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THE SMALLPIPES in particular have been widely adopted, often as a second instrument by Highland pipers; the Lowland/Border pipes have been slower in taking off and are now played by some notable pipers, though not necessarily for Lowland or Borders music. Is the future as- sured for these instruments, and what of the music? It’s fair to say that the revival of these instruments has been a vital part of the whole broadening out of the piping scene over the past 20 or so years. But what happens next? We asked some prominent Society members

Nigel Richard, pipemaker and chairman, LBPS

IN THE bellows pipes revival the smallpipes certainly got off to a stronger start than the Bor- der pipes. The main reason for this happening was that they were largely based on the exist- ing Northumbrian pipe-making technology and sounded good right away, particularly the D sets. The early A sets were quiet and lacked presence, and much development work on these has been done over the years on both sides of the Border. The


modern A smallpipes are more robust, and as loud as can rea-


Nigel Richard


sonably be achieved given the nature of the instrument. The Border pipe-making technology has been not so much recovered, as redeveloped. Thus it took some time before reliable, good-sounding sets came on the market, and they continue to be developed to this day.

What does the future hold? Well, as pipe makers we have been selling considerably more sets of Border pipes than smallpipes for many years, although the fact that there are fewer makers of Border pipes will have a bearing on this. I suspect that the Border pipe market will continue to expand a bit more quickly than the one for smallpipes, although because


there are many fewer sets of Border pipes around, it will take a long time for the overall numbers to be similar, if ever.

Smallpipes remain a favourite for many great Highland bagpipers who want a quieter in- strument, often to practice at home during the winter. The Border pipes are harder to play, and their popularity has come about as a result of the talented players who are making good use of them as well as the ability of the makers to make improvements in the design.

Certainly I now see Border pipes in pub sessions much more often than smallpipes, no doubt because they can be heard better, and they appear to be increasingly the first choice in folk groups.

Their chromaticism makes them more versatile, and I would hope that in the future more pipers exploit this potential for broadening the variety of music played on them. These two sets of pipes have different qualities and some circumstances suit one rather than the other. I expect the interest in bellows piping will continue to grow and that the LBPS will continue to be in the forefront when in comes to promoting this.

Hamish Moore, pipemaker


I HAVE FOUND, during my experience as as a professional pipe maker, that the Border pipes have been steadily

gaining in popularity over the last ten years.

This is as a result of many factors: The standard of the instrument is improv- ing all the time, some no- table professional pipers are now playing the instru- ment, CD recordings are helping to promote them, and Border pipes are popular in sessions due to fact that they play in the

same octave as the fiddle


and have a lovely combined sound with that instrument.


Hamish (on right) and Fin Moore



It has been found by many players that A smallpipes are unsuitable for most sessions where there are any more than of three instruments. Also, A smallpipes are not suitable in a band setting where they are amplified. As a result of these factors, the playing public is now see- ing the potential of Border pipes and these are becoming more popular as a result and are definitely being used in a different social context from their original function.


Demand for a quiet pipe which is as acoustically balanced with the fiddle as possible now dominates requests from the customer, Meanwhile, the music now played on these pipes is also very different from the original Border repertoire.

It is hoped that Border music will become more popular as teaching becomes more wide- spread - and I see the roll of the LBPS as being vital in this last point.

There is an interesting development, however, in the revival of these bellows blown pipes of Scotland and that is in my production of the bellows- blown version of the Highland reel pipes. I am encouraging those customers who want to play Highland music to order these, and those who are interested in Border music to order the Border pipes.

I started making the Border instrument 16 years ago and in that year two sets were manu- factured as against 49 sets of smallpipes. In 2005, however, so far the breakdown has been 27 sets of the smallpipes, nine Border pipes (representing a third of the total of small and Border pipes) and three sets of Highland pipes

Essentially the Border pipes and reel pipes are the same instrument. Catalogues of Glen’s, MacDougal’s, Henderson’s and others offer them for sale in both a mouth and bellows- blown version. The name derives from the “Scotch” Reel. The reel pipes have a common stock (in the bellows blown version), two tenor drones and a bass, and a conical chanter.

The cultural context of the two instruments would have been roughly the same in both the Highlands and the Lowlands/Border country, but with a very different repertoire.


Matt Seattle, piper, composer, publisher

THE Lowland/Border pipes have been slower in taking off and are now played by some notable pip- ers, though not necessarily for Lowland or Borders music. Is the future assured for these instru- ments, and what of the music?

