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AT THE competitions held by the Lowland and Border Pipers‘ Society, the small pipes appear to be gaining in popularity at the expense of the larger member of the same family - the Lowland pipes. I think, however, that this bias will decline as players discover for themselves the merits of the Lowland pipes. The reasons given (by most people) for preferring the small pipes are, in order of importance: small pipes  make less noise, (when played indoors), they come in different keys, they are more easily mixed with other instruments. The case for the Lowland pipes seems less obvious: Lowland Pipes can be overblown or pinched up to high 'B', they may be heard above the chatter in a pub. The bagpipes. and particularly the Lowland pipes. are one of the musical instruments which depend as much for their sound (and I'm not referring to playing technique), on the player as they do on the maker. Most other instruments require little further work on them after leaving the maker's workshop, apart, of course, from maintenance. The pipes are different. Each player has his own preferred pressure of blowing, for instance. So different reeds suit different players. Change the reed and the tuning may alter. The Lowland pipes are particularly susceptible to this matter of individuality.

Proving that a cauld wind does indeed blaw south of Watford... Four
members of the London Branch at one of their regular meetings at the
National Army Museum, Chelsea. They are, from left, Thomas Hardy,
Alastair MacRae, Jock Agnew and Les Jessop.

A well reeded and balanced set of Lowland pipes can sound exceedingly sweet, as we have heard from some of the competitors. However, for every set of sweet-sounding Lowland pipes that we hear, we can  be sure that the player has devoted hours to selecting, setting and adjusting his reeds. (Players of small pipes can be more lazy: their reed settings are less critical.) To obtain a true high ‘B' on Lowland pipes is  ot just a matter of giving the bag an extra squeeze at the crucial moment. It is obtained as a result of a three-way partnership between chanter, player and the reed he has scraped to exactly suit his playing and his pipes - not to mention the drone reeds which must remain steady throughout.

The ability to reach high ‘B' benefits many tunes, Soor Plooms of course, is not the same when played without this facility. But tunes such as The Mill O or Ye Banks and Braes take on a new "look". But it is not just the ability to reach this extra note that alters the playing of some tunes,tunes that might otherwise sound the same whether played on small pipes or Lowland pipes. For some reason, (which is beyond me!), the Lowland pipe chanter sounds an octave higher than the small pipe chanter. As a result of this, the "soft ‘A’" occurs at the top of the scale instead of at the bottom (the small pipes' “soft ‘A’", is low 'A'). This means that when playing as near to staccato as the open fingering will allow, on small pipes the technique is to punctuate each note by sounding low ‘A’. A good example of this can be heard on Hamish Moore's record Open Ended with his variations on Drops of Brandy However, had he played this on the Lowland pipes, it is probable that he would have had to move to high ‘A‘ between notes to achieve the same effect. What all this blether has been leading up to is that some tunes, when played on the Lowland pipes, sound quite different to the same tune played on small pipes. And I'm not referring to volume. A good example is The Padlock (Dr. J.A.C. Fisher, Isle of Skye Collection). The penultimate bar of the first part is written: ......

padlock 1 c399a

and sounds like this on the Lowland pipes: -

padlock 2 a9b6f

but sounds exactly as written on the small pipes.
On the other hand, the penultimate bar of the third part is written: ..

padlock 5 ecfb2

and sounds as written when played on the Lowland pipes, but like this on the small pipes:

padlock 3 e9886

This tune is one of many that sound dramatic when played on the Lowland, but insipid when played on the small. The reverse is true for other tunes that rely on the sounding of top 'A' to achieve an effect. The last part of the jig played on Hamish Moore’s first record could serve as an example of this. Played on the Lowland pipes. a grip would have to be introduced to even approach the same effect. What all this adds up to is that some tunes change quite a lot in character and effect, depending on whether they are played on Lowland or small pipes.

So the difference between the two is not just a question of range and volume