Program Booklet 2002
by Michael Dow
All pipers have one thing in common and that is bagpipe reeds. Reeds are the things that make the sound that piper turn into music. Without reeds, the pipes are just hollow tubes of wood, incapable of making any music at all. If we look at The Pipers' Gathering and think of the event itself as a bagpipe, then money would be the reeds. No reeds = no bagpipes, no money = no Pipers' Gathering!
The Board of Directors as well as all of the people who come to this very special event, owe a special debt of gratitude this year to the Vermont Arts Council for their very generous grant. As luck would have it, the North Hero Town Hall is being renovated this summer and is unavailable for our use. The V.A.C. grant just covers the cost of the tents and other equipment we need to put on the event in this beautiful location here at the Shore Acres Inn. Our very special thanks go to innkeepers Susan and Mike Tranby for their unwavering support through the years and for the use of their beautiful grounds for our 2002 event. And we would most certainly be remiss by not thanking Doug Tudhope for his continuing help and support of our small organization. Special thanks to Steve Bliven for agreeing to pick up the slack and saving the day and, as always, to Alan Jones for introducing many of us to each other and beautiful North Hero.
With reeds, getting them to work at all is an accomplishment. How long they will work after that is always unknown. With an event like The Pipers' Gathering we never know if we will make enough money this year to be able to do it again next year. It is with this thought in mind that I ask all those who read this Program Booklet and this message to spread the word about this most singular event. If any of you know a good grant writer or someone looking to be a patron of the bagpipe arts, let us know because we are interested in meeting them.
So to all of our piping friends, from our band of ever-faithful volunteers to those who help us with their monetary contributions (especially one great guy named George), we wish everyone a wonderful autumn filled with many spontaneous musical moments.
by Ray Sloan
I have always said that Pipe-making chose me and that I did not choose it. This is another way of saying that I simply fell into making Bagpipes through my pursuit of a decent set of pipes to play, which developed into an obsession. Almost without noticing it there came a point when I realised that I was, in fact, a Pipe-maker…..
In life, when one reaches a certain age and you ask the question of yourself, "If I had it all to do again would I do it the same way…?" It must be somewhat disconcerting when a voice in the back of your head shouts "No"! In my case it says, "No, well maybe yes, but in a different way".
The art and craft of making Bagpipes and the pursuit of perfection, if such a thing exists, is such an integral part of the fabric of my life and psyche that it is hard to imagine anything else. However, I cannot pretend that Pipe-Making is an easy road because it is not. I don’t know if other Pipe-makers find it so, because we don’t really talk to each other, but there is always this nagging doubt that you are doing something ‘wrong’ and that others are perhaps doing it ‘better’ and having an easier time of it, but I doubt that also.
Pipe-making is not the romantic, gentle, nor pleasant occupation of an artisan in touch with his Celtic roots, as perhaps I had thought when I chose to do this as a full time profession after having pursued it as a satisfying hobby for ten years. If anyone was to ask my advice about considering Pipe-making as a full time profession I would say, "Don’t give up the day job!"
There are many reasons for presenting such an uninspiring view, all contained within the fact that I was so wrapped up in my own romance with the idea of Pipe-making that I was simply not prepared for the reality of running a small ‘business’. Nor was I prepared for the ‘politics’, which seems to come with the turf. This is a polite way of saying that the World of Pipe-making, (or is it piping in general?) can seem to be unfortunately fraught with back-biting, one-upmanship and general unpleasantness amongst the fraternity. I most certainly was not prepared for that and it is a constant disappointment that it should be so. No matter how hard one might try to remain aloof from it all there is always someone out there who seems to want to draw you in. Whatever the reason for this, if indeed there are ‘reasons’, it is sad that there is not more camaraderie and ‘sharing’ in this Bagpipe-making World of ours.
There is a view that Pipe-makers have ‘secrets’. This is rubbish! Pipe-making is not Alchemy nor is it a Black Art. The ‘secret’ to good Pipe-making is nothing more than perseverance, dogged determination to get it right, intelligent observation, the will to succeed, a ‘feel’ for your craft, aesthetic intuition, a love of wood and sound and, oh yes, underneath all of the crap that might surround you whilst trying to run a small business, a fundamental passion for Bagpipes!
