Hamish introduced David Taylor as a piper he had met in his first year at University, playing for the New Scotland Scottish Country Dancers. David has spent his life as a history teacher in Kingussie but on the side was also the unofficial pipe teacher fro the whole of that part of Strathspey. His talk was entitled 'The Aspen Tree and the Border Pipe'.

This is kind of strange. I'm not an expert on piping. I'm not an expert on border music. If you asked me to talk about 18th century highland shieling economy, that's where I am at the moment, I can talk about that ad nauseam.
I want to look at basic aspects of tradition. About the title of this talk: Aspens don't grow as single trees, you get a stand of them, a hundred, a hundred and fifty trees growing, all almost identical but all slightly different. But the key thing about an aspen tree is it grows on runners underground. An aspen tree grows and dies, grows and dies, but the root remains constant. As the aspen tree grows, for a hundred years and then dies, it rots down and nourishes that common root which sends up new shoots. So when you see an aspen tree you're talking about the oldest living tree in existence, because that common root can go back thousands of years, and that is the crucial thing. Is this a metaphor for Scottish tradition? That's what I want to look at, the idea that tradition evolves in the same way as the aspen tree does.
I believe that Scottish tradition is like the aspen tree; there are hundreds of trunks and stems that are Scottish tradition. Over thousands of years they have lived and died and nourished new stems, new traditions. And so the tradition that we are part of today actually goes back thousands of years into a sort of common root that has gradually developed through innumerable influences and traditions.
Go back fifteen thousand years to Mesolithic times - rhythm and chant- we have no idea what it might be like but you can't imagine any society without rhythm and chanting. You can move through that to neolithic times to Scara Brae where we may have bone whistles,  you can move from that into the iron age carnyx music, we have the Pictich harp and triple-pipe; into the Middle Ages we have minstrels and troubadours and so on. And each part of this is a tradition that is growing, dyeing. Carnyx music has gone long ago. But it is part of our tradition, it is there in a long-forgotten root, and each generation inherits that. Gradually, as we move beyond the middle ages  we get into a more recognizable form of tradition. We get the emergence of the bagpipe, we get the more identifiable clarsach and fiddle, whistle, instruments that we understand, music that we begin to get more familiar with. The ballad and work song, step-dance,  country dance- a constant process of death and rebirth, old traditions dieing out, old instrument dieing out, new traditions and instruments emerging. Think about what happened to the medieval instruments that a thousand years ago folk in Scotland would have been dancing to - the old fiddle, the rebec, has gone, the old stock 'n' horn has gone; dances like the gavotte and pavan have gone. But they've been replaced. So you get new instruments coming on the scene like the accordion, the piano, the bouzouki; but it doesn't change, in a sense, because the traditional music remains the same. The medium on which it is played may change but the basic genetic construction of the music is always the same.  It's always constant, in a sense, it's just evolving.
New dances come in, like the country dances from England, things like the Schottisches, the Quadrilles and Lancers in the 19th century, that come in as European dances and these all have an impact, they all become part of our tradition.
And that is one of the interesting things about tradition. What is it? It is something that is constantly evolving - there is no such thing as a fossilized tradition. You cannot say 'this is how people played music in the 14th century, or this is what it sounded like in the 7th century - it is a living thing, it evolves. It is not like classical music - when Beethoven wrote  the Ninth Symphony, we can now see exactly how  it was played, note by note. That doesn't happen with tradition. Each generation brings its own new take on it.
If you think about the aspen tree, then, we’ve got all these different stems, the fiddle, accordion, Gaelic song, border ballad,  all these different things, they're all part of an identifiable tradition  of Scottish music. In the piping world, we've got an immense stand of trees; we've got smallpipes, border pipes, highland pipes, we've got competition style, we've got pipe-band style. We've got pibroch, we've got folkstyle piping, we've got ceilidh band, rock band,  jazz piping, we've even got world music piping.
Something is happening in Scottish music - it is taking off. Fifty years ago, when I was a kid learning to play pipes, there were two things, competition piping and pipe-bands and there was damn-all else.  I wish I was growing up in the Scottish piping scene of nowadays, where there is so much more scope for young people. The whole scene of Scottish music, not just in piping, is absolutely  vibrant in terms of what is happening. There's been this massive revival and what's particularly exciting, all across, is the number of young people who are caught up in this tradition  New tradition, old tradition? It's hard to say where we are because the young people take it on and they do their own thing with it.  
In amongst this vibrant new tradition, for instance what Hamish has been doing with Cape Breton music, and Allan MacDonald working with the reinterpretation of the ancient pibroch tradition, or what Martin Bennet was doing, revolutionising piping, there has been this common root.  Nobody took it to more extremes than Martin, but he was incredibly deeply-rooted in tradition -there was no piper in the world better than Martin Bennet.
And that's the key thing. Innovation is fabulous, it's a vital part of folk-tradition  that each new generation is improvising and adding and developing things. But it must have that common root; you must be able to go  back into the deep-seated traditional root because if you lose that root you have lost  everything in what makes the music.
 So in tradition we are looking at this constant process of death and rebirth:  as old styles die new styles come in; sometimes people can go back and re-create old styles, but there is an essential element that holds it all together.
