by Hamish Moore
Scottish Small Pipes have led the present revival of bellows blown pipes nationally and internationally. In its modern form it is a bellows blown bagpipe with three drones set in a common stock and with a cylindrically bored open-ended chanter. The drones are tuned to the tonic, one an octave below the tonic and one in between, on the fifth. It is currently being made in four keys, namely A, B flat, C and D. The key of A is by far the most popular and can now be regarded as the standard for this instrument. The scale of the chanter is myxolydian having a sharpened third and sixth and natural seventh. The pipes are harmonically rich, easy to maintain and due to a lack of moisture in the system the reeds are very stable and have a life of many years. In the keys of A and B flat, the finger spacing and pitch are both similar to the practice chanter but with a vastly improved tone. It is little wonder that these pipes have reached their present level of popularity. Once the bellows technique has been mastered, the player has an instrument which is quiet enough to be played indoors with little physical effort and is acoustically and musically compatible with most other instruments.
There is no doubt that small pipes existed in Scotland in various forms (both mouth and bellows blown) but these have all suffered a demise into near or complete extinction. The present revival started in 1983 when the celebrated Northumbrian pipe-maker, Colin Ross designed a Scottish open ended cylindrically bored chanter to fit the highly developed and sophisticated Northumbrian chanter reed but which played with the Highland bagpipe fingering system. The first chanters were made in the key of D for myself and the well-known singer, Artie Tresize, who used the pipes to great effect with his singing partner, Cilla Fisher, in their children's show, The Singing Kettle. Chanters in the other keys of C, A and B flat followed fairly soon and the revival was underway. These developments, given the number of Highland pipers in the world, created a commercially viable situation for the many fledgling pipe-makers who were to start making these pipes professionally. Colin had developed a hybrid instrument, which was to form the basis of a renaissance in the Highland piping world as significant as any single event since the inception of the first piping competition in 1781. When we came to start making Scottish Small Pipes in 1985, we used a set of Highland small pipes as our model for the drones, bellows and bag rather than the Northumbrian pipes on which Colin had based his instrument. The chanter/ reed combination however was based on Colin's revolutionary work, although during the intervening years, modifications have been made to the chanter design and the reed has evolved to be quite distinctive from the original.
After graduating as a veterinary surgeon in 1975, Hamish Moore worked as a vet until 1986 when he retired from The Ministry of Agriculture in order to play music and make bagpipes professionally. Through his recordings, teaching, and pipe-making he has done much to promote the bellows blown pipes of Scotland. Due to the social, political and religious history of this country much of the rich, colorful diversity of piping culture has been tragically lost and Hamish has been at the fore-front of a renaissance promoting a pre-military style of piping. This has been achieved principally through his integrated approach to teaching, where the music is taught through the medium of Gaelic song and as part of the old step dance rhythms.
For further information see the "Instrument Makers" page.
Please visit the Gallery page to see pictures of Scottish smallpipes being played.