The rewards in Pipe-making are few. The ultimate reward for myself is the compliment a customer pays me by being prepared to invest their hard earned savings in an instrument that I have made and which they feel confident will give them pleasure, perhaps for the rest of their life. When you sit back and contemplate this and find it possible to push the financial burdens and concern for ‘orders’ to the back of your mind it is then just possible, sometimes, to feel a warm glow.
The one big thing that I have said I was not prepared for was ‘business’. To have a business means being ‘busy’, having orders. Without orders you are not busy and do not have a business, therefore one worries about having enough orders, even after twenty odd years! Having a business also means managing finance and general business organisation. There will be times when one has to apply for a loan or perhaps a grant. If and when you do there are many hurdles and hoops placed in front of you and you will be asked for your bank statements, your financial history, your ‘cash-flow forecasts’ and your ‘business plan’, you will also need to consider Book-keepers and Accountants. These are all things which come to mitigate against the enjoyment of what you ‘thought’ was going to be a nice little number and force you out of your romantic Celtic cloud and into reality.
It is all too easy to become bogged down with such things and it is ironic that the more successful one becomes the more one seems to be drawn away from the fundamentals of what we set out to achieve, i.e. enjoy making Bagpipes! Indeed, until my Wife took a firm hand my only business plan was to ‘survive’ and my only ‘cash-flow forecast’ was that I might be able to pay my bills at the end of this month……, which I still think is pretty cool.
As I have said, or at least intimated, making Pipes is not a good living, nor is it an easy living but it can be an interesting one, and not just in the sense of the old Chinese saying, "May you live in interesting times". I have much to thank Bagpipes for. They got me out of a teaching job I hated, brought me home from the deep South of England back to Northumberland, put me in touch with my Celtic roots and enriched my life with beautiful music. My work has made a lot of people happy (perhaps frustrated, but then that comes with owning Bagpipes….) and I have learned to survive in business, so far at least.
‘Learning’ is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that can come with making Pipes for a living. Over the last twenty odd years I have had to teach myself tool-making skills, leather-working skills, general metal-working skills, a wide variety of wood-turning and ‘finishing’ techniques, reed making, acoustic engineering, hand forging metal and how to make springs, lathe turning and general workshop machinery usage and I’ve gathered knowledge in dealing with a whole host of different materials including plastics, resins and other synthetic materials. I have never used Ivory, never will, but I am about to start using Mammoth Ivory, which in itself will be another learning experience. It has also taught me about people, not always a positive experience, unfortunately, it has taught me basic business skills, how to run and organise a workshop and how to be an employer.
Because ‘learning’ is for me such an important aspect of my life as a Pipe-maker, there is a constant need to develop new skills and fine-tune existing ones. Without this I think that I would get bored. The way that I have kept my interest up is by having ventured into making the range of bellows pipes, including the Scottish Smallpipes, Northumbrian Smallpipes, Lowland Pipes and the Uilleann Pipes. Perhaps the most challenging and demanding of these are the Northumbrian Smallpipes and the Uilleann Pipes because of the complexity of the key-work and metalwork involved in their construction. Pipe-making is a great challenge and an interesting one, if you are that way inclined, and it seems that no matter how pleased and impressed a customer may be by the finished article one always feels that it could be better, next time….. Complacency and self-satisfaction are the enemies of any craftsman worth his salt. I guess that it is this one single need to do better ‘next time’ which drives us on, over and above the basic Human necessities to earn a crust, and play Bagpipes…….
Making Bagpipes not only engages ones technical skills but even more fundamentally it engages the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘intuitive’. For myself it is these that are more engaged and more highly developed than the more technical aspects of the job, which I often find hard and frustrating.
Turning lumps of wood into bagpipes is for me more akin to turning sculpture; it is a piece of art that sings. I do not believe that you can simply follow a design and turn a piece of wood into a musical instrument without an intuitive feel for the material and the instrument itself, as well as a grasp of the aesthetics of ‘proportion’. Without these things the result would be a ‘dead’ object. Like all artists when they finish a painting, or sculpture, as a Bagpipe maker you have committed a piece of your soul, part of your ‘being’ into the musical instrument that you have just created, so that when a customer buys that instrument they are in fact investing in a piece of oneself.
