Tune of the Month – January 2018

Lament for the Old Volunteers (J. MacBeth) is January 2018’s Tune of the Month.

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).

Lament for the Old Volunteers (The 74th’s Slows March)

74ths Slow March, Sweet Maid of Mull, Farewell to the Creeks (Colin Kyo bagpipes, Ezeedrone bass, Redwood tenors) – a recording from a few years ago so the arrangement is slightly different

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.

Tune of the Month – December 2017

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.

Johnny and Ali’s March – sheet music (pdf)


Unst Bridal March and Johnny and Ali’s March

Tune of the Month – November 2017

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.

Seth Hamon’s Gamble & Paddy Cronin’s

Tune of the Month – October 2017

I just recently attended the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat held in conjunction with the Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival in La Veta/Walsenburg, Colorado. The concert highlight of the festival was Old Blind Dogs featuring Ali Hutton on the pipes. Kevin Burke (fiddle, solo) was also a delight to listen to.

One nice thing about the smallpiping retreat (there’s an uilleann pipe retreat also) is that La Veta is basically a higher elevation version of Lubbock, so all my pipes work exactly the same more or less, no worries about differences in humidity.

The piping retreat was taught by two instructors 1. Tim Cummings and 2. Ben Miller. Ben had his playing partner with him, Anita MacDonald on fiddle, so it was a treat to learn a couple of tunes from their band’s repertoire after getting to hear them play together at the kick off party. Tim Cummings taught mostly Appalachian tunes like the Tombigbee Waltz and Old Joe Clark, which was really cool. He has published many such tunes and sells them through his website. I also got a border tune and Breton tune from him which are unique in their own right. It’s always good to challenge yourself with new idioms! Many thanks go to the smallpipe retreat organizer, Jim Conley!

Linking the concert and workshop together: on Old Blind Dogs’ newly released album, and at their concert, they play a couple of Appalachian tunes, Bunker Hill and Sandy Boys. This set was electrifying in concert and coincidentally relevant to the workshop with Tim over Appalachian music. While Tim didn’t cover the tune Sandy Boys, I cannot let it pass without it being a tune of the month. This tune is so good, and so versatile, I’m just waiting for an innovative pipe band to end their medley with it.

There are so many awesome versions of this tune. Variations galore! I’ve gone through and found a few of them and mashed them together. However, there are no gracenotes in the sheet music I’m providing. This is for two reasons. 1. This is folk music, play it how YOU like and different every time. I don’t just mean changing the gracenotes, change the big notes too! 2. If you want to mark up your own version with gracenotes and/or change the big notes, I’ll give you the “code” in ABC format so you can change it yourself. My hope is you’ll keep it in ABC notation because it’s so easy, free, has accommodations for bagpipe notation, and EVERY OTHER FOLK TRADITION ALREADY USES IT making it easy to transpose tunes from other traditions into the highland bagpipe key. Here’s your introduction to a wider world of music if you haven’t already used ABC notation. Many bagpipe specific music programs are capable of importing ABC notation if you insist on sticking with software you might have already paid for.

In ABC notation, the bagpipe scale is ‘G A B c d e f g a’, bar lines are the pipe | on the backslash key (repeats with a colon :), and anything in curly brackets {} are gracenotes, e.g. high g gracenote = {g} and taorluath = {GdGe}. Set the key in the header of the file to K:Hp and it automatically adjusts formatting for bagpipes! My preferred program for rendering ABC notation files, EasyABC, is no longer being developed by the original programmer but it is still available for download from his website. It went open source but I can’t get any of the newer releases for mac on SourceForge to execute, so I stick to the last version released by Nils.

Sandy Boys – pdf file (the last iteration is repeated only because I didn’t bother to further modify the version that had the note B in it)

Sandy Boys – download the ABC file

Me playing through all the versions in the pdf file:

If you want to hear someone really bang this tune out on clawhammer banjo, go here:

Clawhammer Banjo

Tune of the Month – September 2017

The epitome of pipe band life that was August always leaves me a bit reinvigorated for piping. There’s not much around Lubbock, TX to really keep the motivation up but being able to tune into the live streams of Piping Live! events (through the Inner Ear channel on livestream.com) and the World Pipe Band Championships (BBC) really motivates me to get the pipes out and play.

