Letters/Guest Blogger Responds on Piobaireachd Embellishments

Three new letters added today.


duncan-mugGuest blogger Duncan Watson has sent this in response to the response to his original post: 

Embellishments in ceol mor are undoubtedly an important aspect of the music irrespective of setting or style of playing and I suppose there is danger in going on ad nauseam on this subject and forgetting about the music.
Undoubtedly the methods of writing those embellishments has changed over the period dating from when staff notation became the medium for preserving the music.   We can only assume that the compilers of the different publications and manuscripts were trying to portray on paper what was played by them and their peers. Then, as now, the results of their  efforts would have been mixed between what may have been played, and what they thought should have been played, thus giving us, unfortunately, an inaccurate portrayal of the music.


MacCrimmon Piob


Mr David Hester refers to the way that Hannay-MacAuslan  and Hector Ross wrote taorluath embellishments (without the second low G) and that Frans Buisman referred to ‘silliness’ in attitudes to this. By this I assume that he, Frans Buisman, meant that the arguments that this caused were pointless as the low G was always there anyway.

I am reluctant to quote the text from Joseph MacDonald’s ‘Compleat Theory’ as there are aspects which appear to be open to some interpretation and at times the book is difficult to understand.
However his  description of the ‘tuludh’, the ’11th cutting’,  is similar to what we recognise as a taorluath.
It commences with the low G but is without the second low G.  A ‘substitute’ low A is in the embellishment as a static gracenote, the percussive effect achieved by the D and E gracenotes. Elsewhere, in the ‘8th cutting’, there is detail which is similar to that in the  taorluath with the ‘redundant’ low A but with an additional D gracenote.  8thThe use of that particular cutting might be regarded as slightly different to the use of the tuludh/taorluath?
The ’12th cutting’ relates to the ‘creanludh’, similar to our crunluath, but as in the tuludh/taorluath the second low G is not written. FullSizeRender
In many of the old sources such as Donald MacDonald, Angus MacKay and the more recent publications such as in William Ross and Donald MacPhee, taorluath and crunluath embellishments are written with the ‘redundant’ low A and the method described by Joseph MacDonald and apparently by Hannay-MacAuslan,  has not been adopted, though it seems that notation similar to the ‘8th cutting’ has survived. Doubtless there were other finger movements which escaped commitment to paper.
I have played a few lines of  a taorluath  and crunluath variations without those low Gs and found it was easy enough. It produced much the same rhythm as we are used to, though I am not in any way suggesting that this should be adopted. It did lack the depth of sound obtained when the low G was played.
Nor am I suggesting anything in terms of right and wrong. Pipers can play what they want if something is found to be attractive to play and listeners get enjoyment from it.  I would hope that we can all engage in interpreting the old sources. There will be successes and failures for want of us not knowing how the music was played when they were created. Personally, I have found that playing the redundant A with significant value is intrusive to melody.
The playing of embellishments/ornaments in piobaireachd is sometimes difficult, and so difficult that pipers, including some good players, occasionally have to focus all or most of their attention on producing gracenotes and rhythm is lost. This is not restricted to the taorluath and crunluath embellishments. The playing of embari  (low G to high G) and chedari  (E to high G) seem to  cause problems with pipers for some who create a hiatus in the middle of the movement, alter the rhythm of the melody and get rewarded for it!
And the point to all this? In ‘Ceol Mor’ James McIntosh refers a great deal to rhythm as taught by the Bobs of Balmoral, and I agree with Mr Norman Matheson when he says that, irrespective of setting or style of playing, ‘the ultimate and future welfare of piobaireachd depends on the music which is played.’


Naill Pipe Chanter:

One thought on “Letters/Guest Blogger Responds on Piobaireachd Embellishments”

  1. Apologies for monopolizing this subject. (I’m actually much more interested in the subject of cadences, truth be told. But since Mr Taitz started us on this journey, and Messrs. Watson and Wallace have graciously allowed the subject to continue…)

    Just wanted to share a couple of links that your readers may enjoy.

    The first is George Moss, playing Rout of Glenfruin in the MacDonald style (1970):
    http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/71402/1

    This last is from a performance this year by Jack Lee:
    https://youtu.be/r5syxIK2lnE

    The thing I enjoy about hearing these performances of the “MacDonald” style is that their difference brings a new experience to the listener, a subtle change not previously encountered and yet musically (and historically) well grounded. It changes things up ever so slightly, awakening the listener and making them think, “Hey! This is something new…” Pibroch has a rich history of different expressions and performances, something I believe is much more difficult to encounter in competitions settings today (alas).

    That said, I think we could all agree: it may not be the movement style itself, but the musicianship behind it that really counts.

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