Whenever I come across a set of pipes that I have made it is like seeing an old part of me; I say, "They are mine", by which I mean more than the fact that I have made them. They will always represent, embody, a part of the essential ‘me’, they are in a sense like my Children, you create them, or at least give them life, they are a part of you, you send them out into the World where they mature and, hopefully, find friends, make people happy and with any amount of luck they will not be abused nor cause offence.
by Matt Seattle
In the wake of the explosion of interest in Scottish smallpipes, Border Pipes are now gradually gaining popularity as the new ‘alternative’ bagpipes. They have a satisfying volume for group playing, for which Scottish smallpipes are too quiet and too low-pitched; and they are usually made to play in concert A, blending well with fiddles, guitars and so on. It is possible to become a virtuoso on Border pipes in a few weeks - provided you are already a virtuoso on Highland pipes, all you have to do is master the bellows - but herein lies the crux of the matter: playing Border pipes is NOT the same thing as Border piping.
There are some superb players of Border pipes who draw almost exclusively on the repertoire, style and technique of the Highland tradition, and fair play to them. I know that many of them use a ‘lighter’ approach to ornamentation than competition pipers, and that some are heavily influenced by Cape Breton piping, but this is still Highland piping with bellows, and not Border piping.
OK then, so what is Border piping? This is where the fun begins. If I mean, what is the tradition of playing Border pipes in the Borders (which I do), then I have to concede that Border piping is an interrupted tradition. We know that it flourished in the 18th century, but there is no obvious unbroken link with the past in the way that there is with Highland piping, Irish piping, or Northumbrian smallpiping. So, where to begin?
We begin where we are - in the Borders, if we are looking for Border piping. Today there are plenty of Highland pipers in the Borders, but their tradition - and they would not claim otherwise - is orthodox pipeband piping, pretty much the same the world over. Look a little further though, and there is the Northumbrian smallpipe tradition on the doorstep, and look a little closer at the Northumbrian tradition, and some very interesting things emerge.
The earliest musical record of this tradition is Peacock’s collection (published c. 1800), consisting of fifty tunes, twenty-five of them with variations. These tunes are a mixture of Northumbrian and Scottish, as one would expect from a Border tradition. The title of one tune even refers directly to the Border (Over The Border). The variations are characterised by frequent melodic runs and arpeggios, each set consisting of multiple strains built on a particular harmonic foundation or chord sequence.
The more I delved into Peacock, the more I was struck by the ‘wrongness’ of a few of the tunes. Without getting too technical, a few of them stood out as being botched in that they had the ‘wrong’ 7th note of the scale, as though they had been adapted from another instrument. The cover of Peacock’s book states clearly that the music is, in fact, ‘adapted’, and it looks very likely that some of it is adapted from the Border pipes, which can play the ‘right’ 7th in these tunes. The evidence is circumstantial, but it seems to me that at least some of the variations would have been composed on an instrument which played them ‘correctly’, and then later ‘adapted’, rather than on an instrument which did not. This conclusion, coupled with the visionary work already done by Gordon Mooney, led me to attempt a ‘reconstruction’ of Border piping, which I published as The Border Bagpipe Book in 1993.
So far, so good, but wouldn’t it be nice to be a bit more certain, to actually get it ‘from the horse’s mouth’? As many of you already know, my conclusions, based on musical analysis and obvious geography, were startlingly confirmed in 1995 when I was fortunate enough to be alerted to the existence of a mysterious manuscript, the William Dixon collection of 1733, housed in Perth Public Library.
Factually described, this little book contains forty tunes written within a nine-note range for an unspecified instrument. All but one of the tunes have variations. Some are previously unknown, but the known tunes can be identified from elsewhere as being Northumbrian or Lowland Scottish - Border music, and from both sides! Otherwise described, the collection had a life-changing effect on this piper, which I won’t try to convey here. I edited and published the collection as The Master Piper. In my text I pinpointed its origin to a tiny village in west Northumberland, and argued the case for it being a collection specifically for Border pipes, though with many overlaps with the (Northumbrian) smallpipe repertoire of the same era.
