Program Booklet 2005
History, Mystery and Mastery
A Manifesto for Border Piping
by Matt Seattle
This is a partially revised version of the talk given at the 1997 Collogue of the Lowland & Border Pipers' Society at the Green Tree, Peebles, although only the first two parts of the talk were delivered on that occasion.
History is important to any tradition. It is the foundation on which the present expression of that tradition is built. The present in turn can be seen as a nodal point in the Greater Present Moment which includes the future as well as the past. The potentialities of the future may or may not be realised in time, but it is the possibility of a future revival of the Border piping tradition which makes our meeting in Peebles today - All Souls Day 1997 - significant to this Tradition. If nothing comes of our collogue we merely provide a curious footnote to the history of late 20th century piping.
History tells us that in the recent past there was a tradition of Border piping. At present it is difficult to discern exactly what may have been the differences between Border piping and Lowland piping, so I will speak specifically of the Border tradition as exemplified by William Dixon's collection. Border piping must not be thought of as Scottish, neither must it be thought of as English or even Northumbrian. The obvious reality of the Border tradition is that it takes in both sides of the Border, and to deny this is to deny the significance of the Border as an ACTIVE SURFACE with its attendant frictions, exchanges of energy and transformations of substance. It may of course be convenient for some vested interests to regard the musical tradition recorded by William Dixon as English or Northumbrian because of its geographical origin, but if we had no other English or Northumbrian music at all we would still be able to recognise over half of William's tunes as Scottish, including some which were never recorded as pipe tunes north of the Border. What William's tunes are not, of course, is Highland, and here we note that even when he has tunes which also exist in Highland tradition the style in which they are played is radically different. There can be no doubt of this: the first serious attempt to notate Highland pipe music (Joseph MacDonald, c. 1760) concentrates almost exclusively on idiomatic specifics of Highland pipe music which have no place in William Dixon's book, and the anecdotal evidence that it took a Lowland piper seven years to become a master of the Highland style confirms that these idiomatic specifics had no place in the more southern tradition.
The style of William's music is roughly speaking - and with important reservations - the same style as that of the Northumbrian smallpipe music of the same period, but what present day Scottish musicians do not often realise is that there are many instances of the same style recorded north of the Border. Although these are usually preserved as fiddle texts their scale and idiom are recognisably those of the Border pipes. Many examples could be cited, and the handful given as contextual tunes in The Master Piper show that William's book does not come from another planet. It ties in with what we know or can learn about both Northumbrian smallpipe music and Scottish examples of Border pipe music, as well as mainstream Scottish Lowland fiddling from the same era, particularly as exemplified by David Young's masterworks. Almost everything inside William Dixon's book has some reference to something outside it, BUT it is the only collection we know which deals exclusively with Border pipe music, and it does this in great depth.
The latter half of the 18th century witnessed growing literacy in the three surviving traditions. It is therefore all the more surprising that a tradition which did NOT survive should become literate well before the others, and that it should then remain hidden until 1995. Depending on how we look at the world, this is the random result of chance happenings, or a highly intelligent long-term survival strategy entailing a heroic act of faith - or unimaginably detailed planning based on precise foreknowledge of the future. Hazard and Providence, as opposing poles of our experience, are exemplified in the episode of the book's escape from destruction and its subsequent history of misunderstanding. If the book is what I believe it to be - a record of a Border Piper's repertoire - it is the more remarkable in that all the evidence suggests that it is a repertoire in the peak of its condition and at the height of its creativity.
One big mystery is the identity of William Dixon. Whatever we may or may not learn about him he is remarkable in being a literate piper before the age of literate pipers. He is unknown to the anecdotal tradition of piping but there can be little doubt but that he was a Master of his Art. I cannot imagine a non-piper having the motivation to record such a substantial repertoire or the skill to notate it so accurately. Also, although idiosyncratic, his musical literacy is completely adequate for his purposes, and he probably made fewer mistakes in his whole book than I did in transcribing it. We can only guess at the personal cost of the labour which his great work entailed. What meaning did it have for him? I have no other explanation than that he felt that he was serving the music and serving the future in performing this task.
Another aspect of the mystery of William Dixon is the meaning of his work today. It self-evidently has a place within the musical ecology of these islands. It is part of the spectrum of traditional music which is in turn part of the greater world of the music of the whole planet. It is related to the rest of the rainbow by its position within it, but necessarily distinct from all the other colours. As a part of the whole it is worthy of our generous consideration. Whether it has individual meaning for me, for you, for us, is not something to analyse, but if, through our own affinities and desires, if we do seek the recovery of this tradition, we are in a more fortunate position than we could have hoped for. Quite simply, we have had the apparatus, now we have the information.