To me there's two ways of playing music, of playing a tune. There's one where you get a set of notes in front of you and your eyes look at the notes and something comes out of your fingers - it goes from here [eyes] to here [fingers]- it's what I call 'heart-bypass music'. It's got no meaning. There's another kind of music that comes from here [heart] to the fingers, and that, of course, is what we're talking about, that tradition. If you do not have the ability to understand music within its cultural context then it means nothing. If you're born and brought up in it, as so many of us were here, it's part of your DNA, it's in your system.  But to me it's absolutely vital we understand our cultural background, or the tunes that we play are heart-bypassing, we simply play a bunch of notes without understanding where they come from.
If we look at the LBPS, the question that comes to me is, can we actually revive a tradition of things that are from the past?  Thirty years ago the LBPS started up, a rather disparate group of individuals got together, with no real motivation other than the fact that there was an instrument and a type of music that had died out and people were interested in it.  The problem was there was no tradition, no tradition bearer. Hamish was able to go to Cape Breton and listen to Cape Breton piping; Hamish Henderson was able to go to the travelling people, listen to what they were doing and study it. With border piping the whole thing had jut died.
Does that actually matter? Can we revive a tradition that is dead? In a way we can. The one thing we can say and be absolutely certain is that if border piping had not died out, and if the theory of constant evolution is true, then the border piping of today would be totally different to what it was in the 17th century anyway. So how do we create a style that has actually long-since gone?  
The Society has had some fantastic successes over the  years.  When I first came along to the society there were a handful of bellows-pipes and to be honest most of them were pretty grim. They sounded awful, were out of tune, hard to play, leaking bags and bellows. And now there are thousands of sets across the world, beautiful instruments, nearly every one sounding great, nicely made, nice to look at and nice to listen to. The quality of instrument has changed out of this world and that, of course, has had an impact on how people can appreciate the instrument.
The other thing is the tunes. There has been a huge amount of work done producing a vast repertoire, studying ancient music books and pulling together tunes, so that we have a border repertoire. So we have got an instrument, we've got a repertoire and the society has been largely responsible in helping to form that.
The society has also been important in providing the historical framework for the instrument, something I believe is hugely important. The society has also produced a public platform, in discs and concerts, for the music and there has been constant teaching  to try and project the nature of these instruments.
So in that sense the society has been successful over thirty years. Certainly the idea of a bellows-piping tradition in Scotland has been revived. It's totally different to what it was thirty years ago. But in fact there are three massive failures and that's where I'm going to maybe tread on a few toes but I hope, not upset people too much. It's maybe things that couldn't be avoided, in a way.
First thing; we have totally failed to create a style that could be described as border piping.  Secondly, and a related one, we have failed to break what I have called the hegemony of the highland piper. In other words, we are dominated  by the highland piper. We are not in fact the LBPS, we are the HBPS, the Highland Bellow Pipers Society. 99% of all pipers playing bellows pipes are playing highland tunes in highland style, highland fingering. This is the problem. Can we get back to a different style of playing? I don't know, but there is a challenge there.
The third thing, maybe related, is that the society has failed totally to break the generation gap. We started off with a fairly elderly society, and looking round, well there are not too many teenagers in the audience. Now maybe it's the nature of societies. The young don't need societies, they just go and do it anyway. so maybe it's an inevitable thing.
Can you revive an extinct tradition?. I think yes. Is it worth trying? I would say absolutely yes. I'm an historian, I believe past cultures are always worth studying. Of course, we live in a cultural world that thrives on the past, the works of Michelangelo the works of Burns or Shakespeare. So it is worth studying the past, and perhaps in doing so we might be able to create a new style of piping that would be different and dynamic.
How to do it? I devised, tongue in cheek, a piping course, a piping strategy, for completely revolutionizing standards of play  The key to it, the secret, is that we ban bagpipes. We need a course of bagpiping with no pipes allowed. Why? Because we are highland pipers. We are junkies, we are conditioned.    We are tachum addicts. It is drilled into us. If you give a highland piper a tune with a C and an A he will play a tachum, even if it makes no sense. So what we have to do is deprive the highland piper of the ability to play these things for a while. In Stalinist terms it would be called ‘re-education’.
I'm a great believer in cultural immersion to understand our music and so any course I was doing would have a broad cultural input. We need to understand border culture. I think that highland piping and border piping were different traditions The tunes would have been played differently. We can't just say that's what old 18th century highland pipers were doing, therefore that's what border pipers were doing.
I believe musical traditions develop early in a society. We may not play exactly like someone 200 years ago would have played but that doesn't mean to say we haven’t got that DNA in our tune system. How else can you explain the fact that Scots music is different from French music, is different from German music from Swedish music? There must be a long process of evolution going on within societies.
