Dusky Meadow is a strathspey that originates from Cape Breton, as I understand. Its range technically exceeds that of pipes that utilize highland fingering, but it is easy enough to move octaves around to make it fit on our standard scale. Unlike many strathspeys that utilize triplet runs, Dusky Meadow has quadruplet runs with each note having the same length instead of emphasizing the 2nd or 3rd note as common in many triplets. These quadruplets become very cumbersome if gracenotes are added to them, even just to start them off. The way I hear them, they come across as embellishments unto themselves with no further embellishment needed. However, if the rest of the tune is peppered with “standard” gracing the quadruplets stand out like a sore thumb. It turns out, less is more.
I play the tune on the smallpipes in the video below. It is often stated that highland pipe tunes played on the smallpipes could use some trimming to remove excess gracenotes. Smallpipes increase in volume going up the scale as opposed to highland pipes which decrease in volume. This increase in volume at the top of the scale results in lots of chirpy high G gracenotes on top of relatively quiet lower notes if highland tunes go unmodified which ultimately detracts from the melody. Thus, gracenotes must be used judiciously to accent and enhance the melody. The following arrangement has a total of 1 or 2 gracenotes per bar excepting birls (purposefully without preceding high G gracenotes) and high A half doublings. Additionally, those gracenotes accent the more interesting twists the tune takes. While I can’t say I’m going to purposefully rearrange every tune I know to use fewer gracenotes so that the ones I do play have more impact (less is more), this tune has certainly forced me to reevaluate why we use gracenotes and how they should be used.
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?
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?
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.
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.*
I was listening to Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas’ Stirling Castle set which contains Jenny Dang the Weaver, one of the coolest reels ever. So I arranged a version for myself and thought about posting that as the tune of the month, but it is already a fairly common tune. But in studying all the old settings available at Ceol Sean you run across a bunch of other cool tunes on the same page! One really cool tune was the Marquis of Tullibardine’s Reel. While David Glen’s version of Jenny Dang the Weaver is rather lacking, his is the best arrangement of Marquis; except that the ending shared by all versions is super lame. Such a great tune debased by its ending. So, I rewrote the ending! Perhaps you can come up with something better than I did?
I forgot to publish a tune of the month at the beginning of March! That, combined with a request for sheet music and today being St. Patrick’s day, brings you a jig I associate with the Irish music tradition: Fraher’s Jig. What you’ll find below is a myriad of arrangements that I’ve collected or written myself.
The Tune of the Month series quickly stopped being a vehicle to promote competition tunes not long after it was started. What it turned into was, “Hey, look at this cool new session/kitchen piping tune I found!” So, while Fraher’s Jig isn’t new to me, it does give me the opportunity to point out the need for variability in our arrangements. Non-piping audiences need us to play through tunes as least twice/thrice! They need to be given the opportunity to get into the groove so as to understand the tune. It is then imperative for us to explore all the possible ways to play a tune and still be playing the same tune! It’s akin to composing a new tune, except that the theme is already set, we just need to find all the variations. What variations can you find in the music you already play?
Fraher’s Jig < PDF sheet music (you’ll see some harmony at the end that corresponds with some mucking about I did in Apple’s Garageband a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.)
Back when I played “A” smallpipes in an Irish session, one of the tunes I could play along with was the High Reel. I believe the whole set of tunes I would play were the High Reel, Dinky Dorian’s, and Dick Gossip’s. It’s been ages since I’ve played the High Reel and I felt it needed an update so I changed the arrangement a tad and subsequently figured it would make a good tune of the month.
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?
I originally came across this tune on one of the albums I listened to as a teenager when I was learning the bagpipes. I’m surprised the tape still works I played it so many times! The album is “Proud Heritage” by The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of The Royal Highland Fusiliers. The tune title is given as The 74th’s Slow March on the album but the original tune is credited in the liner notes. The arrangement below is a slightly modified version of the tune as presented on the album. 6/8 time seemed best when transcribing, though the original published source as linked above is in common time (4/4).