This brings us to
Apparatus and information do not give rise to mastery any more than a car and a Highway code make a decent driver. There is no simple recipe for mastery, but we do know some of the ingredients: motivation and intelligence - love and understanding - are needed, together with the practical know-how which only comes from the often frustrating experience of trial and error in the real world. Here we include research still to be undertaken on the behaviour of the Border pipes which survive from the 18th century - precise information about consistency or variation of fingering between instruments is still lacking. But the immediate task for those who are attracted to this tradition is to engage in a mutual exchange of energy and information. At some stage a more substantial commitment in time will be required for purposes of consolidation if the Tradition is to become more than a pastime for a handful of individuals.
None of the existing pedagogical structures of the piping world is equipped to deal with the information in the William Dixon manuscript, and to pretend that it can be adequately served by the old structures is to misunderstand it utterly. Nothing less than a new discipline of Border piping is needed, a discipline which addresses the specifics of the music and its instrument on the one hand and the needs and capacities of the player on the other. New structures need to emerge to embody this discipline, which must be an ongoing process of threefold attunement. Tuning the pipes is not enough. The music must be in tune with its own unfolding story. Crucially, the piper must be in tune, with himself or herself and with the Intelligence of the music.
Julian Goodacre & Pete Stewart
The recently published ‘Out of the Flames; Studies on the William Dixon Bagpipe Manuscript (1733)’ contains an article by Rob MacKillop entitled ‘Towards a Revival of the Old Scottish Smallpipe with Closed Fingering’. It is not our intention to enter here into the discussion of the relative merits of the various systems of smallpipe fingering, but to address a much more elementary issue, which has been the cause of much confusion; what exactly do we mean by ‘closed’ fingering?
The first use of a name for any British bagpipe fingering system occurs in George Skene’s diary description of a trip he made in 1729, during which he visited Penrith:
‘Here we got the famous piper James Bell who plays exceeding fine upon the smallpipe closs hand’
However this is not the first description of a fingering system. In James Talbot’s manuscripts of the 1690’s there is a fingering chart for a smallpipe that plays only 8 notes. This chart shows one hole opened at a time for each note; this must therefore be a closed chanter, that is to say the chanter is closed at the end. For all notes other than the lowest one, the bottom hole is kept closed and when all seven holes are covered no sound is played.
We do not know whether the chanter that Skene was describing was closed or open at the end and so his description leaves us guessing as to what ‘closs hand’ actually means. We can however assume it to mean one of two things.
The first possibility is that he is describing the system used on Northumbrian smallpipes which is nowadays referred to as either ‘covered’ fingering or ‘closed’ fingering. The ‘modern’ Northumbrian pipe chanter, like that described by Talbot, is closed at the end, allowing the player to actually play silence when all the holes are covered. This is one of the most distinctive features of these pipes. Individual notes in the tune can ‘pop’ out and this ability to play staccato notes gives their playing and music a very distinctive flavour.
The second possibility is that Skene is describing a fingering system for a chanter which is open at the end - as is the modern Scottish smallpipe - played by opening one hole at a time, plus the bottom hole, which when closed will play the bottom leading note. In this system, the articulation is produced by returning briefly to the bottom 6-finger keynote at appropriate points in the tune. The 6-finger note is the same as the drone; it blends with the drone and gives the impression of ‘silence’ between the notes of the tune. This takes advantage of one of the acoustic features on a cylindrically bored chanter, which is that the bottom notes are naturally weak.
Such a system nowadays has no agreed name. We should therefore like to propose that this system be termed ‘covered’ fingering, leaving the term ‘closed fingering’ to describe the ‘Northumbrian’ system, used on the ‘closed’ chanter.
This proposal may not advance the argument about appropriate fingering for 18th century Scottish smallpipe music, but it should at least clear up the existing confusion over terminology.
