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From Hamish Moore


In his letter (CS Vol 9 No 2 Dec ‘94) Seamus Richmond makes several interesting points regarding ornamentation and the timing of pipe tunes, I agree that for the piper with no background in Highland piping, it makes life easier if the ornaments are shown in the music. I do however think that it is more important to have the tunes published, with or without ornaments (which after all are only one person’s personal ideas), than not published at all.

The hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys and reels which make up the bulk of the repertoire, were originally dance tunes. If we are to be so bold as to pass judgement on whether a tune is played “correctly”, then surely we must pay close attention to the original dance style.

The ornamentation of pipe tunes has become more and more complex over the years and the even quavers in reel playing have been changed to dotted quavers and semi-quavers.

These four examples are all of The Rejected Suitor.

Ornaments. These have become more   numerous and more complex in order to make the tune more technically demanding, thus making the judges’ task easier and the decision more clear-cut. The effect on the music has not always been, to quote Mr. Richmond, “pleasing to the ear”. The effect has been to slow the tempo and produce an uneven and jerky rhythm - certainly         impossible to dance to.

Quavers - even or dotted? No traditional musician plays quavers either even or dotted, but with subtle timings which cannot be shown in written music notation. This is what gives traditional music its characteristic “lift” and “swing”.

Mr. Richmond considers that “for a tune to be pleasing to the ear, it must be played properly with the correct gracing, with dots and cuts, as is shown in the Highland piping collections”. But what is correct? What was considered “correct” by W. Gunn in 1847 or W. Ross in 1925 was most “incorrect” according to the same W. Ross in 1954.

I would suggest that all ornamentation be used with great sensitivity as a way of   enhancing the internal rhythm of the tunes, and not as a technical exercise in manual dexterity.


From Jon Swayne


The very interesting article “Stock Imagery in Piping” by Hugh Cheape in the December issue of COMMON STOCK

calls to mind the book La Cornemuse (pub La Renaissance du Livre, 1983) by Hubert Boone, who amongst other things is an assistant at the Musee Instrumental, Brussels.

This is a survey of bagpipes in Flemish Art, with which many members will no doubt be familiar. It contains reproductions, in some cases detail, of some 35 works of art, many of which give the impression of being most accurately observed, rather than mere “artist’s impressions”.

Included is a version (from the Musee Instrumental, Brussels) of the Bloemaert piper which is however probably rather less organologically sound than the       version in the article.

The Bloemaert drone arrangement has always intrigued me, and I wonder whether what we see is the complete instrument. Perhaps the piper had lost the top section of his small drone in a drunken brawl, and to stop it losing air or making unwanted noises, he simply placed a stop-per in the end of the tenon.

If it is the whole instrument we see, and it is accurately observed, why the striking       dissimilarity between the drones. If the two drones are intended to be played together, there does not seem to be enough difference in length to account for the pitch relationship you would expect between two drones, i.e.     octave, fifth or fourth, unless the widely   flaring bell of the longer drone is only an   external flare. A widely flaring bell lowers the pitch of a drone by only a small amount in proportion to its length.  

If the small drone does play at a fifth, then its differing shape may be accounted for by the fact that to be in balance, a fifth drone needs to be significantly quieter than its companion. A bell or cavity tends to alter the harmonics in such a way as to make the drone subjectively louder, whereas a plain exit would assist in making the drone less obtrusive.

Alternatively, perhaps, the drones are alternatives. There are two bottom sections, but only one top. The top section on one plays a drone on the first degree of the scale, and on the other on the fourth or some other degree of the scale. The unused bottom section is plugged with a stopper, as indeed appears to be the case.

On the other hand, Hubert Boone comments “Our example is probably furnished with a small drone the end of which is closed by a stopper (which can be moved for tuning Purposes and pierced by a lateral hole.

This technique will be found later in the Northumbrian small-pipes.” (My translation).

La Cornemuse also contains a reproduction of Henry Terbrugghen’s fetching Le Joueur de Cornemuse in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in which the pipes bear more than a passing resemblance to a set of mouth-blown small-pipes.


From Colin Ross


Can I say how distasteful it is for me to read about these “cauld wind pipes” in the Newsletter, and also incidentally in information you have sent me in the past.

