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 Post subject: Masters Making Boo-boos?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:08 pm 
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At 1.5 years of playing I'm still quite a novice, but I really like to listen to CDs of prominent Uillean pipers - masters of the art. However, I have noticed something: on most of these CDs of contemporary Uillean pipers I have occasionally heard what I THINK are dropped notes, i.e. (and e.g.), a high octave G that comes out as a low octave G. It doesn't happen often, but it's there. For example, in Mikie Smith's CD, The Wild Keys, he plays An Sean Duine in a track. Lovely tune. I found the musical notation for it and have been playing it for some time now. There's a high G in the second part and Mikie drops it into the low octave on the repeat. It's unmistakable.

Can this be happening accidentally? If it's accidental, why wouldn't he re-record the track to fix it? I find it hard to believe a piper of Mikie Smith's ability would miss a note like that and leave it in the recording. Or is it artistic license and therefore deliberate? Or is there some kind of Uillean piper's creed to record the first take and leave in the bloopers and boo-boos?


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:30 pm 
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I wandered over here from the flute forum, so I don't know much about the ins and outs of piping, but that kind of octave switching is very common on the flute. Take what Séamus Tansey says in this clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1m1KMtIjWA

Whether you agree with him or not as to how integral it is to playing (hence the title of the video), hitting the "wrong" octaves on a various notes is fairly de rigeur for flute players at least.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2018 7:56 pm 
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I find it is what makes listening to uilleann pipes so entertaining, those little idiosyncrasies, kind of like Mr. Ennis's F# "blip" :) .

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 1:37 am 
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I took a quick listen to the track you cited and I'm sure Mikie drops the octave on purpose to add variety to the melody. Mikie always plays in a very definate and crafted way and by the time ' The wild Keys' was recorded he would have played something like 15,000 hours on those reeds , so he'd know exactly how to maintain or drop the octave at will.

However, many recordings do have mistakes and some of those on older recordings add character by the determination of the piper playing a recalcitrant instrument. Some modern recordings do have horrible passages left in which might be due to the absence of a music editor or at least some third person to listen to the tracks before they are published.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:55 am 
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I've re-listened to the track and am too convinced it's deliberate. He plays the whole tune through three times and in the second and third times through he does not play the high G in the second part - it's quite deliberate.

Ok, but there are other tunes by accomplished pipers where it's hard to conclude it's deliberate. Which brings me to a larger point: the difference between GHB culture and Uillean culture. As a GHB piper of several decades and a new Uillean piper, I'm discerning some differences in piping "culture" between the two groups. One is not superior to the other - they are just different. I wonder if, to some extent, GHB culture has been shaped by the heavy emphasis upon competition, both band and solo. Uillean piping seems to possess a much more relaxed attitude towards playing a tune "as written", stemming from Uillean piping's more aural tradition, i.e., passing on music to a new generation by aural methods rather than by written notation. It seems like this more relaxed attitude allows for more innovation in a tune based on the preferences of the piper.

Even in Uillean chanter fingering there is latitude for different finger movements (so many it's bewildering to a novice like myself). On the GHB, however, there is a well-defined set of ornamentation sets (birls, d-throws, grips, taorluaths, etc.) and you'd better stick to those sets or suffer the scorn of the gatekeepers of the art.

I've played the GHB in competitive bands and can recall that there are Judges that will ding the performance if the tune is "not played as written" (an exact quote from a judge's scoring sheet I once received). In competitive GHB piobaireachd (Ceòl Mòr) playing, deviating from the exact notation of some sanctioned scores can lose you the competition. That was true a while ago - not sure if it's still true (haven't competed in a while).

Anyway, these are just musings. I'd appreciate anyone else's thoughts about differences in GHB and Uillean piping cultures.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 6:59 am 
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Variation and different colouring are the most highest prized assets a piper has. Rolling off a tune 'as written' is predictable and highly boring.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 7:19 am 
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I am probably one of the best pipers in the world . I drop notes make squawks and squeeks drop octaves and generally play to a mediocre standard , but it's all deliberate, in an effort to make my playing sound interesting.

