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PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2018 3:44 pm 
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ausdag wrote:
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.


The style of GHB playing that Scottish migrants took to Australia was quite varied too. Check out Dr. Barry Orme's writings and recordings of Simon Fraser's "pre-modern" pìobaireachd style. Unfortunately, Orme and Fraser's theories about pìobaireachd get into all kinds of seriously woo-woo stuff about the Freemasons, but the music itself is somewhat interesting.

Like other forms of orthodoxy, competitive Scottish piping projects a veneer of "maintaining tradition" when in fact it is fiercely innovative. With regard to tempo, pulse, "standard" fingering, intonation, and pitch, the instrument has changed dramatically over the past 50 years--arguably far more than uilleann pipes have. Go to Ross Anderson's bagpipe page and have a listen to 78 recordings of John MacDonald and Willie Ross playing in the 1910s-20s. Heck, have a listen to some of the videos on YouTube of leading players from 30 years ago. What you hear Donald MacPherson or P.M. Angus MacDonald playing then isn't quite the same as what you'd hear on the competition boards today. The changes have often been subtle but distinctive.

Getting back to uilleann piping, as others have already mentioned, uilleann piping is a high-wire act, and even in ideal conditions, the instrument will not do everything even the most experienced and confident player wants it to do. With archive recordings, people often complain now about squeaks and wayward tuning, but bear in mind that sometimes when some well-intentioned archivist showed up at the door with the tape recorder, the piper in question may not have played in many months. I doubt that when Willie Clancy sat down to play on some of his recordings, he thought to himself "50 years from now, hundreds of pipers all over the world are going to be nitpicking what I'm doing in this tune, and it'll end up starting flame wars on the Internet." As Geoff mentioned, pipes in those days were often not int the best of shape. I've heard it said that towards the end of his life Séamus Ennis's pipes were barely playable at all.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:34 am 
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Recording is a totally different game to live performance or sessioning. It's very easy to make a recording too sterile / clinical by recording over the bumps and squeaks and out of tune notes. Pipers that listen to piping cd's will invariably analyse the heck out of it. Pipers are their own worst critics and maybe self perpetuate the sterile recordings! (I certainly am guilty of this and have recorded over the mistakes). Trying to capture the concert or session feel in a studio setting is next to impossible. I guess that's why people still go to concerts!


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:05 pm 
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Several of the comments here reference deliberately leaving in squeaks and squawks and the occasional dropped note to humanize the (Uillean) music or otherwise make it less perfect or clinical.

That's a big difference (I think) between the GHB and Uillean pipe cultures . . . a top playing GHB player would never (I'm going out on a limb here) allow such squeaks and squawks into a recorded piece, at least not nowadays. The modern top-ranked GHB piper strives for perfect, distinct clarity for each note, whether it's a melody note or an ornamentation note. No extraneous chirps or (heaven forbid) crossing noises.

This perfectionist approach is not better than the Uillean, more relaxed, approach, but it is different. I wonder if this different approach has its origin in the greater inherent difficulty in producing that perfectly clean sound from the Uillean pipes . . . or maybe that's just my amateurish ( :oops: ) playing.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2018 8:20 pm 
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CorneliusG wrote:
As a GHB piper of several decades and a new Uillean piper, I'm discerning some differences in piping "culture" between the two groups. Uillean piping seems to possess a much more relaxed attitude towards playing a tune "as written", stemming from Uillean piping's more aural tradition...this more relaxed attitude allows for more innovation in a tune...

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...

I'd appreciate anyone else's thoughts about differences in GHB and Uillean piping cultures.


Welcome to the Dark Side! They say there are two sorts of Highland pipers: the ones who have taken up the uilleann pipes, and the ones who want to take up the uilleann pipes!

I've been playing both sorts of pipes for over 40 years, maintaining one foot in each, which I think has given me some perspective on the issue.

It's my belief that the culture surrounding each instrument is even more different than the music played on each.

For starters there's each instrument's milieu.

Though both instruments are played alone at home, and on the stage as part of rehearsed musical ensembles, the native habitat of the Highland pipes is Pipe Band competition at outdoor Games, and the native habitat of the uilleann pipes is the pub session. These are the places the music lives and breathes.