It is important to realise, if you are coming to Dixon from ‘outside’, that the music has a cultural context, and that this context is best approached by having a background in Northumbrian smallpipe music, whether or not you play NSP (which I don’t, by the way). It doesn’t exist in a vacuum: get to know the music of Peacock, Bewick, and the Cloughs, who are important visible links in the chain; look at Riddell’s more wide-ranging but still relevant collection; compare tune versions, see the consistency of some settings and the variety of others, and observe the evolution of variation sets over three centuries. I have heard virtuoso Highland players give entirely inappropriate renditions of Dixon because they didn’t have the necessary background. This is the ‘Star Trek’ approach - whatever music you play, it all has Highland ornamentation, just as wherever you go in the galaxy, the locals all speak English. No less than any tradition, this music commands respect and should be approached on its own terms.
Despite the obvious differences between Border pipes and Northumbrian smallpipes,
they are both heir to the musical traditions of the Borders, and in the same
way that the dinosaurs are all around us as the birds and reptiles of today,
so Border piping is still with us in the Northumbrian smallpiping tradition.
But since 1995, we also enjoy privileged access to the musical DNA preserved
for us by the conscious labours of William Dixon, may his soul be blessed:
forget Star Trek - welcome to the Jurassic Park of piping!
by Ray Sloan
Like most Bellows-Pipe makers I started out working at home. After a lot of years working in this way, and for many reasons, I decided to find myself an outside place of work, which led me to the ‘North Tyne Implement Works’; an old engineering works, over 300 years old, in the Village of Wall, seven miles down the valley from where I live now in the Village of Wark.
After having worked there in very unsatisfactory conditions for four years (why do we Bellows-Pipe makers do this to ourselves?), my tenure came to an end when my Landlord, least said the better… decided to wind up the old family business and cash-in by selling the whole place for property redevelopment. Although traumatic at the time this was in fact a blessing in disguise.
As a result of these developments I was forced to seek another workshop, being determined never to work from home again.
I rent my beautiful old home from local Landowner-Nick Ridley (The Ridley family are an old ‘Reiving’ family in the Borders) and so it seemed natural to approached him with the query about new workshop premises. It just so happened that Nick, whilst owning half of the village of Wark, owned ‘Wark Farm’, the old Dairy farm in the Village and which had ceased to function as such a couple of years ago. Nick showed willing to convert the old Dairy at Wark Farm into a workshop for me and so we went down there and had a look. The farm is situated on the banks of the River North Tyne (as in the old Northumbrian Pipe Tune ‘Bonny North Tyne’) and it looked perfect. The next thing was that we sat down and drew up plans for a purpose built Pipe-Making Workshop; at last, after more than twenty years, pipe-making Heaven!
More than six months later, after having jumped through all of the planning permission hoops, the Workshop was almost ready (By this time I had lost almost five months of production having had to move out of my previous ‘Rabbit hutch’ in Wall) The plans that Nick and myself drew up included a ‘Testing Room’, which is where I had thought that I would find peace to carry out all of my tuning and reed setting, away from the noise of the lathes and machinery. Having actually moved into the new workshop I realised that the ‘Testing Room’ was actually a ‘lot’ bigger than I had anticipated, nor would I need an ‘Office’ attached to it, as we had also planned. As a result of this unplanned surplus of space my mind began turning towards something else, how about a ‘Bellows-Piping centre’…..? There are a number of Piping Centres over the Border from here for the GHB, so why not one on this side of the Border for the bellows pipes?
Whilst the space itself is simply a large room, nicely converted, with old beams etc, it seemed that we could perhaps turn it into a Visitor attraction for tourists which would also, hopefully, promote interest in the Bellows-Pipes at the same time as using it as a focus for Bellows Piping generally. This would be achieved through the medium of running courses and holding recitals in addition to displays and demonstrations. The intention is to display samples of all of the different types of Bellows Pipes, their History, processes of manufacture as well as a gallery of significant players of the various instruments. The room is adjacent to my workshop and so this means that the workshop itself could be used in conjunction with the centre as a place to hold practical demonstrations of pipe-making processes and where we could also run aspects of courses devoted to such things as reed-making.
