“All piping is good piping” – Seumas MacNeill

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Massed bands at the European Pipe Band championships in 2018. The competition was held at Grant Park in Forres and was praised highly as a venue by the bands. Could it be because the park's natural amphitheatre aided sound propagation?

To kick off the new year we reproduce Seumas MacNeill’s editorial that appeared in the Piping Times of January 1957. Seumas had three suggestions for pipers that year and they are still relevant today. As we look forward to, hopefully, a return to piping at some point this year, let’s take on board Seumas’ simple message:

Seumas MacNeill

By Seumas MacNeill.

By now most of the good resolutions will have received the customary treatment – a short, strict, and self-satisfied adherence and then the gradual decline. For that reason an appeal for reconsideration has probably now a chance of being well received. Three suggestions we would like to make for the coming year, each one with a view to helping piping everywhere. The first one is that we should try to encourage and be appreciative of the piper who has no pretensions to becoming an expert performer. Too often we listen for the mistakes and not for the beauty. “All piping is good piping,” says one philosopher, and we would do well to cultivate this attitude. If we all only tolerate those who (in our opinion) are worse players than ourselves, then in the long run only one man in the world is going to be worth listening to.

The man who plays “for his own amazement’ as one correspondent put it, is the backbone of the art.

The second resolution we should make is almost a natural outcome of the first, and that is to do all we can to help to maintain good going instruments in the world. If we have any special knowledge we should pass it on. We should help by setting a good example and learn by painstaking enquiry. In piping the instrument is more important than the player. We should combine against the maker of inferior pipes and gang-up on the churner-out of slap-dash reeds. Fifty years ago there were 11 good reeds in every dozen (we are often assured) so why not now? If your wife was prepared to accept bad meat, the butchers’ shops would be full of it.

Thirdly, a special plea for no comic songs on the bagpipes. Most pipers would be indignant if it were suggested that they prostituted the instrument in this way, and vet this is exactly what many do. It is not necessary to play Nellie Dean on the pipes in order to be an offender, for any tune which is not in character with the great instrument is quite out of order. Mairi’s Wedding, The Old Rustic Bridge and many other fine pieces are comic songs when played on the pipes.

• From the January 1957 Piping Times.