PP Ed’s Blog: World Drumming/ NickHudson/ Seton Gordon and Ceol Mor

world-drumming-logoWe were pleased to be able to bring readers news of the livestream of the World Solo Drumming during the week. It is something that pipe band enthusiasts have been pushing for since last year.

Contrary to what people might think, the RSPBA and their co-organisers Glasgow Life, actually listen to what the pipe band public wants, and, if technically and financially feasible, will act.

Tomorrow’s World Drumming Adult Final broadcast should go without a hitch given the static performance area and the clear acoustics in the Carnegie Lecture Hall at Glasgow Caledonian University. Pipers shouldn’t groan. There’s plenty for us to listen to too you know. A lot of top players come forward to support their leading drummers and, whilst the drumming inevitable dominates, it can be quite enjoyable listening to how the two musical components work together – or not.

Here are the details of the broadcast in case you do not already have them:  It begins at 3.30pm (BST) running until 6.30pm and will cover both disciples of the Adult Final: March, Strathspey and Reel, and Hornpipe and Jig and the results ceremony. The champion will be the drummer with the highest aggregate scores after both events. Here is the link again.

If the lecture hall sells out, live footage shown on a screen in the university refectory. If you miss the broadcast, or can’t be there, full results will appear on the RSPBA Twitter feed as they are announced with summaries a few minutes later here. Read about Jim Kilpatrick’s historic 12th win in the 2000 World Drumming Solos here.

Spotted at the World Pipe Band Championships: is this Nick Hudson, US Piper and recent winner of the Braemar Gold Medal? Either that or it is his Breton body double. The band is Bagad Brieg. If it is Nick, is this the first time a US piper has appeared in bagad uniform?nick-hudson-and-brieg

the-times-logoAngus Nicol’s passing the other week brought mention of Seton Gordon, his predecessor as The Times’ piping correspondent. I am grateful to Malcolm McRae, now safely back in Australia after a summer of adjudicating on this side of the world, for this copy of a leader column we believe must have been written by Mr Gordon. It dates from 1954 and was the fourth article in that particular day’s comment from ‘the Thunderer’. It is headlined ‘The Great Music’ and reads……

‘Ye are a great piper’, cried Alan Breck. ‘I am not fit to blow in the same kingdom with ye.’ Most readers of ‘Kidnapped’ recognise that Alan was deeply moved by Robin Oig’s playing of a Highland pibroch, but they cannot for the life of them understand what it was that moved him so much. There are many who like piping, many who feel bigger and better men as a pipe band swings past and find their feet tapping to a strathspey or reel, and yet draw away baffled when they hear the long, austere, solitary kind of tune – the true pibroch, lasting about a quarter of an hour – that the best pipers prefer to play.
‘Such pipers have just been heard at the Northern Meeting at Inverness, and they have played no less well at smaller gatherings – at Glenfinnan and Arisaig and in the Outer Isles. There the fields are small, the hills stand close, the dark water of the loch is near, and in a corner of the field, right away from the dancing and the running, only a handful of men are gathered about a small platform. The piper marches slowly round, eyes half-closed, engrossed in a tune that at first may seem to be no tune, simply a series of long sharp notes in surprising sequence; and the three judges sit still, often enough with the rain running off their bonnets, silent and intent for hours, as one piper follows another.
The Pibroch – or the ceol mor, the Great Music – is a reminder that even a small country like Britain can have cults that have a full meaning to only a few of her people. But what meaning has this severe classical music of the Highland pipe? Perhaps it has to be left to Highland born. ‘Ye can blow the pipes – make the most of that’, said Alan. Yet anyone with patience and interest will notice first of all that the pibroch notes come out very differently from the throaty ranting notes so often heard from bagpipes badly played; they are clear and bell-like.
Seton Gordon doing dome practice at his home at Duntuilm on Skye. Also in the picture are his dog Dileas and his wife
Seton Gordon doing dome practice at his home at Duntuilm on Skye. Also in the picture are his dog Dileas and his wife Audrey
‘Then the slow opening theme of the tune begins to acquire a shape and is heard continuing, with  a kind of measured tread, through all the intricate variations, even amid all the fastest ‘doublings’ and ‘triplings’ towards the end. The effect is cumulative and majestic, especially when right at the end, after all his variations, the piper takes up again the severe and unadorned theme with which he began.
‘An acquired taste maybe; or does it remain something inborn? The judges listen for the excellence of the playing, but for others among the devotees it is hard to say how much of the appeal comes from the Highland history that directly inspired the making of these ancient tunes. The titles are glories in themselves. ‘My King has Landed at Moidart’ – hear that played on the very spot. Or there is ‘I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand’. Then there are all the many separate clan salutes and laments composed by the piping families, the MacCrimmons, the MacArthurs and the MacIntyres, in the heroic days of the chiefs and their battles. The tunes have been handed down unchanged, and today, as they are played among the hills, they seem to pass on to Highlanders an insistent message from ancestors who fought and were defeated, who made mistakes like the rest of us, and bore themselves like men.’

Well said, and if you are a piper who hasn’t yet made an attempt to learn or understand this music then there is no time like the present. You will not regret it. The picture up top is from the Braemar Gathering in 1921 and shows Seton Gordon far left judging with Sheriff JP Grant, Rothiemurchus, a Mr DH Huie and Douglas Ramsay. From memory I believe Ramsay was at the time factor on the Balmoral Estate and was instrumental in getting King George V to send RU Brown and RB Nicol to John MacDonald of Inverness for instruction. Presumably they would have been playing in front of him (Ramsay) that day at Braemar.

4 thoughts on “PP Ed’s Blog: World Drumming/ NickHudson/ Seton Gordon and Ceol Mor

  1. You are correct Donald, Matt has been playing for many years with Bagad Cap Caval. Making the trek from his now home in Oregon. The young fellow to the right of Nick, also a young Michigan piper whom I’ve played in bands with. The world is small, and I say kudos to those that have the time, energy and funding to explore playing all kinds of music, in all kinds of places. In the long run, I think it can only enhance our art of piping and drumming, perhaps bring new ideas to the fore.

  2. Guilty as charged. Also in that picture are the heads of another US piper and two Scottish tenor drummers, with a piper from Mexico City just out of view! Donald MacPhee is spot on: Matt Turnbull plays regularly with Bagad Cap Caval and had been doing so well in advance of my first trip to play in Brittany in 2011. Members of Bagad New York have guested in various Bagadou. Well know players, E.J. Jones and ex-pat Mike Katz have done the Bagad thing as well. The Bretons are very open and giving with their time, music and dance. There’s always a really good ambience, with passion for their music to the fore.

  3. Hi Rab, Enjoy your work . The photo of Nick playing with Brieg is in fact Nick Hudson. I had the pleasure of adjudicating the grade 3 pipe band competition at the Scotland County Highland Games in Laurinburg North Carolina on Oct 1 of this year. Getting to know Nick better he spoke of the bands he has played with and Brieg was mentioned. The answer to your “American” question I know that American piper (Michigan, the same state where I was born) Matt Turnbull ( a pupil of the late Willie Connell ) played with a Bagad band for a number of years, which one , sadly I don’t know , but can confirm that I have personally seen Matt play with a Bagad.
    Thanks again for you work Rab,
    Donald MacPhee

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