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The Bagpipe Society


Hi John,

I hope all is well. I have been too busy getting married and honeymooned to

know if I have missed the Chanter deadline… probably missed it by months…. so I am early for next one.

Anyway here are some photos taken on June 19th of our wedding at Kinnersley Castle, Herefordshire - spot our President and various other known pipers. The Goodacre Brothers led the procession to our ceremony in the morning - John, Pete and John- Francis

In the afternoon I presented each piper with a ribbon for their drones and then led a massed band around the Castle grounds, playing The Star Melody. Spot the non pipers! On we go, yours aye, Julian Goodacre

Dear John

I am writing to say how delighted I was to read your series of articles in

Chanter on the subject of modes. I have virtually no formal musical training and I have found that the people I know who do have, seem to be of amazingly little help on the subject. For a long time I have been trying to get my head around modes. The theory is relatively straightforward but what I wanted was a series of well known tunes that I could identify with each mode to relate to the sort of “feel” that it brought out. Ionian and Aeolian were no problem of course and I had “What shall we do with the drunken sailor” for the Dorian and “Old Joe Clark” for Mixolydian but nothing for the rest. Your articles didn’t so much provide me with the rest but rather pointed out that they are few and far between. So that has helped put things into perspective.

I suspect that what you wrote is probably the tip of the iceberg of what you know, but nevertheless I thought I would take the liberty of inflicting upon you some of my dabblings in the subject. Relatively few people seem to be interested in modes, and the act of setting it down in writing helps me to get my thoughts in order. So if you have any comments I would appreciate them.

One of my party pieces is to sing Les Barker’s Yorkshire version of “Plaisir d’Amour” (Ilkley la Moor) accompanying myself on the hurdy gurdy. But I start off dead-pan by explaining how in France in the 18th century music was written to be played on drone instruments to satisfy the current fad for things pastoral. You could generally identify this by the fact that when it goes into the minor it goes into the tonic rather than the relative minor so that the drones sound right. Therefore “Plaisir d’Amour was written to be played on the hurdy gurdy. Which not a lot of people know!(the subject matter doesn’t fit the bagpipes) So you switch between the Ionian and the Aeolian by adding three flats to the key signature but keep the same drone.

I thought it would be fun to extend the principle. Take a simple tune and play it in all the church modes changing the key signature but keeping the same dots on the page, so that in each case the scale ran from C to c. I enclose a couple of midi files of the results. The first takes “Early one morning” downloaded from the internet and repeated with different key signatures. Two flats for Church Dorian, four flats for Church Phrygian, one sharp for Church Lydian one flat for Church Mixolydian four flats for Aeolian and five flats for church Locrian. All against a drone of C. It sounds mechanical and boring but I found it did give some sort of feel for the modes.

Musically I think much of the interest comes from the transition between the modes rather than in the modes themselves. I love for example the way “Horses Brawl” goes from the minor into the major. The second midi file is an attempt to mix things around in a more interesting fashion with a simple duet written for the musette by Boismortier . There is still a long way to go before it is musically significant, but I think it offers a way to expand the repertoire of drone music as I imagine was done before equi -tempered scales came in. Sadly it is really only appropriate for the hurdy gurdy, which has all the necessary notes rather than the bagpipe. (unless you have a musette de cour or a 17 keyed Northumberland chanter).

There is of course the complication that things don’t necessarily work out well in equi-temperament. My reference on this is Helmholz’s “On the sensation of tone” or, as often as not the translator’s notes. First of all he points out that in the 16th century the church got the nomenclature all wrong and the actual Ancient Greek names were different from the ones we all use today. He also points out that the actual intervals within the modes were different. So I took the intervals quoted and calculated the frequencies for the scale in each mode. I then made an Apallachian dulcimer with interchangeable fret boards, and adjusted the positions of the frets to give the frequencies I had calculated. From the photograph you can see the variation of position of frets corresponding to the same note. I rather doubt that I personally have sufficient musical acuity to tell the difference. I would have to make an equi-tempered, fully chromatic fretboard to test it, but the character of the different modes when you play it is clear.

I don’t know whether any of this is of interest to you, but please take it as evidence that I do mean it when I say I appreciate your articles. I also appreciate all that you do to keep Chanter on the road. There must be a great many people like myself who don’t have a great deal to contribute but nevertheless appreciate reading it. Having said that, I am currently pursuing a systematic study of drone reeds (measuring pressure, flow, all the relevant frequencies etc) and if I ever get it all together I will provide you with an article for Chanter. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it!

Best wishes, Mike Hutley

With reference to your introductory comments in the last Chanter, there are many bagpipe makers in this country and abroad and no introduction to them; what sound do the pipes make, what do they cost, what music are they designed for, where are the makers and what their addresses? The Bagpipe Society should provide this information and Chanter would be more widely sought after if it provided it.