Chanter in D
Chanter in D
Copyright © Brian E. McCandless, 2005
History confirms that bagpipes have existed in various European nations for at least eight hundred years and the technical innovations of inflating the bag with a bellows and using metal key-work have been in-use since the sixteenth century. Irish legend has long held that the tradition of playing pipes in that country is ancient. In 2004 an archaeological excavation near the coastal town of Greystones, south of Dublin, gave support to this, for in a wood-lined pit within a burial mound were found six yew wood pipes believed to be a panpipe set. Radiocarbon analysis showed the pit and its contents dated to 4,000 years ago, making the pipes the oldest known wooden instruments in the world! Winding the bagpipe clock forward, Alexander Hume, writing in 1598, already differentiated between Scottish highland and lowland, and Irish bagpipes:
“Caus michtilie the warlie notes breike, On Heilands pipes, Scottes and Hybernicke”
By the eighteenth century, and perhaps earlier, in the British Isles, Ireland and the American Colonies, there existed a bellows-blown bagpipe that shared characteristics of both the modern Irish, or uillean, bagpipe and of the Scottish pipes variously known as ‘Lowland’, ‘Border’, or ‘cauld wind’ pipes. Very little is known about this bagpipe, its makers, or its players; knowledge of it, and its traditions died out by about 1900, to be superseded by the popularity of the full sound of the Irish pipes and what the American Catholic scholar John Gilmary Shea coined as the “honeyed hive of sound”. A tutor and tune book first published in London in 1746 by an Irishman, John Geoghegan, referred to the “pastoral or new bagpipe”. It has been recently suggested that Mr. Geoghegan was the same piper Geoghegan (or Gahagan) known to have performed in Dublin's taverns and theaters in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, giving a clue as to the movement of Irish music into London. Whoever he was, he gave us the earliest documentation for a bagpipe that was, at the very least, a relative of union and uillean bagpipes. Several additional, unpublished, eighteenth century manuscripts contain fingering charts and musical notation for this instrument, bearing evidence of an extensive repertoire for the pastoral bagpipe. An eighteenth century English definition of bagpipe provided by William Tans'ur in his New Musical Dictionary (London, 1766) seems to exclude all other types of bagpipes: “Bagpipe - a kind of pocket organ, blown by a bag under the arm; some by the mouth and some with a bellows, under the other arm. There is generally 3 pipes, viz. the great pipe or drone, and the little drone; each having no holes, only at the bottom; and tuned in concord to each other, and to the chanter or small pipe, which is about 15 inches long, with 8 holes like a flute. They all have reeds, in their tops, and make a fine harmony; especially if they have a flat chanter, in the D pitch.” In a treatise entitled The Theory and Practice of Music (1784), Jean Gehot gave a similar description, adopting the names provided by Geoghegan, for the Pastoral or New Bagpipe and borrowing the definition from Tans’ur.
Figure 1. Eighteenth century two-drone pastoral bagpipe, maker unknown.
Figure 2. Eighteenth century Scottish two-drone pastoral bagpipe attributed to Squire (lower) and copy by McCandless (upper).
Figure 3. Eighteenth century three-drone pastoral bagpipe, maker unknown.
Photographs of pastoral bagpipes in Figures 1, 2 and 3 show a long chanter and a drone set mounted in a common stock. The drone layout of the instrument in Figure 1, from the Glen collection, is deceptive, for it appears that there are four drones. Examination of the actual instrument reveals that the smaller drones are actually part of the bass drone, decoratively concealing the folded bore; the connecting tube can be faintly seen between the drone ends. The early pastoral bagpipe had an un-keyed chanter and no regulator. Later instruments, for example those by Hugh Robertson in Edinburgh or Robert Reid in Northumberland, sometimes had keyed chanters, up to six drones, and one or more regulators. Figure 2 shows an original and a replica of a pastoral bagpipe brought to Maryland from Bucklyvie, Scotland in the mid-1700’s. The original had two-thirds of a chanter reed fitted; both chanters play in the key of E-flat when fitted with reeds constructed on a similar staple as found in the original. Figure 3 shows an instrument from Flood’s 1911 book The Story of the Bagpipe. In the original photograph, the instrument was listed as an “old Northumbrian” bagpipe and the chanter was assembled incorrectly. I have cut-and-pasted the foot-joint and chanter to correctly show the instrument. Each of these bagpipes has a long chanter fitted with a foot-joint. The tonic of the instruments I have examined ranges from C-sharp to E-flat, and the foot-joint vent holes give a sub-tonic note that, as with Scottish highland and lowland pipes, plays about a whole step below the tonic. Although eighteenth century long chanters without foot-joints have been located, they are quite rare. Figure 4 shows an eighteenth century pastoral bagpipe chanter made from a single piece of wood; the chanter is 18.6 inches long, has scalloped finger holes, an indent on the back for the thumb of the lower hand, and plays an E-flat scale with a neutral third using Geoghegan’s fingering scale.
