The Barley Skimmers by Hilary de Vries - Scottish Music for the pipe


The Barley Skimmers is book of 40 original tunes written for pipes. The tunes are all written out in the usual Highland style of A with no key signature. I’ve been using a key signature for my pipe tunes for many years now, but this is standard practice for Highland pipe music. I assumed that these tunes would be lovely on the Scottish smallpipes so of course the first thing I decided to do was to see how they would fare on my G border pipes. The tunes do work very nicely on them as long as you pick and choose which of the very Scottish gracings to use. I suspected though that they would sit more comfortably on the Scottish smallpipes and I was partially right. The fingering was much easier to play on the SSPs and the tunes did benefit from the Highland grace-notes, but in my mind I thought the timbre really demanded the border pipe sound, in other words although I could play them on both Scottish smallpipes and my G borders, I personally felt that to get the best out of these lovely Scottish melodies was that I wanted to play them on the Highland pipes.

Having played through the book my attention turned to the CD. I was disappointed to find that the recordings were played on an electronic chanter and felt rather soul-less. Although the CD is primarily a resource to help playing the tunes I always think that a CD that can be listened to just for listenings sake can be just as useful a selling point. Interestingly I visited Hilary’s website and listened to St. Michael’s Church played on a set of Highland pipes and this was absolutely stunningly beautiful. I would have preferred a whole CD of this, even in the key of Bb. That said, the CD is accurately and steadily played and will certainly be beneficial to anyone learning the tunes.

The tunes definitely have an air of Highland inspiration and in my minds eye I can see a piper up on the hill playing these tunes, the plaintive strains drifting over the wind.

The Barley Skimmers is available from Boarstone Publishing and costs £15 plus p&p

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