Originally from Baltimore, Maryland Will came to Scotland in 1996 to carry out postgraduate work in Gaelic linguistics.  He now Lectures in Celtic and Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. Will has played accompaniment on bouzouki with many of Scotland's and Cape Breton's best-known traditional musicians.

The rest of the day is going to be about piping, and of course this talk is going to be about piping too, but I'm going to be looking at it from the perspective of playing with the pipes, which is something that is fairly recent - up until the time of, about the Battlefield Band, maybe a bit before that, this wasn't really a concept. I suppose there were probably a few tracks where people tried to play an out-of -tune piano with the highland pipes or something like that, but using it as an ensemble instrument is a fairly recent development in the history of piping.
So Hamish asked me to talk about some specific things today, and amongst them are the challenges of playing with the bagpipes. Every bagpiper has challenges with his or her own instruments; rather like Chinese whispers I'm on the receiving end of those challenges, specifically coping with things like drones, especially the baritone drone on the smallpipes, and how to approach chords on an accompanying instrument. Also the question of rhythm. So those are the things I’m gong to be looking at.
But it might be worthwhile talking about just what is this instrument and where did it come from? It would be remiss of me to give a talk about the bouzouki without mentioning its own origins. [Here Will gave a brief demonstration of the sound of the instrument}
It's basically from the mandolin family, but that is a fairly big family of instruments that are shaped vaguely like this and that have 'courses' as opposed to just single strings. The bouzouki originally of course is a Greek instrument, but if you look at the word itself, bouzouki, that's a Turkish word and it's thought that it came from an earlier instrument, because that word means 'broken' or 'modified'. I wonder whether there was a player in Turkey who had something like an oud and somebody stepped on it and said 'Sorry, mate, I'll get that fixed’, took it away and came back with something like this. Anyway, the Greek bouzouki has only been around for just over a hundred years, in the form we have today, with the round shape and the four courses of strings. Originally it was a three-course instrument, [courses being more than one string tuned to the same note] and it was tuned DAD or something like that. Then they added another course in the 20th century. What then happened with this instrument is that some time in the 1960's a fellow by the name of Johnny Mornihan had a mandolin and someone showed him a Greek bouzouki and he said ‘That's brilliant' and traded his mandolin for it [and his friends at the time, Andy Irvine and others said 'can you trade it back?]. But then they started playing with it and developed some tunings that worked with Irish music. Then around 1970 Peter Abner [I think that was his name] developed a version of this instrument for Donald Lundy, another famous bouzouki player, and the difference between this and the Greek bouzouki is how much bigger the body is. Not all Irish bouzoukis have such a large body, but it helps with projection and bass tones. This is more of a rhythm instrument in Scottish and Irish music, whereas a Greek bouzouki is more of a melodic instrument. For me, especially when playing with the pipes, bass projection is very important.
Another brilliant instrument maker, Stefan Sobell, took up the gauntlet of making these instruments and this one was made by a maker trying to develop from Stefan's designs. I can't tell you what he did, because I just play the thing and I get lost with what's going on in the inside- the bracing system is apparently very important.
Why is this instrument good to play with the pipes? I was a drummer for about ten years before picking up a guitar. But when I was getting interested in traditional music [I was back in the States] I was taking lessons with a guy who played both guitar and bouzouki and he said ‘If you really want to do this, the guitar is great, but the bouzouki is probably a bit better’.
So I got my first bouzouki and found myself up in Cape Breton accompanying musicians and that's where I first started playing with the pipes. I quickly realised that there were some BIG differences playing with the pipes versus the fiddle or the flute or the other instruments that I was used to playing with in Baltimore.
The good things first: what makes it great with the pipes, as I hope you will hear when Finn and I have some tunes, is the sympathetic response you get between the two instruments. When both instruments are going really well it almost feels like there's glue between them. I don't know if that makes sense but both instruments are vibrating in a particular way that it really feels like it's almost one instrument. I don't feel that way with the guitar. I think part of it is the tuning. If you use DAGD or one of the open tunings on the guitar maybe you can get that as well, but the bouzouki is tuned in a way that, generally speaking, has a drone effect built into it.
The other thing that's good about playing with the pipes is that the pipes are an enormously harmonically complex instrument; you've got very, very low notes in the drones and then you've got very high harmonics. Basically it sucks up the whole audible spectrum: it starts very low and goes very high  - it's difficult to fit other instruments into that. I worked as a sound engineer for a long time and you always have to carve out bits, to let other instruments breathe when the pipes are playing- it's a bit like the piano- same idea. What's good about this instrument though, is that it cuts through - it's very percussive, so that helps it establish its place.
