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BEFORE achieving expert status as a performer and scholar in British Isles bagpiping, author George Balderose spent nearly a decade as a clawhammer banjoist making music for countless square and contra dances in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The knowledge and experience he gleaned from these overlapping realms of tradition are put to excellent use in The Balmoral Guide to Playing Bagpipes for Community Dances, a tutorial many bagpipers have been awaiting for years.
The book offers practical guidelines for bringing Lowland Border pipes, Highland pipes and Smallpipes
into the realm of British and American community dances (in particular, contra dances), outlining the basics of integrating bagpipes with other instruments in the band.
Following an engaging foreword by Burlington, Vermont, Border piper Hollis Easter, The Balmoral Guide moves on to present a solid overview of contra dance history, protocol and dancer/dance musician interaction.
Most indispensable to a piper, however, are tips on how to deal with bagpipe pitch, volume and dynamics, tempo and pace, tune medleys and arrangements, instrumental embellishments and keeping to the basic dance rhythm.
Cautionary wisdom is imparted throughout: “The event is not a concert, it’s a dance run by the caller.” … “To perform as a member of a contra dance ensemble, rehearsals are important. It is the foolish piper who shows up at a contra dance without going through a few rehearsals with the other musicians.” … “For musicians it is important to keep in mind that the dancers are not there to hear you, but to dance.”
The Balmoral Guide suggests several contra dance sets, along with a sample list of tunes found at a standard dance. Sheet music (with chords) is provided for 38 tunes comprising 13 marches, 12 jigs, 9 reels, 4 waltzes. The book includes a 12-minute DVD shows an ensemble of smallpipes, border pipes, uilleann pipes, 2 fiddles and piano performing 6 tunes from the book at a live contra dance.
There are four appendices including tablature renderings of the Highland Bagpipe scale and Lowland Bagpipe scale, two pages of bibliographic sources, audio and video recordings, and relevant website links, plus an insightful descriptive overview of a typical contra dance event and what a newcomer might expect to find upon entering the dance universe.
While being of obvious value to a wide range of bagpipers, The Balmoral Guide to Playing Bagpipes for Community Dances will also be of interest to anyone looking for new timbres and textures to enliven their dance experience.

L.E. McCullough,

The Balmoral Guide to Playing Bagpipes for Community Dances, by George Balderose. Pittsburgh: Balmoral School of Highland Piping, Inc., 2019, 64 pages, spiral-bound; 12-minute DVD. $35.99 US.