Category Archives: Tuition

Silver Medal Tunes for 2018 Available for Download/ Grade 3a Band Looking for Leading Drummer

The Piping Press Shop now has a full set of recordings of tunes set by the by the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society (PS) for the 2018 Silver Medal competitions at Oban and Inverness.

They are played in full on the practice chanter by Piping Press editor Robert Wallace more or less as published by the Society but with some differences as handed down in oral tradition. These differences are usually, but not always, recorded in the notes to the tunes in the PS collection. By playing along with these recordings the piper may get an idea of the song of the tune and how to link its passages, phrases and variations. Robert strongly advises additional tuition from a qualified tutor for anyone entering these important competitions.

The tunes are Chisholm’s Salute, Desperate Battle of the Birds, Glengarry’s March, Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks, Lament for the Little Supper, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart and MacLeod’s Salute. Access the recordings here:

The above picture shows 2017 Silver Medallists at the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting, Cameron MacDougall, Nigg, and Stuart Easton, New Zealand. Both pipers now go forward to compete for the coveted Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal presented annually at both gatherings.

Wallacestone Pipe Band have sent this: ‘Following the departure of former Leading Drummer Stewart Gardener at the end of the 2017 season Wallacestone Pipe band are opening applications from interested parties to take on the role.

‘Following promotion to grade 3A at the end of 2016 Wallacestone has had one of its most successful seasons in the last 20 years, winning the European and UK championships and securing the Champion of Champions title in our grade.

‘Prospective candidates should have Grade 1 experience and ideally have led a drum corps, but this is not essential.

‘Pipe Major Neil Henderson: “This is an exciting opportunity at an exciting time for the band. We have a talented, driven and ambitious band that is only going forward. We want someone with the same traits to come in and drive the drum corps on to future success.”

‘Candidates are asked to send a covering letter through the band website or by email by 5th October 2017.

‘Wallacestone Pipe band is recognised as the oldest competing civilian pipe band in the world having been formed in 1887. The band is led by Pipe Major Neil Henderson and is celebrating its 130th anniversary this year. In 2016 the band was runner-up at the World Championships and in the Champions table in 3B. The band practice in Grangemouth British Legion just 30 minutes from both Glasgow and Edinburgh.’

Dress at Oban and Inverness and the Standard of Play in B Grade Events

By Robert Wallace

A last look at the piping at the 2017 Northern Meeting today. Before that a word about Oban and its dress code. Pipers at the Argyllshire Gathering are permitted to play without jackets. The rooms get hot at times and the laudable aim of the organisers is to make the competitors as comfortable as possible in the pressure cooker atmosphere of the small theatre at the Corran Halls and in the confined space of other competition venues.

You might think that such a dispensation would yield a pipe band outcome where everyone wears a waistcoat, a smartly pressed shirt with cufflinks, fastened tie and a bonnet correctly (mostly) positioned on the head. Not so. What I witnessed this year was a noticeable decline in appearance. Here we had some of the most important piping events in the world (and some of the best musicians) parading in rolled up shirt sleeves, ties unhinged, bonnets askew, no waistcoat or kilt belt – and no visual respect for the occasion.

So it is one thing for promoters to try to accommodate sweaty pipers, but if the no jacket allowance leads to a further drop in standards of dress and deportment then we need to be concerned. Could Oban not state in its rules that pipers who drop the jacket must wear a waistcoat, must have ties appropriately knotted, shirtsleeves fastened at the cuff etc? In the picture up top young Luke Kennedy shows pipers how they should dress at the Gathering if they don’t want to wear jackets (bonnet to be added). Luke is seen receiving the P/M RG Hardie Memorial Trophy for Intermediate MSR playing from AG Assistant Piping Convenor Jamie Mellor.

No such worries at Inverness where jackets are de rigueur….. shame about some of the playing in the ‘B’s. The topic of conversation amongst many of the adjudicators who presided over the ‘B’ grade March, Strathspey and Reel and ‘B’ Grade Hornpipe & Jig was of the indifferent (I don’t want to go any stronger than that) standard of performance. One judge wrote to me: ‘I am seriously concerned about the state of piping among our up and coming players – lack of musicality, technique, phrasing, bagpipes etc. Three minutes should be ample to tune a set of pipes surely? Very few achieved it. That was an uncomfortable experience today for all three of us – for seven hours.’

I would echo these sentiments but would say that in the ‘B’ Hornpipe & Jig that I judged with Ian McLellan the prizewinners all played well and there were others who perhaps had a good hornpipe but failed in the jig and vice versa. I am sure this would be the same in the ‘B’ MSR, however my correspondent’s point is well made.

Sandy Cameron, winner of the Northern Meeting ‘B’ Hornpipe & Jig and a regular winner round the games this year. Sandy is pictured at Arisaig

The number of times pipers came to the floor with the pipes well in, only to put them out, and then struggle to recover their tuning – and invariably failing – was considerable. Add to that the flaws in basic technique: D throws not properly grounded to low G, double Es from F false fingered, inconsistencies in grips and taorluaths, the list goes on and this at the Northern Meeting!

