page 1

page 2

page 3

From Jon Swayne


I found the last sentence of Colin Ross’s letter in COMMON STOCK of June 1996 rather puzzling.

  • He seems to imply that there is a ‘continental’ chanter for which the use of the octave upwards from the 3-finger note is its normal mode of performance, the remaining 3 fingerholes giving, as it were, a downward extension of a fourth. I must say I have never come across such an instrument. The cornemuse of central France has been developed to the point where overblowing up to the 3finger note in the second octave is a regular occurrence, but the octave upwards of the 3finger note is certainly not considered to be the main compass of the instrument.
  • Does the statement “.... They don't need a pinky hole ....” mean that there is no pinkyhole, or that there is one but it is not used?

I believe I am right in saying that the Paris/ Auvergne Cabrette is an example of an instrument for which the majority of the repertoire is based on 3-finger tonic, but where the melody notes may be chosen from the octave starting a fourth below the tonic. This is of course no different in principle from highland pipe tunes written in the key of D. I believe that the tuning of the lowest (pinky) hole on the cabrette gives a note somewhere between a whole-tone and a semi-tone below the 6finger note (the dominant), and that it is rarely used as a melody note. Its main function is to enable articulation of, and to tune, the 6-finger note. Possibly this is what Hubert Boone meant, or intended?

From his researches into early exampies of ’cornemuses du centre’, Bernard Blanc has told me that they also had an indeterminate interval between the 6- and 7-finger notes, which seems to imply that the lowest fingerhole had the same function as on the cabrette. Contemporary musicians have   demanded a true whole-tone so that the 7finger note can be incorporated as a true melody note if required.

This is not really relevant, but a further thought is that the 4-finger note (C on a highland chanter) on both cabrette (up to the present day) and early cornemuse are (were) somewhere between a major and minor third.

On the cabrette this may be explained by the fact that this note is not the third of the scale but the sub-tonic. Therefore perhaps the tuning of the 7-finger note may be     explained by the fact it is melodically a sub -dominant rather than being required to be a perfect octave below the (flat) seventh of a 6-finger tonic, or the fourth of a 3-finger tonic.

I should be interested to learn if anyone has come across wayward tuning of thirds and 7-finger notes in old British pipes, although I realise that such things are very difficult to determine unless you are confident that the reed is right.

From Matt Seattle


One/Two/Three points:

1/ A theological matter: I very much appreciated Gordon Mooney’s review of my book in the last Issue [Vol:11 No 1; The Master Piper], but I would like to clear up a misunderstanding about the book’s cover.

Gordon is not the only person to misconstrue the picture of the piper as being that of a ‘God-like’ being, so I would like to make it clear that the piper is most               definitely human, though probably more so than you or me. If readers are            uncomfortable with the piping Angelis who surround him in Synergic Communion they may prefer to see them as representing ‘the Muses’, or simply   inspiration.

2/ In conversation with another piper recently it was borne in on me that it is not obvious to everyone why I am writing the current series of articles for COMMON STOCK. The reason is that I wish to see a real revival in Border piping, and I believe that one of the many necessary conditions for such a revival is an understanding of the way the music is put together.

It is, after all, ‘made up’ and made up quite   deliberately using definite procedures. (It has nothing to do with so-called ‘folkmusic’, that amusing but pernicious invention of Victorian ladies and gentlemen.)

3/ A revival is a hazardous undertaking, and this century has already seen two failures in reviving Border piping. The first failure, the ‘half-long’ movement. was well described in previous Issues by Denis Dunn.

Among the reasons for this failure were that the technology of the instrument was not well enough understood, and that those guiding the revival placed the instruments, for reasons best known to themselves, in the hands of Boy Scouts and Grammar School boys in a bizarre attempt to duplicate the Highland Pipe Bands on a miniature(!) scale. If they had known their history they would not have sought to militarise this most unmilitary of instruments.

The second failure is the Lowland and             Border Pipers’ Society. Despite very promising beginnings the Society, which appears to flourish, has lost sight of its original inten- tions. On the positive side makers such as Nigel Richard and Jon Swayne now supply excellent Border pipes, but on the negative side very few are attempting to play them, let alone play Border pipe music on them. Despite hanging on to its name the Society has been hi-jacked by the ‘cauld-wind’ movement.

‘Cauld-wind’ piping has come to mean Highland piping with bellows, usually attached to smallpipes. The fact that it is often very good Highland piping indeed misses the point, and raises the question: why do some Highland Pipers find their own instrument inadequate for its own music? Border piping is something else, and Lowland               piping is probably something else again.

Thanks to the foresight of William Dixon it

is now proved that there was once a virtuoso piping tradition in the Borders with its own repertoire and style. It is not totally different from the other piping traditions already familiar to us from each side of the Border (Highland and Northumbrian), but neither is it exactly the same as either of them.

Perhaps it is a bridge between them, perhaps a path beyond both. The Northumbrian ‘halflong’ and Scottish ‘cauld-wind’ revivals, whatever else they have done, have both failed to revive Border piping.

Can any Border piping revival succeed, or is each attempt doomed to turn into a   grotesque parody of the intentions behind it? There is no compulsion on anyone to become a Border piper, but those who can accept the challenge posed by the temporal discontinuity of the Tradition will find plenty of opportunity to deploy their     talents to the maximum available capacity.


From Jim Fraser


Two years ago I dusted down my halflongs and made my way to West London for the bi-monthly meeting of the London Branch of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society. I was in a desperate state. My half-longs had been languishing in my pipe case (Highlands for the use of) for a number of years.

My initial attempt to get them up and blowing resulted in numerous neighbours complaining about the assault on their ears.

I had to agree with them. My half-longs sounded like a seal with a strangulated hernia!

I appeared to have mastered the technique of using bellows but was unable to grasp the art of selecting and maintaining drone reeds. Advice from the maker was forthcoming but the distance was prohibitive and I needed hands-on help immediately. I also met one of the innovators of the bellows pipes revival and sought help from him only to be rebuffed. Sadly my enthusiasm waned and I packed my halflongs away hoping that one day (this was in 1977) my enthusiasm and interest would return.

And return with a vengeance it did. In 1994 I became determined to master this most beautiful of instruments. Older and more wiser I did some research and found that the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society had spearheaded a full-blown revival of the bellows blown bagpipes and that there was a London Branch near me.

I quickly contacted Jock Agnew, the ‘Willie Nelson of Border Piping’ [not sure if this is a compliment or the reverse! Ed] and went to my first meeting whereupon I met a small band of piping enthusiasts each armed and extremely helpful and sharing with their years of piping experience.

Despite advancing arthritis and galloping R.S.I. their encouragement has spurred me on to be a far better piper than I had ever hoped to be.

I particularly like the informality, the non- competitiveness and the oral traditions of those meetings e.g. someone has a new set we can try out; stories from the piping world are told and retold, and yet never become boring for the retelling; and most importantly advice is given on techniques, musicality, maintenance and makers.

I suppose the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Cross my heart...hope to die...etc etc. The neighbour’s dog does not howl so much whenever I strike up my half-longs. Either he is getting used to it or I really am improving!

I urge you, if you live within an hour or two hours travelling/driving from London, to pack up your pipes in your old kit bag and get yourself down to London for our bi-monthly meetings.

[Third Friday of every second month; next one November 15th. Ed]. Remember, regular piping can not only improve your health and playing, but seriously enhance your social life as well.

Our lines will remain open until we increase our membership! Details from Jock Agnew or myself.


From Brian Rumble


As I am struggling to come to terms with a newly acquired set of Border pipes, the       articles on this instrument in recent editions have been very informative and helpful.