Figure 4. Eighteenth century pastoral bagpipe chanter made from single piece.
A sense of how the earliest pastoral bagpipes appeared whilst being played can be found in the frontispiece illustrations from Geoghegan's tutor (Figure 5). They depict a gentleman standing in a playing pose with his bellows-bagpipe's drones lying over his left arm; the very long chanter is tied into a swan necked bag. Although the drone orientation depicted could be a result of an engraving transposition, the player’s hands are in the usual position (left hand on top of chanter) and his instrument stylistically matches extant eighteenth and early nineteenth century bagpipes found in museum and private collections, which have been variously labeled as pastoral bagpipes, Irish bagpipes, union bagpipes, hybrid union pipes, organ pipes, and old Northumbrian bagpipes. Portrayals of similar pipes are found in Irish iconography as well. Figure 6 shows details from an Irish painting ‘The Dance of the Little People’ by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holmes Sullivan (1882) and from an engraving based on a painting, ‘The Trio’, by the Scottish artist Erskine Nicol (1862). Nicol painted this in Dublin as part of his effort to portray the life of the working Irish. In so doing, he faithfully captured the context of the piper, playing his two-drone pastoral bagpipe, in accompaniment with flute and fiddle. Notice how the chanter is very long, and a foot-joint is not convincingly discernible in the Geoghegan renditions, while the foot-joint is prominently visible in the Irish renditions.
Figure 5. Frontispiece details from different editions of Geoghegan’s Tutor: Simpson Edition of 1746 (left) and Longman Edition of 1775 (right).
Figure 6. Details of Irish pipers: ‘The Dance of the Little People’ by William Holmes Sullivan in 18xx (left) and ‘The Trio’ by Erskine Nicol in 1862 (right).
Regarding the label pastoral or new bagpipe used in Geoghegan’s London-published tutor of 1746, pastoral refers to the “ancient pastoral airs” played on the instrument, while new bagpipe refers to improvements made to the instrument, i.e., the expanded compass. According to Bates (1967) certain raucous-sounding oboes were being marketed in London as “pastoral” instruments throughout the 1800’s. The overt use of the pastoral label is not historically found outside of Geoghegan’s London context. Use of the descriptive term pastoral can be justified for the period when John Geoghegan was writing; it was a featured instrument in productions of the smash hit English ballad opera The Beggar's Opera, written by John Gay (1685 1732) in 1727. In 1723, eight years after the death of England's favorite composer Henry Purcell (1658 1695), it seems that Gay had written a letter to Jonathan Swift complaining about the influx and popularity of Italian music, specifically operas such as Arsinoe (1705), Camilla (1706), and Almahide (1710). Swift's response to Gay was that he should write a "Newgate Pastoral", which he did. In those days, a pastoral or pastorale was a play or story relating to pastoral themes of shepherds and "lower class" citizens. Newgate referred to London's Newgate Prison, the setting of the opera's story. The climax of Gay's parody, The Beggar's Opera, was caricatured in engravings by William Hogarth (1697 1764) and featured an en masse dance led by the bagpipe; the engravings clearly depict a bellows blown bagpipe resembling Geoghegan's Pastoral or New bagpipe (Figure 7). The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following contemporary definition for the term pastorale in 1724: “Pastorale is an air composed after a very sweet, easy, gentle manner, in imitation of those airs which shepherds are supposed to play.”
Figure 7. Detail of William Hogarth’s engraving of The Beggar’s Opera (1723).
The melody used for the finale of the Beggar’s Opera was the jig "Lumps O'Pudding" which shows up in early eighteenth century Scottish manuscripts, in John Playford's Compleat Dancing Master (1728), and in nineteenth century Morris dance traditions from Bampton, Bucknell, and Fieldtown. The contemporary composer George Frederick Handel (1685 1759), in expressing his dislike for the English ballad operas and their use of rather mundane airs, commented that "opera in England will be ruined by Lumps O'Pudding". Like Thomas D'Urfey's collection, Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy (1698) and Allan Ramsay's prototypical ballad opera, The Gentle Shepherd (1725), which had each concentrated popular airs and songs into single entities, so The Beggar's Opera incorporated numerous popular English and Scottish airs such as "A Charming Nun to a Fryar Came", found in John Playford's Compleat Dancing Master (1728) and in Geoghegan's Tutor (1746), and "The Last Time I Came Over the Moor", found in the Edinburgh singer, William Thomson's two volume collection, Orpheus Caledonius (1733). The success of ballad operas in the early eighteenth century was due in part to the familiarity of the melodies and airs to their audiences; the success in turn contributed to the sustained popularity of tunes such as "Lillibulero", "Moggy Lowther (Maggie Lawder)", and "Tweedside" in subsequent decades. The repertoire in Geoghegan’s tutor is a strange collection of melodies drawing on regional English, Scottish and Irish airs and on contemporary compositions, such as by the London organist John Ravenwood and John Gay. The melding and adapting for bagpipes of tunes from these varied sources and styles seems odd, given the politics of the period, yet it made a mark in the development of traditional music.
