Piping for dancing – part 2

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A piper plays for the Sailor's Hornpipe at the 2017 Atholl Gathering.

By Donald MacPhee

In part 1 I discussed the information, styles and requirements of piping for dancing and finished by looking at some dances that come under the ‘Highland’ term. I’d like to conclude by explaining the rest of those dances and then those that are termed ‘Scottish National Dances’ and ‘Demonstration Dances’.

The Reel – I put it that way because there are five derivatives of this dance. Depending on the dance, the piper can play all reels or a combination of strathspeys and reels. This dance is also recognisable as it is danced with four dancers dancing this dance at the one time.

1. The Half Tulloch or Half Hullachan (can also be called the Hullachan) – This is a dance that consists of reels. The intro is an eight bar intro and the duration of this dance lasts for eight parts of a reel or the equivalent of four two-parted reels. The tempo should be between 100-108bpm. I always play the first part of the Reel of Tulloch as my intro for the dance and then follow that up with two parts of Mrs. Macleod of Raasay, two parts of Jock Wilson’s Ball and four parts of High Road to Linton. Alternatively, a selection of reels from this list: Kilt is my Delight, Fairy Dance, Kate Dalrymple, High Road to Linton, Piper of Drummond, Deil Among the Tailors, The Ale is Dear, The Mason’s Apron, Marion and Donald and Tail Toddle.

2. The Full Tulloch or Full Hullachan (not to be confused with the dance called the Hullachan) – Any time this dance is called, it will include the word ‘full’. This dance is also danced with four dancers and lasts twice as long as the Half Tulloch or Half Hullachan. So you can deduce that the piper needs to play an eight bar intro and then play 16 parts of a reel. Here is where a strong reel repertoire really comes in handy. The metronome setting is the same as the Half Tulloch which is 102bpm for premier dancers.

3. The Strathspey and Highland Reel – Four dancers dance this dance. As the name of the dance states the dance starts of with a strathspey and finishes with a reel. The intro for this dance is a four bar strathspey intro (such as the last four bars of Susan MacLeod) followed by four parts of a strathspey. My personal choice of tunes for this part of the dance are Susan MacLeod (two parts) and Smith’s a Gallant Fireman (two parts). The break for this (going from strathspey into reel time ) is what I call a steady break, meaning the fifth beat of the last bar of strathspey time is the first beat of the reel or some people may think of it as the break lasting for one strathspey beat, whichever way you want to look at it – the break should make musical sense for the dancer so it should not be delayed nor should it be sudden. The reel part of this dance lasts for four parts of a reel with any of the listed reels being ideal for this dance. The metronome setting for the strathspey is 114bpm and for the reel part 102bpm.

Craig Muirhead at Luss, 2016.

4. The Strathspey and Half Tulloch – As with the other dances in this section, four dancers dance this dance. The intro for this dance is a four bar strathspey introduction followed by four parts of a strathspey. As in the previous dance you really find out why the tune Susan MacLeod fits beautifully with what the dancers are dancing and why this tune is an absolute strathspey classic. Any dance strathspey fits well for the strathspey part of this dance but as you will be going into reel time make sure your last strathspey doesn’t end on the note D, as a break from the note D into, say, Mrs MacLeod of Raasay isn’t the easiest of breaks (playing a birl from the note D).

The break from strathspey to reel is again what I call a ‘steady break’ – the fifth beat of the last bar of strathspey time being the first beat of the reel time.

The reel section of this dance comprises of eight parts of a reel. Any of the tunes at the end of this article are good reel dance tunes for the Half Tulloch part of this dance. The metronome setting for the strathspey part of this dance is 114bpm and between 100-108 for the reel part. As a side note, the end of this dance finishes with the dancers doing high cuts (jumping up as high as they can and while in the air stretching their feet so they try and make their feet parallel to their shoulders – one of the most difficult aspects of highland dancing. As stated the dancers are doing this at the end of this dance so tune selection for the highcuts should be reels that are ‘lifty, uplifting’ reels (i.e. High Road to Linton or The Clumsy Lover in reel time). Again, when you see this dance being done you will see clearer what it is I’m trying to explain.

