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A practical guide to acquiring, playing, tuning and maintaining Scottish bellows blown bagpipes. With over 50 tunes

Plus a tutorial CD-ROM

When our dynamic editor asked me to review this “manual”, I expected to find yet another ‘tutor’ for the pipes. How wrong I was. Jock has compiled and edited something very much more than this. The beautifully produced 106-page A4 book could certainly stand on its own as the best of its kind, but it is further enhanced with the additional CD-ROM. The disc and book function together as an integral learning experience.

As suggested by the sub-title “A practical guide to acquiring, playing, tuning, and maintaining Scottish bellows blown bagpipes ” every novice or learner player will do well to acquire this package. Of course we are all “learners”, and pipers of any level will find that it serves as a superb one-stop reference source, a veritable compendium of accumulated wisdom. The 50 plus tunes alone, make this a worthwhile investment. These include pieces from oft-referenced but little accessed sources such as Robert Millar’s manuscript and Riddells Collection of Scotch Galwegian and Border Tunes together with some modern compositions in the Border tradition by contemporary players. All are helpfully categorised as either Easy, Medium or Hard.

A preface by Gordon Mooney includes a reminiscence of the excitement of the early uncertain days of the bellows pipe revival at the beginning of the ‘80s and reflects on how far we have since come. A History of the Pipes by Julian Goodacre all add to the quality of the production.

The differences between Border/Lowland Pipes and smallpipes is well explained as are the relative merits and applications for pipes of different pitch. This section might even be of assistance to sufferers from Acquired Bagpipe Deficiency Syndrome - those who, having already acquired one or more sets of pipes have become hopeless addicts wondering which next of these marvellous musical instruments they can afford to buy!

The all-important learning process is thoroughly expounded as are the principles of tuning-


and here is where the CD-ROM comes in. Many new admirers of these pipes live in far- flung corners of the earth. They find themselves trying to learn in isolation and often suffer endless frustration because explanations written on the

page are no substitute for seeing and hearing how some- thing is actually done. Even the simple business of strap- ping on the bellows can seem a strange and awkward behaviour at first, especially if you’ve never seen it dem- onstrated. Enter Iain MacInnes to demonstrate in a series of clips every step from strapping on the bellows, through drone tuning, performing a series of exercises, and on to demonstrating a selection of tunes from the book. The film clips are clearly cross-referenced with on-screen and on-book contents pages, and the user can repeat, replay, or re-visit earlier sections with the greatest of ease. The CD is not an audio CD to be played on your CD player.

Rather the participant in this multi-media feast should sit, (ideally with pipes and bellows at the ready) in front of the computer with book on a stand beside him/her, pop the disc into the CD-ROM drive, and off we go.

There are sections headed Playing a tune for the first time; Playing style; Getting the most out of your practice time; Playing in front of others. These tips and reminders can be as valuable to an old hand as to the beginner.

The extensive appendix deals with gracing, notation, reeds and reed-making. It is good to see several top-notch makers each providing their own versions of the black art. A compre- hensive and up to date resource section lists books, recordings, pipemakers, etc. There is even an extensive glossary and alphabetic index. Nothing has been forgotten.

One cautionary note: having been advised in “Acquiring a set of pipes” on the various pitches, etc, the pipes used by Iain MacInnes turn out to be an A set of smallpipes. No sur- prises here, as these reportedly have become the most popular choice among new recruits to bellows piping, (regrettably to my mind, the D smallpipes being my favourite and more in line with original 18th century smallpipes in pitch and character). This means that if you had acquired a D or a C set, you can’t really play along with Iain or learn the exercises in unison with him. Also it is a pity that no demonstration of Border/Lowland pipes is included. How- ever this is hair-splitting and the cost constraints of adding a parallel CD in D and another one featuring Border pipes would be somewhat over the top. Also those wanting to hear D smallpipes or Border pipes played can refer to the commercial recordings listed in the Resources section.

Bill Telfer

Obtainable from Jock Agnew (£25, or £20 LBPS members) plus postage and packing. Also from various retail outlets and pipe-makers world-wide.