Edinburgh, May 2011

Iain Kinnear’s afternoon class tackles Phil Cunningham’s ‘Sarah’s Song’

Sixteen pipers turned up at the premises of the Royal Scottish Pipers' Society in Edinburgh on May 7th, some of them a little bemused by the fact that the four-storey building now stands marooned in a building site. In fact the top two stories where the event was held were themselves marooned, the bottom two being let out as a site office for the construction team. Despite all this, the venue was eminently suitable and undisturbed and after a brief session of greetings the event got underway at 9:30am with the pipers divided into two groups, one for each tutor and piping began, surrounded by the historic images and objects on display in the two rooms. Finlay MacDonald from the National Piping Center in Glasgow introduced us to two reels from the Donald Maclean collection, stressing that we should not see the notation as carved in stone. He introduced a number of different ways of phrasing and timing the tunes, suggesting that these matters were as important when performing this 'small music' as they were with the 'big music'; some of the pipers present whose background was in pipe bands were impressed with this ‘relaxed’ approach to the notation but not as much as they were by the next tune that Finlay presented; a Bulgarian 'horo' notated in 5/16. Finlay went out of his way to stress that the notes themselves were not at all difficult, but to a pipe-band piper the rhythm could be a very new kind of challenge. As relief after this work-out, Finlay offered us ‘Loch MacLeod’, a splendid though little-played retreat march from Donald MacLeod's book. Again, we were encouraged to treat the notation as ‘guidance’ and play the tune in a much freer manner than the title ‘retreat’ would suggest. The tune, in fact, would make a fine slow air.

After an extended lunch in the local Turkish Restaurant, piping began again with the groups exchanging tutors. Iain Kinnear, pipe-maker from Angus, presented us with two reels for each of which he had written two harmony parts and the issue of 'modality' which had made an appearance in the morning session again presented itself as we explored the various implications of harmony writing. Iain then treated us to a very different tune, one written by Phil Cunningham in a genre that begs to be harmonised and presents few of the problems that the reels did. Iain's arrangement was simple and effective, and we all enjoyed playing it. We were still enjoying it when Finlay brought his group down to join us and we finished the day with everyone playing the two reels we had begun with.
Thanks are due to the two tutors, to the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society for the use of their premises and to George Greig who had organised such a successful day.