And so, slowly but surely, The ‘Warksburn Bellows-Pipe Centre’ has begun to take shape and we have even received a large, and gratefully received, grant from the EEC, through Northern Arts in Newcastle-Upon -Tyne.
It was originally hoped that the Visitor centre with displays etc, would have been opened this summer but unfortunately the usual problems of delay with Builders coupled the demands on my time has put this off until next year. However, the conversion is complete and so there is no reason at all why we cannot start the courses/recitals that we had planned as part of the venture and so we are now in the process of putting together the very first course to be held at the new ‘Warksburn piping centre’
As the centre is a ‘Bellows-Pipe’ Centre we intend it to be a focus for all of the Bellows Pipes including Scottish Smallpipes, Northumbrian Smallpipes, Lowland (Border) Pipes and the Uilleann Pipes. A major aspect of the idea is that we intend to run an annual Bellows-Pipe Summer School based around my Workshop and Visitor Centre.
The Village of Wark is ideally suited to cope with this as, despite the fact that there is nothing here apart from a Post Office, Garage and the River North Tyne, there are three pubs, two of them Hotels, a large Village Hall and a Primary School, all of which can be used as venues for sessions, concerts, demonstrations and workshops. In addition to the two Pub/Hotels there are numerous Farm B&B’s in the area for accommodation.
The Village Committee are all in favour and so we should be able to put together a fantastic Summer School in a fantastic and beautiful Northumbrian/Border location. The Village is ideally suited for anyone wishing to extend their attendance at the Summer School into a vacation as the Roman Wall (Hadrian’s Wall) is only 15 minutes drive from here with all of its various museum and archaeological digs/sites situated in some of the most beautiful Northumbrian countryside. In the other direction, driving through the equally beautiful North Tyne Valley there is Keilder Water and Forest Park (Europe’s Largest man-made reservoir) Wark is only 30 minutes drive from the Border with Scotland. This is not to mention the recently opened and Internationally acclaimed new Centre for Contemporary arts based in the City of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the ‘Baltic Arts Centre’, only 45 minutes drive.
Well, these are the plans, and phase one at least is finished with the conversion of the old Dairy and plans for the first course, the ‘Chris Ormston Weekend’, and agreement of the Parish Committee for the Summer School. All being well, the first Summer School and the opening of the Warksburn Piping and Visitor centre is scheduled for next summer, 2003.
Within the next couple of months I will be launching a new web site, www.ray-sloan.com, which will include up-dates and details of progress with the ‘Warksburn Piping Centre’ and the proposed 2003 Summer School. If you think that you may be interested in visiting the Summer School, and perhaps extending your stay into a vacation here in Northumberland and the Borders, watch that space!
by Julian Goodacre
Parallel to the resurgence in the playing of Scottish bellows pipes of the last 20 years has been considerable research into the history of piping in the Border regions. Information has been gleaned from early written accounts, music manuscripts and comparisons with the neighboring bagpipe traditions. The earliest surviving representations are carvings, paintings and prints. Some actual bellows instruments survive, but very few from earlier than the middle of the 18th century. The music and style of playing them was well in decline by the start of the 19th century and such instruments had lain silent for over 150 years.
The challenge is to draw together these emerging fragments of information
and superimpose them on what we already know of the history of the area and
its music and draw up a coherent picture. As a task it is like trying to build
up a picture from a jigsaw puzzle, where only a few scattered pieces remain.
Research is continuing and exciting new pieces are still being discovered.
Early Kirk and Court records may give accounts of payments to pipers or their misdemeanors, but not the type of pipes they played. One has to beware of jumping to false conclusions- for example south of the border there has been a tendency over the centuries to use the word 'pipes' also for flutes, fifes, whistles and even shawms. Can we be more confident that the words 'pipes' and 'pipers' north of the border refer to bagpipes and bagpipers?
