinnon & Frank Thompson

The Big Yin & Picnic in the Sky

Patrick O’Connor’s & Tom Billy’s Polkas – picked these up from Jerry O’Sullivan at the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat

1950s Hendersons + X-TREME tenors + Ezeedrone bass

I’ve finally gotten back into playing my first set of pipes, a set of 1950s Hendersons. Years ago I played them with Selbie drone reeds and they sounded good, very good, for quite some time. Over the last few years, as I’ve acquired other bagpipes, they’ve fallen by the wayside, to rest in the back of a drawer (I have a chest of drawers dedicated to bagpipes). But, I’ve decided that maybe the 1960s Sinclairs aren’t going to be my band set after all since we’re not going to tune to Bb since that’s a pain; not all Bb chanters actually tune that easily to Bb. So, we’re moving up a few Hertz to 473 Hz and I reevaluated which pipes I was going to play and I’ve been trying my old Hendersons again. I am borrowing the bass bottom joint from my Kron Standards in place of the Henderson’s; the Henderson bottom joint is bored the same as the tenor bottoms which I find odd. The slightly larger Kron Standard bass bottom bore gives a little more power to the bass. We’re talking going from an ID of 0.310″ to about 0.322″. I’d like to get another bass bottom joint at around 0.340″.

I’m running them with X-TREME tenor drone reeds and an inverted, short Ezeedrone bass. I find they are quite stable and don’t need much movement to retune them. That, and they’re tied into an old L&M bag I bought off someone for $50 several years ago; the bag is a dream. New Colin Kyo chanter, Husk reed.

The competition in Salado, TX is coming up soon so I’ve been thinking about what tunes I’m going to play solo. I’ve got plenty to pick from, just have to settle. Here is what I practiced today:

Jeannie Carruthers, Inveraray Castle, and The Rejected Suitor

The Redundancy and Donella Beaton

Captain Calum Campbell’s Caprice, The Big Yin, and Picnic in the Sky – granted, not competition music but a new set of mine

Sinclair versus Glencoe

Well, it’s not exactly a perfect comparison. I just happened to play the same sets on both pipes in recent days. Here’s the skinny:

1960ish Sinclair drones with Redwood bass + Rocket tenors (no markings) + original Sinclair chanter (though carved) with Husk chanter reed = 467 Hz with a clear high A

1974-1983 Glencoe drones (1 of about 250) with Canning bass and tenors + Colin Kyo chanter with Gilmour chanter reed = 476 Hz with the crowiest high A ever (I just can’t throw this reed away, all the other notes sound so good)

Glencoe pipes were made by Matt Marshall up in Ontario after having immigrated from Scotland in 1974. Matt worked at R G Lawrie bagpipes before moving so I figure his pipes are of some sort of Lawrie specification.

Sinclair

Fair Maid, Rakish Paddy, Lady Doll Sinclair, and Henwife’s Daughter

Muineira de Casu, Snug in the Blanket, and Thornton’s Jig

Glencoe

Fair Maid, Rakish Paddy, Lady Doll Sinclair, and Henwife’s Daughter

Muineira de Casu, Snug in the Blanket, and Thornton’s Jig

It is amazing how much easier the Colin Kyo chanter is to play! The Sinclair is my band chanter so it gets a lot of play time. But today, I whipped out the Glencoes with Kyo chanter and my fingers were like, “Aaaahhhhhh, I know where the holes are!” Had a blast.