Tag Archives: piping history


Today we have the third instalment of our abridged excerpts from the above book by Ian Hamilton Mackay Scobie. The book was published in 1924 and is now out of print. This excerpt talks of piobaireachd being superseded by ceol beag as duty tunes and the effect on the fingers of playing in bands. Above is a picture of Seaforth militia pipers in 1880 under P/M Ronald MacKenzie…. 

In an old order book of the 72nd [regimental forerunner of the Seaforths] appears a List of Tunes (mostly Ross-shire and MacKenzie ones), which show the use of the bagpipes in regulating the interior workings of a Highland regiment. This list, which was probably compiled on the formation of the 72nd, and adhered to for many years, contains several piobaireachd which are now but little known.

The old time style of playing was slower than now, and with less profusion of embellishing notes (grace notes) in the tune. But regimental pipers of a century ago [1824], taken as a whole, were probably more careful players than the average modern regimental player. The mere fact of the former being used to play solo more frequently than in a band, and to his being first and foremost a piobaireachd player (which is conducive to careful fingering),,, tends to prove this.

The modern ‘playing’ piper, on the other hand, has seldom to perform solo beyond his duty tunes when orderly piper; while too much playing in a band leads to hasty, and so faulty, slip-shod fingering. The Army School of Piping in Edinburgh Castle, established in 1910, has done much towards improving the standard of playing in the Army. No piper is now made a Pipe Major unless he has passed through the school.

The list of [72nd] tunes is as follows:

Reveille – Surachan – The MacRae’s March
Gathering – Cruinneachadh – Tulloch Ard
Salute – Failte – MacKenzie’s Salute
Slow March – An Cuilfhionn – Fingal’s Weeping
Quickstep – Castle Donan
Charge – Cabar Feidh
Stimulus – during the engagement – Battle of Strome
Lament – Cumha – MacKenzie’s Lament
Sunset – MacKenzie’s March
Tattoo – Head of the High Bridge
Warning before dinner – Battle of Glenshiel
During dinner – Battle of Sherrifmuir

Most of the above tunes were afterwards changed for shorter or simpler airs. In time the universal Scottish reveille Hey, Johnnie Cope came to be played in the regiment as the ‘rouse’ or daybreak tune and for the first and second Meal Pipes (at breakfast, dinner and tea), Bundle and Go and Blythe and Merry was She respectively, while the old Gaelic air ‘Caidil, mo ghaol’, known as Sleep Dearie, Sleep was adopted for Lights Out. This old air…has been familiarly called, in some regiments, ‘Soldiers lie doon on yer wee pickle straw’. Blythe and Merry was She was altered for Brose and Butter as the second Meal Tune in 1911 when the duty calls of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions were made uniform.

There are old words to the former tune composed by some soldier way back in the 50s of the last century:

Hey Jock! are ye glad ye ‘listed
Hey Donal’! is yer belly fu’
Hey Jock! are ye glad ye ‘listed
How dae ye like the sodgers noo?

Highland soldiers were known in the old days as ‘Donald’, ‘Rory’ or ‘Her Nainsel’ [roughly, a Highlanders way of speaking of himself] until with the growing preponderance of lowland Scots in the ranks, the essentially lowland name ‘Jock’ took their place in the latter half of the last century.

Cabar Feidh (one of the most inspiring of Highland airs) is still used for the Dress for Parade and in reel or strathspey time for the Charge. The setting of this tune is the traditional one as handed down.

Cabar Feidh in the setting from the Seaforth Highlanders collection

For years after the old 72nd and 78th were united in 1881 they continued to play the duty tunes peculiar to each which necessitated a piper who was transferred from one battalion to the other learning new tunes, or fresh settings of tunes. This unsatisfactory state of affairs was remedied in 1912 when a list of ‘Regimental Pipe Tunes’ (including favourite duty tunes of both battalions) was drawn up for common use……..

Although the tunes were now made uniform the question of divergency in their settings still arose and has only lately been settled. In fact it was only quite recently that ….. Cabar Feidh was made uniform in the two regular battalions. As regards the standardising of the more commonly known tunes throughout the army, the Army School of Piping has already done much towards that end. But even at present ‘the individuality as regards tunes which exist in every battalion and regiment makes it very difficult indeed to get a number of bands to play even the best known tunes together without considerable practice’ – The Pipes of War 1920.