It seems likely that bagpipes were being played throughout much of Europe by the late 12th century, possibly encouraged by the flourishing of culture in general and music in particular during that period. All the earliest surviving written references to piping in Scotland are in the Lowlands and Exchequer Records show payment to pipers during the reign of David II (1329-1371). There are references to piping in England from the late 13th century and as pipers were known to travel we might assume that pipes were not unknown in Lowland Scotland during that period.
The earliest pictorial evidence of bagpipes in Scotland probably dates from the late 14th Century. This is a delightful gargoyle in Melrose Abbey of a pig playing the pipes. There are two carvings of pipers in Roslyn Chapel, which date from around 1450. The pipes depicted are similar to many pictures of pipes seen throughout England and Europe during this same period and feature a conical chanter with a single drone. Pipes such as these are still played in Northern Spain and other regions of Europe.
James 1st of Scotland (1424-1437) was credited with playing the bagpipe. Still, the earliest surviving written Scottish music that we know to be bagpipe music is not until the second half of the 17th century.
By the very end of the 15th Century certain Burghs in Lowland Scotland were appointing an official piper and a drummer. Their duties were to perform as 'Waits', which involved playing through the streets each morning and evening and also at official functions. For these duties they were granted an annual payment, official livery and housing. We cannot be sure what type of pipe they played but there is no evidence of bellows being used at this time. During the 16th Century a Town Piper and a Town Drummer became an established feature in Lowland towns.
Bagpipes were often depicted in European Nativity paintings as the typical shepherds instrument. Up to the end of the 15th century these pipes had only one drone. But from the beginning of the 16th century paintings of pipers show a second drone. There are no Scottish paintings of pipers before that of the piper to the Laird of Grant dated 1714. (This is of a highland piper whose pipes have three drones, a separate bass and two tenors in a common stock.) However a second drone is clearly shown in a crude illustration of a pig playing a pipe from the Psalter of Thomas Wood, Dunbar, from 1562-66.
The later 16th century was a time of musical experimentation, inquiry and exploration in Europe. Michael Praetorius, in his encyclopedic work on music, published in Germany in 1618, has detailed pictures and written descriptions of a variety of bagpipes. He clearly illustrates a Hummelchen-a bagpipe he states 'has been imported from France, in which the wind is produced solely by a small arm- operated bellows'. This is the first dateable illustration and written mention of bellows being used for bagpipes. He also illustrates a mouth blown smallpipe with three drones, which he calls a Dudey. It is strikingly similar to some of the surviving 18th century mouth blown smallpipes in Scotland. Similar three-drone smallpipes appear in European paintings during the 17th and 18th centuries.
To cater for the 'pastoral' fashion at the French court in the later 17th Century, the Musette, a highly sophisticated French bellows-blown smallpipe was developed by the Hotteterre family and a large body of music was composed and published for it.
An early mention of a 'small pipe' in Scotland dates from 1600. James Talbot in London in his manuscripts of the 1690s gives measurements for a bellows-blown smallpipe with a closed end to the chanter. This closed chanter has become a feature of the Northumbrian smallpipes and one of the defining differences between these and the variety of smallpipes played in Scotland, which retain their open ended chanters.
From the 18th Century more pieces of our jigsaw can be pieced together. We have biographical details of individual pipers and contemporary accounts of their music and styles of playing.
It is easy now to view the 18th century as a 'golden era' for piping throughout all Scotland. We can trace the names of numerous pipers of all sorts ranging from established town pipers and pipers appointed to noble households down to tinkers and other travelers. They seem to have been perfectly at ease playing a variety of different types of pipes. It was a time of new piping developments and in the Borders three types of bellows-blown pipes are known to have been played- the border pipe, the smallpipes and the union pipes.
We cannot be sure when they were first developed, but during this century the Border or Lowland pipes became well established. Surviving instruments from later in the century are bellows blown, with three drones in a common stock. They were a loud outdoor instrument with a conical chanter. There are accounts of the pipes being reeded to play 'pinched notes' a technique to play notes above the top octave. Dating surviving instruments is problematical, as makers never used name stamps on their instruments until the very end of the 18th Century.