All the albums I listened to while learning had a big affect on my resulting repertoire, and this album was no exception. P/M Gavin Stoddart’s solo MSR of 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Shepherd’s Crook, and Lochiel’s Away to France is a favorite, I love all 3 of these tunes.
December’s tune of the month is a favorite of mine, though I believe it is best suited to smallpipes. Regardless, Johnny and Ali’s march is a fine reel. It was composed by Brian McAlpine for the wedding of Johnny and Ali. However, within the week after the wedding, Johnny passed away. Brian then sent out a general call for anyone capable to record the tune and send him the audio file, all to be compiled together in an effort to bring a positive vibe and joy to the tune. The combined track can be heard on Brian’s SoundCloud.
November marks one year of publishing a tune of the month. I hope it is enjoyable. It started out with a few competition worthy tunes but quickly devolved (haha) into shorter, session tunes as my interest changed. We continue along that thread with a fine two-part reel, Paddy Cronin’s, aka The Mill Stream.
The tune exceeds the standard scale of the highland pipes in either one of two ways depending on which key it is transposed to. In the key of G major, it requires one to play C naturals. However, this key does not sound “right” on the highland pipes because of our drones in A (drones in G would be best, see below). In the key of D major (or for the highland pipes the A mixolydian mode), it requires a high B. The high B however, is a transient note that, while valuable, is not essential. Another compromise made is the tune is actually transposed up a step from G major to A major, of which A major has three sharps, C#, F#, and G#. The latter is not in the standard highland pipe scale, but again most the the high G notes are transient and as is often the case, substitution with G naturals is passable. This is what turns an A Major tune into a D Major tune: G# to G natural leaving only C# and F#.
In the sheet music provided here, the tune is presented first in D Major but also in G Major. I have not recorded it yet in D Major because I have a special set of highland pipes set up to play G Major tunes as it has a G Major chanter and G drones. Below is a bit of info on how to set up a G major highland pipe followed by a recording of a tune of my own composition followed by Paddy Cronin’s. Where the one high A is in the second part when played in G Major is where the high B is when played in D Major. You’ll note the D Major sheet music requires playing something else and has the high B already substituted; I encourage you to come up with your own substitution. I changed the timing to a series of high A eighth notes separated by two thumb grace notes in the spirit of the E and D eighth note patterns that follow shortly afterwards.
Sheet Music – Paddy Cronin’s (the top is best for normal highland pipes).
A few notes about highland pipes in G Major: After tinkering for hours over the course of a couple years as I revisit the concept of a highland pipe that plays in G major, I am getting closer and closer to a more stable instrument and felt I would share what it takes to make it happen along with a few tunes. Highland pipes in G major requires the drones to tune to the G on the chanter instead of the low A, so the drones are playing G. Additionally, the normally C# needs to be flattened so that it plays C (natural). I’ve previously shown that it takes brass tubing to extend the drone reeds so that they can get low enough to play G, a whole (musical) step below A. It’s best to use a very sharp chanter reducing how far down the drones really have to go to get to G. The chanter I’m using currently is a Colin Kyo laminate, though this chanter only tops out around low A = 482 Hz, usually. Referencing the middle tuning chart in this document, how you tune the chanter notes is different when the drones are tuned to G. The biggest complication has to do with when the drones are tuned to A, the G notes on the chanter are tuned 31 cents flat of equal temperament tuning (piano tuning) in order to have consonance with the drones. However, for the G pipes the G notes are the standard which means that their relative flatness requires all the other notes to be taped down just to get started since the G notes start furthest from an equal temperament tuning reference. The biggest hurdles in tuning the chanter then become covering most of the E and C# holes with tape; in the case of E just to get it flat enough because it has to be 16 cents flat to have consonance with G drones, plus having to flatten it just to get it in line with the G note which started out flat because we’re adapting a normal pipe chanter. In the case of C#, we’re trying to get it all the way down to C natural which will take a lot of tape. B gets flattened to 14 cents flat as well but this usually isn’t an issue because of the size of the hole having plenty of room to tape. The rest of the instrument is a late 90s Kron standard pipe (which, like Naill pipes) are a bit on the flatter side drone pitch wise. Drone reeds are Crozier Omega on brass tubing extensions.