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Out of the Flames

Studies on the William Dixon Bagpipe Music Manuscript 1733

Compiled by Roderick D. Cannon. Edited by John Goodacre. LBPS . 2004. ISBN 0952271117

The papers presented at the 1997 LBPS collogue were devoted to a discussion of the then recently published Dixon collection, “The Master Piper: Nine Notes that shook the World”, 1995, edited by Matt Seattle. Those discussions, including many musical examples, were transcribed and are now available in book form in “Out of the Flames”. Three addi- tional papers have been added since that time. In many ways, it is a shame that this book took so long to emerge, but that doesn’t make the contents any the less important. The talks provide an immensely valuable insight into the musical and social world in which Dixon lived and played his music.

After some stage-setting introductory remarks, Roderick Cannon opens the proceedings with “A Short Preface to Dixon”, in which he describes the structure and tonality of some Dixon tunes, comparing and contrasting tunes from Playford (1701) and Marsden (1705).

Next comes Matt Seattle with “History, Mystery and Mastery - A Manifesto for Border Piping” in which he explains how he sees the Dixon manuscript in terms of its philosophi- cal, geographical and musical origins. A partially revised A4 version of this talk was in- cluded with the liner notes to Matt’s 1999 CD “Out of the Flames; Music for Border Bag- pipes”.

In the next chapter “Interpretation and Musical Expression in the Tunes from the Dixon Manuscript” Dick Hensold draws some parallels with other early- music sources, particu- larly “The Division Violin” of 1684. He goes on to describe some of the interpretive tech- niques we can use to make our playing of these tunes clear and musical. Dick ends this chapter with a finger-twisting exercise we can use to literally get to grips with some of the more complicated note sequences and runs in Dixon’s tunes.

Dick then goes on in “Smallpipe Tunes in the Dixon Manuscript and the Peacock Collection” to analyze which tunes were possibly Northumbrian smallpipe settings and which were nine-note Border pipe settings in each of these two important collections.

Rob MacKillop in “Towards a Revival of the old Scottish Smallpipe with Closed Fin- gering” draws examples from other European bagpipe traditions as well as from seven- teenth and eighteenth century guitar and lute manuscripts. He reinforces the point that mel- ody always takes precedence over ornamentation, and contrasts this view with a wicked quote from “The College of Piping Highland Bagpipe Tutor Book 1”, it’s in the footnotes, you’ll have to search for it there.


In “Bagpipe and Fiddle - Hornpipe and Diddle”, Pete Stewart looks back beyond Dixon to the piping repertoire before the eighteenth century, citing some excellent examples of 3/2 English hornpipes from as early as 1625. Pete also postulates a chanter with its four- finger note tuned a semitone lower than current chanters. The musical examples quoted here lead very nicely into Pete Stewart’s book “Robin with the Bagpipe; The English Bagpipe and its Music” (reviewed in CS Vol 17 no 1, 2002).

In chapter 7, “The Dixon Manuscript and the Relationship between Art Music and Folk Music in the late Seventeenth Century”, Dick Hensold provides several fascination com- parisons between Dixon tunes and other folk and art-music pieces of the time.

Next, Rob MacKillop in “The Traditional Repertoire in Scottish Lute, Cittern, and Guitar Manuscripts” examines tunes from a number of Scottish lute manuscripts that have survived in the same way as the Dixon manuscript.

And finally, in chapter 9, “Bagpipe Music in Eighteenth Century Violin Sources” David Johnson revisits familiar territory, searching for bagpipe tunes (or at least pipeable tunes) in various Scottish violin source documents.

Seven years have passed since these talks were first given. Some of the speakers’ opinions differ, but in many ways, this is only to be expected. For example (to paraphrase), Roderick Cannon says “this is not dance music, while Dick Hensold says, “this is dance music”. In reading “Out of the Flames”, one can come away with the impression that some of the positions advanced were tentative, and that some of the speakers were still refining their ideas about exactly what the Dixon manuscript meant to them.

While several of the collogue participants have continued to write about and perform William Dixon’s music, I suggest that the editor of Common Stock contact all the original contributors to “Out of the Flames” and encourage them to write a new article for Common Stock outlining their current thinking. It would be very interesting to read how their approach to Dixon has developed and perhaps changed in the intervening years; let’s just hope it doesn’t take another seven years to get their current ideas into print.

“Out of the Flames” has been produced to a very high standard and is printed in A4 pa- perback format on quality stock. The book includes opening statements by Julian Goodacre and Roderick Cannon, as well as a brief biography of each of the contributors. Each of the nine papers has extensive footnotes and references, and all include a wealth of musical ex- amples, some from Dixon, others from a vast variety of supporting English, Scottish, and European sources. The book is a superb companion volume to “The Master Piper”, and should be in the library of all those interested in Border music and William Dixon’s remark- able musical legacy.

Peter Dyson

available from, or Rona McDonald, 6 Garrioch Crescent,

North Kelvinside, Glasgow G20 8RR

United Kingdom. £15 Mbrs + P&P