This influences almost everything that follows.

The repertoire: Highland pipes play the music which will allow them to succeed in competition, uilleann pipes play the music of the piper's local session.

The social milieu: Highland pipers go to their weekly band practices and go to Games to compete regularly during competition season. Your band-mates become some of your closest friends. Some bands have picnics or other social gatherings in addition to practice and competition. There's a wonderful bond or cameraderie that exists between band-mates, the people you "cross the line" with. They become something of a family.

Likewise the local pub session members become socially close. The bonding comes through playing music together and chatting- some sessions can be more chat than playing! Because the music and chat can both serve as means to the larger end, of spending time with friends who have a shared interest.

Performance practices: All the pipers in a Highland pipe band have to be able to play in tight unison if the band is to do well in competition. Pipers can indulge in self-expression on their own time! Band-time means sublimating yourself to the good of the whole, which for the pipers means mimicking the precise style of the Pipe Major as closely as possible, having your fingers work identically to the Piper Major's.

At an Irish trad session you're often the only uilleann piper. Yes you try to play a version of the tune which doesn't clash with the session's version, but each sort of instrument (box, banjo, fiddle, flute, pipes) is putting its own distinctive idiomatic spin on the tune. The expectation is that you as the piper is playing a nice piping version, the fiddler is playing a nice fiddle version, and so forth. Your fingers aren't mimicking the exact motion of another person's fingers.

Dress: Pipe Bands are required to wear Highland Dress to compete. Like orchestral musicians you have your "monkey suit" which is something of a detested neccessity. (Pipers nearly universally express the wish to be able to compete in ordinary clothes.) At pub sessions you come as you are! There's no associated costume with the uilleann pipes (not anymore!)

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2018 8:22 pm 
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Now about now some of you Irish are screaming "but we have competitions too! What about Comhaltas?" Yes I know that that's big in Ireland, but out here in the diaspora the pub session is where the music lives. And others of you are screaming "but there are Scottish sessions too! With pipers playing smallpipes and such!" Yes there are, but these pipers make up a tiny fraction of the Highland piping world. There are probably a thousand Highland pipers playing in Pipe Bands for every Highland piper who primarily attends pub sessions playing Highland smallpipes. I'm speaking to the average Highland piper and the average uilleann piper.

Another big difference is that Highland pipers generally learn from sheet music (in standard staff notation) while uilleann pipers generally learn by ear. Actually it's continually dismaying to me how most of my Highland piping friends neither have ears good enough to quickly pick up tunes by ear, nor sightread good enough to play tunes they've never heard at speed at first sight, off the sheet music. My time in the ITM world allows me to do the former, while my time in the "legit" musical world allows me to do the latter. Most Highland pipers have to have the sheet music in front of them AND be familiar with the tune in order to play it. Each modality serves as an aid to help overcome the deficiency in the other.

When our pipe band is learning new music, sitting around the table with Practice Chanters, I put the sheet music face down, watch the Pipe Major's fingers, and go into ITM mode. I have all the music memorised by that first practice, while some of the pipers still don't have the tunes down a month or two later. Your time in ITM will develop this, which will come in handy in the Highland piping world!

Also, Highland pipers usually learn one version of a tune and stick with it, while part of the art of playing ITM is learning how to vary the tune as you go along. The structure of Irish reels and jigs tends to be repetitive, and it would be dull to play a tune three times in a row (which is fairly standard) exactly the same way each time. Part of learning a tune is figuring out a number of nice things you can do with it.

I'm convinced that Highland piping used to be the same way. The reels played in the March, Strathspey, and Reel competition are nearly all very old traditional tunes. They first appear, oftentimes, in 18th century collections as typical traditional two-part reels. Then in the 19th century they become extended to four-part tunes, the new third part being a variation of the first part, and the new fourth part being a variation of the second part, having the same feel as a two-part Irish reel being played twice through and varied by the player. In like manner these tunes oftentimes continue to gather more parts, some being played today as six, eight, or ten part reels.

Likewise some pipers believe that piobaireachd (ceol mor) was originally improvised. Just like in jazz the piece starts with a familiar song-tune (did you know they were songs with words?) which then goes through a number of improvised variations (following the traditional idiom and format) and finally returning to the "head" (as it's called in jazz, or "urlar" as it's called in piobaireachd).

