As part of the 30th Anniversary Celebrations, the Society held an international New Music Competition. Here Pete Stewart discusses the competition and introduces the winning entries.

The original brief for the competition   called for ‘new music in the Lowland and Border idiom’. In many ways this was the most intriguing aspect of the entries  - how would composers interpret this requirement? What did they understand by the ‘idiom’? This was especially relevant given that they were also told not to be bound to ‘regurgitating’ antique forms. We should therefore look to see new approaches to the traditional musical formats. All the tunes submitted are now available in the latest LBPS publication [30 years of LBPS Tunes - see p. 7] so for now I will leave readers to consider to what extent this expectation was gratified.
The judges were unanimous in their awarding of the first prize to Gary West’s tune ‘The Jedburgh Ba’ Game’. Second prize went to Paul Roberts for his ‘The Gin Drinker’s Dream’ and third prize to Craig Hohm’s ‘The Waterdog’. All three are re-printed here. The version of Gary’s tune is re-transcribed to match the performance which he gave at the Friday evening concert in Peebles, where the two winners present received their cheques from Society chairman Hamish Moore. Both this recording and that of Paul playing his tune can be heard on the LBPS website.

Both Gary and Paul were invited to give talks on the morning of the Collogue about how they arrived at their tune. Paul’s talk was unfortunately cur- tailed by unforeseen problems; a brief summary is included here below his tune. Gary gave a detailed description of his composing process, but a summary was not available at time of going to press. Hopefully it will be possible to include it on the website.

Gary West talks about his winning tune at the Peebles Collogue

First Prize

The Jedburgh Ba’ Game    Gary West

The Jedbrough Ba' Game

 “The Uppies have been taking on the Doonies at hand ball in the streets of Jedburgh for centuries, and it is still very much a living tradition. As anyone who has witnessed it at first hand will know, it is a no-holds-barred occasion, transforming this relatively quiet Borders town into a chaotic frenzy! I've tried to capture that transformation by adopting a ‘theme and variation’ flavour in this tune, which starts out fairly gently as the crowds gather, then the ball is thrown up to get play under way, and then the notes, like the bodies, pile in! In fairness to both sides, the runs go both uppie and doonie!" [Gary West}

Second Prize

The Gin Drinker’s Dream    Paul Roberts 2013

Paul Roberts' Tune
 Paul Roberts' Tune
    Paul Roberts' Tune

“Tunes come into my head all the time, but most of them are promptly forgotten - basically I’m not that interested in composition, as there is more than enough old music to keep me occupied!
So - how do tunes “just come into my head“? Well, its all about internalizing the rules and structures of the idiom, the same way as you learn your native language, which is down to lots of listening and playing. The more you have unconsciously internalized the rules, the more likely it is that tunes will “just come into your head”.
To a limited extent you can learn the rules in an academic manner, same way as you’d learn a foreign language in school.• If we analyse Border Bagpipe tunes we notice things like the importance of the triad (ACE) harmonizing against the drone; the idea of contrasting harmony and dissonance against the drone, as in the so called “double tonic”, where a phrase repeats a tone down or up. We can detect things like the use of interweaving pentatonic scales, and that tunes tend to be constructed from repeated phrases. Then there is the use of “division” style runs to decorate the theme, and of old-fashioned time signatures like 9/4 and 3/2. But ultimately none of this will work if you haven’t unconsciously internalized the rules through listening.
•Of course, if you can’t wait for a tune to “just come into your head” you can try and artificially stimulate the muse. Some people like to take a phrase or bar from an existing tune and alter it - e.g. change the time signature or modality - and they find that this kick starts the creative process. I’ve tried this myself and it works, though I find the results aren’t as good as the totally spontaneous creation. It’s not cheating: remember, what makes a musical idiom distinct is actually the sameness of the content, and lots of well known traditional tunes are simply versions of other tunes several steps removed from the original.
Of course, in Border pipe music writing the actual tune is just the start, it's followed by the whole separate issue of writing the variations…."The Gin Drinkers Dream" was my attempt to compose a 17th century/Border style 9/4 hornpipe with variations. The original title was "The Hebden Bridge Hornpipe" but I realized that might identify me to the judges. It was composed last February or March whilst rebuilding and decorating the living room. I was listening to a lot of my old cassette tapes whilst I worked, so my mind was saturated with music (and desperate to escape the reality of aching arms, bruised hands, and the deep, bone chilling cold - lots of missing doors and open windows). I knocked it up in my dinner breaks on a Fagerstrom Technopipe, the best £200 any piper can spend.” [Paul Roberts]

Third Prize

The Waterdog    Craig Hohm

Craig olm's tune

‘”The Waterdog’, a nick-name for the river otter. I was playing a minor set of Northumbrain tunes on the concertina before writing this which I hope supports the tune fitting the idiom of the border pipes; I know waltzes were not commonly found in the existing documents. The tune utilizes the accidental notes of the Borderpipes: C nat., F nat. And the high B.” [Craig Hohm]