The Irish form of the bagpipe is provided by John O’Keefe in 1760, describing the early form of Irish bellows pipe, without a regulator; an engraving by William Beauford in 1786 is shown in Figure 8. “The Irish pipes have a small bellows under the left arm, and a bag covered with crimson silk under the right arm. From these passes a small leather tube of communication for the wind to reach, first from the bellows to the bag, as both are pressed by the elbow; and from this tube another small one coveys the wind to the several pipes. That on which the fingers move is called the chanter or treble. There are three other pipes which hang over the wrist. The longest of them is called the drone or bass.” In Scotland a drone were sometimes called a “burden”, which is similar to the French name “bourdon”.
Figure 8. Depiction of the Irish bellows blown bagpipe by William Beauford, 1786.
The names ‘organ pipe’ and ‘Irish organ pipe’ have been widely cited in Ireland, from the late 1700’s to 1900. The term ‘cuisle’ and variants thereof were also coined, by Irish writers such as General Vallency and Joseph Walker in the mid-late eighteenth century. As for Irish bellows-blown bagpipes, James Logan (1838) in The Scottish Gael wrote of the distinction between Irish pipes without regulators and Union, or Irish Organ pipes fitted with regulators:
“The sharp Lowland pipes have the same tone as the Highland, but are less sonorous, and are blown by a bellows, put in motion by the arm opposite to that under which the bag is held. This is the same manner of giving wind to the Irish pipes, like which they also have the three drones fixed in one stock, and not borne over the shoulder, but laid horizontally over the arm. The Union pipes, that have been called the Irish organ, are the sweetest of musical instruments; the formation of the reeds, and the length of the pipes, increased by brass tubes, produce the most delightful and soothing melody, while by the addition of many keys, and the capability of the chanter, any tune may be performed.”
In the first half of the eighteenth century, in Ireland, the likeness of the Irish pipes to an organ was noted and its mode of performance contrasted to that of the great pipes. In 1733, Mr. Thady Lawler, a player of war pipes and the self-proclaimed Prime and Metrapolatine Piper of All Ireland, wrote:“...I lately happen’d to be in the company with an Organ Piper, who brag’d and Bounc’d so furiously of his pipes and performance, and so reproach’d and villify’d mine, that I felt myself oblig’d to vindicate the honor of our noble order, which he endeavor’d to wound through my side. I told him that it would neither be difficult, nor in the least presumptuous to draw a paralel [sic] between Organs and Bagpipes...”. John O’Keefe, a Dublin actor and dramatist, writing in about 1774 about a Piper MacDonnell, County Cork,wrote:“About the same season I prevailed on MacDonnell to play one night on the stage at Cork, and had it announced in the bills that Mr. MacDonnell would play some of Carolan’s fine airs upon the ‘Irish Organ’. The curtain went up, and discovered him sitting alone in his own dress; he played and charmed everybody.”
References to an ‘organ pipe’ also occurred in England during the last half of the seventeenth century, such as this one from Lord Francis Guilford North, Essay on Musick, dated 1677 in London: “The equipment of the vessel was very stately; for a-head there sat a four or five drone bagpipe, the north country organ, and a trumpeter astern, and so we rowed merrily along.” In Scotland, a similar instrument was also known. Around 1783, at Banff, by the far-off Moray Firth around 1783, a dance master named Isaac Cooper provided for a distinguished clientele in the traditional role of musician and dancing master. In publishing his collection he observed that the public had been “so much imposed upon be people who have published reels, and called them new and at the same time they were only old reels with new name”. He advertised himself as the teacher of an impressive list of instruments – the harpsichord, violoncello, psaltery, clarionet, pipe and taberer, German flute, Scots flute, fife ‘in the regimental style’ and hautboy, and of “...the Irish Organ Pipe, how to make flats and sharps and how to make the proper chords with the brass keys...”. The term ‘organ pipe’ persisted into the nineteenth century, as evidenced by the citation in Thompson’s “The Life of James Allan, the Celebrated Northumbrian Piper,” in 1828 in Newcastle: “Mr. Storey of Caistern has now in his possession the organ pipes which belonged to Mr. Allan...”