The specific versions that happen to have been written down capture a particular unique performance; the same player could have played the same piobaireachd a number of times, each time being different. More or less variations would be thrown in according to how much time the player needed to fill.

By the way a format generally similar to piobaireachd used to exist in uilleann piping, and you will sometimes hear echos of it even today.

The figuring out variations and personal versions of tunes is alive and well in Highland piping! I attended a Gordon Walker concert and it was obvious that he had spent time working out his own twist on every tune he played.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2018 8:47 pm 
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About a different topic, Masters Making Boo-Boos, I wouldn't consider various notes in phrases coming out in different octaves as "boo boos". They're just part of the uilleann pipes. Of course you don't want your Highland chanter playing notes here and there an octave too high! But on the uilleann pipes it's common. One example is the one-finger G which on some (many?) chanters usually pops out in the 2nd octave whether or not the rest of the phrase is in the 2nd octave or the low octave.

One thing I think IS a boo-boo is when the piper fingers C natural in the low octave and a High D squeals out. As it happens, on some (many?) chanters the fingering that gives C natural in the low octave is the same fingering as High D, with predictable results.

This can be heard on albums, even by the finest pipers, from time to time.

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2018 9:03 pm 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
And others of you are screaming "but there are Scottish sessions too! With pipers playing smallpipes and such!" Yes there are, but these pipers make up a tiny fraction of the Highland piping world. There are probably a thousand Highland pipers playing in Pipe Bands for every Highland piper who primarily attends pub sessions playing Highland smallpipes. I'm speaking to the average Highland piper and the average uilleann piper.


This might be too far of a digression, but is there a significant number of just SSP players, and are there any non-GHB-based styles common on the SSP? I know they're a revival instrument, and that by and large they're seen as a way for pipers to play indoors, but I've always been interested in the SSP, even more so in many ways than the UP, and yet the vast majority of advice, literature, etc. seems to be geared to those who want to or already play the GHB.

I ask because I wonder if the tradition is changing at all, away from competitions/pipe bands and towards sessions/trad bands, and whether that will end up making GHB more relaxed about differences and "mistakes" in playing.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2018 7:42 am 
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pancelticpiper wrote:

...the native habitat of the Highland pipes is Pipe Band competition at outdoor Games, and the native habitat of the uilleann pipes is the pub session.


I feel the pub session, as the habitat for the uilleann pipes, is only the public face of the instrument/player that we see. The default state of the uilleann pipes (IMO) is solo playing with plenty of variation within the tune...an action that puts it outside of the session and ensemble playing.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2018 7:45 am 
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This is all very interesting. Since visiting Scotland this year and hearing about the history there, I have a question. They told me the pipes were suppressed after the defeat of 1746(?) and for a time (several decades?) only the British military were allowed to use GHB openly. Whether this was completely true or not, could it account for the by-now tradition of favoring the uniformity required by playing in GHB in groups, where careful unison is necessary? The British military wasn't known for fostering individual expression back in those days, were they?

Just speculating, I have no idea.

Ken


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2018 8:38 am 
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They were not suppressed. Certain items of dress were, partly as the Jacobite army had been effectively using them as a uniform in 1745 (even Lowland and English Jacobites had been seen wearing them).

The banning pipes thing appears to come from one legal case where an unfortunate piper (who likely played bellows blown pipes!) had been trying to argue that though seen with the Jacobite army he wasn't technically 'in arms' with them. The judge wasn't convinced and ruled that his pipes were in this context an instrument of war. He was convicted, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he'd tried to argue on a technicality.

This was just one case however, not statute, and the pipes were never banned. Having said all that, I do think the early involvement of the military, and of the Highland Society of London who had a very narrow definition of what piping should be like, did have a strong effect of standardising performance. Donaldson's book on the "Highland Pipe and Scottish Society" is pretty good on this aspect IIRC


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2018 3:39 pm 
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tommykleen wrote:
I feel the pub session, as the habitat for the uilleann pipes, is only the public face of the instrument/player that we see. The default state of the uilleann pipes (IMO) is solo playing with plenty of variation within the tune...an action that puts it outside of the session and ensemble playing.