5. The Strathspey, Half Tulloch and Highland Reel. Again, four dancers dance this dance. And the strathspey requirement is the same as the previous two dances. The introduction is a four bar intro followed by four parts of a strathspey. The break into the reel as in the previous dances is a clean break (fifth beat of the last bar of the strathspey is the first beat of the reel). The reel requirements for this dance are 12 parts of a reel. Again, having a good repertoire of reels is useful when piping for this dance. Popular tunes for both the strathspey requirement and reel requirement are listed below. The metronome setting for the starthspey part of this dance is 114bpm and 102bpm for the reel part of this dance. Although this dance is not often set as a championship dance, and not popular at competitions, the piper must still be aware of the requirements for this dance.

To sum up Reels: when a strathspey is mentioned, the requirement is a four-bar introduction followed by four parts of a strathspey. Half Tulloch or Half Hullachan or Hullachan is equal to eight parts of reel. Full Tulloch or Full Hullachan equals 16 parts of a reel. Highland reel is equal to four parts of a reel. When the word ‘Hullachan’ is used, it’s requirement is eight parts and Full Hullachan (will have the word ‘full’) is 16 parts. Also, the metronome settings that are given are for the Premier dancer (with the exception of the Half Tulloch or Half Hullachan). Most dancers, when they reach this level, will have danced for a longer time and are experienced and able to handle the length of the dance. Stronger, more experienced, dancers can handle the slower tempos but it must be said that there are less experienced dancers who have strength so this is just a general rule.

Richard Anderson at Pitlochry. Date unknown.

The ‘Highland’ section would not be complete if we did not include the two Step or ‘dance’ requirements for Primary dancers, they are the Pas de Basques and Pas de Basques and High cuts:

Pas de Basques (pronounced Pa de Ba) – In European dance, most countries have their own dance and in each country they have their own Pas de Basque. In Scotland, it is a side-to-side step where the bringing of the feet is critical for the dancer and where and how it is placed matters for good technique. Thankfully, we do not need to know the intricacies of this step but the tune requirement is Ghillie Callum. We play a four bar introduction and one part of Ghillie Callum for the Pas de Basques. The metronome setting is 110/112bpm. As stated earlier, this is done only for the Primary dancers (age four, five and six). So lots of tuning phrases and lengthy tuning notes aren’t the norm. When the dancers are ready blow up the pipe, sound low A for two to three seconds and then begin piping for the dancers. At the conclusion of this dance step, go down to low A and play for two or so seconds and stop. This way there is no confusion for these youngsters and when they should begin or when they should stop.

Pas de Basques and High cuts – This is another step dance for Primary dancers. The music used is Ghillie Callum and the Introduction is a four bar intro followed by two parts of Ghillie Callum. Again, as with the Pas de Basques, avoid playing for long periods of time before you start playing for this dance. Use the couple of second rule as stated above in the Pas de Basques. The metronome setting is roughly 110/112bpm.

The Scottish National Dances:
The Sailor’s Hornpipe – This dance is easily recognisable as the costume worn by the dancer is that of a sailor. It’s probably one of the most enjoyable dances to play for as well. Many hornpipes fit this particular dance but not all hornpipes. The hornpipes of today’s era fall into what many have labeled ‘hornreels’, or hornpipes written with reel rhythms. For example, the great Ally Reese hornpipe, Raigmore – or other similar hornpipes – would not be suitable for the dancers to dance the hornpipe. I recommend Jackie Tar, Bobbie Cuthbertson, Crossing the Minch or The Sailor’s Hornpipe as tunes for the dancers to dance to as well as to easily recognise.

This dance can be danced as a four step, five step, or six step with an eight bar intro. Each step is equal to 16 bars of a hornpipe part or 1 part with it’s repeat. The metronome setting for this dance is 98-104bpm. For example, if you were to play a four step Sailor’s Hornpipe you would play an eight bar introduction such as the first eight bars of Jackie Tar and then play the four parted Bobbie Cuthbertson in it’s entirety to satisfy the music requirement for the four step Sailor’s Hornpipe. Hornpipes should be played pointed but not as pointed as let’s say a competition type 2/4 march; let’s just say closer to pointed than to being round.

