John Dally reports on the workshop he helped organised in in Seattle in association with the LBPS and the APNA

The workshop on Lowland piping with Pete Stewart, who needs no introduction to the readers of Common Stock, was held acrossNovember 8, 9 and 10 at the home of John Cunningham in Ballard, a neighborhood of Seattle, Washington State. It was an indubitable success.

It would not have been possible without the financial support of the LBPS, which has our many thanks. APNA (Alterna- tive Pipers of North America) also sponsored the event. Glen Dreyer and Michael Simone were instrumental in facilitating this workshop and the one held the week after at Glen’s home in Connecticut. Thanks also to John Cunningham and Gerda, his wife, for opening up their home to us. Also, we thank the Celtic Arts Foundation for a gift in support of the workshop.
Ten pipers attended the workshop, with about half coming from a Highland piping experience and the other half being Northumberland pipers who also play Scottish smallpipes or Lowland pipes.    All were enthusiastic about learning about Lowland pipe music, and Pete more than met their expectations.    Among the attendees was Barry Shears, who travelled all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.    Other participants travelled from as far away as Portland, Oregon.    Pete gave an entertaining and inspiring house concert on the Saturday that was attended by about forty people, some pipers, but also fiddlers, singers and harpers, and Early Music enthusiasts.

During the two days of classes Pete covered many aspects of the Lowland piping traditions, emphasizing the essential rhythms of dance and song. Pete delved deeply into “digging the dird.” We gained important insights into tempi, time signatures, and the dances of the time when this music was commonplace. Many of these things were completely new to participants. Pete’s understanding of the context of Lowland piping of the 17th and 18th centuries is beyond deep, giving us a history of town pipers, their jobs and place in society. We all came away with new perspectives on piping as a whole in Scotland at that time. For many of us these insights brought on changes in our thinking that were as fundamental as the movement of tectonic plates.
Pete covered the important sources, including Skene, Dixon, Rook, Atkinson, and detailed many of the tunes in his forthcoming book, A Collection of the Choicest Tunes for the Lowland or Border Bagpipe. The students were given copies of relative settings of tunes and links to sources on the internet. In many piping workshops the approach is to teach a tune or two. Pete’s method was to give the pipers a context and tools for seeking out and interpreting the music. This fresh approach was well received by pipers, so much so, that before the end of the seminar we had made plans to form a monthly Lowland session in the area.
Special thanks to Pete for making the trip in the first place, for being such a gracious, patient and thorough teacher, and for being so generous with his knowledge and time.

An invited audience enjoys the house-concert in which Pete gave performances of some of the tunes we had worked on during the weekend in Seattle

And Glenn Dryer reports on the workshop he helped organize in Connecticut

Thanks to a grant from The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society the Alternative Pipers of North America were able to sponsor two workshops by piper and historian Pete Stewart of Pencaitland, Scotland. The east coast version, held on November 16, 2013 at my house in Quaker Hill, Connecticut was attended by seven pipers from the region. Pete worked from draft copies of his upcoming book..We all played Scottish smallpipes, which more people own, and which are more suited to group, indoor playing than the louder border bagpipe.

Pete’s main goal was to explain how he approached figuring out the rhythms and tempo of Lowland dance music from the 17th and 18th Century. Since the lowland piping tradition had essentially died out by the early 20th century, there are no recordings or even living memories of how pipers played these tunes. Using clues in the manuscripts, written descriptions of dance, and his forty years of experience playing traditional dance music, Pete led us through a variety of time signatures and tune styles. Although only one day long, Pete packed a large amount of information into us, and left us with tune books to work from.

Viven Hunter, Ralph Loomis and Nate Banton play their way through a Loewland tune at the Connecticut workshop

Sharing meals together further bonded our small group, most of whom already knew each other from the annual Pipers’ Gathering in Vermont, among other piping events and projects. We were joined in the evening by a fiddler, harpist and guitar player from a local Scottish folk band called Mystic Haggis for an informal ceilidh and jam session. An intense, compact, but very good day was had by all.

“Thank you VERY much for a wonderful and enlightening lowland and borders piping workshop in Seattle. I was hoping to expand my piping experience into unexplored realms. You delivered on that wish and far, far more. Bravo! !” [John Brock]