Agreed. Concert-pitch pipes are a relatively modern innovation, generally attributed to the Taylor Brothers making them for stage (principally vaudeville) players at the end of the 19th century.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 1:45 am 
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tommykleen wrote:
pancelticpiper wrote:

...the native habitat of the Highland pipes is Pipe Band competition at outdoor Games, and the native habitat of the uilleann pipes is the pub session.


I feel the pub session, as the habitat for the uilleann pipes, is only the public face of the instrument/player that we see. The default state of the uilleann pipes (IMO) is solo playing with plenty of variation within the tune...an action that puts it outside of the session and ensemble playing.


Agree..pipers who learn to play by learning tunes in sessions, I've noticed can tend to become fossilised and stuck on playing a tune only one way - the session way.
I've even had to try and explain to a piper in this category that the way I played a tune for him was not, in his words, 'an interesting version he hadn't heard before' as if I had learnt it from some different tune book, but my way of playing it at that point in time and it may well be different the next time I played it - that's what you're supposed to learn to do. I tried to refer him to a Sean Reid Society (I think) article on rhythm and variation in piping (or maybe it was Pat Mitchell's explanation in his Willie Clancy book) but I don't think he followed it up.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 2:12 am 
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bigsciota wrote:
pancelticpiper wrote:
And others of you are screaming "but there are Scottish sessions too! With pipers playing smallpipes and such!" Yes there are, but these pipers make up a tiny fraction of the Highland piping world. There are probably a thousand Highland pipers playing in Pipe Bands for every Highland piper who primarily attends pub sessions playing Highland smallpipes. I'm speaking to the average Highland piper and the average uilleann piper.


This might be too far of a digression, but is there a significant number of just SSP players, and are there any non-GHB-based styles common on the SSP? I know they're a revival instrument, and that by and large they're seen as a way for pipers to play indoors, but I've always been interested in the SSP, even more so in many ways than the UP, and yet the vast majority of advice, literature, etc. seems to be geared to those who want to or already play the GHB.

I ask because I wonder if the tradition is changing at all, away from competitions/pipe bands and towards sessions/trad bands, and whether that will end up making GHB more relaxed about differences and "mistakes" in playing.


Non-GHB pipers who take up the SSP, like me, take comfort in the fact that there is a Lowland tradition that allows more freedom from strict competition-style technique. More informed GHB pipers who take up the SSP will acknowledge the lowland piping traditions and maybe try to apply that to their Smallpipe style of playing. OTOH I have been accused of obviously not coming from a GHB tradition because my way of playing the SSP (based on the lowland style) obviously didn't conform to this person's idea of 'correct' small-pipes technique. But the chanter doesn't lend itself nicely to that way of piping.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 5:28 am 
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the native habitat of the uilleann pipes is the pub session. These are the places the music lives and breathes.


We've been here before but I will to say it again: no it is not. It may seem so to the casual onlooker who is not part of the traditional music fraternity but the pubsession is only one fragment of what you can call, for brevity, 'the tradition'.

The traditional music community is involved in activities much wider than playing in pubs. Playing in pubs is a social outlet, a source of gigs but it is not (thankfully) the be all, end all of traditional music playing.

Quote:
pipers who learn to play by learning tunes in sessions, I've noticed can tend to become fossilised and stuck on playing a tune only one way - the session way.


There seems to be a trend of music becoming more of an ensemble activity where apart from the ensemble sound not an awfull lot is going on in the individual player's music. But that is only one side of the coin, there is still a lot of music played where the overall sound is one of flowing lines but densely textured by layers of variation and melodic and rhythmic invention, players knocking sparks off eachother.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:02 am 
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I'd like to add a mention of the Highland piping tradition from Cape Breton where it seems to have risen (or been brought across the Atlantic) prior to the "militarization" of the instrument. In Cape Breton, the pipes were, and still are, often used for dancing. (Google Barry Shears and or Alec Currie for more.) This style included rhythmic and melodic variations not dissimilar to the use of pipes to foster Irish dancing—or playing for shear, individual enjoyment. So, I wouldn't put all Highland piping into the Pipe Band Model. Neither, as Gumby suggests, would I put all Irish piping into the Session Model.

Them's my thoughts.

Best wishes.

Steve

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