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From Peter Aitchison Dunbar, Scotland

Looking back into the Common Stock issue of Dec 2002 [Vol 17 No.2], Nigel Bridges writes about the strathspey “The Gruagach” by P/M D.R. MacLeennan on page three. On page fourteen Iain MacInnes mentions D.R. MacLellan.

Maybe it should be D.R. MacLennan? P.S. I knew him.



From Robbie Greensitt

Monkseaton, Northumberland [abridged - Ed] I was surprised by Colin Ross’ asser- tion in the June issue of Common Stock that he alone was responsible for the revival of the Scottish small pipes, which he claims originated in Northumberland. My perception is totally at variance with his.

Over the past few weeks I have made a nuisance of myself by phoning and talking to many of the leading lights of the Scot-


from the early Northumbrian small pipes -

i.e. very small chanter and an inconvenient pitch. This was when sets with larger chant- ers in a more appropriate key were again made.

Sets pitched in D with Highland fingering had actually been made in the mid-19th cen- tury by the Glasgow maker William Gunn. Sets fitted with practice chanters exist but they suffer from the poor intonation and tone of the miniature pipes.

In my opinion the revival of any instrument or tradition depends upon several factors. There must be an interest or demand for the particular instrument, there must be music appropriate to the instrument, and there must be instruments available. This implies that there must be makers, players and music publishers, and as well as other enthusiasts like historians, working together to promote the revival. All of these have contributed to the success of the modern Scottish small pipes. It cannot be laid at the feet of one man. If you have anything to add concerning the revival of the Lowland tradition and the early days of the Society, please pass it on to me or Jeannie Campbell so that we can

produce a more definitive history.


tish traditional music field. What has been                                                                         


confirmed is that the original interest in the small pipes occurred in Scotland in the early seventies when several traditional bands were looking for an alternative to the Great Pipes in their line up. The minia- ture pipes suffer from poor tone and into- nation and, whilst the Northumbrian small pipes found a limited acceptance for some styles of Scottish traditional music, they were inappropriate to the Highland style.

This was when attention was first focused on the Scottish small pipes. Existing ex- amples in museums differed only slightly in detail from the early Northumbrian


From Colin Ross Monkseaton, Northumberland

Can I make it clear that in my letter to Common Stock in June regarding the revival of the Scottish small pipes I was not claim- ing that I was entirely responsible for the re- vival of the instrument. I may have started it, but other local Northumbrian makers soon put to use their skills in making the Northumbrian small pipes into developing the Scottish small pipe that was then taken up later by the makers North of the Border.




David Kennedy shares his experience of playing mouth-blown pipes in the climate extremes of California, and some of the problems found and solved when using cane and plastic reeds.



The [mouth-blown] Shepherd smallpipe which I play has tonic note D 293.66 cps ETS. Its structure is essentially African blackwood: drones, tuning pins and slides, and chanter. Drone reeds are single beating plastic tongues affixed at base of tongue by a glue spot with an “O” ring tuning bridle. The bass drone is single jointed and all drones (bass, baritone and tenor) are in a common stock.

Chanter reeds are double reeds made of a white plastic and wrapped with Teflon tape - pre- sumably to stop leaks and to tune the reeds. Their tone is almost as good as a comparable arundo donax reed. The bag appears to be Gortex or a similar material. Some chanter reeds sent to me by Gordon Shepherd have a brash coarse tone, so I smooth them out by wrapping an orthodontic rubber band around the blades just above the top Teflon windings.

The tone of those reeds is more plastic than comparable arundo donax reeds, and, like many plastic chanter reeds they tend to sgriach 1) if fingers do not quite close a hole and 2) if blowing pressure is too slack. Tuning drones to chanter is tricky because occasionally ‘sympathetic overtones’ occur when the bottom D is played; but minute adjustments of the tuning slides on the drones can correct that.

Once the pipe is tuned and is playing well, I leave everything as it was set up, and store the instrument in a long enough box so that I don’t have to move the tuning slides.