Read the earlier excerpts in this series here.

RSPBA Publishes Draw for UK Pipe Band Championships

The UK Pipe Band Championships will be held at Stormont, Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 10.

There is a high entry in all grades. Here are the bands playing in Grade 1 and the times of their performances courtesy of the RSPBA:

Grade 1 – Final
01 13:30 Field Marshal Montgomery
02 13:40 Inveraray and District
03 13:50 Bleary and District
04 14:00 Vale of Atholl
05 14:10 Peoples Ford – Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia
06 14:20 St Laurence O’Toole – Eire
07 14:30 Ravara
08 14:40 Glasgow Police
09 14:50 Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia
10 15:00 Scottish Power
11 15:10 Pipes and Drums of the Police Service of Northern Ireland
12 15:20 Buchan Peterson
13 15:30 Johnstone
14 15:40 Police Scotland Fife

Perfect….the competition arenas at the UKs

George Wilson
Jennifer Hutcheon
Mark Wilson
David Brown

Click here for all other grades. In the picture above P/M Richard Parkes of Field Marshal Montgomery receives the Grade 1 trophy from the he Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston, Chieftain of the 2016 Gathering.

For dates of all other majors click here. For all pipe band competitions check the latest edition of Pipe Band Magazine.

PP Ed’s Blog: Aussie Rules/ St Petersburg/ Chris Terry

Latest from Pipe Bands Australia: ‘The national council of Pipe Bands Australia has voted to endorse the decision of bands in the recent annual ballot of bands to include a separate Grade 4 selection of marches events in the contest regulations.

‘National management committee last year introduced a trial rule for the event to encourage bands to return to the competition arena, retain players of long-standing and assist in providing a stepping stone for less-experienced players on the journey to entering the circle in MSR-Medley competitions.

‘The trial was used with success by two branches in recent months. Tasmanian branch chairman Tony Coen reported: ‘At the recent Richmond contest, the SOM went off very well. It attracted all of the state’s bands (except the one that is not yet registered with PBA, but is being worked on) and one or two of those bands hadn’t been in competition mode for some time. St Andrews Caledonian Band entered a full range of players that consisted largely of first-timers and led by a piper who had no rank, but was proficient enough to guide the rest. That band didn’t win the contest, but its members did gain a lot from the experience.

‘Although each band was aware of the conditions etc. associated with the trial, there were a couple that didn’t completely enter in the spirit of the intention. The band that won the competition contained a number of high graded pipers, whereas others could have done the same, but didn’t. There was a grumble about that in the aftermath.

‘Whilst some bands might have the capacity to field enough players that haven’t had expertise on the contest arena, others don’t and therefore the latter doesn’t have a choice, except not to enter. I’m talking of keeping ‘in the spirit’ of the trial rule. Personally, I don’t think that it matters what the make-up of players is, nor does it matter about winning. The experience for first-timers is what counts.

‘Victorian branch chairman Tim McLeod reported: ‘There has been significant uptake of this contest element in the recent contest season. A number of bands have used this element to develop young players or enable older players to return to competition. A small number of bands who have been off the contest circuit for a number of years also took advantage of the opportunity to compete in 2017, and they have indicated they will again do so next year. The additional performances created some pressure on judges and timings were reviewed and adjusted as the season progressed to overcome this problem. The Executive is recommending to Victoria Branch Council that this element be offered at all contests in 2017-2018 Contest Season.’

St Petersburg and River Neva, Hermitage etc
I’ve been in freezing St Petersburg for an organ/pipes concert at the Mariinsky Theatre. Seemed to go well enough and there was a 2,000+ crowd in the magnificent auditorium with organist Kevin Bowyer, day job organist at Glasgow University chapel, playing a wide range of pieces and supplying superb accompaniment to my pipe efforts.

