Just needed to play my MacPherson’s!

Simon McKerrell recently gave a recital at the King’s Hall at Newcastle University in England. It was recorded and he has subsequently released the tracks from the recital and they are available through iTunes and other digital media outlets like Amazon (google is your friend). It is not being released on any physical media like a CD. The liner notes are available on Simon’s website. The site also states that Simon was playing a set of 2011 Doug MacPherson drones with Ezeedrone tenor reeds and a cane bass. Now, using Ezeedrone tenor reeds is an incredibly common practice regardless of the pipe one is playing. I bring this up because the only audio I knew of for the longest time of MacPherson’s pipes was a YouTube video of Scott Hannah playing. Having enquired of Scott what setup he was using (via FB) he obliged with the info that he was playing Ezeedrone tenors and a Kinnaird bass. That YouTube video is here:

Obviously he is getting a very good sound. He told me to set the Ezeedrone tenors by mouth, that is sucking air through them at the same time and ensuring they sound the same note. He also mentioned efficiency which is always key.

Back to Simon McKerrell’s live album, I was on the fence about buying it because it was a live album, and not the Glenfiddich or whatever. But, once I saw he was playing a VERY modern set of pipes and that I happened to own a set of, I was totally curious what kind of sound he was getting out of them. My other concern of some pipe albums is the lack of drone volume in the recordings. Many do a fine job but I always worry I’m buying an album of a bombard with a couple of bumblebees in the background. Well, never fear, the reputation for MacPherson drones to be robust goes untarnished. The recording is very well done, and while there is clapping at the end of each set, I haven’t found any distracting noises during the tunes. It is so good, in fact, that I’ve listened to it about 4 times now and I haven’t even owned it 24 hours yet. Obviously an iPhone and headphones help one listen while performing other tasks, but you get the idea. I might also be so bold to comment on the playing and tune selection. While there are only 8 tracks they are all very good. Simon is also an uilleann piper and I think it shows some in his playing, which is very musical. Simon’s playing is very grace note filled, not that he’s playing any more than anyone else, but they seem to take up more space, connecting melody notes together, giving a very unified form of expression. For example, doublings are quite open in comparison to some of his peers, taps are all big and punchy, and his most excellent birl seems to last the whole A in some of his shorter reels. Simon is also not shy about substituting non-standard notes into several melodies, not for show, but they always uniquely add to the melody which is refreshing. Buy the album!

Now that I’ve bored you to death, what does this all have to do with Patrick? If you read my last post I had replaced the Naill spec Rocket tenors in my Henderson’s with Canning’s, Ezeedrone’s suave younger brother. I figured, ah, close enough. So I left the Kinnaird bass (I use a low-pitch one) in the MacPherson’s but swapped out the tenors for Canning’s. But, I have to make a valid comparison. So, here’s all Kinnaird’s:

Deer Forest – all Kinnaird

Then swap the Canning tenors in:

Deer Forest – Canning tenors swapped in

The first line of the tune from each of the above recordings spliced together:

1st line Deer Forest, first all Kinnaird’s then Canning tenors swapped in

and finally the low As from the beginning of each spliced together:

All Kinnaird then Canning tenors swapped in, low A only

I tried to keep all the variables constant, so that’s about as close a comparison as you’re going to get. The mic is about chanter level but behind and to my left, tenor side. I think I’ll stick with all Kinnaird, but part of that is I think I want the Canning tenors in the Henderson’s! Also, the MacPherson’s are the band pipe so I’m also looking for the most robust sound. But, that didn’t stop me from playing a few more tunes with the Canning tenors still in. The first is a set I’m playing with a band mate, with the Good Drying by Roderick MacDonald added onto the end. The second tune, Mason’s Apron, was in a medley I constructed for the band, and as such I had simplified it some, specifically, removed the hornpipe shakes and just replaced them with ‘slow’ slurs, you might call them. In that vein, I did the same to the Good Drying, which is full of shakes. Well, at least until I got to the 4th part where my brain got confused as to whether the next note was a C necessitating preparation for the the slow slur (no troublesome E grace note) or D necessitating a doubling (requiring the E grace note), the result being that some of the slow slurs on C turned back into hornpipe shakes on C. Oops. My bad, also, on the chokes.

Wee Michael’s March (John McCusker), Mason’s Apron, Good Drying (Roderick MacDonald)

Lastly, I left a couple of 2/4 Marches out of the last post, and I figured you haven’t heard a recording yet of my kids coming home, knocking on the door, and yelling “candy” at me before mom shoes them away so here’s one more.

Rossshire Volunteers (John Connon) and Cowal Gathering (PM John McLellan)

One thought on “Just needed to play my MacPherson’s!

  1. Patrick,

    The MacPhersons sound great! Very nice, robust sound, Just as you describe them. What reed are you using in your chanter in these recordings? I am already assuming that it is a Kyo, but just to be sure.

    The cannings sound good, but I can here that they need to be matched a little better for complete stability and steddyness. I played cannings in my Dunbars for a while, and they were fantastic untill I turned to cane, nearly a year ago.


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