I think it’s safe to say that ceòl mòr is enjoying its perhaps fourth revival. The post Jacobean/Ossianic era produced much interest and began the culture of competitive piobaireachd as we know it. Queen Victoria’s Scottish obsession spawned much of the fundament of piobaireachd recording and performance we have today and post-World War II. This is thanks, in part to the work done by Messrs Pearston and MacNeill through the College of Piping, composition, audio recording and recital performance of contemporary ceòl mòr became a recognised and respected part of the art form.
The internet age has allowed composers from around the globe to experience more ceòl mòr than was ever available to pipers formerly. The sheer amount of information that rests under the fingertips of any piper with a smartphone is behemoth-like in nature.
All artforms have peaks and troughs in creative output. It’s fair to say that in piobaireachd composition we are on the sunny uplands of a creative surge. No collection highlights these halcyon days more than The Shasta Collection of Modern Piobaireachd.
The Shasta Piping Society is supported by the Rooklidge Family Trust and seeks to provide instruments and tuition to disadvantaged students worldwide. In 2017 The Shasta Piping Society began the first of its annual ceòl mòr composition contests from which the pieces found in this collection were collected.
The process of judging and selection of tunes was undertaken by individuals of the highest piping calibre: Mike Cusack (United States of America), Bill Livingstone (Canada), Chris Terry (South Africa), Robert Wallace (Scotland) and Greg Wilson (New Zealand), a truly international line-up of adjudicators for the contests. All have lent their support to the collection. Robert Wallace has written an introduction inviting pipers to experiment with and study these new tunes. After all, what may be the contemporary stand out of today could be the classic of tomorrow.
The collection holds 20 piobaireachd from some very well known names in piping and some not so well known (depending on where you are geographically). the late Andrew Bonar, Jori Chisholm, Allan MacDonald, Ronnie MacShannon, John Dew, Karen McCrindle-Warren, Chris Grey and Pipe Major Ben Duncan are only some of the composers who have contributed to the book. I would say that having thoroughly read through each tune and had a go at interpreting each one, I particularly enjoyed The Burning of the Witches on Whitesands by Karen McCrindle-Warren, A Salute to the Arthurs by Zephan Nichel, and Trianad (Trinity) by Allan MacDonald. All the tunes in this collection are very well presented – and I certainly didn’t find any I actively disliked – but these three were standouts to me.
The proceeds from the sales of The Shasta Collection of Modern Piobaireachd go to EPIC (Encouragement and Praise Inspires Champions) East Ayrshire Pipe Band Academy. This charity was set up by Karen McCrindle-Warren and her husband Paul Warren in 2016 to offer piping and drumming tuition to the young people of the Cumnock and Doon Valley areas. In recent years, piping and drumming tuition has ended in the state schools of East Ayrshire.
You should buy this collection to expand your horizons and to bring a flavour of something new into your ceòl mòr study. You should also buy this collection to support a great project trying to do the right things for piping in an area that was formerly strong on piping.