Notes on Set Tunes for 2019

The following notes are from the piobaireachd judges seminar held on 7th April 2019 to discuss the above set tunes. The tunes discussed were those where it was felt that the tunes were rarely heard and/or it had been some time since they were last set. Some of these tunes already have a comprehensive set of notes from earlier seminars, lodged on the PS website.  These notes should complement those extant but they specifically record the discussions at the latest seminar.

Hugh Jamieson

The Daughter’s Lament – PS5, p184: K
Generally held to be one of the more challenging tunes set.  It was noted that the low G in the ‘embari’ in bar 5 has almost become a melody note, possibly because of fear of the intricate high hand work following.
Players need, perhaps, to be reminded that this Low G is part of the embellishment and, therefore, short.  In MacArthur, this Low G does not exist. It was recognised that the double echoes were presented in several different ways in the older sources. As with many tunes, there is a suggestion of compound rhythm in various parts of the melody although the tune is cast in common time.  Care is needed to maintain consistency in the rhythmic handling when presenting this tune, for example: V1 could be viewed as a mixture of 3-pulse compound and 4- pulse common time.

Lament For John MacDonald, Inverness – PS 20th Century Ceol Mor
This tune is reputedly difficult to memorise. There are at least two sources of this tune:

  1. PS publication 20th Century Ceol Mor where it is important to consult the errata sheet (see below)
  2. MS version ex Donald MacLeod and, given Donald’s many pupils, it is not known how widely this was circulated.  There is an extra variation recorded here but it has been crossed out.

There is also a version on Donald MacLeod’s tapes which differs from the written scores. It would be easy to slip into single bar presentation rather than two-bar phrases.  This should be avoided. Donald, himself confirmed to one of his students, that there were no ‘D’ gracenotes on ‘C’ in the Crunluath variation as it appears in the score.

The Edinburgh Piobaireachd – J A MacLellan Complete Compositions of Ceol Mor
This tune was composed in 1981 and commemorates piping and pipers in Edinburgh. There are 2 ‘final’ MS in existence. Var 1 Doubling is reminiscent of The ‘Earl of Seaforth’ in structure and a similar approach to presentation is suggested. The Taorluath, Crunluaths and their doublings seem to be preferred in the ‘up’ style although in one of the MS the Crunluath doubling was left in a round style rather than definitely ‘up’.

The Finger Lock – PS1 p8: K
These notes should be read in conjunction with the existing notes already on the PS website from the 2012 judges seminar which gave a more technical breakdown of the tune. This piece is of 2-line construction and is sparse in melody.  It can be viewed as a tune of rhythms. Thoughts were expressed that, although popular in the past, the melodic nature of piobaireachd has moved on with the change of chanter intonation perhaps changing the nature of the Low G, which is abundant in the score. It is, perhaps, difficult to judge when presented alongside melodic pieces.

The Rout of Glenfruin – PS8 p 221: K
Comprehensive notes are present on the PS website. The tune was given to P/M John MacDougall Gillies by John MacGregor who got it from John Ban MacKenzie and commemorates the slaughter of the Colquhouns by the Macgregors in Glenfruin. Glenfruin is situated 3-4 miles SE of Garelochhead near Loch Lomond. Discussion at this seminar centred mainly on the Donald MacDonald setting which has a large number of cadences in the ground. This setting was thought to give scope for a more powerful presentation.  It is a repetitive tune that needs to be taken at a reasonable pace with good contrast between singlings and doublings. As with all of Donald MacDonald settings the question of whether to play as written or in the modern way, with embellishments played as they are now and Taorluaths and Crunluaths without the redundant Low A, needs to be addressed by the player and communicated to the judges. At this meeting, a recording of Bob Brown playing the Donald MacDonald setting in the Angus Mackay style was heard but the other approaches would be acceptable and would be judged on their merit.

Lachlan McNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy – PS8 p244: K
The tune appears in the Angus MacKay MS, the John MacKay MS and that of Duncan Campbell of Foss  There is also a version of the tune in Donald MacDonald’s MS but this closely follows Angus MacKay. It has no name in all MS although John Mackay has a tune dated 1837 composed as a salute to McNeill Campbell and named as such.  This is possibly a different tune to the one under discussion. There is also the possibility that the piece was an older ‘Nameless’ tune that attracted McNeill Campbell. The first 2 bars of line 3 in Var 1, do not occur in Angus MacKay nor Duncan Campbell’s MS but were added into the PS published version by Kilberry, citing ‘an obvious clerical error’.  The addition does, in fact, correspond to the structure of the rest of the tune. A reprise of the ground is directed after the Taorluath and Crunluath doublings, in MacKay but only the Crunluath doubling, in Duncan Campbell. Angus Mackay has low A instead of B as the last note in bar 1.  This is already highlighted in the existing notes on the PS website. Book 8 of the PS second series, first published in 1939, seems to be the earliest printed source.

The Battle of Bealach Nam Brog – PS9 p246
This tune was set in 2013 and there are extensive notes on the PS Website. There are two main versions, The PS book 9 and Ceol Mor, although Kilberry was scathingly critical of Thomason’s editorial amendments, stating that there was no authority for these changes. The PS website has two recordings.  Tom Spiers plays the PS setting and John Don MacKenzie plays from Ceol Mor. The tune is relatively short and very irregular.  The ground & Var 1 has  first line of 6 bars repeated, a second line of 11 bars and the third line is the 6 bars of line 1. The Taorluath and Crunluath variations are very short but musical.

The Bicker – PS4 p207: K
The tune set is that which is known variously as ‘The Bicker’, ‘The Extirpation of the Tinkers’ and ‘The Royal Bicker’.  The tune  of the same name but with the sub-title ‘The Two-faced Englishman’, is a different tune. The discussion covered much the same ground as was noted in the judges notes in 2012 and already on the website but a couple of interesting points did emerge concerning recordings players might be listening to in their preparation. In a recording by Bob Brown which is already on the PS website, it was noted that he omits a D in the 2nd line of Var 1.  After discussion, no authority for this omission was found and it was thought that this was likely to be a mistake. The entry to Var I can be played as a run-down and Bob Brown plays it that way. Both are acceptable.

The Battle of Strome – PS5 p131
Likely to be played as in the PS score which is after MacKay.The Campbell Canntaireachd is similar to Angus MacKay but with one variation omitted. Donald MacDonald has a few small technical differences in the ground, a unique variation that does not occur elsewhere and a tripling variation. Uileam Ross has the first line repeated, which seems unnecessary, structurally. The Angus MacKay setting, played as written, is fairly plain and is a good example of the score just being a guide to the playing. David Murray made a radio broadcast in which he discussed the various settings of this tune.  This recording is available on the PS website.