Conference 2016 Report

Keeping Piobaireachd Alive was a thread running through this enjoyable weekend.

Donald MacLeod kept Piobaireachd alive by composing and teaching. His pupil John Wilson, delivering the College of Piping lecture, talked of how Donald had said to him, aged 10, that he would be “searching the fibres of your musical soul” to ensure John put his own stamp on his playing. His performance of Lament for the Rowan Tree and Sound of the Sea showed how well this worked. His music, finger and pipe were immaculate, as were those of Chris Armstrong in Queen Elizabeth’s Salute and Finlay Johnston in A Son’s Salute to his Parents.

The writers of the first piobaireachd manuscripts kept Piobaireachd alive. David Hester, the founder of, believes that these writers were educated musicians and that we can find invigorating musical nuance and mood by a more literal interpretation of their work than is customary. Here for example is his reading of Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod first from Donald MacDonald then from Angus MacKay.

He also considered the effect of competition, and suggested that at present we play music to compete, whereas we should compete to play music. Who would disagree?

Here is David’s full presentation on video.

Harp Ceol Mor did not stay alive. Simon Chadwick spoke of how he has restarted this lost oral tradition. He constructed a replica of the St Mary Harp, and on stringing it found it has a bass string, a tenor string, and a flattened 7th (high G on the pipe scale). His study of Irish and Welsh harp music of the time shows striking similarites to the structure of Piobaireachd. He is keeping the tradition oral, and in the short term it is stable. His view is that music is what you hear, not what you see.

Welsh Harp Tablature
Welsh Harp Tablature

Simon played “The Vaunting” on the replica St Mary Harp as he believed the harpist might have played it. The audience was hushed. Here is Variation 1 from his CD Tarbh

Here is Simon’s full presentation on video.

Lani O’Neill is keeping Piobaireachd alive. Aged 16, she is last year’s recipient of the Piobaireachd Society bursary of a week of tuition by John Wilson at the College of Piping. She played Lament for the Old Sword with dignity and confidence.

John MacLellan’s compositions are keeping Piobaireachd alive. His son Colin has now collected these into a book with accompanying CDs. Colin spoke of how his own love for piobaireachd started after hearing a Donald MacLeod Piobaireachd, Lament for Islay Flora MacLeod – surely the only piobaireachd portraying the subject’s golf swing.

His father’s tunes were sometimes tried in other forms before becoming piobaireachd, and they often take striking and unexpected musical turns. John liked nothing better than a composing competition – and he only wanted to be first.

On one occasion all the submitted tunes were rejected, to his great displeasure. He was not cheered by Seamus MacNeill’s offer to publish John’s tune as “Rotten Piobaireachd of the Month” in the Piping Times.

Jenny Hazzard’s musical illustrations were a perfect addition – here she plays the last Piobaireachd John MacLellan composed, My Lass Fair, Pretty and Highland, finally gaining Mrs MacLellan’s approval as the tune to be named after her.

Here is Colin’s full presentation on video

The after dinner tunes were The Piper’s Meeting from Campbell Canntaireachd (Jack Taylor), Slanffuive from Campbell Canntaireachd (David Hester), Struan Robertson’s Salute (Annie Grant), Nameless, A Lament from Angus MacAthur’s MS (Colin MacLellan), Mackenzie of Gairloch’s Salute (John Frater), Farewell to the Laird of Islay (Robert Frater), Macintosh’s Lament (Roger Huth).

Picture courtesy of Piping Press
John Frater plays MacKenzie of Gairloch’s Salute, only found in the Ballindalloch MS. Picture courtesy of Piping Press

Set tunes demonstrated on Sunday morning were Earl of Ross’s March and Mary’s Praise (Alan Forbes), Scarce of Fishing and Bells of Perth (Robert Wallace), MacSwan of Roaig, Castle Dunyveg and My King has Landed in Moidart (Jack Taylor).

At the AGM an updating of the Society’s constitution was approved. Walter Gray stood down after 10 years as Treasurer, and Roderick Livingstone was elected as his successor. The other office bearers were re-elected.