Consider too, a failure to understand, or deliver, the basic ceol beag idioms and we have a problem. Are senior pipers/ judges doing enough teaching? Are the draconian rules of the Solo Piping Judges Association already having an effect? Do nerves play a big part? Certainly, this is Inverness after all. But there is a world of difference between someone trying to play correctly and failing and someone who misunderstands the basic requirements of the art.

Band playing may have made an unfortunate impact too. The quality of fingerwork required to succeed on the solo platform probably exceeds that of the average Grade 1 piper. We often hear pipers fresh from a win at the Worlds struggling to execute their solo stuff with the required clarity and definition. Rhythm: in bands this comes from the pipe major and the drummers. Individual feel for the music is secondary, yet on the solo board the piper is lost without it.

And tuning. Do pipers actually rehearse the three or four-minute tuning lights regime they encounter at Oban and Inverness? I would be amazed if they did not, yet judging by the evidence, this is clearly not the case. (Some even think that by standing with their backs to the lights as the red approaches they will gain extra time and fool the judges. Believe me, this does the guilty piper no favours.) Has a reliance on electronic tuners caused a decline in the development of what used to be called a ‘good ear’? It would seem so.

Many pipers will be hurting after a disappointing Oban and Inverness. I’ve been in that movie. The only response can be a complete re-evaluation of your instrument (from the bag up), your technique, your appreciation of basic rhythm and expression and a thorough look at your practice regime. For goodness sake don’t despair. Many’s the piper who, with a change in direction or a look at the basics, manages to turn round their performance and consequent success rate. Remember, just to get to Oban and Inverness says something about your standard of play. You have to be a very good piper to be accepted.

Do not wander in the wilderness cursing judges and misfortune. Seek out a senior player or judge who has been there and done it all. Hopefully some guidance will be forthcoming. Get your set tunes off by Christmas; cut out that march you never seem to do well with, think hard about linking your strathspeys and reels and how well they sit together. Is John Morrison, Assynt House worth the risk when Alick C would do? Look logically and rationally at all of this, take the necessary action and you should be able to approach next season with renewed confidence.

Get full results from Oban here. Get full results from Inverness here. 

Changes at the College and the Funding of Piping

Just when things seemed to be settling down at the College of Piping we hear of another departure, that of General Manager Fraser MacInnes, writes the Editor. My information is that the parting was not as harmonious as it might have been.

There must have been personality issues here for, according to the Office of Scottish Charities Register (OSCR), the College’s profit last year was £21,000. The old place seemed to be doing alright under Mr MacInnes’s guidance, however business will now be conducted jointly by Piping Times Editor Stuart Letford and Piping Director Colin MacLellan with the firm hand of Chairman Colin MacNeill conducting traffic from Edinburgh.

Unconfirmed rumours are that the College’s magazine, the Piping Times, has seen a fall in circulation to under 600 per month. This would give it a readership of 2,400 max. but the decline is not surprising and is in line with what is happening in many other areas of print journalism. (The Scotsman newspaper only sells 19,000 copies a day from a heyday high of more than four times that only a few years ago). The only way to counteract the online onslaught is with excellence in content and quality writing. You have to make the product unique and worth buying. We can contrast the PT readership with that of Piping Press (and I’m sure other online piping magazines) where the monthly viewing figures are a minimum of TEN times the PT total. Not hubris; fact. But people like a paper read. If a magazine is good enough it will sell (Economist, Private Eye, Spectator), so there is hope for the PT.

The other way it could hit back would be by becoming a free offering; print thousands, flood the market. That way you boost circulation and keep the advertisers happy. The downside is that there is no income from the cover price and, given the international nature of the piping and pipe band worlds, there are hefty mailing charges to consider. PT cover price income is already pretty low and when added to advertising revenue will, from my calculations, hardly be covering the current editor’s salary never mind paying for the print run.

The College’s overall wages bill must be pretty high too. My unconfirmed information is that the Director of Piping is being paid £10,000 a year for one day a week, though it has to be said that when I was there I found my responsibilities were 24/7 so it would be wrong to assess his salary on a strict time basis.

I hope the new arrangement works for the College and it is about time those great supporters of piping, the William Grant Foundation (WGF), offered them some funding. Here we have an institution (the College) dedicated to teaching piping at grass-roots level, not only at home but abroad, with an unparalelled record in offering lessons for free to disadvantaged youngsters. Yet the Foundation continues to ignore it just as its predecessors at Glenfiddich did. This was a recurring annoyance for me during my 15 years at Otago Street, why should the National Piping Centre (NPC) get all the cash? the repeated refrain.

According to OSCR the National Piping Centre showed a surplus of circa. £12,000 in 2016. Income streams included £250,000 from the Scottish Government’s agency Creative Scotland (£100,000 for the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland) and £150,000 from Glenfiddich.

Recently there was a hush-hush meeting convened to discuss the Foundation’s future funding of piping with emphasis on solo competitions. I presume the College was invited to this pow-wow, or at least sent a copy of the detailed discussion document prepared by NPC Director of Piping Roderick MacLeod.