The names ‘union pipe’,or ‘Irish union pipe’ were more generally used from the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, such as found in the reference to “Union Pipes” from Walkers’ Hibernian Magazine, published in Dublin in September 1794 as the bagpipes to be used for playing Irish National Music. At this point in history the foot-joint seems to fall off, and the proof of it is in another London-published tutor, by a Mr. O’Farrell. O’Farrell propagated the union label, in 1804, by publishing O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes, and then in 1805 with the first in a series, O’Farrell’s Pocket Companion for the Irish Union Pipes, Volume I. The similarities between the opening remarks in the Geoghegan and O’Farrell tutors suggest to a strong link between the pastoral and union pipes. From Geoghegan’s pastoral bagpipe tutor of 1746:
“The bagpipe being at this time brought to such perfection as now it renders it able to perform the same number of notes with the flute or hautboy, I thought it might be acceptable to the curious to set forth this small treatise...[which] will not be unacceptable to the professors of this ancient pastoral music...”
And from O’Farrell’s union bagpipe tutor of 1804:
“Being an instrument now so much improved as renders it able to play any kind of music, and with the additional accompanyments which belong to it produce a variety of pleasing harmony which forms as it were a little band in itself. Gentlemen often expressing a desire to learn the pipes have been prevented by not meeting with as proper Book instructions, which has induced the author to write the following treatise, which it is presumed with the favorite collection of tunes added thereto will be acceptable to the lovers of ancient and pastoral music.”
Whether the label “union” was chosen based on organological features of the bagpipe or to the Irish political scene is in question. The moniker slightly predates the Royal assent given to the Act of Union on August 1, 1800, which eliminated the Houses of Lord and Commons in Dublin. In this period, yearly catalogues called Union Catalogues were published, listing businesses and publications within the British realm within that year. The union label could also have originated as an organological name, being the union of the bagpipe with the regulator, in which case the label stuck, as the British realm expanded and unionist ideals caught on among the well-to do. It is worth noting that the union pipes were widely reported to have been played by men of means in quite formal societal settings. On an advertisement for a concert by Mr. Alexander Napier, to be held in Corri’s Rooms on 21 July 1806 to the Highland Society of London: “Mr. Fitzmaurice the celebrated performer on the Union Pipes to their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and duke of Sussex and the Highland Society of London is just arrived in this city and will on that evening play a solo on his pipe”. Walker’s Hibernian Magazine for March 1806 reported that the tune he played was “Erin go Bragh”. A Patrick O’Connor, of Limerick, gave two concerts in Kilkenny city in February and August 1816, advertised in the Kilkenny paper The Moderator as a “musical entertainment on the Grand Union Pipes”. He died in 1818. His obituary, and notes concerning the tuning of two regulators were found inside a manuscript book in the Library of the Royal Academy, Dublin. The notes for tuning of the regulators is the earliest reference to two regulators and occur only 14 years after the publication of O’Farrell’s tutor. Timothy Kenna advertised his instruments as “Grand Union Pipes” in 1812, after having moved to Essex Quay, Dublin, from Mullingar, in County Westmeath. Later Dublin street directories list him as ‘Grand Union Pipe Maker’. S. T. Colclough published a tutor in 1820, presenting himself as a “professor of the Grand Union Pipes”. There is also a connection to Yorkshire and Lancashire. The Ab-o’ th’-yate’s Dictionary, by Benjamin Brierley in 1880 lists the following entry: “Tweedler: a man who plays the Union Pipes is called a tweedler.”
The label ‘hybrid union pipe’ was given by William Cocks in ca. 1920 as a revisionist label for pastoral and union pipes, distinguished for having a chanter with a foot joint and three or more drones but no, or possibly a single regulator. The modern term ‘uillean pipe’ must be attributed to William H. Grattan Flood who first coined it writing in A History of Irish Music (Enniskillen, Ireland, 1905). According to Baines, writing in 1967:
“Union Pipe. This is the national bagpipe of Ireland, dating back in its present form to the eighteenth century. (There has been much doubt as to the authenticity of the name ‘uillean pipe’ which was put forward as the correct name by Grattan Flood and others. Leo Rowsome, to whose untiring labours the present popularity of the instrument is largely due, calls it ‘union pipe’, though he really prefers its other name, the ‘Irish organ’ or ‘organ pipes’, which his father, also a famous player, used to use.)...The chanter has a comparatively narrow conical bore (which some of the old makers used to bore with army bayonets), with the usual holes and optional chromatic keys...”
