playing piobaireachd, sometimes with no clear interest in it at all, but who have been willing to take the first step and have gone on to play, listen and, most importantly, enjoy playing and listening to it. I believe that reticence about ceol mor is misplaced; we can and should encourage pipers and others to give it a go. Why do people enjoy playing and
listening to piobaireachd? Clearly, melody will often be a key element, though not always an obvious hum along tune. It might be a specific variation of a tune, Mary’s Praise and Lament for Mary MacLeod come to mind.A great deal of satisfaction can come simply from the sound of the bagpipe itself, the wonderful harmonics that so suit piobaireachd, the beautiful floating into a high A in a thumb variation. Sometimes attrac- tive fragments or phrases do it for us or it might simply be rhythm itself, as in the Blind Piper’s Obstinacy. More often in the variations of
tunes, while not boasting the flashy pyrotechnics of light music, there are technical displays that can be immensely satisfying both to play and hear. Crunluaths of various forms (try Robert Reid), and throws such as embari, are a treat in themselves when played by pipers such as the late Donald MacPherson. Sometimes it will be most, or even all of these, that attracts. Think of that already mentioned, Lament for Patrick Og MacCrim-mon. It has melody, a gorgeous first variation, makes wonderful use of the piobaireachd high G, definitely has rhythm, and finishes with a superb crunluath a mach variation.
35 Our next tune, The Big Spree, is
another with lots of interest; what a glorious piece of music. It certainly has links with General Thomason. There is the story of the General playing his pipes on one of his train journeys in India. He noticed that one station stop seemed rather long only to find at the end of his tune that the engine driver, a fellow piper, had refused to leave with the Big Spree unfinished. It’s also a tune where the amending itch overcomes him and at least one of his ideas has caught on. In variation 1, he has his well known change matching the ground. It is interesting to note that in variation 1 he has B before odro, as we play now, and something that appears first in John MacKay’s manuscript. This is notable for being unlike Angus MacKay. He has C before odro, as do Donald MacDonald and the MacArthur MacGregor MS. The General is unique in putting F in the last phrase of lines 1 and 2 in the urlar – in this instance it appears to be him correcting it to match variations. Now it’s time for tonight’s Ceol
Mor Quiz question! Leaving aside gracenotes, which of the 118 tunes in the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor use all notes of chanter’s scale? Of those tunes, which have all the notes of the scale as true theme notes, running right through the whole tune?
• This is an edited transcript of the lecture. Some parts are revisited material already
published in the PT (see April and May 2008, September 2011), and some parts of the talk related to pictorial and musical illustrations shown on the night – you had to be there! . . . JKSF.