It’s my first time in Russia and if you are going I’d recommend bulling up on the cyrillic alphabet beforehand. Learn a few of the letters and suddenly all the signage, or a lot of it, starts to make sense. For R read P; for C read S and so on. Kevin’s name and mine as they appeared in the programme: 

A long walk round the city took us to many of the famous sights and onto the Metro which was as busy as ever despite the recent terrorist attack. Escalators seem to go down for ever and have been deliberately dug deep to double as fall-out shelters – or so I was told.

Prices are cheap but retailing is very understated – probably a throwback to the Soviet days – so don’t expect huge neon signs and glitzy shop fronts hence the importance of being able to read the signs.

Bottom line for any piper or other musician: these are cultured people who love Scotland and the Scots. Catherine the Great hired Scottish architect Charles Cameron and he is responsible for some of the buildings in the Venice of the North and there have been trading links over many centuries. Patron saint is St Andrew with the saltire everywhere and I’m told they still teach Burns in the schools.

Thanks to the good offices of Nicholas Taitz we now have a 1994 recording of Chris Terry of South Africa playing the Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay in the PP Archive. This is the tune with which Chris, now aged 70,  won the recent 100 Guineas contest in Jo’burg (pictured, top). Listen to Chris’s fine playing here.

Pipe Bands Australia Follows RSPBA Lead

The Council of Pipe Bands Australia has approved changes to its contest framework to closer align it with Scotland.

The PBA website reports: Australian contest regulations now more closely reflect requirements observed in RSPBA competitions following national council adoption of proposals put to bands in the recent annual ballot of Pipe Bands Australia.

The new definition of music requirements for Grade 4 MSR provide both flexibility for developing bands and a consistent structure to support our bands preparing for competition overseas.

The music for Grade 4 shall be 4 parts of 2/4 March (may be 2×2 parts), either 2 or 4 parts of Strathspey (may be 2×2 parts) and 2 or 4 parts of Reel (may be 2×2 parts).

The Drum Major Contest (Solo) course has also been amended to a 50-metre length with competitors required to undertake 4.5 lengths of the course, again consistent with RSPBA requirements.

And the size of contest circles has been increased to 10 metres diameter (inner) and 14 metres (outer) to be also be consistent with RSPBA. The previous cap on number of piper files for MSR/SOM/Medley has been removed.

Council has also approved an amended rule for splitting a tied result for best pipe or drum corps. 01 An apparently tied result in a Contest Element, other than a Display, or in the aggregate result of a contest, shall be resolved:

(1) if the Contest Element is judged for ensemble, by reference first to the ensemble total and second to the March, Strathspey & Reel / Selection of Marches total, or an Australian, State or Branch Pipe Band Championship, placing; and

(2) if the Contest Element or contest is not judged for ensemble, by reference first to the piping total and second to the drumming total. If this reference does not separate the bands the results shall be a tie.

An apparently tied result in an aggregate contest for the best Pipe or Drum Corps a tied result shall be split by reference to the points, or placing in accordance with Rule B.1.11.02, allocated for the March, Strathspey & Reel / Selection of Marches as applicable. If this reference does not split the bands the result shall be a tie.

Under the latest amendments to contest regulations, juvenile bands will be able to appoint tutors who are registered with Grade 4 bands.

Macdougall of Aberfeldy and that Feature of 1893 Part 2

We continue with our feature on Macdougall of Aberfeldy and the feature which appeared in the People’s Journal newspaper of November 4, 1893. It is by their ‘Lady Correspondent’ and is headlined ‘An Interview with the Queen’s Bagpipe-Maker’. This is a period piece of writing and the author is clearly no piper. Would that we could get our hands on some of the sets mentioned. There is relevant information on the ivory Macdougall used.

Mr Macdougall was inconsolable that he did not happen to be making pipes the day I was there. He had just finished repairing a set of bagpipes belonging to the Duke of Richmond and Gordon which lay in a box on the table. They were ‘upholstered’, so to speak, in Gordon tartan, the old set, and sported a cataract of ribbons no less than five yards of which is necessary to dress the drones and chanter properly.

He was preparing the reeds, an unseen but most important part of the mechanism as by their means the air is modulated. These are made of the best Spanish cane, bundles of which stood about in the corners. The reed is quite a small affair, about the size of your finger, one end flattened until the edges almost meet, and kept in position by a stout ligature, very neatly attached. These reeds have to be renewed yearly or oftener. It depends on the player and the climate.

