PS Conference 2019 Report

Stalwarts celebrate another successful conference.

Our move from Birnam to the National Piping Centre was a success. An audience of 50-60 attended during the day and those who stayed for dinner enjoyed a premiere of a new composition, a Victorian piobaireachd, a drinking tune from the Campbell Canntaireachd, a Donald MacLeod tune and four classics. This, with piping’s characteristic conviviality, excellent service and food made it a memorable evening. All are welcome to this must-do event for the piobaireachd enthusiast.

1844 memorandum for the judges

Jack Taylor used material from a rarely seen archive to illustrate his talk about the old competitions. This included judges memoranda seen for the first time. Many were blank, some had crosses, some had comments. For example in 1838 William Smith had a “capital tune for execution but it cost him much labour and wind”, and Donald Cameron’s winning 1844 performance was given 1 3/6th by one judge, and “beautiful” by another, whereas Alexander Campbell had “some notes out of tune” and poor James MacIntosh had a bad day with “blunders all along”.

Much was common to today, with debates about dress, who should and should not play, and judging. The suggestion was made three times that a piper should assist the judges. It happened once, in 1825, when Donald MacDonald and Donald MacLean were on the stage to be consulted if the judges wished. But they were not to know why they were there.

The talk concluded with an 1861 Northern Meeting dispute when the judges, who had pre-arranged off-stage assistance from a minister, were accused by Queen’s Piper Uilleam Ross of being biased by a piper before reaching their decision. The charge was hotly refuted, one judge saying that Queen Victoria should be informed and that Ross be banned from any future Northern Meeting.

The mellow rich sound of Donald MacDonald’s replica drones and chanter gave a remarkable atmosphere of calmness to John Dew’s Marquis of Argyll’s Salute and his Donald MacDonald’s Massacre of Glencoe complete with redundant low A’s demonstrated what MacDonald and his sons might have played in those distant days. Iain Speirs’ Princes Salute and Colbeck were played with cultured smoothness, totally captivating the audience.

John Dew plays Marquis of Argyle’s Salute on Donald MacDonald replica pipes
Jamie Macrae plays Massacre of Glencoe

Bursary recipients Jamie Macrae and Campbell Stewart gave poised performances of Massacre of Glencoe and Tulloch Ard, a credit to their dedication and to their teachers.

Gary West’s Question Time styled panel discussion drew stories about Peter MacLeod’s tuning and fingering brilliance, Sherriff Grant’s ceildihs in the bowels of a rocky ferry to Uist and a lesson a young Iain Speirs had with his grandfather. It lasted all morning.

There was serious discussion about judging new unheard compositions of Piobaireachd. The senior judges on the panel showed some good humoured resistance, but were countered by the notion that you would never not judge a new album on the basis that you hadn’t heard it before. A telling comment was made from the floor that the music is dead if there is only repeated performance of known material. This germinated an idea of a concert of new compositions.

Gerard Alle’s film MacCrimmons Gold had been eagerly anticipated, and we were not let down. It tells the story of Piobaireachd, and Patrick Molard’s love affair with it, as only a French film could, drawing on the emotional depth of the music with charm, artistry and humour.

The AGM heard of the Society’s continuing work on publications, encouraging youngsters, setting tunes, the Archie Kenneth Quaich, the St Cecilias Hall recital, chairmanship of the PBQB board and the recovered prestige of the Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal in Canada.

Robert Wallace was elected as President. He thanked Jack Taylor for his contribution over 12 years, noting the current healthy membership and financial position. In an eloquent and thoughtful address he undertook to progress the work of the Society.

The tunes after dinner were MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart (Robert Wallace), Failt na Misk (Patrick Molard), The Badger (Robert Frater), Rev Norman MacLeod (Bill Wotherspoon), Red Hector of the Battles (Duncan MacGillvray), Earl of Ross’s March (John Dew), Patrick Og (Jack Taylor), Cronan Padruig Seamus (Peter MacCallister).