We do well to cast a wary eye on Flood’s testimonials, such as his references to Shakespeare's "woolen" bagpipe in the Merchant of Venice (c.1600) as the origin for the term uillean. For this, one need look no further than Ireland itself, whose native tongue offers us three explanations for General Vallencey’s early use of the term. O’Rilley’s Dictionary of Irish (1817) lists the following relevant translations:
uille and uilleann: an elbow, haunch, angle, nook, corner
uillean: honey-suckle tree
We are no-doubt familiar with the ‘elbow’ translation (referring to the pumping of the bellows and bag) and should be fascinated by the reference to the honey-suckle tree, which could indicate a connection with materials used to make reeds. It is interesting to note the long standing, even ancient custom of making primitive whistles or pipes from the hollow stems of plants such as elder or boortree. More recent Irish-English dictionaries show uilleann (= uillinn) as ‘elbow’ and ‘angle’ but do not carry uillean at all, indicating either an archaic usage or regional dialect. It is also interesting to note that the word Uillin was the name of the Chief of Bards for the clan of Fingal in the Ossianic Poems by James MacPherson (1765).
In its day, this variety of bagpipe was loved by some and loathed by others. The following are examples of how appreciated they were. A contemporary review of a performance of Oscar and Malvina in 1794 read: “Lovers of Ossian felt a kind of enthusiastic rapture when they beheld the guests seated and, the bards arranged in the flower-decked hall of Fingal; when they heard the sweet harmony of the harps and the Union pipes...and the songs of the bards – they heard, also, the warlike sound of the shield of the Hall of Fingal”. The pipers for performances of Oscar and Malvina in the late eighteenth century London included Mr. O’Farrell and Mr. Courtney. We know little of these pipers, but we have relics of some others of the period. Flood tells us (1905): “...In Henry Brooke’s now forgotten musical comedy of Jack the Giant Queller, produced at Smock-alley Theater, Dublin, in 1748, a piper played some Irish airs.” There was a piper MacDonnell from County Cork described by John O’Keefe in 1770: “...MacDonnell, the famous Irish piper, lived in great style – two houses, servants, hunters, etc. His pipes were small and of ivory, tipped with silver and gold. You scarcely saw his fingers move, and all his attitudes, while playing, were steady and quiet, and his face composed...”
An Irish piper John Murphy provided the entertainment for a dinner of the Highland Society of London on January 20, 1789 and again on January 20, 1798. The second time he appeared with Irish Piper MacDonald (the Cork piper MacDonnell described above?). In 1809 John Murphy published: A Collection of Irish Airs and Jiggs with Variations, by John Murphy, performer on the Union Pipes at Eglinton Castle. Elginton Castle was home of Hugh Montgomery, 12th Earl of Elginton. The new Elginton Castle was built in 1798 and Murphy was employed there before 1805. The following was noted for September 1805 at the Ayr races: “The company in the race stand were entertained by the celebrated Murphy, Lord Elginton’s Piper with many favorite airs on the Irish bagpipe in his best style.” The Edinburgh Evening Courant for Thursday 15 October 1818 reported his obituary: “...at his lodgings Adam Street West Portman Square London. Mr. John Murphy long celebrated as an eminent professor of the Union pipes. A man steady in friendship and of sound integrity. His loss will be long felt by the admirers of Scots and Irish music.”
Then there was John Gibson: “He was a native of Jedburgh who was apprenticed to the trade of clock and watch making. He became an optician and moved to Kelso where he…made and played Irish pipes and died in September 1795. He may have been the father of the Northumbrian Small Pipes maker Charles Gibson.”