Glenurquhart Games/ South West Scotland Piping & Drumming Academy

Total solo piping prizemoney at this year’s Glenurquhart Games will be over £700 the organisers have announced. Spokeswoman Jane Drennan has sent this: ‘This year’s games will be on Saturday August 26 at Blairbeg Park, Drumnadrochit.

‘There are piping competitions for seniors, juniors and chanter. Total prizemoney will be £709. This year we are delighted to welcome our four highly respected judges, Iain MacFadyen, Malcolm McRae, Robert Wallace and Dr John Ross. Registration for all piping events (except Chanter and Under 13 Piping) is at 10.30am. Senior piping starts 11am. Registration for Chanter and U-13 is at 1.30. Games open at 10am. Free car parking.’ More info on piping here.

Each year since 1946 a Celtic design has appeared in the Glenurquhart Games programme. Created by the artist George Bain, it shows a Highland Dancing competition taking place on the Games field beneath a sky created from a pattern of Celtic knotwork. Bain (1881-1968) was a native of Scrabster, Caithness, but moved to Edinburgh and  attended Edinburgh College of Art from 1896 to 1902 when he gained first place in a National Scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. He retired to Drumnadrochit in 1946

Read more on this traditional Highland games here. Check out the PP Guide to the Games here.

South West Scotland Pipe & Drum Academy (SWSPDA) had a successful fourth Annual Summer School at Barony Campus near Dumfries last week. Thirty students, mostly residential, attended.

The Academy report: ‘The Barony Campus is absolutely ideal. We have no immediate neighbours, accommodation for the students, tutors and chaperone is first class, there is a large indoor games hall for the kids to use in their free time (which isn’t a lot), and acres of grass to play on.’

Students at the 2017 SWSPDA Summer School

Principal tutor was Callum Moffat of Scottish Power Pipe Band, supported by William Geddes, Greater Glasgow Police Pipe Band and well known solo competitor, Ross Cowan, North Lanarkshire Schools tutor solo competitor and Chris Armstrong, P/M of Scottish Power. John Cowan and Alan Maltman, both very well known tutors in the area, tutored the beginners.  Principal snare drum tutor was David Sheridan of Greater Glasgow Police, assisted by Norrie Thompson of Lochmaben Pipe Band with Jordan Bailey, Inveraray Pipe Band, teaching tenor and bass.

The school culminated with a free entry concert and was well attended by family and friends. Callum Moffat’s group played a tune that they had composed during the week called ‘SWSPDA Summer School 2017’, part of their preparation for sitting their PDQB exams. More than 20 students will be sitting these exams soon.

Border TV spent a day at the school filming for their ‘Border Life’ programme. The spokesman added: ‘We had a brilliant week, with great weather, great tutors, and a great bunch of enthusiastic students. Our next Summer School is already scheduled for 2018, and will be held from Sunday 8th until Friday 13th July.’

The 19th Annual Burns Piping and Drumming Competition will be held at Locharbriggs Primary School, Dumfries, DG1 1UW on 2nd September. The competition was previously organised and hosted by Mrs Sheila Howat who, after long and successful service, has decided to retire. The SWSPDA have agreed to take over the organisation of the contest. It will be open to drummers as well as pipers. Entries £4 per class. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to ‘South West of Scotland Piping and Drumming Academy’. Closing date for entries: 31st August 2017. Late entries not accepted. Contact Mrs Fiona Morton, 13 Garden Hill Drive, Castle Douglas, DG7 1LX; t: 01556 505375; e:

Fine Selection of Second Hand Books Offered for Sale by Piping Press Shop Now Sold

Six classic piping books were offered for sale today for by the Piping Press Shop. These have now sold within one hour of going on sale. The books, first lot, were the ‘Seaforth Highlanders Collection’, Seumas MacNeill’s ‘Tutor for Piobaireachd’ and Roderick Cannon’s ‘Highland Bagpipe and Its Music’. Revenue from these sales will help maintain Piping Press’s not for profit, subscription-free service.

The ‘Seaforth Collection’, currently retailing new at £25, was first issued in 1936 and contains over 250 tunes. The edition offered here was the 1998 reprint. What makes the Seaforth Collection so outstanding is the quality of the settings. No superfluous gracenotes, just good traditional and regimental tunes easily assimilated by every competent piper.

Seumas MacNeill’s ‘Tutor for Piobaireachd’ was first published in 1990 and was the first modern tutor for this music. Tunes covered are the Company’s Lament, Mackintosh’s Banner, Glengarry’s Lament and Lament for Alasdair Dearg MacDonnell of Glengarry.

Dr Roderick Cannon’s ‘Highland Bagpipe and Its Music’ was first published in 1995 and is a very well-written account of the instrument, its history and the nature of its music. Dr Cannon was a bagpipe music scholar of considerable renown and for 30 years a mainstay of the Piobaireachd Society’s Music Committee. This book is essential reading for every young piper.