The future of the instruments is obviously assured for the medium and probably the long term, and for obvious reasons - they are an ideal group and session instru- ment for Highland pipers. I

expressed doubts about the future of the music at the 1997 Collogue,


Matt Seattle on left


saying that: “If nothing comes of our Collogue, we merely provide a curious footnote to the history of late 20th-century piping.


Rather than theorise and speculate, I have been working to encourage the spread of the Border music and to find ways of bringing it back into circulation. Perhaps surprisingly, the Pipers’ Gathering in the USA has been much more receptive to this than the LBPS in Scot- land, but perhaps this is not so surprising - Scotland, after all, is hardly in need of a living piping tradition.

If I were to speculate, I would guess that the Border music will remain a specialist pastime with a few dedicated enthusiasts. On the positive side, its place in the musical ecology of these islands has now been recognised. It will continue to be a fascinating area of study as well as a valid medium of musical expression. If it also provides employment opportunities for those involved, so much the better.


lain Maclnnes, piper, broadcaster

CLEARLY the impetus in recent years has been to- wards the playing of coni- cally-bored Lowland pipe chanters, and this has been made possible by improved design and the emergence of a number of excellent mak- ers. These instruments have proved to be a great boon for those interested in play- ing with other musicians: they don’t dominate the sound, as do Highland pipes; they play in user-


Iain MacInnes


friendly keys; and, because they play an octave higher than the equivalent smallpipe chant- ers, they sit very comfortably with fiddles and flutes.

The down-side has been that they are notoriously hard to play, and require a high degree of fingering precision. I suspect that further design improvements will be needed before they really take off in a big way. It can be disheartening to hack through a tune on a Low- land chanter which you know that you can play reasonably well on a smallpipe chanter. Still, practice, etc etc ...

Regarding repertoire: despite the improved availability of Lowland/Border pipes, the actual Lowland repertoire remains the preserve of a small number of enthusiasts. I suppose part of the problem lies in deciding on what is, in actual fact, a Lowland style of playing. Still, we’ve been given some very useful pointers in the work of Matt Seattle and Gordon


Mooney, and doubtless Pete Stewart’s new book will provide fresh food for thought.

As Lowland-style, conically bored chanters, have taken off, the longer smallpipe chanters pitched in A or Bb have perhaps declined in popularity, widely perceived as being rather low-pitch and quiet for use in sessions (which is undoubtedly the case). Perhaps this would be a good time for us to take a fresh lead from history. It seems clear that the original smallpipes were, indeed, small instruments, cylindrically bored, with chanters pitched in the region of E or F (in the style which has been preserved in the Northumbrian tradition).

Julian Goodacre has suggested that these would have played using a “covered” fingering style, very similar to modern Northumbrian piping, but with the pinkie of the bottom hand raised, and free to embellish the bottom note (see Julian’s article on P28 - ed).

The scale of the chanter is different to what we’re used to in Scotland, too, with a sharpened top seventh note. This opens up a number of fresh possibilities, both in exploring repertoire (old and new), and in making sense of the sort of long semi-quaver runs evident in the Skene and Dixon manuscripts.

Despite being small, chanters pitched in E, F or G actually “cut through” remarkably well. They produce a distinctive sound. They are not simply scaled-down Highland pipes, played in the semi-supine position, (“a poor peepy-weepy sort of pipe”, as Duncan Fraser memora- bly described them in 1907); these are quality instruments in their own right. So, perhaps this is another avenue to be explored in the years to come; old-style smallpiping with a dis- tinctive Scottish accent.




It seems likely that the Society will hold a teaching weekend on the island of Gigha around the end of February, beginning of March. The weekend will be centred at the Isle of Gigha Hotel. Details, are yet to be finalised, but those interested should contact the Society’s secretary, Rona MacDonald at 0141 946 8624 or e-mail:

rona. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Other publications

The Society has reciprocal arrangements with other piping organisations regarding their magazines, and we recently received the October 2005 issue of the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society journal and An Piobaire (Vol. 4 No.32, September 2005), the journal of NaPiobairi Uilleann, the Irish pipers’ society.

To borrow these, contact Jim Gilchrist on 0131 669 8235 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

LBPS committee members elected at the last Society AGM in November: Ian Wells, George Greig, Richard Evans, Martin Lowe, David Hannay. Merchandise: Tom Dingwall. Pete Stewart has since agreed to become membership secretary.