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Performance

footwork

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.

Firstly, we’re not in the 18th century. We can take this repertoire, explore how it might have been played, what it can reclaim of Scottish music that was lost in the latter part of the 18t century, but what we do with the music in the 21st century is entirely up to us. Personally, I want to play dance music, and anything tha inputs rhythmic drive and dird into the playing I’ll employ.
My introduction into piping back in the 1980’s was via the world of traditional French dance, particularly the music of the cabrette players. Here footwork is a vital part of the performance, and I suspect that it was one of the things that excited me about the music. I have a feeling [based on no evidence] that Cape Breton pipers took their inspiration from similar sources, from those French fiddlers and pipers who joined them in the New World.
It was inevitable for me, that once I started playing lowland  music this footwork would become part of my performance. This was particularly true as I began to explore the repertoire in depth; there, were, it seemed to me, rhythmic affiliations between this music and that of central France. Those tunes that appear in the notated sources to be ‘jigs’, as I hve posted elsewhere, actually play more like three-time bourrees, and I have more recently began to see that those that appear as ‘reels’ [or sometimes as ‘rants’] play rather like two-time bourrees [I hope a post on this is coming soon]
Here are two examples of cabrette pipers playing three-time bourrees in Youtube videos [sorry about the cows in the first one- you can fast forward past them...]

 

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The first of these, you will see, shows the ‘piper’s chair’; beneath it is a board specifically for the feet.
It is clear that individual pipers have developed or adopted their own variations on this stepping. You can hear my Scottish Lowland version here [This is the recording from this year’s competition, and is a typically stressed example of my competition playing; I will try to get a more relaxed performance posted]