Review: The South West Scotland Collection of Pipe Music

The South West Scotland Collection compiled
by Karen McCrindle Warren

By P/M Barry Donaldson

When asked by Piping Press to review this new publication of pipe music, I was a little apprehensive when told there were five books making up the complete collection.

I wondered why Karen had undertaken such a demanding task of producing five at once instead of one at a time over a longer period.

However, now having played and read through them, I have sense of what she was trying to achieve. I will now attempt to provide a flavour of this.

Karen has compiled a vast amount of pipe music much of which I have never come across before. It ranges from modern compositions by some of our top contemporary players, such as Chris Armstrong, Donald McBride and Callum Moffat, mixed in with tunes from masters such as Peter McLeod, Donald Shaw Ramsay and Duncan Johnstone.

Karen has also collected an array of tunes from well-known pipers of the last generation, men such as Willie McBride, Jimmy Thomson and George Grant.

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Their work is impressive and whilst I knew some of them personally, in particular Willie McBride my Pipe Major in the Monktonhall Colliery PB, I must confess to having been unaware of their composing talents.

As well as all of  this, Karen has compiled an array of old traditional pieces including plenty associated with Rabbie Burns.

Karen, using braid Scots, points out ‘it’s the maist muckle collection o’ Burns music e’er din fur the pipe’, and she is to be congratulated for the effort she has put in in sourcing music with roots in, and/or a connection to, the South West of Scotland.

The first book is designed with children in mind; a collection of simple traditional tunes many by Burns.

She includes some poetry alongside pieces such as ‘Bruce’s Address’ and photographs of places associated with the tune create added interest.

She has also toned notes darker and made the manuscript print larger to assist a child in reading the text. Clever.

As a school’s piping teacher, I have to say this is one of the best music collections for young learners I have come across and I would definitely recommend it. And, by the way, it is also suitable for adult beginners.

Volumes 1 and 2  contain a significant number of light music compositions in all idioms and the tunes have links with local south-west communities in different ways.

As well as Burns’ music, Karen includes tunes which have mining and military connections and she has listed local regiments as well as some of the colliery pipe bands which influenced piping in the area.

There are too many excellent pieces to mention however a work by William Livingstone Snr. is worthy of comment. Pipe Major Davie Hendrie is an outstanding four-parted 2/4 march with a powerful swinging melody and I believe it could rank alongside the best genre.

Compiler and pipe music composer, Karen McCrindle Warren

Volumes 3 and 4 contain many of the more modern compositions including Karen’s own work. As well as light music pieces, two of her prize-winning piobaireachd are on offer, namely The Lament for the Lowland Clearances and The Salute to Neil Munro.

George Grant’s music deserves comment. His four-parted 2/4 march, C. Grant of Battangorm is surely now going to get the recognition it deserves.

If I had known of this piece it would have been in my repertoire years ago and indeed been played by my bands. 

It has a flowing, bold, melodic line which makes it suitable for top level competition and I will now be looking out for this piece in my judging rounds.

The last composer I wish to mention is Ontario’s Bill Livingstone, son of Bill Snr. The family hail from Ayrshire and as well writing a Foreword for the complete collection Bill has some of his own compositions included.

1970s, and Bill Livingstone, a contributor to Karen’s book, receives a piobaireachd prize at the Toronto indoor games

His suite, Johnnie Rowan, written for his grandfather, deserves special mention. This is a musical journey of the man’s life and ultimate emigration to Canada.

In my humble opinion it is a masterpiece of composition worthy of any pipe band concert platform.

I could have written much more about this collection and it was difficult to do it justice given my brief, however I will finish by saying that this is one of the best collections of pipe music I have come across in recent years and one which I believe will stand the test of time. Well done Karen.

• You can order this collection of pipe music via the website.

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