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LOWLAND AMUSEMENT

One piper's exploration of the music of the Scottish Lowlands, its history and its performance. It's a diary of discovery, not a series of essays. You're invited to make your own contributions using the comments option on most pages.

 

Digging the Dird I

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Here's the presentation I gave to the 2011 LBPS Collogue; it contains my current thoughts on the nature of 'the Lowland Reel' in the early 18th century, as well as some thoughts on the history of dance in the Lowlands. [Click the image]
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The Lowland Mazurka

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Last year I managed to pursude the Music Dept. of Edinburgh Central Library to purchase a copy of the recently published  edition of the Balcarres lute book. This manuscript, for so long unavailable for research, is a treasure house of Scottish music at its turning point at the very end of the 17th century. I was aware of many of the wonders it contains, but I was taken by surprise by two settings of a tune it calls 'Rothes Rant', and which comes nearer than anything I have yet encountered in the Scottish sources to being a mazurka.

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Lowland Amusement -ABC notation

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Hacking Hackie Honey

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I've spent this week practicing 'Hackie Honey' from Wm Dixon's MS and this morning had a moment of enlightenment. This is one of those tunes whose quaver runs sometimes seem to end at a cliff-edge - here is the first two bars of strain 5, for instance:

the last two notes of each bar seem to hang in the air with the result that, when I play them, the very last one, arguably the most important, gets thrown away in the rush to get the next note in place. I've struggled often with this kind of thing in music with this feature - a common device in the early 18th century repertoire, not just Dixon.

So what did I discover today? I found the trick, which is to treat those last two notes not as the end of the current phrase but as the beginning of the next phrase, almost as a pick-up.  The music then runs on into the following passage and each note is much more likely to get its due attention.

What's more, this principle can be applied to all those six-quaver groups, and to many of the four-quaver ones too - treat the last two notes as the beginning of the next phrase.

Not only does this give the notes their full value, but it keeps the music driving on, shifting the 'weight' onto the next beat, just as the dancers shift their weight ready for the next step.

Maybe this is news to no-one but me; but if so, I wish someone had told me ages ago...

 

Johny Cock Thy Beaver

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Playford's 1684 setting of this well-known lowland tune ['A Scottish tune to a ground' is Playford's note] was one of the tues I played recently at the LBPS evening at the Glasgow Piping Live! Festival. This is one of thoe tunes that the more I play it, the more complex the  interpretation of its simple notation becomes.

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footwork

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Since most highland pipers play standing up, the role in their performance played by their feet has been largely restricted to ambulation. The only exception to this has been in Cape Breton where pipers playing for dancing frequently do so sitting down. One advantage of this practice is that it liberates the feet for other roles,and this has become a feature of Cape Breton piping, a feature that has, of late years, been adopted by a number of bellows pipers.
The question arises then, does this technique have anything to do with 18th century Lowland piping? My answer has to be, If you mean did 18th century pipers employ similar footwork then no, it seems to me highly unlikely, and there is no evidence that I know of to the contrary. If your question however is along the lines of ‘does this technique have any relevance to the way we play Lowland music today, then my answer is very firmly, yes.

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an' A' That

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One consequence of allowing yourself 'flexibility' in any performance is, as you may have noticed in my previous recording, that you're running the risk of making mistakes.

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For A' That

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I had a vague plan to post here my haggis-piping yesterday - but, perhaps fortunately, the video is 'a' weed awa''. However, playing through 'A Man's A Man for A' That' in preparation, a thought occurred to me that has survived.

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Gracings and fingerings continued

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The following is a quote from the 'entry in the Encyclopedia Perthensis' published in Perth, Scotland, between 1796 and 1806, under 'Bagpipes' 

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