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.


Through the Debateable Lands

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I see the last entry here was in March. It has been a very eventful year, starting around that time, with workshopd and presentations, festival shows, two issues of Common Stock, a trip to the USA to give workshops on both sides of the country and back for lexctures at the Ntionl Piping Centre, and ending with the collapse of my hard-drive last wednesday.

Another fascinating weekend i spent at new Lanark, four days of workhops on composition organized by Distil.

The result of this has been the beginnings of an extended compostion for smallpipes/harp and string quintet. The working title 'Throug the Debateable Lands' is taken from Norman MacCaig's poem 'Crossing the Border'. The basic concept is to evoke the border lands as they were in the eraly years of James VI, using as thematic materilal a few tunes from the area/era, esdpecially the original border air of 'The Twa Corbies'. More about this soon I hope, as well as news of a pilot one-day workshop in Edinburgh in early April next year...

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...


Distractions, distractions

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Just in case you thought this blog was completed deceased I thought I'd better add a post, just to say I am yet again distracted, first by updgrading the website, then by upcoming presentations , to the International Bagpipe Conference on March 9th and then a workshop at the Bagpipe Society Blowout at the end of May, not to metnion the LBPS competitin. However, I have been listening again to some recordings I made a while back of tunes from Henry Atkinson's fiddle manuscript and from William Dixon's book. Hopefully I will get a moment to post about these soon...

pushing the envelope

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Just a quick post here since there's been a rather extended gap. I've spent the last couple of weeks tuning the fiddle up again, for the first time for quite a while, preparing for an extraordinary weekend playing with Callum Armstrong, culminating in a performance at last Saturday's Annual Collogue in Edinburgh. Callum and I spent a day at Julian Goodacre's house in Peebles working on three tunes, two from William Dixon's manuscript and one of Callum's own tunes. The Dixon tunes were 'My Love Comes Passing By Me' and 'Gingling Geordie' [a tune which appears in several other collectins, including Playford's 'Original Scots Tunes']. However, Callum is such an inventive and adventurous [as well as exemely talented] musician that things were never going to be that simple. Some of the results will soon be available elsewhere on the site, but I have to say that there were moments during our day of practice where things happened that were unlikely to happen again, hence my remark on Saturday that 'you should have been here lastg night'. To sit down with a player like Callum [he is a student of baroque recorder at Trinity College, London] with only an outline plan for how the performance might proceed, and the knowledge that anything might happen in the next few bars, is likely sometimes to produce spectacular resutls, but is also just as likely to prove less than successful; either way it was a trully exciting experience for me; I hope it was, at least some of the time, for those in the audience on Saturday.

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.