RORY

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:22 am 
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I liken piping to a high-wire act: the balance artist may lift a foot, teeter, heck...sometimes even fall onto the wire itself...only to bounce off it back into position and continue down the wire. But did he fall? No. :)

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:29 am 
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It seems there's value to both approaches: the GHB culture fiercely defends the tradition, how it's always been done and played. Without defenders of that tradition we wouldn't even have the instrument or much beautiful traditional music. But taken to its extreme it produces ossification, rigidity, and staleness. And GHB piping can be that way . . .

The Uillean culture values innovation and individual expression. The value of this is obvious. But taken to extremes it can dilute or destroy the tradition, and something of value is lost.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:04 am 
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I realize I'm uttering platitudes . . . but someone's got to do it.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:28 am 
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rorybbellows wrote:
I am probably one of the best pipers in the world . I drop notes make squawks and squeeks drop octaves and generally play to a mediocre standard , but it's all deliberate, in an effort to make my playing sound interesting.

RORY



My God, you are a genius. A true visionary, a pioneer! :shock: :D









:P

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:33 am 
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CorneliusG wrote:
It seems there's value to both approaches: the GHB culture fiercely defends the tradition, how it's always been done and played. Without defenders of that tradition we wouldn't even have the instrument or much beautiful traditional music. But taken to its extreme it produces ossification, rigidity, and staleness. And GHB piping can be that way . . .

The Uillean culture values innovation and individual expression. The value of this is obvious. But taken to extremes it can dilute or destroy the tradition, and something of value is lost.



All about balance between order and chaos. Or the left hand path and the right hand path, duality. :D





Or something like that. :poke: :poke: :poke: :boggle:

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2018 4:43 pm 
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CorneliusG wrote:
the GHB culture fiercely defends the tradition, how it's always been done and played.


Ahh...but competition piping is not 'how it's always been done and played'...unlike many Uilleann pipers on this forum who have come from a GHB Competition background, I have done the opposite and after 25+ years playing UPs have, for the past 10 years, been studying and learning to play the Highland pipes (albiet via the smallpipes/lowland tradition and now only in the past two years or so transitioned to a set of GHB), I have been very drawn to the Cape Breton tradition that pre-dates the competition tradition. When I listen to recordings of Cape Breton pipers such as Barry Shears or the MacKenzie brothers, and then hear competition pipers play the same tunes, the Cape Breton piping is far more pleasing to my ear.

The style of piping that early Scottish migrants took to Nova Scotia was quite varied and, if I understand correctly, sometimes came down to family tradition rather than a nationally-recognised "correct" way of piping. A friend of mine who grew up in the competition GHB tradition recently comment to me after I played a few tunes on my highland pipes, that he has recently come to realise that there is more than one way to play the Highland pipes nicely. If only more highland pipers would explore this concept, then they might find the transition to uilleann piping and probably every other piping tradition in the world far less perplexing.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2018 12:53 am 
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The Uillean culture values innovation and individual expression


I'm not convinced that you can directly oppose uilleann piping and GHB culture by saying that uilleann piping values 'individual expression'. It certainly values individual virtuosity, and a kind of spontenaeity in performance, but there's some emphasis on tradition and lineage (for want of a better word) in uilleann piping culture too. Let's also not forget that many young uilleann pipers are exposed to a 'competition' system as well.

Having said all that as an outsider I'm baffled by some of the attitudes reported in GHB musical culture. It's particularly interesting to see people like Barnaby Brown reassessing the tradition and equally interesting to see how worked up some people get by the suggestion that the Piobaireachd Society might have distorted the repertoire and performance culture rather than simply transmitting it down from some semi-mythical past.

Back to uilleann piping. I get the feeling that most modern players have the technical resources to avoid nearly all squeaks, dropped notes, etc but I think there's a conscious decision not to be too clinical - partly because such rough edges humanise the music and are in themselves expressive. I think there's also a degree of unconscious imitation of the great historic players who are usually heard in informal 'field' recordings - ultimately you get a sort of one-take ethos which preserves the illusion of spontenaiety even when a recording has been made in a studio with tune selection done well in advance.


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:26 pm 
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I personally really enjoy an accomplished piper hitting a squeak here,
a dropped note there...


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