The drone reeds have lasted many hours of playing and still have a good tone and “come in” readily. The chanter reeds last longer than arundo donax ones but eventually do conk out. All plastic reeds are susceptible to changes in moisture and temperature but much less than we’d expect from arundo reeds. And all reeds are difficult in our hot, dry climate here in the interior valleys of California.

If the drones are disassembled, re-tuning them will take time. The chanter itself is short so the finger holes are closely spaced. The piper will find that disconcerting at first, especially if he/she has been playing a longer chanter on another smallpipe. When all the reeds are “set” correctly, the blowing pressure should be light, but moderate enough to get a steady tone from the pipe. The drones should rest across the chest and not on the shoulders.

Audience reaction to its sound can be negative 1) because the D is high and has a flute-like tone, and 2) because non-pipers have the impression that Scots play the piob mhor only and are in a standing posture, and 3) because the piob mhor conical chanter gives the hearer the impression that it is higher than it actually is, but has the tone which is unique to that instru- ment, and THAT is what the bagpipe should sound like!!! The wee chanter is very accept- able to fast fingering, as for Nova Scotia reels and jigs, for example. But as I said, listeners do prefer a lower pitched pipe.


The recent Session pipe [see CS 18.1 p.42 - Ed] structurally is like a modified Border pipe with volume of tone somewhere between that of the piob mhor and a Border pipe. It is made of Mopane wood [though blackwood is an altmative], with boxwood mounts and gold plated tuning pins. Bag seems to be elkhide. Drones fully combed and beaded.

The chanter holes have been sited to allow for semi-tones [cross-fingered accidentals] - along with the usual Highland fingering [for the standard scale]. The chanter has a conical bore and the reed is scraped to allow a small amount of moisture only on the blades and to be blown lightly. Moisture control is achieved by a rather elaborate water trap - long plastic tube with a chamber at the end filled with hygroscopic small particles, and thin walled sponge below that chamber. I have experimented with this apparatus and for me, at any rate, a removal of about 1cm of particles and the use of the sponge, I can play the pipe continu- ously for about 35 minutes.

Nigel [Richard], the maker, says that if all the water trap devices are left in, it should play for about an hour - and then to remove the water trap and put in the alternate trap. However I find that leaving everything in the trap makes for rather hard blowing - so possibly my re- moval of the particles in the catch chamber has limited the continuity of playing. At first I removed the green sponge, but now have decided that it is a necessary feature if the chanter reed is not to be wetted too much. Evidence of too much moisture on the reed blades is that bottom A goes flat, as does C#, and top A goes too sharp.

Nigel warns the piper not to fool around with the chanter reeds. And that is good advice; but with the vagaries of our climate here the piper will have to continually watch the “setting” of the reed and ensure it is snug in its reed seat and not set too far out. But unless you have made chanter reeds, I’d say that squeezing the brass tuning bridle on the chanter reed to open it up is inadvisable, and will absolutely wreck the modal scale.

On my Session pipe I’ve had a quirky difficulty in tuning the bass drone. The drone reeds are modified Easy Drone plastics. If you move the rubber tuning bridle up even a smidgen, the drone will come in at the same note as the two tenors (by the way, no baritone drone), and if you open the tongue up too much the drone will “roar”.

There is but one setting for the slides on my model - and one setting of the tuning bridle. So that to bring the bass drone [in] accurately the top slide should be up on the pin near the hemp, and the bottom slide down on its pin close to the projecting mount.

To get all these items to perform as they should the blowing will have to be constant and moderate - not too light and not too heavy. The eventual tone is on pitch A 440 cps ETS; has the quality of a Border pipe but perhaps more mellow, and the scale is well balanced. The chanter is excellent BUT fingers have to be well placed and cover the holes entirely or there will be some strange sgriachan.

I do not think that this pipe is for a novice. But when you have it going it is a fine instru- ment and just about any tune can be played on it. The big caveat is not to let too much heat and moisture get to the reeds. I plan to use this pipe for professional gigs, as well as the D Shepherd pipe.