The current revival started out with the assumption that Border pipers had a style of playing quite different from Highland pipers, and their own repertoire. Clues to this style of piping were provided by the surviving tradition of Northumbrian smallpiping. However when Matt Seattle unearthed the Dixon manuscript in 1995 we were at last granted a clear picture of an 18th century Border piper's repertoire. Written by William Dixon in 1733 in Northumberland it is the earliest known British manuscript of pipe music. The repertoire consists of 40 dance tunes (reels, jigs and hornpipes) with elaborate variations. The earthy tune titles suggest that this was not the music of the refined parlour.
Smallpipes were played on both sides of the Border, but by the end of the 18th century they are generally referred to as Northumberland pipes. It seems almost certain that the musical repertoires of the Border pipes and the early smallpipes were largely overlapping. The Scottish smallpipes of the eighteenth century were similar to the Northumbrian smallpipes of the same era; three drones in a common stock and a very small chanter (about 8 inches long). The outstanding surviving example belonged to Colonel Montgomery of the First Highland Battalion and is inscribed with his commissioning date of 1757. This and many other surviving sets from Scotland are mouth blown. Whilst Northumbrian smallpipes are always bellows-blown, their fundamental difference, the closed chanter played with closed fingering, allows one to play 'silence'-staccato notes being one of the particular characteristics of Northumbrian piping.
The third type of bellows-pipe played in the Borders was a sophisticated instrument developed in the 18th Century, known variously as the Union, Irish or Pastoral pipes. This was the precursor of the modern Irish pipes. The present name Uilleann Pipes was first suggested in 1908 (uilleann is Gaelic for elbow). They were similar to the Border pipe in having drones in a common stock and a conical chanter, but the narrower bore was developed to play a second higher octave and semitones by cross- fingering. Originally a stage instrument for 'pastoral' performances in London, Edinburgh, Dublin and other cities, manuals and music were published for amateur players. It is known to have been played along with other instruments and in Scotland pipers of all classes took it up and Scottish dance music was part of its repertoire.
By the end of the 18th Century we have large pieces of our jigsaw provided by antiquarians consciously recording what they saw as dying traditions, such as Robert Chambers' memoir of James Ritchie:
'A person who lived four or five doors from us, and who smacked of an ancient and by- past world, was James Ritchie, the Piper of Peebles, the last person who held the office’.
‘Ritchie had been the Piper of Peebles from the year 1741, so that in my childish days he had become a very old man. It was part of his duty to march through the town every evening between nine and ten o'clock, playing on his pipes, as a warning to the inhabitants to go to their beds. He dwelt in a small cottage, where he brought up a family of ten children upon an official salary of a pound a year, the gains he derived from playing at weddings and other festivals, and the little gifts it was customary to give him at the New Year.’
‘I remember the old man calling at our house on New Year's Day in the course of the round of visits he then paid the principal citizens, dressed in his official coat of dark red and his cocked hat -rather merry by the time he came to us, in consequence of the drams given him along with the shillings and sixpences. My father had a liking for him, through the sympathy in his nature for everything musical, and one evening he took me with him into Ritchie's cottage, that I might hear some of the old man's tunes. The instrument was not what is called the Great Bagpipe, the bagpipe of the Highlands, blown by the mouth, but the smaller bagpipe inflated by a pair of bellows under the left arm. I suspect that Ritchie had tunes of his own composition, since lost, for there were three called 'Salmon Tails', 'Lyne's Mill Trows' and 'The Black and the Grey' -a racing tune I suspect -which are not to be seen or heard of now-a-days.'’
Scattered references from the 19th Century may show that bellows pipes continued to be played in Scotland, especially in the North East, but it seems that, as Chambers implies, the old music and style of playing them did not survive. Throughout the 19th century Highland bagpipe makers continued to make bellows pipes. There is no evidence, however, that they were making for a Border tradition of playing and the way they were advertised suggests that they were supplying them to Highland pipers who would be playing Highland repertoire on them.
Of course bagpiping did not die out in the Borders in the 19th century, but the adoption of the Highland pipes, with their different traditions, as the Scottish national instrument meant that the Border piping tradition was forgotten. The Northumbrian smallpipes continued to be played and have flourished in the last 40 years, with a growing worldwide interest. In the mid-1920s there was an unsuccessful attempt at reviving the Northumbrian 'half- long' pipes- essentially the same instrument as the Border pipes.
