For the second year, the Society held a weekend working with the mysteries of pibroch on the smallpipes

aThe event was held over the weekend of April 7th-9th in the wonderful surroundings of Wooley High Hall. Helen Ross sent us her impressions.

This was the second LBPS Pibroch weekend at Allendale, a beautiful village in Northumberland. The facilities are perfect for a small group, with teaching taking place at Chris Bacon’s house at Wooley High Hall, and accommodation available at Deneholme outdoor centre or at hotels. The tutors were Allan Macdonald and Callum Armstrong. The only ‘students’ were myself, Ian Mackay, Rona Dawson, Cara Adcock and Iain Allen. On Friday evening we had an Indian meal at Wooley High Hall followed by a session, all organised by Chris and Anne Bacon. On Saturday we went back there for teaching, and a tasty lunch. Callum taught us to improvise tunes suitable for pibroch, using only a few notes in the scale, such as ABC followed by EF. Allan gave us the dots for some pibrochs. I found these a bit hard to follow because of the timing of the grace notes – but it was a lot easier than trying to learn by ear. (I just might try to learn An Ceapadh Eucorach – The Unjust Incarceration.) We then had an excellent supper back at Deneholme, with several extra guests who were friends of Chris, including some musicians. We were treated to some skilled performances, followed by a general session. On Sunday morning Allan led the whole group: he chatted about all sorts of things, and produced some more dots. The programme finished after lunch, some people left and those remaining had a meal back at the Golden Lion, followed by a small session in the bar. A dog was a bit disturbed by the pipes, and gave us a very curious look. I hope we have another teaching weekend at Allendale.

Helen Ross

 This review of the Allendale weekend from Cora Adcock arrived too late to be included in the print version so we’ve added an extra page as an online bonus

When Iain suggested that we go on a piobaireachd course in Northumberland, my heart did not leap for joy. I’ve seen those old fellows creeping slowly, playing strings of increasingly difficult finger exercises at the competitions and had no inclination to emulate them. A relative novice to piping, I hoped to hide unnoticed in the back row. But with only six of us on the course (where were you all? It was wonderful …) there was no chance of that - just three of us in each group.
We were made welcome at Deneholm where we stayed in basic but warm and comfortable surroundings, any particular needs cheerfully provided. Later Chris and Anne made us welcome in their beautiful home where teaching would take place. A convivial first evening was passed, a few tunes following an Indian takeaway.
My first session on Saturday was with Callum, who provided an insight into the structure of the piobaireachd Urlar or ground. Exercises in improvisation challenged us, using just a few notes. These helped us to evaluate the use of repetition, and how to vary answering phrases by using a different part of the range of the chanter.
After a soup and sandwich lunch, our group joined Allan MacDonald, whose playing brought the music to life. Far from a strict and regimented approach, his pipes sang, and often he sang with them. Gradually the Canntaireachd began to make sense. The phrases of the tune became a flowing melodic line, so far from the strict, measured playing I’d heard elsewhere. To my surprise,I found I was actually enjoying myself … We learned several different Urlars and tried the easier variations on some. A background to the history of the music and the influence of Gaelic song on some of the melodies added greatly to our interest in and growing understanding of the music we were playing.
Back to Deneholm for a meal with friends who joined us. Dazzling performances by both course leaders entertained them, and we again enjoyed a session of tune playing that evening. On Sunday morning, both groups worked together under Allan’s direction, revising melodies studied the day before and adding extra tunes to the repertoire. All too soon it was time to return homewards, happy to have made new friends and buoyed up by Allan’s stimulating, even revolutionary approach to piobaireachd. Will there be another course in 2019? I very much hope so, but it needs greater support in numbers. You’ll kick yourself at what you missed ….

Cora Adcock