I asked how long the sheepskin bag of a set would last. ‘It depends entirely on the player,’ was the reply. ‘Some will make them go two years, others six months. It depends on the man’s breath. A player with an acid stomach will wear out his bag twice as quick as will a healthy man. I noticed this very much when I was in the Army.’

Perhaps you have never been in the near neighbourhood of a set of pipes – near enough, that is, to note their formation closely. I know I never was before. Well they are composed of the bag, which is generally of sheepskin, covered either with green baize or tartan. Then there is starting from this the cluster of pipes which looks so confusing, viz, the chanter which produces the melody, which is pierced with eight holes [sic], and has an imperfect scale. Of the three others called drones, two are in unison with the lowest A of the chanter and the third and longest an octave lower [sic]. It is the drones, of course, which are responsible for the droning or humming noise which is such a characteristic of the instrument.

It is on the chanter and the drones that the decorative art of the maker is most expended. Mr Macdougall made a beautiful set of pipes for use in Her Majesty’s household, which were exhibited at the Edinburgh Exhibition of 1888. These were entirely silver-mounted, and artistically chased with a design of Scottish thistles. He has also made pipes for use in the households of TRH [Their Royal Highnesses] the Prince of Wales and Alfred Duke of Coburg, the Duke of Fife, Lord Huntly and Breadalbane, Earl of Dunmore and many others. One of the most beautiful sets of pipes Mr Macdougall ever turned out was presented to the Caledonian Company of the Natal Royal Rifles by Sir Donald Currie MP.

Ebony, I was told, is the wood most commonly employed, as it takes a fine polish, and is very hard. For use in foreign countries, however, a brown wood called cocoa is best, as there is a native oil in the wood which prevents its cracking with the heat. For the mouthpiece ivory is used and I asked Mr Macdougall where he got it. ‘In Dundee’, he said. ‘I come down when the whalers come in. It’s sea ivory I use; the horns of the walrus, the husks of the sea lion and the blade of the sword fish. Here is a whole set of drones and chanter cut out of a huge narwhal horn; but it’s not a success,’ he added pointing to the streaks and chips which disfigured it. ‘Would vegetable ivory not do?’ I enquired, but was told it was too brittle.

Bone is occasionally used for the cheaper classes of pipes, but it quickly turns yellow. Peat reek too, soon spoils the colour of ivory exposed to its influence. You can imagine how tenderly the Highland shepherd or ghillie will wrap up his cherished pipes in his best plaid and commit them to the keeping of the big kist [chest] to preserve them from the pungent and penetrating reek.

Mr Macdougall turns the wood and ivory that he needs at a bench fitted with lathes of different sizes, and furnished with a bewildering variety of tools, gauges and planes and drills. ‘What do bagpipes cost?’ I bethought me to inquire after I had heard all about their components.

‘Sets can be got from 50s [shillings] up to £50 – according to the value of the mounting,’ was the reply. ‘The Queen’s set cost £60, but then there was a lot of silver on them. Practice chanters can be got from 5 shillings and 6 pence upwards.’

The beginner anxious to learn the pipes does not start off at once on the full set. To do so would be quite hopeless. He gets a practice chanter and learns the fingering, and that once mastered he is entrusted with the real instrument – at a safe distance, let us hope, from human habitation. For if the practising piano be irritating and the amateur violin maddening, what shall be the effect of the bagpipe in unskillful hands? The imagination refuses to picture it!

Duncan Macdougall, Aberfeldy
This brought me to ask whether the pipes were difficult to learn and how long it would take a beginner to acquire the art of playing. Mr Macdougall looked at me with a peculiar twinkle in his eye which expressed at once amusement and scepticism. ‘Some people never learn,’ he said with meaning emphasis. ‘After two years you might play a little but…’ There was much unexpressed. On the whole the impression remained that piping is one of the arts which should be acquired young.