It seems to me that it is a foregone conclusion that the Society’s name will be changed despite any lack of response from the membership and that the use of the term Lowland and Small pipes is a kind of brain washing before the event. Of course anyone is free to use the term if they wish but it sticks in my throat as a recently coined description which has no historical validity at all.

Even if it turns out to be a regional colloquial term from maybe Aberdeenshire it certainly was not used in the Borders and was never previously mentioned by Collinson or any of the other historians of the Border and Lowland bagpipes. If the term was to be used for a completely new instrument then so be it. But to use it for pipes which have a perfectly satisfactory               nomenclature then it smacks of some modishness and unwarranted abuse of the proper names for the bellows blown pipes i.e. Lowland, Border, Pastoral and Small pipes. I know there is a desire to find a common name for all these pipes but this is as futile a search as for a general theory for the origin of the universe.

Let us talk about Lowland pipes and then go on to say exactly what the pipe is instead of the term “Cauld wind” which is semantically a term which makes me shiver. My suggestion for the “Ambient air temperature” pipes is more neutral, as is the term “Dry air” or “Dry wind”, but why bother to change when the Society’s name is perfectly adequate.

If the committee decide to rename the Society on a simple majority as indicated in the Newsletter, then I hope it is with a two thirds response at least from the membership. I fear that will not be the case and if so I will be the first to resign from the Society. However I wait to be proved wrong and that the overwhelming majority of the members will vote for the status quo.


From Matt Seattle


I am writing this in defence of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society.

There is a perceived need for a Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society. I believe that it is a real need, a necessary focus for a necessary music. I was not in at the beginning, but I am now firm friends with many that were, and I hope that since joining I have made some contribution, however feeble, and tried to honourably discharge my selfappointed duty as a General Irritant. But there is a crisis of confidence within the Society at the moment, because the Society is being pulled in different directions. Some (a very few) ways to recreate the edifice of Lowland and Border piping as it once was, or as they once were, for the two terms are not quite synonymous.

Some are self-confessed musical hooligans and proud of it. In Lowland and Border piping there may come a time for iconoclasm, but not yet - we have yet to establish our icons.

Most just want to shut up and play their bagpipes.

So why can’t I shut up? Because I have found what I have been looking for. What I have been looking for since long before I knew I was looking for it. A credible repertoire for Border bagpipes. An incredible repertoire for Border bagpipes.

This is specifically a Border rather than a Lowland repertoire, but you are all         welcome to share in it, from both sides of the Tweed, Lowlands, Highlands, Borders and beyond. But beware; it is a Border repertoire, not Highland pipe music played on cauld-wind pipes, and you may with truth and without dishonour say; this is not for me.

Very well. I am not looking for converts, I do not want to gather a coterie of admirers and clones. I am only saying; here is a body of music for Border pipes, meticulously written down in the heyday of their       tradition, at the height of creativity of one of their practitioners. Take it. Or leave it.

But don’t dare deny that it existed and flourished on this Earth. In these Borders.


Douglas Deakin Sussex

I have just bought what I presume Ray Sloan [see Dec ‘94 COMMON STOCK] would describe as an “Expensive Ornament or bundle of Firewood”.  

I consider my new set of small pipes made by a “Highland Pipe Maker of Distinction” to be a pure delight. Excellent tone, and very well made, But then perhaps it takes 15 years experience before a mere customer should be allowed to express an opinion.

I have no experience of Ray Sloan’s pipes. They may well be as good as my pipes, although I fail to see how they could be better. I was fortunate to see and hear my pipes before purchase.

Perhaps had I seen Ray’s, I might have preferred them. Has he considered offering a video to prospective customers who don’t happen to live in or visit             Northumberland?


From L.W. Cowell of David Naill & Co. Somerset.

I read with great interest comments from Ray Sloan.

But one wonders if a little honesty from him would not come amiss.

Enclosed are a few snippets you might like to look at [i.e. copy of an order from Ray Sloan and a letter to Piping Times. The   order included the requirement for a drone stock ferrule to be supplied with the         inscription “Made by Ray Sloan . .”].