Dustin Mirick

Dear John

Your plea for comments from the membership regarding the state of the society has moved me to do something! So, here are my thoughts, for what they are worth. I look after the newsletter for the Border Marches Early Music Forum

(BMEMF), which has a fairly static membership of about 200 (more than BagSoc, gulp!) for what is basically a club for middle aged ladies in the Welsh Marches to sing Palestrina and play their recorders. BagSoc’s lesser and falling membership is clearly something to worry about.

My suggestions and comments:

  1. Trying to drum up interest amongst the “yoof” is a forlorn hope. Piping is not a hot topic to the young: I bet all new pipers are into their 40s and beyond. Only those with grown up families can afford to lash out £1500 or so for a set of pipes. There is also no tradition in England for piping, unlike Scotland and Ireland, so English schools are not going to be a source of new young talent either.

  2. As there are many pipe makers, and, as you suggest, there are a good number of people buying their products, how about an arrangement with Messrs Swayne et al whereby all purchasers of their pipes get a year’s sub to BagSoc included in the price. After a year of reading Chanter and possibly going to Blowout they will be hooked for life!

  3. Chanter is an excellent society magazine and well worth the sub alone. I have had many heated discussions with the BMEMF committee on the same subject as discussed in Chanter: they think lots of money can be saved by publishing the mag on the web instead of having a printed copy, I point out that the overwhelming majority of members are just buying a magazine with their sub and take no part in the workshops organised by the committee; by making the mag free to view on the website, these members would see no purpose in renewing their sub and the society would effectively die.

  4. A bit of advertising in the pages of “rival” societies’ magazines would spread the word about BagSoc’s existence.

  5. If you look n the web, there are loads of small bagpipe clubs/societies in the USA. A bit of publicity aimed in their direction may bring in some overseas members. Ditto other countries with some kind of piping history (France, eastern Europe, etc). Time consuming, but worth it.

  6. Get an A5 flyer printed and send copies to all UK folk clubs and EFDSS headquarters for display at their meetings.

  7. Their are dozens of folk festivals in the UK every year. Send Mrs. Casey and other organisers a wad of flyer/application forms for display in the festival offices.

There are a number of early music fora in the UK: do the same for them!

All the above simply boils down to this: if nobody knows about us, how the hell can they be expected to become members.

I can’t believe that we can only find 134 bods willing to be members of BagSoc! Come on, committee! Pull your fingers out and spread the word!

As a bit of a PS, I have been meaning to go to Blowout for years, but there always seems to be a gig at the same weekend. Looking at the photos in Chanter, there are a lot of familiar faces: I looked after the PA/sound at the Kinnersley French dance week for 10 years and many of the same lot were regulars there (Jon, Vanessa, Pat, Cliff et al). If lots of the Blowout attendees are non-members, they should be “persuaded” to become members while they are captives at Blowout. Make the non-members fee much greater: one visit to Blowout pays for the sub…

Best wishes and may BagSoc thrive and prosper.

John Henry

Dear editor,

I can’t have been the only reader to have noticed the remarkable similarities

between the two zampogna players depicted in your recent issue (Autumn 2010) on pages 10 and 12; even the shoes and leggings seem to be the same. Do all zampogna players have a hat like that?

Also thanks to Tom Hughes for those pictures of Magdalen Chapel; I was particularly struck by the central psaltery player; so similar to the one at Rosslyn, and the same date too. If he took more of the other musicians, I’d love to see them. Does anyone have more info about these carvings?

Pete Stewart

“Besides the smaller Drones of the Highland Bagpipe (two in number) there was, and still is, in use, with the Pipers in the North Highlands particularly, a great Drone, double the Length and Thickness of the smaller, and in sound, just an octave below them, which adds vastly to its grandeur, both in sound and show.

This Drone may be properly termed the Bass Drone, and, in

proportion to the simplicity of the Instrument, has a good deal of the nature of a Bass accompaniment, insomuch that to Persons of true taste, accustomed to it, the want of it makes a most capital Defect in the martial strain of Pipe music.

The reason given by the Pipers

of the West Highlands for laying aside

the use of the great Drone was frivolous,

and unfounded, namely, that the loudness of it drowned the sound of the Chanter music. But this is a mistake, and should it happen so, it is easily rectified by weakening the Reed of the great Drone.”

Joseph MacDonald, ‘Compleat Theory’ 1803 Notes inserted by his brother Rev. Patrick MacDonald (1729-1824)

“The famous Mr. John Playford tells us a remarkable story to this purpose; that himself, once travelling near Royston, met a herd of stags, about 20 upon the road, following a Bagpipe and Violin: when the music played they went forward, when it ceased they all stood still; and in this manner they were conducted out of Yorkshire to the King’s palace at Hampton-court.”

Edward Jones: Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards, 1784.