I am always struck by the gratitude of students. At last year’s Northern Winter School Horst Krauss presented me with this fine book ‘The Bagpipe – The History of a European Folk Instrument in Pictures’ by Fritz Schneider. The well-written text is in four languages, including English, and is graced with beautifully reproduced photographs. It says this about the GHB:
‘The British brought the Scottish bagpipe to the once worldwide British Empire. That is why the ‘Great Highland Bagpipe’ became the generally most famous of all bagpipes. It is still played in the army and police of several countries that have been independent for many years. The fact that the instrument is played in bands, the members of which are dressed in eye-catching costumes [see pic up top the book uses to illustrate this point], contributed to its fame….The instrument differs from other types… in its sound quality. That it is sometimes disliked is caused by the fact that its scale degrees differ slightly (a quarter tone) from the usual scale…which renders its music suitable for leading troops into battle, but sounds off tune to the ear trained to listen to more conventual [sic] music…’
Our instrument’s popularity probably has as much to do with the quality of the music and striking nature of its delivery than anything else, and this off-key explanation is always overstated in my view. Usually the writer has only ever heard street pipers – those we still encounter destroying our music and our instrument’s image on the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The book also peddles the music hall myths surrounding the GHB and has this cartoon from the now defunct ‘Punch’ satirical magazine. The soldier has survived the rigours of the Crimean War only to be knocked on his back by a piper:
It features these super reproductions, the first of artist David Wilkie’s painting (1813) of a lowland piper, well-known to all elbow pipers:
and this one of from a steel engraving c.1840 by Edwin Tyrell after a painting by Thomas Sword Good, 1822: The book, 170 pages full colour, is a high quality publication. It comes highly recommended and is available online at www.spielleute.de. Many thanks to Horst for his kindness. The book is now safely ensconced in the PP reference library.
• Registrations for the 2018 Northern Winter School (Nov 2 – 9) open mid-March.
Whilst on the book review kick, another new volume of 46 compositions ‘inspired by the landscape and nature of Scotland that bring a fresh voice to the world of pipe music’ has come my way from Munlochy -based composer Hilary de Vries. It comes with this glowing tribute from Allan MacDonald, Glenuig now Edinburgh: ‘I found myself after only a quick surmise of the book, humming The Barley Skimmers without me knowing it until I re-discovered it written on the page in front of me. This is the ultimate test of a good tune – the old grey whistle test, or worm that you cannot rid of until you play it! There are more within……’
Allan also plays the music on an accompanying CD on smallpipes. Here’s the track he mentions ‘The Barley Skimmers’, also the title track of the book:
The ‘Barley Skimmers’ is available for £15 + P&P from Boarstone Publishing.
This letter from me has been sent to all our students: ‘Only a few days to go until we all get together for the fourth South Florida Pipe & Drum Academy. Your instructors are looking forward to meeting you all and to spending some really valuable time with you: teaching, listening and learning. We will combine the very highest quality world-‐class instruction with an understanding that it cannot be all work and no play.
‘We will be with you throughout the day, and during that time we will have plenty of down time when we can socialize and share our common interest in piping and drumming. If we don’t enjoy this then what’s the point!! That said, our and your enjoyment will be that much more if we can make some good progress with your piping and drumming. This is of paramount importance to your tutors.
‘We want you to leave the school a better piper or drummer than when you joined. So hard work will be required -‐ but after we can let our hair down (assuming that unlike me that you have any) and have a good time in each other’s company. Please remember to bring your instruments, chanters, drum pads, cameras, phones, recorders, tuners, pencils, notebooks and any other equipment that will help you enjoy your experience at SFPDA 2018.
‘You should feel free to record all lessons and performances, the better to have something to refer to in the weeks and months following the school. Finally, can I thank you for your support for the Academy. Our long-term aim is to effect a serious improvement in piping and drumming in South Florida. To that extent you are all pioneers and I hope that in years to come you will be able to pass on the knowledge you have gained at the Academy to future generation of Floridian pipers and drummers.’