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Leaving these commercial details, I found Mr Macdougall eloquent on the poetical aspect of his art. He knows all about the genesis and development of the pipes, and brought for my inspection a set of beautiful old English bagpipes, very slender and pretty, a chamber instrument with thin but pleasing tone. On this he played a piobaireachd, explaining as he did so the character of the music and the development of the air.

Next he produced a dainty little set of Irish pipes which are not inflated in the ordinary way by the mouth, but blown by means of a tiny pair of bellows which the player straps to his right arm and works as he plays. It suggested the hurdy-gurdy too much but the tone was mellow and pleasing. The Irish and English pipes are elegant little instruments but mere toys beside the great Highland or military bagpipes, whose wild scream has so often led an army into battle, rallied breaking ranks, brought cheer to fainting hearts and sung above the victorious warrior in Pibroch or in Coronach. Rudyard Kipling has written the paean of the drum in his ‘Drummer of the Fore and Aft’. Who will do as much for the piper, the hero of a hundred fights?

I don’t know anything sweeter than on a summer gloaming to listen to the plaintive music of the pipes as it steals down the glen. I don’t know a more moving sight in the world to a Scottish eye than a Highland regiment with ‘bonnet, feather an’ a’, marching to the martial music of the Gael, the pipers in front ‘pride in their port, defiance in their eye’ and every heart tingling to the pibroch. The pipes, indeed, in skilful hands can be made to answer to every gradation of feeling, as the subscription to an old German print has it:

He blows his bag-pipe soft or strong,
Or high or low, to hymn or song,
Or shrill lament, or solemn groan,
Or dance, or reel, or sad o-hone!
Or ballad gay, or well-a-day,
To all he gives due melody.

I am afraid that the bagpipes have all through this article rather run off with the bagpipe-maker, but I know no one will pardon this more readily than the genial Royal bagpipe-maker himself whose portrait appears at the head of this article.

Some readers may not be aware of the revered status of MacDougall of Aberfeldy pipes. Along with vintage sets of Lawrie and Henderson, they are among the most sought after of instruments. Characterised by a steady, if slightly muted tone, they are less popular now than hitherto. Nevertheless those who own these instruments seldom part with them. We would be interested to hear from anyone who has MacDougall pipes. Read Part 1 of this article here.

BC Pipers Association Indoor Meet Results

Robert MacNeill reports: Bruce Gandy won the MacCrimmon Memorial Cairn for Open Piping Piobaireachd, the March, Strathspey & Reel, and the Aggregate at the 2017 BCPA Annual Gathering on April 14 & 15 at Clayton Heights Secondary School, Surrey, BC.

Andrew Lewis captured the Competing Pipers Association Combined B&C Grade Piobaireachd. Andrew is pictured above receiving his award. Grant Maxwell won both the Open Snare Drumming events and Mackenzie Webster took both the Open Tenor Drumming events.

In Grade 1, Tori Killoran won the Piping aggregate and Taylor Killoran won the Snare Drumming aggregate. Simon Fraser University won the Grade 1 bands overall. Partial results are listed below with complete results posted at http://www.bcpipers.org/services/results/. Full band results detail is located at http://www.bcpipers.org/services/results/

March, Strathspey & Reel
1. Bruce Gandy
2. Andrew Lee
3. Jack Lee
4. Alastair Lee
5. James P. Troy
6. Jori Chisholm

1. Bruce Gandy
2. Jack Lee
3. James P. Troy
4. Andrew Lewis
5. Alastair Lee
6. Kevin McLean

1. James P. Troy
2. Alastair Lee
3. Zephan Knichel
4. Andrew Lee
5. Bruce Gandy
6. Kevin McLean

1. Andrew Lewis
2. John Lee
3. Zephan Knichel
4. Kevin McLean
5. Joseph Stewart
6. Ross Barker

March, Strathspey & Reel
1. Alistair Bevan
2. Declan Todd
3. Donald Maxwell
4. Tori Killoran
5. Jack Toohey
6. Charles Morris

1. Tori Killoran
2. Alistair Bevan
3. Aaron Malcomb
4. Charles Morris
5. Chris Cahoon
6. Jack Toohey

1. Jack Toohey
2. Declan Todd
3. Tori Killoran
4. Donald Maxwell
5. Roger Lye
6. Aaron Malcomb