I read the other day that according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences an extensive study has shown that audiences actually prefer the sound of newer violins over those made by master craftsmen such as Antonio Stradivari.
Violin acoustics expert Professor Claudia Fritz, of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, asked seven world famous soloists to play at concert halls in Paris and New York in a blind test in which neither the performers nor audience knew which instrument was being played.
Old violins included two by Guarneri del Gesu (both made after 1740), six by Stradivari, and one by another well-known 18th century Italian master. On every occasion, the public preferred music played on newer violins.
I think it would be interesting to have a similar road test for bagpipes. I look around the solo professional platform and there are just as many top players competing on new or newish instruments as there are on old Henderson, Lawries etc. Certainly the fashion for the quieter, though rock steady, MacDougall bagpipe, has all but disappeared and attempts at copying this so-called (and surely misnamed) ‘Stradivarius of the bagpipe’ have all met with eventual disapproval despite early enthusiasm.
Of course there are beautiful sets of old pipes doing the rounds (see the PP Online Advertising pages) and they can raise an awful lot of moolah. How much was paid for Donald MacPherson’s German silver Lawries when they sold at auction to that chap in Australia a couple of years ago? Was it £35,000?
Modern production methods have contributed to the excellence of the bagpipes now available to the fresh off the lathe customer. No longer are the bores anything less than concentric. Lengths of joints are exact to precise tolerances. Reed seats accurate and consistent. Wood is seasoned and carefully selected.
The result is an ease of set up and tuning that you do not find in many old sets. They can be a real trial to get going. My advice to prospective buyers has always been that unless the instrument has a proven pedigree – played in Grade 1 or on the professional board, or you’re getting it for a song – it may be as well to consider the modern set before plunging for the old Lawries or Hendersons of your dreams. You could be buying someone else’s trouble and there ain’t no comeback if you’re not happy.
Patricia Grant reports that Gordon McCready currently tops the John Milne Fine Arts Grampian Games Piping League though this doesn’t include last weekend’s Strathmore Games. Gordon is followed by Eddie Gaul, Calum Brown and Alan Clark. After the Fochabers Games Gordon was spotted entertaining motorists on the road home:
Strathallan School have sent this: ‘Our pipe band has been transformed under the direction of Craig Muirhead and Chris Armstrong – both accomplished pipers – and between them, they’ve brought our piping into the 21st century. Our pupils have performed alongside world famous Red Hot Chilli Pipers, played at Scotland’s international football match against Canada, Tartan Day in New York, closed T in the Park music festival, taken part in Beating Retreat at Holyrood Palace and played at the welcoming ceremony of the European Eventing Championship in Blair Atholl.
‘Most recently, two of our pupils – Robbie MacIsaac and Ben Muir – competed at the British Pipe Band Championship as part of the Scottish Power Pipe Band. This was their first Grade 1 event and was quite an achievement for ones so young.’
John Kelly has sent this nice picture of the Drumlough Pipe Band from Northern Ireland. He writes: ‘Drumlough Pipe Band under the direction of Pipe Major Stephen Burrows have scooped their second win of the 2017 pipe band season. The band won in Grade 3A at the Mid-Ulster Pipe Band Championships at Cookstown on Saturday 3rd June and the Co Fermanagh Pipe Band Championships at Enniskillen on Saturday 27th May.’