The Irish Jig – This dance is another one that’s easily recognisable by the costume or dance outfit the dancer is wearing. Think of your stereotypical Irish housewife and you wouldn’t be far off the outfit the dancers use with shillelagh and all. This dance is a hard shoe dance, the dance shoes have taps and clappers on them to help the dancers better express the rhythms of the dance. This dance can also be either four steps, five steps or six steps and just as similar to the Sailor’s Hornpipe, the Irish Jig uses an eight bar introduction and 16 bars of music is used for one dance step in the Irish Jig. Popular tunes for this dance are the Banjo Breakdown, Paddy’s Leather Breeches, and The Irish Washerwoman. Tempos for the Irish Jig is 123bpm for Pre Premier and 120bpm for Premier dancers. An example of the music requirements for a four step Irish Jig would be the first eight bars of the Banjo Breakdown for the intro then four parts of Paddy’s Leather Breeches (for the four steps of the dance). Jigs for this dance are played more the round way of playing jigs than the pointed style.

Andrew McCowan piping at Luss. Date unknown.

Flora MacDonald’s Fancy – This is one of the first ‘National’ dances that are taught which make them very popular at competitions. At competitions they mostly dance a four step ‘Flora’, however, I have played for many a six step Flora MacDonald’s Fancy. The time signature for the dance is 6/8 time and most 6/8 marches fit the dance quite well, however, for the younger and less experienced dancers tunes such at the Atholl Highlanders and The Steamboat are more recognisable but for the premier dancer most any 6/8 march fits really well. The tempo for this dance is 97bpm for the less experienced dancer and 95bpm for the Premier dancer. The Intro for this dance is an eight bar intro and one part repeated (16 bars) equal one step.

The Scottish Lilt – Like the Flora, the Scottish Lilt is popular at competitions because it is one of the first National dances taught in highland dancing. It can either be danced as a four step or a six step. The music for this dance is 9/8 march and the tempo for the less experienced dancers is 97bpm and 95bpm for the premier dancers. Popular tunes for this dance include Battle of the Somme and Heights of Dargai (more properly called the Hills of Dagshai). Both of these tunes are easily recognised. Other tunes that could be used for the more experienced dancers are Miss Heather Grant of Strathyre and the The Foxhunter. The Intro for this dance is a four bar intro and eight bars of music equals one step.

All the Blue Bonnets are O’er the Border – This is also known as simply The Blue Bonnets. This National dance uses the music of the same name for the dance – the 6/8 march, All the Blue Bonnets o’er the Border played at 95bpm for the less experienced dancer and 93 for the Premier dancer. The Intro for this dance is an eight bar intro and one step equals 16 bars or one complete part of the march. It is also danced as either four or six steps.

The Scotch Measure – is probably the least popular of all the Scottish National dances, or maybe it just hasn’t been as popular in the last while or so. Nonetheless, this dance is done at either four or six steps with an eight bar intro. The music is a 2/4 march, the most popular being Mairi’s Wedding and Teribus. Each step of the dance is equal to one part of the march (16 bars). Tempos for this dance are 102bpm for the less experienced dancer and 100bpm for the experienced dancer.

The Earl of Errol – is another dance that uses the name of the tune as the name of the dance. The Earl of Errol is a 2/4 march but it is not a strongly pulsed tune (very few dots and cuts). It is more of a round type march as opposed to a strongly accented march (agogic stress). I have heard both settings of this tune in both the key of A and D and both are suitable and fun to play. In years past there have been two different lengths of introductions for this dance (one consisting of four bars and the other of eight bars). Now, it must be said that for a number of years anytime I have played for this dance I have used the eight bar intro. Each step equals one part of the tune (16 bars). This dance is also danced at either four or six steps and the tempo played is 78bpm for the less experienced dancer and 76bpm for the more experienced dancer.

The Village Maid – A popular tune for this dance is the Liberton Pipe Band or Liberton Polka. The introduction for this dance is an eight bar intro and 16 bars or one part equals one step of the dance. Again as with many of the other Scottish National dances, it is either danced as a four step or a six step dance. The tempo for this dance would be 96bpm for the less experienced dancer and 94bpm for the more experienced.

Highland Laddie – Highland Laddie is another of the Scottish National dances where the name of the dance corresponds with the tune played for the dance. As with many of the other dances it is either danced as a four step dance or a six step dance. It has an eight bar intro and then one part equals one step of the dance. The tempo is 100bpm for the less experienced dancer and 98bpm for the more experienced dancer

Wilt Thou go to the Barracks, Johnnie – or also just known as The Barrack’s Johnnie. The most popular tune played for this dance is The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar as well as the Barren Rock’s of Aden. This dance is also danced as either a four step or a six step. The intro for this dance is an eight bar introduction and one step of the dance is equal to one part of the tune. The tempo for this dance is 100bpm for the less experienced dancer and 98bpm for the more experienced dancer

A piper plays for the Sailor’s Hornpipe at the 2017 Atholl Gathering.

