PP Ed’s Blog: Composing Competition/ Gesto MS/ Achnacarry Pipes/ SPA

Congratulations to Dave Mason on winning the John Cruickshank VC composing competition.

I think his tune is one that will be played and thus serve the memory of a true war hero.

It was a very difficult competition to judge made all the easier working with legendary figures such as Ian McLellan, Richard Parkes and Stuart Liddell.

On going through the entries one was struck by how difficult it is to be original with the nine notes we, as pipers, have at our disposal.

The variety of our pipe music shows the creative talent among the many composers who have put pen to paper in the recent, and not too recent, past.

Dave and his wife celebrate

Thanks to them an astonishing array of ceol beag has been assembled in just over 200 years.

Our nine notes points up the prolific genius of the likes of P/M Donald MacLeod, and GS MacLennan.

Donald had the resource of his Gaelic background and GS could fashion a masterpiece from a four note melodic nodule he heard on his travels (Kilworth Hills, Ireland.)

I think this is where the true talent lies; to take a simple melodic idea and build it into a two, four or six part, wholly satisfying, pipe tune.

In winning this contest Dave Mason has shown that he has just such skill.

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Thanks to Calum MacLean, Tobermory, for sending on a slightly better version of the original Gesto Manuscript book than we had hitherto.

Calum’s version now replaces the existing on the PP Shop. It costs £1.50 to download, the fee to cover overheads.

Accompanying the book is P/M William MacLean’s transliteration. He does a good job of producing playable scores from the unfamiliar canntaireachd.

Check out both books here.

Planning your piping summer? Make the Clan Cameron/Commando Museum at Achnacarry near Spean Bridge a must visit.

Clan Cameron Museum

Small, but with very interesting clan artefacts and history and much memorabilia linked to the hundreds of brave men who trained on the Locheil estate during WW2.

In the museum we learn that Commando recruits were met by a piper at Spean Bridge train station and marched the eight miles to Achnacarry, fortunately downhill for much of the way. Welcome to Scotland.

A lovely set of pipes is on display in the museum as pictured up top and here:

Detail of the Achnacarry pipes

The note accompanying the pipes reads: ‘Set of bagpipes…which belonged to Captain Allan Cameron of Lochiel, killed in action in France 1914. The pipes were made by Peter Henderson, Glasgow, c. 1895, and accompanied the Cameron Highlanders to Gibraltar, Egypt and Malaya. Lent by his son Lt. Col. Angus Cameron MC.’

Captain Cameron must have been one of the first pipers to have been killed in the WW1 conflict, though as an officer I doubt he was piping when he met his sad end.

The pipes will have all the dealers out there salivating and it is a pity, I suppose, that this instrument is not being played.

Notice the ivory bowl on the chanter, a feature we don’t see very often these days. The original mouthpiece is clearly missing but I think the regimental ribbons set the pipes off well.

These went out of fashion among Army pipers after Robert Reid had a drone stop whilst competing at Braemar – or so the story goes.

A gust of wind got up and blew a flimsy piece of ribbon onto the top of a tenor stopping it neat as you like.

Now here’s an idea; could the museum organise a small ceremony this year to mark the outbreak of WW2 with these pipes being played by young Sandy Cameron or his brother Finlay?

Maybe a re-run of the march from Spean Bridge to Achnacarry and a new tune composed with that title?

Send your tunes on and we’ll pick the best. ‘Spean Bridge to Achnacarry’ has a nice ring to it.

SPA President Tom Johnstone: Our next ‘club night’ will be  Friday, 11th January 2019 – usual time and place, the National Piping Centre, Otago St., Glasgow.

Thereafter, as usual our meetings are 1st Friday of each month at 7.30pm.

All welcome to play, listen or just chat. Look forward to seeing you there.

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2 thoughts on “PP Ed’s Blog: Composing Competition/ Gesto MS/ Achnacarry Pipes/ SPA

  1. For those who wonder who Captain Allan George Cameron, 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders was, here is a link to his obituary in late 1914 courtesy of the Imperial War Museum. Perhaps if the Cameron brothers who are kin to Lochiel’s family could further contribute, it would further fresh out this colourful and piper officer.


  2. I am quite humbled by your words, Rob. To be mentioned in the same book as the late Donald MacLeod, never mind the same page, is not something I had thought I would ever achieve. But, for all of Pipe Major MacLeod’s popularity in light music, he struggled to find recognition for his Ceol Mor. A couple of years ago, the Piobaireachd Society set Donald MacLeod’s tunes as set tunes for the Silver Medal and what an eye opener that was for me. His musicality and genius was never in doubt in his light music but this shines through in his piobaireachd too.

    I wanted to thank you and the judges for your time and expert input. I also wanted to thank all of the other people who entered the contest. Keep writing. Keep challenging yourself to write that “perfect” tune. Musical taste is so personal or subjective that it is hard to say what is a “better” tune. Write tunes YOU think are good.

    As Rob mentions, we have 9 notes to work with, we are very limited in what we can do with those notes. In writing a tune for the bagpipes, the “basics” of the genre should be adhered to. If you have an idea, record it, write it down, hum it into your phone. It could be 4 notes or two bars. Then, take time to develop it from there remembering that, in most cases, endings of parts are the same (or very similar) so if you can think up an ending that fits, that’s two bars done. Often bars 1 and 2 are repeated in bars 5 and 6. And it goes from there. Never be scared to ask someone what they think. If you have a teacher, tutor or pipe major, ask them.

    I chose a 6/8 because I wanted to submit a tune that would become popular in marching repertoires all over the world and thus keep the memory of John Cruickshank’s achievements alive. 6/8 marches are iconic military marches – but, it could have been a 2/4, a 4/4 or even a 3/4.

    I face the same dilemma with my folk songwriting. If I enter a song in a competition, I have to believe in myself and my song even though it might not win any prizes because the songs and the tunes I write are unique to me.

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