So I would go right back to the earliest society in the borders; what was their lifestyle, tradition etc.? Then we come to the things that are gong to make that tradition. For instance, you have the Roman influence. For four hundred years the borderers lived in the shadow of Hadrian's Wall. Four centuries! That would take us today back to 1600. The societies who lived here were living in the cultural influence of Mediterranean culture, on top of what was an indigenous Celtic influence. After the Romans leave, we get the emergence of very different things. In the borders, the post-Roman societies emerge as what we call the P-Celts, the Brythonic peoples of Britain. Putting it in simple terms their nearest relatives are Welsh. The language of the borders was Welsh. The place names of southern Scotland are Welsh. The earliest great Welsh poetry was written in southern Scotland.
At the same time, in Ireland and the highlands you've got the Goidelic, Q-Celtic languages emerging - quite a different tradition. So as early as the 5th century we have different two different strands emerging, the Irish and highlands on the one hand and the borders/ north of England on the other. Added to that we have the Germanic traditions coming in from the Angles, the Scandinavian influence from the Danes. When, in the 12th century, Geraldus wrote his history he drew a distinction between the Gaelic music of Ireland and the highlands of Scotland and that of the Welsh and northern English. Then we have the impact of the Anglo-Norman French culture and the French monastic culture. The borders were dominated by monasteries - four centuries of monastic culture must have rubbed off.
 So we have a melting-pot of cultures.  But the dominant root that had stayed right through is Celtic. Nevertheless, border society hated highland society; that's one thing that becomes very clear from historical study. There was a mutual antipathy between southern Scotland and highland Scotland. These were two different traditions.
If you're going to understand the music of the border tradition there are three elements; the music is ‘who we are’, ‘where we are’ and ‘when we are’. I’ve already looked at ‘who we are’. ‘Where we are’ means the landscape. The landscape of, say, Shetland has produced a very different music; the influence of the sea, so powerful in Shetland, is not very great in Hawick. And ‘when we are’: Martin Bennet’s music of the 1990's could not have been written in the 1890's. In fact, when I first taught Martin in the early 1980's there was no way either he or I could have  predicted the kind of music he was going to unleash on the world just ten years later.
You also have to ask 'what was the purpose of this music?' Well, there’s no question, border pipes had a ceremonial function. They also had a dance function, a song function and a work function, and let's not forget they had a listening function. Music has always been for listening as well as all these other functions. If we are going to look for models, the first place to go is the Northumbrian tradition. That’s the closest we've got; a lot of tunes are common, though it has also evolved in different ways, We have to remember that for a long time Northumbria should have been part of Scotland!
The second source is the music of Wales. When I first heard Ar Log, I felt a great affinity with that music; they played reels, but they played them differently, a gentler, softer feel to them.
Another element worth looking at is the types of tunes. When I first started looking at border music, there were these strange tunes, these 6/4 hornpipes and the 9/8 jigs that I'd never come across. These two rhythms are basically non-existent in the earliest highland sources. The 3/2-6/4 rhythm was very much a thing of southern Scotland/ northern England. This is a different style of tune, of music. How do we learn how to play it? And what about the strathspey? You will find the strathspey rhythm in the borders, but was it perhaps a case of tunes that were adapted to suit new dances like the Schottische that were being imported from Europe?
If I'm not going to allow pipes in my course, how are we going to learn? To me the one thing that preserves tradition is song. Instrumentalists are notorious for taking tunes and changing them, doing this and that with them, but a song that's linked to words, a border ballad, say, the words dictate how its sung. There'll be minor variations from singer to singer but you can't totally change the whole thing. In a border ballad you could be looking at a tune that hasn't changed much in 5 or 6 hundred years. So song is a key thing here - you learn through the singing.
So we get a good singer in to teach us to sing - 'Give me the brose, brose, gie me the brose and butter' - or we take something like Robin Shure in hairst, and we sing it and we sing it until that rhythm is there instinctive. We take the Reel of Stumpie, that most of us know as Highland Wedding, strip off the six parts and get back to the basic reel and learn it by song. We get every recording of a border singer like Willie Scott and we listen  too him sing. He is the most authentic voice of border music. His voice encapsulates hundreds of years of border tradition.
So we have to study - not listen, study - and find out what are the internal rhythms of those songs. Similarly I would listen to the instrumental music of old fiddlers like Tom Hughes. This way we can start to get the rhythm and say, this is the rhythm that tunes were played in.
It's also important that we look at dancing too. But what dancing was being done too these rhythms? Step-dancing can be done to these rhythms, so we get a step-dancer in and we learn to dance to these rhythms, 9/8, 6/4.
What all of this will give us is the context and the rhythm for our tunes. What we haven’t got is a fingering style. How do we break this highland fingering? Answer? I don't know. but here's a go. We do it without pipes. We'll learn on whistle. The border practice chanter will be the whistle. We'll translate our tunes from singing to the whistle. We get someone to teach us whistle ornamentation, and Irish pipe ornamentation which isn’t rigid like our type of ornamentation.
To sum up, what I'm suggesting is that we have try to recreate an old tradition by going through a cultural immersion course, understanding where our music's coming from, learning through the medium of song and dance; studying, really studying, the culture of the old musicians to get the feel of what the music's about. And then the most difficult phase of all, the development of a new style of ornamentation which will  hopefully make the music more fluent, more musical.

[Ed. I should point out that one thing is missing from this transcription; throughout David’s impassioned talk there was a definite twinkle in his eye. We welcome your comments!]