New Tunes from the Campbell Canntaireachd
By Patrick Molard & Jack Taylor
The last few years have smiled on the piobaireachd community, with a number of new collections and books published. These include Jimmy McIntosh’s collection, book 16 of the Piobaireachd Society collection, the new Sidelights on the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor, and The National Piping Centre’s new piobaireachd tutor book, to name but a few. Yes, times are good for us ‘broch-brains’.
Some are fond of saying ‘all things in moderation’; I am fond of saying ‘all things in moderation, even moderation’. So let’s indulge, because yet another quality piobaireachd book has been released. It’s backed by two of the greatest minds in piobaireachd, Patrick Molard and Jack Taylor. Surely these men require little introduction, and to simply say that they are at the forefront of piobaireachd, both traditional and innovative, will suffice. But I must add that Molard’s recent album, is one of my favorite piobaireachd albums to date (see my review in Piping Today issue 82).
Pipers Meeting: New Tunes from the Campbell Canntaireachd presents 45 tunes from the Campbell Canntaireachd. Many of the tunes are printed in staff notation for the first time, making them available to pipers in an easily accessible format. The book begins with a forward and editorial note, which provide some history of piobaireachd and the Campbell Canntaireachd, delving into the methodology behind the collection. This history and methodology contextualizes the work by identifying differences between historical performance practice and contemporary performance practice, and addressing how the music has been printed with today’s performer in mind.
Following the modern trend, the music is written without time signatures. This allows for a more accurate printing of the relative note lengths, although the authors are sure to mention that staff notation only goes so far, and that a tutor’s advice should be sought to help explore the intricacies of the music. That being said, the tunes mostly follow time signatures even though they aren’t printed, but anyone familiar with the Kilberry Book or Piobaireachd Society Collection will be able to easily interpret the style. When liberties have been taken with the settings, especially involving cadences, they are referenced in footnotes so that the player can make his or her own decisions. Additionally, references to the volume and page number of the Campbell Canntaireachd are provided for each tune, and the full Campbell Canntaireachd is available on the Piobaireachd Society website, should any pipers want to compare the canntaireachd with the staff notation. I did this for a number of the tunes, and can only say that Molard and Taylor have saved us pipers a great deal of work by publishing this collection! Additionally, if tunes are available in other sources, such as Angus MacKay’s Collection, Glen’s Collection, etc., this is mentioned in the footnotes as well, allowing for easy comparison of settings.
I took the time to sing through a number of the tunes in the book, and found that there is a wealth of melody and structure contained therein. There are tunes of melodic and technical merit that would easily stand up to the classic competitive piobaireachds, and I hope to hear some of these tunes played on the competitive circuit in the coming years.
My favorite part about the book, however, is that at the bottom of every tune is the phrase ‘Timing and cadence placement are at the discretion of the player’. This could have easily been printed in the forward and assumed for the rest of the book, but the fact that the authors decided to include it on nearly every page of the collection is a breath of fresh air. As a musician, I read this as an invitation to explore the music as I would choose play it, and an affirmation that my own interpretation is artistically valid. Piobaireachd can at times be didactic. To be expressly, and repetitively, given permission to explore and experiment made reading through the music a much more enjoyable experience for me. I felt empowered to experiment, trying different musical and technical approaches to the tunes without the thought of settings or previous interpretations. I found it freeing and fresh. And for that reason above all others, the book has a space in my library.