Demonstration dances:
The Broadswords – The Broadswords is a dance where there is a team for the particular dance that dance around swords placed on the area where the dancers are dancing. Most Broadsword dances are danced as either a 2&1 or 3&1 (2 slow and 1 quick or 3 slow and 1 quick). The music for the dance that is used is the strathspey for the slow time and reel for the quick time. The introduction is a four bar introduction and one two-parted strathspey equals one step and four parts of a reel equals one step. So for a 2&1 broadswords you would play a four bar intro then four parts of a strathspey and four parts of a reel. The break is a clean break where the ‘fifth’ beat of the last bar in strathspey time becomes the first beat in reel time. The tempos for the strathspey would be 114bpm and 102bpm for the reel. I have played for this dance on many occasions at exhibitions and shows and there has been as few as two dancers dancing and as many as eight dancers dancing.

The Cake Walk – The Cake Walk is a dance that originated in the northeast of Scotland. It is a tandem dance where there is a male and female dancing to the music. Unlike most Scottish Highland dances the original score or music used for this dance is Whistling Rufus, is a tune that is outwith the scale of the great highland bagpipe. The tune that we play as a substitute is Jenny’s Bawbee. This dance can be danced as a four step or six step. The introduction is an eight bar intro and one part equals one step. The tempo for this dance is 88bpm.

Tribute to J. L. MacKenzie – This demonstration dance was choreographed for one of the ‘greats’ of Highland Dance, J. L. MacKenzie. J. L. travelled the world teaching and performing Highland dancing and was a true ambassador for not only Scotland but, more importantly, Scottish highland dancing. The tune that is used for this dance is Longueval, a three parted slow waltz composed by Pipe Major George Stoddart BEM. The introduction for this dance is a four bar introduction followed by the tune in it’s entirety. The tempo for this dance is 52bpm.


Tunes used commonly in piping for dancers:

StrathspeysMarquis of Huntly’s Highland Fling, Keel Row, Orange and Blue, Because He Was a Bonny Lad, Aspen Bank, Braes of Mar, Fiddler’s Joy, Mac an Irish, Captain Horne, Devil in the Kitchen, Molly Connell, Louden’s Bonnie Woods and Braes, Susan MacLeod, Smith’s a Gallant Fireman, Rose Amongst the Heather, O’er the Bows to Ballindalloch, Monymusk, Highland Harry, Balmoral Castle, Braes of Tullymet, Lady MacKenzie of Fairburn, Miss Ada Crawford and Dalnahassaig.
Sword Dance tune and for Pas de Basques and Pas de Basques and Highcuts – Ghillie Callum.
ReelsReel of Tulloch, Jock Wilson’s Ball, Mrs MacLeod of Raasay, High Road to Linton, Kilt is my Delight, Fairy Dance, Kate Dalrymple, Piper of Drummond, De’il Amang the Tailors, Marion and Donald, The Ale is Dear, The Mason’s Apron and Tail Toddle.
Marches in Simple timeMairi’s Wedding, Teribus, 79ths Farwell to Gibralter, Liberton Pipe Band, Drunken Piper, Heilan’ Laddie and The Barren Rocks of Aden.
Marches in Compound timeThe Earl of Errol, Dovecote Park, Steamboat, Mucking of Goerdie’s Byre, Glendaruel Highlanders, Battle of the Somme, Drops of Brandy, The Foxhunter, The Heights of Dargai, Miss Heather Grant of Strathyre, All the Blue Bonnets are over the Border, Jenny’s Bawbee, Longeval, Wha’ll be King but Charlie, Atholl Highlanders.
Hornpipes – The Liverpool Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Black Bear, My Love is but a Lassie Yet, Bobby Cuthbertson, Clumsy Lover, The Sailor’s Hornpipe, Jolly Beggarman, Crossing the Minch and Jackie Tar.
JigsIrish Washerwoman, Paddy’s Leather Breeches, Cork Hill, Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife and Banjo Breakdown.

• From the July 2019 Piping Times.