September’s Tune of the Month is a tune I heard several times during August, and while it’s new to me it’s not a new tune. The 4 part reel by Peter R. MacLeod Jr.: Arnish Light, was played by (at least) 3 different bands.

  1. Most will recognize a rounded version played at the end of St Laurence O’Toole’s medley during the grade 1 finals; they won 2nd in the event and 3rd overall. View the performance here.
  2. The original version was played by Lomond & Clyde in their MSR during the grade 2 finals; they went on to place 2nd. View the performance here.
  3. Shotts & Dykehead played their own rounded version during the pre-Worlds concert “Rise” at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall the Wednesday before the Worlds. View the performance here.

This is quite the cracking tune, especially arranged as a round ‘hornreel’. SLOT and Shott’s arrangements stay fairly faithful to the original in their hornpipe arrangements, however I have gone and done taken it a bit further with my own arrangement. The tune is modern enough that it is still under copyright so I cannot share the music with you, however there are several sources for the tune, including Jim McGillivray’s pipetunes.ca site where it can be picked up for a few hundred pennies. Additionally, this tune is so adaptable, providing just one set of dots for the tune doesn’t do it, or you, justice. You may want to incorporate it into your competition reel repertoire (get it from Jim) or play it for fun as a hornpipey reel (it’s in Ryan Canning’s second book) with your own arrangement like I did (I borrowed a bit of nuance from the first 2 parts of SLOT’s arrangement, not gonna lie). If you do arrange your own, I would start with the original dot/cut reel and go from there.

Arnish Light – Chris Terry pipes with Rocket drone reeds, Colin Kyo chanter and John Elliott (Canada) chanter reed

Poly or Blackwood Chanter?

I was asked if there were tonal differences between poly and blackwood chanters. I said, “Maybe, but you wouldn’t know which one was which.” See if you can tell the difference and perhaps which one is which. The two recordings below are EXACTLY the same setup (Chris Terry drones, Redwood tenor reeds, X-TREME bass reed, the SAME John Elliott chanter reed {Sound Supreme, not G1}, L&M hide bag, same recording session, same original mp3 file, and the same standing position as best as I could remember) except one was recorded using a poly Colin Kyo chanter and the other using a blackwood Colin Kyo chanter. The chanters are roughly the same “older” vintage and both came in just shy of 481 Hz (modern Kyo chanters come in under 480 Hz in my experience). Both had tape on high G and the poly also had tape on E. The recordings are a bit drone heavy and I slightly regret that, but oh well. It’ll go toward correcting the balance of all those professional recordings where the drones are almost inaudible.

Fair Maid & Arnish Light 1

Fair Maid & Arnish Light 2


Check the comments for the which is which!

Tune of the Month – August 2017

I have been listening to Ed Miller sing Scottish folk songs all my life. Pipers will recognize the playing of EJ Jones on many of Ed’s more recent albums. Ed collaborates regularly with Brian McNeill, one of the founding members of Battlefield Band, awesome fiddler, and songwriter as well. Despite the many pipe tunes EJ contributes on pipes, the Tune of the Month for August is actually a song, Wark o’ the Weavers. It is a song about how many trades serve a limited segment of the population, but everyone needs the work of the weavers. Unless you’re a nudist I guess, not something covered in the song, haha. It’s arranged here as a 2 part 2/4 march.

Wark o’ the Weavers – pdf file

A video of me playing the tune on my Ray Hughes smallpipes can be found on YouTube:

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.

Tune of the Month – July 2017

The Piping Press (Robert Wallace’s web presence since he left the College of Piping) posted the audio of an informal recital by Donald McBride on SoundCloud last month. I first met Donald a few years ago when he came down with a couple of his students to the Salado Scottish Games. I don’t remember if his student Griffin Hall was beating me in competition at the time (probably, just to be safe) but I’m sure he could now! We were treated to Donald’s playing in the open competition that year and he sat down down with us Lubbockites for a wee chat later that morning. Back to the recital recordings, Donald reveals a repertoire true to the many places he’s lived with both Scottish and Irish tunes, traditional and modern. I enjoyed his unique arrangements of The Jig of Slurs and The Gravel Walk(s). Another tune that stood out to me was Paddy Clancy’s, July’s tune of the month. It is a happy 2 part jig that I’ve arranged myself based on Donald’s playing mixed with settings found on the popular Irish music website, thesession.org.

Paddy Clancy’s – pdf

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.