An opposing attitude towards the pastoral or union pipes and the mixing of traditions is conveyed by Patrick MacDonald (1724-1764), who wrote the introductory notes for his brother’s seminal A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe (ca. 1760, published posthumously in 1801). In the section entitled “observations on the proper style of this instrument” (meaning the Highland Bagpipe), he wrote the following concerning other bagpipes:
“In the Low Countries (where they use bellowses to their pipes) having no musick in the style of this instrument, they have enlarged the compass of it by adding pinching notes, for better imitation of other musick. By this their chanter has the most of the flute compass. They have also taken away all that loudness and strength of tone that distinguishes this instrument in a field; or in any ecchoing place, by weakening and altering the form of their reeds in order to come to a nearer likeness; by which it is only fitt for a room. With this they imitate Scots tunes, Minuets, etc, and some Italian musick, while they have nothing for another part but their drones; which can no way answer the various passages in a composition of any compass, as they cannot be variegated any more than by setting them to 2 or 3 particular notes, which they must sound till they are changed. This must prove but a pitiful concord and can never answer the design of any part, as the notes of a counter, tenor, second, trible, bass, etc must be variegated for every single bar or passage.
Whilst they play this Scots or Italian Composition with pipe drones for different parts, they must cut and divide the notes in a way that destroys both the taste and style of the composition, viz by pipe cuttings, which are quite false and irregular (as they never had any pipe compositions to reduce or regulate cuttings for that instrument). Thus a passage of Corelli, Festing or Handel, etc played with pipe cuttings and a drone, must carry [away] a great deal of the authors meaning in it, and so of Scots airs, Minuets, songs, etc. What a wretched and jargon this must be to a judicious ear, is obvious. This insipid imitation of other musick is what gives such contemptible notion of a pipe, because it must come so short of it, even in the most variegated kind of pipe, which is the Irish pipe. This they have neither a regular sett of musick or cuttings for, but they have diversified it into surprising imitations of other music.”
The phrase “Low Country (ies)” was widely used in this time period. For example, the Scottish song the Highland Widow’s Lament, begins: “Oh I am come tae the low country, ochon, ochon, o chriodh”. Low in this context does not refer to the Netherlands, but rather is used in contrast to the Scottish Highlands, as conveyed in this passage from James Logan (1838): “The effect [of the pipes] is not confined to the mountaineers, for the inhabitants of the Low Country are equally partial to it...”
MacDonald’s complaints reveal his own biases and do give a sense of how unpleasant a chromatic scale can sound against a fixed drone to one whose idiom is that of a truly harmonic scale. But more importantly, his diatribe provides witness to the development of a new musical idiom. A common theme runs through the manuscripts and tutor book repertoires found for the pastoral and union bagpipes; the tunes and their structures are different from those which had been passed prior to their invention. The music we call traditional today was being written then. In codified Irish music of the eighteenth century, for example, we find a superposition of Italian and late renaissance techniques onto the ancient music of Ireland. Irish virtuosity combined with new techniques and continental scales to produce a new music. New tunes were for the first time being preserved, virtually as they were being composed, for better or for worse. Talented players of the ancient music began to collect and write down and publish their pieces, targeted at raucous performances and tunes for dancing – this would become our session music. The motivation for this appears to have been part and parcel of the popular period entertainments:
“The principal theatres were Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Royal Opera House in the Haymarket, all in energetic competition. The theatre-goers thronged to the doors at four o’clock in the afternoon for a curtain at six. They sat on backless benches and were by no means inhibited in showing displeasure or approval, sometimes, in extreme cases, tearing up benches and breaking chandeliers, to say nothing of attacking the players, who were protected from intrusions by a row of sharp iron spikes running along the front of the stage. To calm this restive mass, it was necessary to fill the intervals with music and dance entertainment, and so it would happen that between acts of Othello, for instance, there might be billed “The Highland Reel: a New Comic Dance by Aldridge, Miss Valois, and Sqa. Manesiere,” a feature which entertained the patrons of Covent Garden on several occasions from March 1768 to December 1774...hornpipes and dances in between acts of Beggars opera...”
On Monday, December 7, 1795, Oscar and Malvina was replaced at the last minute by another pantomime, called The Poor Sailor. The Monthly Mirror for December 1795, reported: “The audience were in a violent uproar, at the change from Oscar and Malvina to The Poor Sailor”. While it is unlikely today that any audience would get into a violent uproar over the changing of a pastoral pantomime, such unruly behavior is known at popular musical events, and we can take some delight in our appreciation of our musical heritage knowing that these humble bagpipes had some part in it! I leave you with Figure 9, a page from an eighteenth century manuscript book, showing a fingering chart for the pastoral bagpipe chanter; the chart is not unlike Geoghegan’s and the manuscript contains pastoral airs such as Tweedside and Rosaline Castle. Happy piping.
Figure 9. Page from manuscript dated 1745 showing pastoral bagpipe chanter scale.
The Pipers' Gathering, Inc. - <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Webmaster - <email@example.com>
Web Design -