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Report by Nigel Bridges.

The Melrose Teaching Weekend was once again a resounding success although numbers were down on previous years. Tutors this year were Hamish Moore, John Saunders and

Andy Hunter. It was touch and go with Andy as he went to Kelso and tried to book in at the Cross Keys until they told him that Melrose does not begin with K (Tune title here - ‘Andy’s new way to Melrose’!).

The classes were split up and pupils given the option of picking and mixing the sessions. I decided to attend all three tutors’ classes and I came away from each one with much to digest and practice.

Hamish Moore took us through The Rock


Melrose Town Centre from Quarry Hill

Walter Baxter (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)


and the Wee Pickle Tow laying down a very even ‘one two three, one two three’ beat.


We addressed some interesting points such as how certain gracenote groupings are totally inappropriate when trying to set up a dance rhythm. A seemingly simple revelation that by missing out a g gracenote on a leading note and playing it almost in passing on the second note gives a much better flow to a jig.

This got me thinking about my own jig playing and I realise that I have been trying to play them as fast 6/8 marches.

I do not know if many readers have seen the naval epic ‘Master and Commander’ starring Russell Crowe but at one point some of the ship’s crew are providing themselves with musi- cal entertainment and which ‘sea shanty’ are they playing at breakneck speed but The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow. I think Hamish would approve of the manner they treat the tune and probably some very capable musical continuity expert got it right.

A friend in nature conservancy once told me that he loved listening to dubbed birdsong on TV period dramas. Inevitably there would be the song of some bird whose correct habitat was not that being filmed against. I am not sure that this last observation has any relevance here but maybe my friend should get a life. Gracenotes are of course those precious demi- semi-quavers that offer the prospect of beautiful ornamentation but in Scotland have be- come delicious nuances of schism. One of Hamish Moore’s many gifts has been to drive a coach and horses through staid approaches to piping. I had all but given up getting pleasure from Highland piping until I discovered smallpipes and the LBPS.


The Dancers inherit the party

When I have talked for an hour I feel lousy- Not so when I have danced for an hour:

The dancers inherit the party

While the talkers wear themselves out and sit in corners alone, and glower.

Ian Hamilton Finlay

John Saunders took us through the Ass in the Graveyard including showing us a version that mimicked the braying of the Ass. A most interesting tune made more so by the comment that the title was originally The Mass in the Graveyard but was misheard as ‘Ass’. I can hear those priests braying their protests!

Major Moir at Villevecque, a 6/8 march by John McLellan proved a popular tune and was played at Sunday’s concert by John’s class. ‘A good little ‘un is better than a good big ‘un’. John Saunders also displayed his smoking fingers at the session on Saturday playing at twice the speed of sound. You could see his fingers moving but the shock wave of sound took several seconds to get across the floor. A carpeted floor is not good for a session but John has a magic reed that is black and was made by Hamish. It possesses magical qualities of projection. We all want one but there is only one and John has it.

Andy Hunter was a most interesting addition to the tutors line up this year. His subject, piping and singing. For those who find squeezing with one elbow, pumping with the other and trying to keep two hands remotely co-ordinated then this is surely a bridge too far, and so I thought. However this was the most fascinating class and smallpipes in A are admirably suited to accompaniment by the voice. It sounds as if it was always meant to be. We looked at Gin I waur whaur the Gaudie rins which incidentally is exactly the same tune as The Back of Bennachie. Singing and playing is difficult but most of us could make the vocal chords at least sound. Our contribution in the Sunday concert reminded me very much of plain chant psalm singing. The up shot of this so far is that I can now look my wife straight in the eye when she subversively asks me if I want a coffee (just when I am on the third part of a tune) and quickly say ‘No’ without stopping. It feels such an achievement. Next year the Pipe and Song competition beckons.

I found Andy’s stories of the travelling people fascinating and his passion for the Scots lan- guage is wonderful. I liked the story about a man who bought a car and was so proud of it that he used to sit in the back seat at the weekends when it was parked outside his house.

The travelling people just could not understand this predilection with possessions.

No Melrose Weekend would be complete without a visit to Mannions and this is a highlight as much as the music. Getting ‘a row from Rona’ for being late back after a great meal, wine and company is a thing of the past as we were allowed 1 1/2 hours this year.


I made sure that my afternoon tutor, John Saunders, remained in the restaurant at least until I was halfway through my sticky toffee pudding. There is a sign on every table in Mannions that says ‘No Pipes or Cigars’. Next year we should hold a ‘piping and smoking’ class. 1 think that Cigars was a typing error and should have read Guitars.

A new feature this year was a concert by the tutors which was well attended by locals considering it was a Sunday afternoon. We even had a totally drunk woman who threw off her shoes, thankfully nothing else, looked as if she was about to roll onto the floor and kept shouting ‘sssssh gid’. She even managed to grab Andy Hunter’s bottom. The concert was enhanced by a wonderful contribution from the Hall family from up Ettrick Valley. Music as it should be, natural, for fun and congratulations to them for offering to take part.

The reader will have gathered that this account is not in chronological order because I have not mentioned Saturday night when the custom of having an after dinner speaker was main- tained this year with a talk from Jim Gilchrist. Following on from Ian Murray’s fascinating talk about the military influence on piping and Julian Goodacre’s completely off the wall talk last year about nothing in particular we all wondered if the quality could be maintained. We need not have doubted for a minute and Rona knows her stuff because inviting Jim to talk was brilliant. Not only did he give a stunning talk but he guaranteed that this aspect of the teaching weekend is now firmly established as something to look forward to.

Jim Gilchrist is a most learned man and he started with a quote of poetry about a pipe band contest. The line that stuck concerned the bagpipe - ‘an instrument that set it’s own condi- tions’. A lovely turn of phrase but here we heard a masterfully crafted talk that meandered coherently through astrology, the race to the Moon, gold and the piper and his dog. This talk was music and culture rolled into one. The two are inseparable and that is what Melrose is all about.

I am sure everyone who attended is most grateful to Rona Macdonald for yet again organis- ing a most memorable weekend and thanks to an inspiring trio of tutors. As Arnie would say ‘I’ll be back’.



“Melrose Abbey” engraved by T.Higham after a picture by G.Cattermole, 1835.