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LOWLAND AMUSEMENT

One piper's exploration of the music of the Scottish Lowlands, its history and its performance. It's a diary of discovery, not a series of essays. You're invited to make your own contributions using the comments option on most pages.

 

Digging the Dird I

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Here's the presentation I gave to the 2011 LBPS Collogue; it contains my current thoughts on the nature of 'the Lowland Reel' in the early 18th century, as well as some thoughts on the history of dance in the Lowlands. [Click the image]
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Easy as 1 2 3

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The terms 'Jig' and 'Reel' have been part of Scottish pipe music since at least 1760. Pipers are familiar with the time signatures of 6/8 and 9/8, and can be fairly confident about how to interpret them. However, anyone who have looked at 17th century manuscripts, or perhaps at Playford's 'Dancing Master' publications, will be aware that these time signatures do not appear until late in the 17th century, and their use was not common until the 18th.

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footwork

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Since most highland pipers play standing up, the role in their performance played by their feet has been largely restricted to ambulation. The only exception to this has been in Cape Breton where pipers playing for dancing frequently do so sitting down. One advantage of this practice is that it liberates the feet for other roles,and this has become a feature of Cape Breton piping, a feature that has, of late years, been adopted by a number of bellows pipers.
The question arises then, does this technique have anything to do with 18th century Lowland piping? My answer has to be, If you mean did 18th century pipers employ similar footwork then no, it seems to me highly unlikely, and there is no evidence that I know of to the contrary. If your question however is along the lines of ‘does this technique have any relevance to the way we play Lowland music today, then my answer is very firmly, yes.

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pushing the envelope

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Just a quick post here since there's been a rather extended gap. I've spent the last couple of weeks tuning the fiddle up again, for the first time for quite a while, preparing for an extraordinary weekend playing with Callum Armstrong, culminating in a performance at last Saturday's Annual Collogue in Edinburgh. Callum and I spent a day at Julian Goodacre's house in Peebles working on three tunes, two from William Dixon's manuscript and one of Callum's own tunes. The Dixon tunes were 'My Love Comes Passing By Me' and 'Gingling Geordie' [a tune which appears in several other collectins, including Playford's 'Original Scots Tunes']. However, Callum is such an inventive and adventurous [as well as exemely talented] musician that things were never going to be that simple. Some of the results will soon be available elsewhere on the site, but I have to say that there were moments during our day of practice where things happened that were unlikely to happen again, hence my remark on Saturday that 'you should have been here lastg night'. To sit down with a player like Callum [he is a student of baroque recorder at Trinity College, London] with only an outline plan for how the performance might proceed, and the knowledge that anything might happen in the next few bars, is likely sometimes to produce spectacular resutls, but is also just as likely to prove less than successful; either way it was a trully exciting experience for me; I hope it was, at least some of the time, for those in the audience on Saturday.

Lowland Amusement - the Tune

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It seems appropriate to start with this tune. It was published in the LBPS 'pink book' collection; I have not as yet traced the source for that version, which is more or less what I've based this attempt on. However, it appears in William Gunn's 1848 collection in a version that closely resembles mine:
http://www.ceolsean.net/content/Gunn/Book02/Book02%206.pdf
this version has the alternative title 'Captain Keeler'.
David Glen, however, has a tune in book 4 of his Collection titled 'Captain Keiller', which has 'Lowland Amusement' as the alternative title, and it is slightly different: http://www.ceolsean.net/content/DGlen/Book04/Book04%204.pdf
Glen's version, which I have only just discovered, looks more like a lowland version to me. I base this on the 2nd strain which instead of the repeated notes it has runs of four quavers; I'll try and get a performance of this version uploaded; in the meantime, my current performance is HERE{jcomments on}

Blanche of Middlebie III

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Robert Riddells' setting of this tune looks so much like a pipe setting, and sits so well on the pipes, it is easy to forget that his collection is described as for violin, hautboy or german flute. This is important because it contains indications of ornaments which we have to assume are references to fiddle technique, not to piping. These ornaments come in the form of 'tr' [trill] added to the crotchets [and to the first quaver of bar 3] in the first strain. George Greig pointed out to me that the use of the 'tr' sign is not unusual in early highland pipe collections [Mackay and Maclachaln both use it and MacLachlan writes out its interpretation]

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an' A' That

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One consequence of allowing yourself 'flexibility' in any performance is, as you may have noticed in my previous recording, that you're running the risk of making mistakes.

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Piping LIve!

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There's been a bit of an interruption in this blog, due entirely to the invitation I received from Hamish Moore to play at the LBPS evening at the Festival Club during Glasgow's Piping Live! week [that leads up to the World Pipe Band Championships]. I've spent the past several weeks working pretty determinedly on several sets of tunes, chosen in an attempt to cover as many of the various tune-forme and rhythms that form the foundation of the Lowland piping repertoire. The plan now is to cover these forms and review how that intensive practice period developed my understnding. Meanwhile, here's the only record I have of that event:

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Blanche of Middlebie II

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My two recent posts on gracings are particularly relevant to the interpretation of this tune, but before going on to look more closely at that question I wanted to ask a question which follows directly from Robert Riddell's story

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