page 13

BEYOND                                                                               Colin Ross

I was invited to give a talk at last year’s Collogue on the development of the Scottish small pipe and possible future development of related bellows blown pipes. From the notes I made at the time and from what I remember I said, this is more or less how I saw it from my point of view.

I had just begun my career as a Northumbrian small pipe maker in 1978 when I was asked to adapt a Scottish practice chanter for a player who wished to play it using bellows and a bag rather than blowing it. He also wanted drones to go with it to make up a full set of what was called Chamber pipes at that time. This was completed in 79 and in effect was the first set of Scottish small pipes with the bellows and the drones on a common stock.

I had made a traditional Scottish small pipe previously in “F”nat which, as we now know, was the same as the Northumbrian smallpipe but with an open ended chanter - but no one had taken any interest in it as it was too small for those players used to playing the

Highland pipes. In any case the key of “Fnat” was not a key that enabled a player to easily mix with other instruments, so with this in mind I developed a chanter in “D” with drones to match, based on the style of the smaller “F”nat/ “E” set of small pipes. From this point I called them proper Scottish small pipes and did not consider them to be a small Chamber set. This size of chanter was not too small for a Highland piper to adapt to and also was in the session or group friendly key of “D”. This was in 1981, and I sold my first set of Scottish small pipes in the key of “D” at the Edinburgh Folk Festival of 1982 by demonstrating it in the acoustics of the downstairs Gents toilet of the University Union building.

That particular set was in fact a ‘hybrid’ instrument with the tenor, baritone, bass drone system of the Scottish and Northumbrian small pipe but with a chanter that was in effect a miniature Highland style chanter with a parallel bore that tapered out beyond the low “C”nat holes. The scale had a flattened 7th top and bottom whereas the original Scottish small pipe chanter in “F” had a diatonic scale i.e, no flattened seventh at the top of the scale [see also page 7 - Ed]. This system enables the pipes to be played in two keys, so that the “D” chanter could also play in “G” - another useful key for other instruments to play along with.

That same year - 1982 - was when Hamish Moore took an interest in the small pipes and I made various chanters for him in different pitches and with the addition of keys - like the Northumbrian small pipe chanter - to extend the range and to give accidentals. I also made a set in “Bb” for Andy Tresize to accompany Cilla Fisher who are now known for their                    Singing Kettle productions.

During the ’80s I continued making the small pipes as they were now called in “D”, “C”, “Bb” and “A” to suit all tastes, and 1 was pleased to see that other makers were taking this up and producing pipes.

The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, formed by Mike Rowan at that time, had most of its members playing the small pipes despite the fact that Mike had seen the Border pipes as the instrument he wanted to encourage.

(At that point in my talk I asked the audience to indicate who had small pipes and then who had Border pipes.) It was obvious from the response that nothing had changed in the last         fifteen years or so, with three quarters of those present indicating they possessed small pipes and only a quarter saying they had the Border pipes.

It seems to me that the reason for that imbalance lies in the nature of the small pipe in that the tone is better for blending in with other instruments and the volume is not overpowering - as it is the same as the fiddle, for example. It comes in various pitches and can be customised by the addition of chanter keys and by drone arrangements - such as two                    tenors and a bass; tenor, baritone and bass; and alto, tenor and bass.

The Border pipe is only in three pitches: “Bb”, “A” and “G” to start with, and its volume can be too dominant in ensemble work. It also requires more effort to play as the reeds can take more air if not properly adjusted.

Despite this, I think the time is ripe for the Border pipe to come into its own. If the small pipes that most people own have an interchangeable stock fitted they could easily plug in a Border pipe chanter. This could then be played against the existing drones which would give a reasonable harmony and in fact would encourage the reeding of the Border chanter to give a quieter tone [see page 5 - Ed], ensuring a better balance. This also takes care of the expense of buying a full set when pipemakers are increasing their prices way above the cost of living index.

The extra chanter could also be in “D” with a tapered bore like the Pastoral (or Bucolic maybe) chanter, and would help the revival of this instrument as well - perhaps in time for this year’s Collogue?

This has not been a comprehensive survey of the makers and players involved in the revival of the small pipe - this remains to be done. But I hope it has given an idea of the time scale from the 1970s of the rise of the Scottish small pipe (albeit in the new form) in relation to my own experience. I hope I have also shown a way forward to bringing about a full revival of the Border and Pastoral pipes.