The other thing is that because of its tuning it lends itself to a modal approach. The bagpipes, as we all know, are not in a standard scale - they're a mixolydian mode - you've got a flattened seventh and a lot of the chord sequences you get with the bagpipes, you want to leave them quite open- you don't want to dictate your thirds. Your thirds are a very important note. I'm sure most of you are familiar with some music theory; if you think of the notes on the piano, CDEFG, the CEG form  a chord, where E is the third and that's what dictates whether something sounds minor or major. What I do with the bouzouki is just leave that open, leave it a bit ambiguous and that seems to work because a lot of times with Scottish music it IS ambiguous - the scales themselves are missing notes. So one of the things that works well with this instrument is to leave it be. Although you can do that with, say, the piano or the guitar, with this instrument it's just that little bit easier. So a lot of what I'm doing when I'm playing the bouzouki is I'm moving drones myself around the instrument, I'm moving the bass around, and sometimes using top notes just to accentuate different things that are happening in the tune.
Now I want to talk about some of the challenges. One, is that, the pipes being a solo instrument, a lot of pipers aren't used to playing with other people. Maybe this comes as a surprise to some of you, but they're not used to listening to another person when they're working out what they're going to do rhythmically. So, as an accompanist, if they're not listening to you, you have to listen to them very intently. It's not a deal-breaker, but it means that you can't quite relax.
On the other hand I've met pipers that are used to playing all the time to a metronome, particularly people who play in pipe bands. They tend to  have quite good rhythm because they have to, to get the entire band to work. Those people you can pretty much go on auto-pilot, you don't have to worry about anything. So you get the whole gamut.
Tuning is the other BIG problem, as we all know. At least it's not the Uilleann pipes, right? As I'm sure is going to happen right now, Finn is keen to come down and play because as he waits his pipes are going down in pitch, so a lot of times, if you start a set with somebody, the pipes are going to be flat to where they are eventually going to get. So what do you do as an accompanist? Do you just say, well, forget it, the first set is going to be out of tune, we'll just deal with it later?  Sometimes that's just what you have to do- you're not going to have time. You tune up early, figure out what the note is going to be, what it's going to settle to and then just assume that's going to keep getting better as time goes on. I remember Finn and I and Finn's sister Fiona were in Barbados a couple of times, strangely for a Celtic festival, and there, it's such a hot, humid place that the pipes actually were sounding I think at about B natural - these are A smallpipes - and so I was breaking strings all the time just trying to keep up.
One other thing. Playing with the pipes means that you have to squeeze every bit of volume out of the instrument that you're playing. [Here Will picked up his 'other' bouzouki] As you can see I had this fixed a couple of times because of this  massive 'dent' from my plectrum hitting the instrument. And this is partly just bad technique, but the other part of it is that when I'm playing with the border pipes, or sometimes with two sets of border pipes plus a fiddle or whatever it might be, this instrument's getting a total battering, just to keep up with the volume.  There's no room for subtleties. The approach is very different to that I would take playing Irish music on the bouzouki where you can do lots of counter-melodies and runs and things. There's no point, with the pipes, unless it's the D smallpipes - you're just not going to hear it. I'm not going to hear it, you're not going to hear it, what's the point in doing it? So you need to be creative with a constant volume level.
[Here Will was joined by Fin Moore]
There are two tunings I use most it the time, one a lot more than the other. The one I use almost all the time is GDAD. The other tuning that people use is ADAD. The problem here is the G chord, which isn’t as obvious, and you can't go down to the G from the A chord which is the main movement in Scottish music.
[Will and Fin then demonstrated the effect of using the ADAD tuning; the A is firmly rooted, but the G chord is not. They then demonstrated the same tune with the GDAD tuning].
Using the GDAD tuning means that you do not need to use the capo.
[Fin then switched to his D pipes]
The beauty of the D smallpipes is that they're a little quieter - I don't need to thrash the whole time. you can start to do runs and counter-melodies as well as the fact that the D pipes sit in between the two D strings, so I can play all the tunes; for intros and things like that it works  nicely.
I also want to look at the strathspey and the reel. The strathspey is a funny one; people accompany it in all different ways. One of the things I hear people do is play it like a jig. In some cases it makes sense - for some tunes it can sound almost like a slide -dagada dagada. Personally I would only do it as an effect, not as a standard thing. If you look at the way people accompany them in Cape Breton, even if you don't like the piano, rhythmically it's where you tap your feet, on each beat of the strathspey. The whole difference and similarity between the strathspey and the reel is a really interesting thing, though we don't have time to look at it today, but recently I've convinced myself that the strathspey is simply the way that highlanders played reels in the past - reels meaning the way that they danced - the dance itself incorporated a tempo change. If you slow down the recordings of reels, when people sing and play reels to Gaelic singers they sound exactly like strathspeys. But that's a whole other talk.
So we'll look at what you do with the tempo change.
[Will and Finn then demonstrated the change; the recording will be available on the website soon.]
I just enjoy playing with the D pipes, it's so much more relaxed and it sits so well. For me, this is the ultimate for playing with pipes…