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Performance

Gracings and fingerings continued

The following is a quote from the 'entry in the Encyclopedia Perthensis' published in Perth, Scotland, between 1796 and 1806, under 'Bagpipes' 

[I believe this is more or less straight from the 3rd edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, printed some time before 1797 though not as a separate entry as here; a later edition, with the same text, is at google books HERE page 329]:

 

BAGPIPERS, COLLEGE OF.  ... The Lowland bagpipe was reformed and the music improved by George Mackie, who is sadi to have attended the college of Sky (sic) ["where the Highland bagpipe was taught"] 7 years. He had before been the best performer on that instrument in that part of the county where he lived, but, while attending the college at Sky, he adapted the graces of the Highland Music to the Lowland pipe.

In a commentary on this paragraph, added by Andy Huinter to his publication of the Bagpipe entry, In Common Stock for June 1997, Andy argued:

'The article seems to imply strongly a case for affinity between the Highland and Lowland pipes with a clear assertion that they possess a repertoire peculiar to themselves and peculiar to Scotland.There is a difference in repertoire and function but not so great that a Lowland piper would not have made his way to Skye to learn advanced gracing and be in a position to 'improve' Lowland piping.'

Now this is not really what the encyclopedia entry says at all. The crucial paragraph as far as repertoire is concerned is that on BAGPEP, SCOTS, Lowland -

"the Highland and Lowland bagpipes play two species of music essentially different from one another, as each of them also is from every other species of music in the world."

This paragraph, which like most of the bagpipe entry, comes from the 2nd [1776] edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, is unequivocal; the two species of pipe have different species of repertoire. However, the entry goes on:

"'the music which they play is accompanied with such peculiar ornaments, or what are intended as such, as neither violin, nor even organ, can imitate.'

The conclusion I draw from this [and we should always be aware that just because it's in an encyclopedia doesnt mean it's true] is that Lowland and Highland pipers had gracings different from each other, though of similarly 'inimitability' [at lesat, they did at the end of the 18th century]; Since Mackie had to adapt the Highland gracings to the Lowland pipe there must have been a significant difference - that on his return from Skye his adaptations were heard 'with astonishment and admiration' implies that they were more complex and elaborate than those they were familiar with [nothing impresses an audience more immediately than lots of notes played very fast].

Most prophetically the Ency. Brit entry continues:

"but unluckily, not being able to commit his improvements to writing, and indeed the nature of the instrument scarcely admitting of it, the knowledge of this kind of music hath continued to decay ever since, and will probably soon wear out altogether. What contributes much to this is, that bagpiper, not content with the natural nine notes, which their instrument can play easily, force it to lay tunes requiring higher notes, which disorders the whole instrument in such a manner as to produce the most horrid discords; and this practice brings, though undeservedly, the instrument itself into contempt."

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