PP Editor’s Blog: Cape Breton Piping/ Chatsworth Entry/ Band Formations/ ‘Freestyle’ Piping/ Audio Archive

Listened to the BBC’s ‘Travelling Folk’ last night on Radio Scotland and an interview with bellows piper Hamish Moore.

It was astonishing. No, not Hamish’s wacky views on how the British Army destroyed piping; how those old guys in tatty tweed jackets sitting playing on kitchen chairs somewhere in Cape Breton were the repositories of the true tradition. No, not that, but the fact that the presenter swallowed lock, stock and chanter reed his controversial dictat.

I appreciate these guys don’t want to rock the boat; they’ve got BBC rules to follow and a job to protect, but for goodness sake could they not offer some sort of questioning journalism? It’s all just sweetness, delight and sickly fawning. If you present a folk music show and are having a piper on who has these sort of weird assessments then do some homework, get some searching questions ready, and generate interest for those who know something about the music.

One suggested format for competing bands
One suggested format for competing bands

From our Facebook pages and from the comments section on Piping Press I see that the open or concert formation for pipe bands has been tried and continues in many parts of the pipe band world: Saskatchewan, South Africa, Singapore, Australia. That is good to know and congratulations to all these associations for their forward-thinking. Please let us know about how it works in your part of the world and we will thus be able to keep some momentum going on this issue.

In the meantime would readers please continue to vote in our popular poll. Results will be published at the end of the week or early next.
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A fiddler plays with pipes, drums, singers and orchestra during a ‘freestyle’ event at the SSPBC

David Johnston of the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships has sent this: It’s a first for a Highland games. Pipe bands taking a break from competition to entertain the crowds playing alongside other instrumentalists. It’s called Freestyle – and is being pioneered by the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships – the world’s biggest schools piping event held each March in Edinburgh. The North Berwick display, on August 8, will see three performances featuring young musicians from East Lothian, Edinburgh and The Highlands.

Preston Lodge High School, Davidson’s Mains Schools and Feis Rois will be performing over the lunch break at the games. Freestyle has been included in the traditional pipe band grades at the Scottish Schools Championships to highlight the versatility of pipes and drums.

The Championships organiser, Patrick Gascoigne, who is also organising the NB display, says freestyle has been included to involve whole school music communities in the pipe band. He said: ‘We really want to demonstrate to the piping and non-piping world the versatility of the pipes and drums and the fun and entertainment that can be had combining different musical traditions.

Freestyle has been a great success at The Championships and already we have entries for next year’s event. I very much hope that the NB display gives some inspiration and who knows maybe it will become a regular feature of this and other pipe band events.’

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Queensland Highland Pipers’ Society held a successful 50th Anniversary recital and meeting recently. From their Newsletter: ‘Our 50 year celebration recital was held in the theatre at Brisbane Boys College, which proved most suitable for the event. Although the attendance was modest at around forty people, we were treated to an excellent night of piping. Patron Maurie DeHayr introduced the evening We had received apologies from Sandy Campbell, Rob Roy MacGregor, lain Bruce and Bob Payne. However we still had a number of people present who were involved in the earliest days of the Society including Peter Burrows, Alex McConnell and Donald Galloway.

‘Maurie thanked Brisbane Boys College for use of the venue and drew attention to the publications of the Society and memorabilia display outside, including newsletters from every decade of the Society’s existence and also some photographs….’

Chatsworth organiser Walter MacGregor has sent this: ‘I attach for your information the various Chatsworth solo piping contest details and entry forms. ‘C’ graded competitors may enter the ‘C’, ‘B’ and /or Open contests on payment of the requisite fees. ‘B’ graded competitors may enter the ‘B’ and / or Open contests on payment of the requisite fees. The names of competitors, whose entries are received by the closing date, will be entered in a draw for a contribution towards travelling expenses. I shall be grateful if you will circulate these amongst your contacts as appropriate.’ 

Don’t forget to check out our growing audio archive. It features music from all the master pipers pictured up top: P/M Donald MacLeod, Donald MacPherson, P/M Robert Reid and Willie Ross. There is also band music from the legendary Muirhead & Sons Pipe Band from the 1970s. We’ll be adding more to the archive this week time permitting.

Kinlochard Junior Solos
2/4 march, own choice:
1 Robbie MacIsaac
2 Finlay Cameron
3 Lewis Russell
4 Andrew Ferguson.
6/8 march: Christopher Happs.
Jigs: Robbie MacIsaac

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5 thoughts on “PP Editor’s Blog: Cape Breton Piping/ Chatsworth Entry/ Band Formations/ ‘Freestyle’ Piping/ Audio Archive

  1. > despite the ravages of the Act of Proscription and the cessation of all formal piping activity following the ’45.

    The bagpipe was not banned in the Act of Proscription and there is no evidence that there was any drop in playing or teaching activity. Never mind that the modern bagpipe as we know it only dates from around 1800.

    > Witness the work of Fred Morrison

    That’s the same Fred Morrison who went over to Cape Breton specifically to hear Alex Currie play.

    While I agree that I don’t have a problem as such with the music being mediated by it’s having been poured through the Army and through the upper classes of the 19th and early 20th centuries (and not least the influence of the games circuit), we have plenty of evidence for the changes that it went through and we also know that some social contexts for pipe playing are simply lost in Scotland, not least the step-dancing. Attempting to reconstruct or understand these lost styles is no bad thing.

  2. I’ve read most of them, Robert, are you thinking of any in particular?

    I don’t necessarily agree with everything Hamish has to say either but he is at least arguing from the evidence available.

    1. I think a read of most of the articles should give a more rounded view of piping history Calum, particularly those concerning the competitions and music of the late 18th and early 19th century. The Angus MacKay ‘Famous Pipers’series is important too in that it shows that through his father’s teaching there was still a continuous tradition extant in this country despite the ravages of the Act of Proscription and the cessation of all formal piping activity following the ’45. No doubt important elements and practitioners of our art went abroad and took their music with them, but it is surely fanciful in the extreme to suggest that they left nothing of worth behind and only that which was then conditioned by the gentry – a gentry who knew nothing of the art in the first place and who, it must follow, would be in no position whatsoever to indicate how it might be gentrified for their edification. We should remember that pipers have always – if we accept clan histories – played at top tables, top tables furnished by Chieftains, Army officers, England-educated lairds, whatever. It is great music after all and the gift of appreciating it is not the preserve of one social class, high or low, or of any geographical confine.
      Piping is piping, and we should do what we can to break down barriers between its different strands. As someone who has played bellows pipes in a traditional folk group for 40 years (the Whistlebinkies), I have never found any conflict between that music, professional solo piping, or pipe bands. It is a matter of adapting to each. Witness the work of Fred Morrison who is a master solo piper and rightly King of Pipers in the folk/bellows world.

  3. Perhaps then some more insightful criticism than ‘tatty tweed jacket’ and ‘controversial dictat’ would be useful if you think you know better.

    Given Hamish has been giving these ‘weird assessments’ for what, thirty or forty years now you might have had time to come up with some concrete suggestions as to where and why he’s going wrong.

    1. I see from your website that you teach piping in London Calum. Can I respectfully suggest that in order to broaden your historical perspective and hence your students’ you read some of the history articles on Piping Press? Given that you are a regular reader and correspondent you may also like to add a link to your own website. RW

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