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TOPIC: Border pipes in Aspic

Border pipes in Aspic 1 year 3 months ago #387

  • Tunni
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In the name of discussion and as an attempt to try and get something going on on these boards here's my response to the Border pipes and Aspen Trees snippet posted on the home page. Just my opinion up for discussion, I'd have been interested in the full transcription but appreciate there's a lot of work in something like that.

1: I'm all for finding and playing new tunes and expanding the repertoire I play. I am however a lapsed highland piper who enjoys playing folk music with others in sessions. There is only so much time and capacity for new music I can make and take on board and reasonably expect to get to a performance standard. I'm not particularly interested in shunting my music into the buffers of some cultural siding playing obscure 'authentic' tunes that no one else knows when I can broaden my focus and enjoy playing tunes with other musicians in almost every major city in the world.

2: Saying that I need to understand "border culture" to play my pipes is like saying that you have to drink rioja and eat paella to play guitar or be a Walloon to play the saxophone. I don't want to see the Ring Cycle performed in jack boots or induce lead poisoning to wander the Van Goch Museum.

3: Just what is and what value has a homogenous tradition anyway? I don't hear of many oboe players getting too hung up on this, homogenised piano anyone? I'll keep my semi skimmed milk that way and leave the cultural homogenising to despots and bearded wierdos with Kalashnikovs thanks the same.

4: The genie is out of the bottle with small piping and border piping now anyway and the 'tradition' such as it stands is being created by the players of now. In the highland pipe scene the huge disparity between the entertainment of this art as enjoyed by the general public and the tedium of much of the competition circuit is there for anyone with eyes to see. Is this the future hoped for border piping? There are already far too many celebrations of the truly awful in the name of authenticity and tradition.

5: The single most worthwhile activity in promoting Border piping will be an improvement in access to teaching. That highland pipe style predominates is little wonder given how little tuition is available nationwide. If you've no musical background it's incredibly difficult and discouraging to try and learn to play from a book. That £2000 set of pipes can very quickly become an albatross around the neck. Either that or a couple of years of hard graft and relative success is revealed as bad habit and flawed technique on the first encounter with a more accomplished player. Pipe sales may be up but I will suggest there is little evidence that a burgeoning pool of talent is being created separate to that already engaged musically one way or another. There is quite simply not enough skilled and flexible tuition available and highland pipe technique will naturally fill the gaps where they are. Like it or not GHB technique will continue to predominate for a long, long time in the way border pipes are played. The living tradition however is probably all the healthier and better sounding for it.

6: When it comes down to it can you really tell the difference between a Cape Breton tune and a Shetland tune, Hard House and Drum and Bass, Gangsta rap and Grindcore are you that fussed? I'm not a musicologist and frankly I don't give a damn. If you are and you enjoy this stuff good for you, research, publish and hopefully turn a pound or two. Just don't expect me to do more than dip in and out of your work as it informs and appeals to me. Your definitions are not my boundaries.

7: Wasn't this all meant to be FUN?
Last Edit: 1 year 3 months ago by Tunni.
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Re: Border pipes in Aspic 1 year 3 months ago #395

  • dirdum
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David said so many things that I have wished someone would say for so long now, that to me his talk was full of light and refreshment. Likewise, Tunni, you write many things that I'm glad someone is saying in response. Long live the dialogue. I'll just add that lack of knowledge is not grounds for making a judgement: just because one doesn't know a thing doesn't mean that that knowledge is without value or influence. The concept of "authenticity" is tricky because people in power and people in pulpits bestow "authenticity." Usually they have something to gain by it. Authenticity is at best a source of insight, community and meaning. But it can also be used to sell products, form cliques and claim authority.
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Re: Border pipes in Aspic 1 year 3 months ago #396

  • Tunni
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Hi Dirdum thanks for taking my post in the spirit in which it was intended, dialogue is indeed my object and I for one will never condone wilful ignorance. There is substance to David's position that I completely agree with but much also that leads me to an apparently different view, as I have written.

I do feel that the border pipe has yet to find an exponent to give it full voice. There are fabulous pipers knocking out some great stuff and plenty like me who enjoy playing what we can as best as we can. Those great pipers are pretty much entirely from a GHB tradition and playing tunes that reflect this, there is precious little use of the accidentals that the border pipe is capable of and little by the way of improvisation and variation in the repetitions of tunes when played. Where there is some of this flamboyance in some of the very best performances it's is still more VanHalen than Hendrix to my ear, though I'd gladly make a pact with the devil to sound like that myself!

What is creeping in as well is what is all too prevalent in the GHB scene in my opinion, technical brilliance combined with musical sterility. One professional musician, a graduate of the Scottish Traditional Music degree of all things, has a web site that is full of examples. A few minutes listening to his stuff fills me with a strange urge to press creases in my jeans and comb my hair. To me it seems counterproductive to turn towards the same old schools, methods and piping organisations to try and produce something different for this instrument.

On the other hand the wailings of the medieval and English music brigade leave me cold regardless of whatever the original merits of their music. It can't all be badly executed on poorly tuned and voiced instruments with no finesse evident, traditional or otherwise, but so much of it appears to be that I have given up wading through it to try and find the stuff that stands out. This might just be the self delusion of prejudice but spare me from Morris dancers with bagpipes please.

As to where to turn for inspiration I offer three examples, none from the border pipe tradition, which I guess will not surprise anyone who has read this so far. If someone can make a borderpipe sound somewhere between Liam O'Flynn, Kathryn Tickell and Gordon Duncan I reckon they might just have cracked it. If we want a living tradition we have to keep it out of the cultural ghetto of (mostly manufacturer sponsored) competition and beyond the confines of academic analysis. There is nothing more inimical to a healthy tradition than to have it defined by the polite applause of a tiny audience murmuring in self regarding appreciation of some point of arcana. Similarly there is nothing to be gained from a performance style, or wannabe musical tradition, geared solely to the appeasement of such a judge.
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