PP Ed’s Blog: Learning Ceol Mor/ Burns Tunes / Balmoral Teachers/ Fiddle Concert/ Kenny MacDonald

Fifty years ago P/M Donald MacLeod was intoning against learning piobaireachd ‘parrot fashion’. (See the advert he ran in the ‘Piping World’ magazine issue we highlighted last week.)

This is the great danger in relying on CD or archive recordings as the sole source of your study. Almost as bad as following printed scores to the letter.

Rote learning can only ever take you so far. An educated ear will always detect the parrot.

What Donald was advocating for those who couldn’t travel was the correspondence course. Play your tune onto a tape and he would critique it.

Like internet lessons today, better than nothing if you are stuck in the wilds of Wyoming without a teacher.

However, those studying ceol mor should make every effort to get a qualified, traditionally taught tutor – which failing books and Skype/Facetime will do.

Two important precepts to remember in those lonesome moments:
1 Do not be a slave to any written score, extrapolating what you think the writer meant – or worse, what some unqualified individual thinks he meant.
2 A tune which cannot be sung is a tune which cannot be played.

You must study the music from the inside as Don Varella said in the same issue of his magazine, and this is best done with lessons from a suitably qualified teacher.



Karen McCrindle Warren has sent this: ‘I just thought I’d drop you a wee note for your readers at Piping Press.

‘As you know the South West Scotland Collection is the biggest collection of Burns music written on pipes, and to celebrate 260 years since his birth we’re running a ‘Burns Day Giveaway’.  

Compiler and pipe music composer Karen McCrindle Warren

‘For a chance to win, all you have to do is jump onto the South West Scotland Collection’s Facebook page, and like and share the video of me playing a wee set of Burns tunes from the books.  

‘The winner will be drawn on Burns day and will receive a full set of all five books of the South West Scotland Collection. Hae a braw Burns day!


Pittsburgh’s Balmoral School of Piping and Drumming has sent this: ‘We are proud to announce the guest instructors for our 2019 summer schools in Pennsylvania.

‘Originally from Northern Ireland, now a resident of Pittsburgh, Andrew Carlisle has won numerous top awards and holds the prestigious positions of Professor of Music and Director of Piping at Carnegie Mellon University.

‘Bruce Gandy of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was a member of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band when they were the first non-Scottish pipe band to win the World Pipe Band Championships in 1987. His solo awards include the Canadian Gold Medal, Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting, Gold Medal at Oban, and Bratach Gorm.

‘Our Pittsburgh school held at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel, runs from July 7-12, and our East Stroudsburg school, held at ESU, from July 14-19.

‘Both Gandy and Carlisle will teach at the Pittsburgh School. Andrew Carlisle will also teach at the East Stroudsburg school alongside longtime Balmoral favorite, Jimmy Bell.



‘Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Balmoral School George Balderose says, ‘This summer’s guest instructors are welcome additions to the 2019 Balmoral instruction staff.

‘Their expertise and successful piping histories are indicative of the high quality instruction that Balmoral makes available each summer to American pipers.’


High quality fiddling at Paisley Abbey this Saturday with Alastair Savage and friends.

I’ll be doing a guest spot along with many others. If you want to hear the very best in Scots violin, put this lunchtime concert on your weekend schedule:


The picture up top has been sent to us via Facebook. It is of double Gold Medallist Kenny MacDonald competing at Strathardle Games in 1968.

Next to play after Kenny was P/M Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards. We don’t often see players of this calibre at the Highland games these days and this may be indicative of the prevalence of so many indoor contests, many of them elite, invitational events.


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