One of the most fearless commentators on piping is Bill ‘Robbie’ Robertson (right), formerly a Pipe Major in The Royal Scots and now domiciled in New Zealand. Bill has his own teaching website with some very good tutorials on piping. Here’s his report on some recitals streamed live from the National Piping Centre during this summer’s Piping Live festival:
‘I listened to the recitals in sections mostly. The following includes some notes I sent to an occasional internet pupil of not great standard, but who is keen and who might learn from what I have to say. Firstly, I think livestreaming recitals is great for those, especially those overseas, who are keen on their piping and wish to improve by listening to good playing. The recitals allow them to soak in the idiom of the music, despite any small shortcomings at times.
‘These notes I trust are not too severe. Shortcoming/errors etc., are things that I do not listen for in particular – they just hit me as used to be the case when judging.
‘I found one piper although good, not quite up to his usual standard. He played with disregard to some feeling (unusual for him) and clarity of execution of the likes of doublings, tachums, and certain cuttings. At times he was not in control of the strathspey’s four beats to the bar by not holding certain longer/dotted notes to the full value within the rhythm and tempo. His low G seemed flat/peculiar, something that some pipers and top bands today have – not a pleasant sound and in bands it clashes with harmony on B. I wonder how some P/Ms and soloists can be so unaware.
‘Another piper had something of the same rhythm problem, especially in the strathspeys. He also showed little sympathy of controlled expression in the 3/4 retreat airs – neglecting the proper value/relative duration of some downbeats especially on the Bs, and a tempo a bit too fast does not help that type of tune I feel. Even his reels could have had better clarity. His pipes were good.
‘A recital by some younger pipers was quite good, although again, negligent in clarity of execution and certain upbeats in the 2/4 marches.
‘These findings of mine are making me think it might be my hearing not being as acute as it should be, although I doubt it because the BBC’s ‘Pipeline’ programmes usually come over well.
‘It was refreshing to listen to parts of the recital by Fred Morrison. He played on a light sounding instrument, and was mostly very good, with very good strathspeys and reels. The strathspey rhythm was well in control with dotted notes and the like long notes well-timed and maintaining the spirit of the dance. I did not listen to the penny whistle section. The MacFarlanes’ Gathering he played was overall enjoyable and nice in the breabach movements. I would have liked a more solid taorluath and crunluath execution even in the urlar where taorluath occurs. The microphones I noticed were much closer to Fred who remained in the one position, unusually sitting. This might have helped clarity. He played here very well here in Auckland some few years ago – although with some ‘flashy’ entertaining fingering stuff. His playing of the Earl of Seaforth’s Salute that evening was memorable.’