The final 25 years of the 20th century saw a big European resurgence of interest in local piping traditions. The Lowland and Border Pipers' Society was formed by pipers, many of whom were Highland pipers, who were looking for a more sociable way of playing Scottish pipes in combination with other instruments. The Society was formed in 1983 and became the focus of this revival. The initial intention was to encourage a revival of the Border pipes, but it was the smallpipes that took off first. With the help of Northumbrian pipemakers modern Scottish smallpipes in a variety of keys were developed for Highland pipers who wanted a pipe which used the same fingering. These modern smallpipes are very sociable instruments, allowing solo pipers to practice quietly at home as well as being well suited in volume and pitch to playing in a group setting or session.
The Border pipes have taken a little longer to become re- established. Technically they are much harder to make and adjust and are more demanding to play. Historically the Border pipes were solo outdoor instruments, only known to have been accompanied by a drummer. Whilst such instruments are being made and played today, the predominant demand is for pipes with a mellower sound suitable for playing indoors, often in groups.
Today, as in the 18th century, there is a healthy diversity of interests in bellows piping. Some pipers are interested in further research into early Border pipes, music and styles of playing. Some have adapted their Highland technique and repertoire for these pipes. Others look to European piping traditions for inspiration and much new music is being composed.
Glance through the Piping section of a good CD shop today and you will find recordings of these pipes playing along with fiddles, guitars, whistles and accordions. But you will also find them playing alongside saxophones, electric guitars and synthesizers. A healthy state of affairs for instruments that only 20 years previously had been declared extinct!
Many of the pieces of this emerging jigsaw come from the historical research that has been done by Gordon Mooney, Hugh Cheape, Keith Sanger, Sean Donnelly, Iain MacInnes, Paul Roberts, Matt Seattle, Jon Swayne, Brian McCandless and others and has been published in Common Stock, the journal of The Lowland and Border Pipers' Society. Back issues provide a wealth of historical information and more new research is regularly being published. See also The Book of The Bagpipe by Hugh Cheape (Appletree Press 1999) and Highland Bagpipe Makers by Jeannie Cambell (Magnus Orr Publishing 2001).
The last 20 years of the picture have been very well preserved and documented. In re-creating our tradition, however, we should repeatedly re-assess the way the neighboring traditions overlapped and interacted at different periods. We should never be tempted to glue our jigsaw puzzle into a fixed frame!
Julian Goodacre. March 2002.
Originally written for POWER TO YOUR ELBOW A practical Manual to the buying, playing and maintenance of the Scottish bellows blown bagpipes. Edited and compiled by Jock Agnew and to be published later this year by The Lowland and Border Pipers' Society complete with instructional CD.
by Steve Bliven
It will cost over $20,000 to run the 2002 Pipers' Gathering. This is a higher budget than in past years due to the increased facilities costs necessitated by the move from Town Hall and the other venues in downtown North Hero. Despite this increase, we have tried to keep registration costs at a level comparable to past years and have been greatly helped in this effort by a $4,000 grant from the Vermont Arts Council—assistance we appreciate very much
Another important part of our budget this year—about 5%—has been donations from folks attending the Gathering. These people have been willing and able to provide additional financial support to the event and the Directors of the Gathering want to thank them profusely. They include (in alphabetical order):
Mike and Anna Mullins
Paul Reid Doug Yates
Chauncey and Peggy Varney
The North Hero Pipers’ Gathering has no paid staff; all income goes toward mounting the event and any overage is put into funding the next year's Gathering
The Pipers’ Gathering, Inc., the presenters of the North Hero Pipers’ Gathering, is registered in the State of Vermont as a public-benefit, non-profit corporation. It is further recognized by the United States Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit organization under the provisions of Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. Donations to the corporation are, therefore, tax deductible
We encourage anyone able to help support this event to make a donation at the registration table or at the concert ticket booths or by mailing a check to:
49 Plains Field Road
South Dartmouth, MA 02748
Thank you for your participation and we hope you greatly enjoy the Gathering and the concerts.
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