We all have our favourite tunes, pieces of music that we love to play or love to hear – or both.Â Pipe tunes are such short little things – pibroch aside – it’s hard to keep aÂ Favourite Tune List brief.Â My own FTLÂ changes a fair bit, andÂ often.Â I think it depends on what I’m listening to, what’s on the radio, what I’m practicing, what the band is playing, my mood; I think all of these variablesÂ are among the drivers ofÂ my FTL.
A different sort of thing is the “tunes I wish I wrote” list.Â This list changes less frequently.Â Different from the FTL, for meÂ this list is a very reflective acknowledgement, orÂ recognition,Â of the genius in a composition:Â the turn of phrase, the melodic line, the phraseÂ construction or just a certain indescribable je neÂ c’est quoi. Â
5 tunes I wish I had written, in no particular order: Â
“Brown Haired Maiden” (March) – Okay, so it’s really a pipe version of the Gaelic song “Ho Ro Mo Nighean Donn BhÃ²idheach”, I don’t care, it is a firm part of the Great Highland Bagpipe repertoire.Â It’s one of the Tunes of Glory; simple, stirring with a melody that works at a vast range of tempi.Â When played well this is one of those tunes that makes the pipe speak.
“Pipe Major George Ross’s Farewell to the Black Watch” (March) – Composed by Willie Lawrie at the start of the 20th century this isÂ the most technically challenging 2/4 competition marches ever made.Â This is a “power” tune in every way: tonality, rhythm and phrasing all emanate with every step.Â This is one of those tunes that almost feels like a story is being told through the notes.Â I put Lawrie’s other masterwork,Â “Captain Carswell” on the same level. Â Â Â Â Â
“The Little Cascade”Â (Reel) – George Stewart McLennan’s greatest composition.Â This has genius stamped all over it.Â There’s a playfulness to the melody, an interplay of phrasing,Â that reminds me of two kids teasing each other in the school yard: listen to partÂ four and its almost like aÂ kidÂ taunting, “na-na na-na naaa”.Â Probably the greatest non-pibroch tune ever made by a piper for the Great Highland Bagpipe. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
“Susan MacLeod”Â (Strathspey) – ThisÂ tune by Donald MacLeodÂ and his “Duncan Johnstone” hornpipe a toss upÂ as the great man’s best compositions.Â Â Written in the 1950s for his daughter, MacLeod managed to create a compelling,Â originalÂ and evergreen strathspey long after the golden age of strathspey composition.Â This isÂ the mostÂ melodically sophisticated tune in the competition piper’s strathspey repertoire.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
“Mist Covered Mountains” – (Slow Air) – Another stroke of minor key brilliance with Gaelic roots, the standard pipe version is lifted from the immigrant’s song, “ChÃ¬ Mi Na MÃ³rbheanna”.Â Like most of the best airs there is an irregular structure to the melody, no cookie-cutter A-B-A-B melodic line, the tune is one seamless melodic surprise that never fails to move – or get old.Â Â As a by-the-way: the 19th century songbook compiler, Archibald Sinclair, notes that the tune is called “Johnny Stays Long at the Fair,” and that it was composed in 1856, by Iain Cameron.Â I suggest 150 years isnâ€™t really a long time in the context of music so perhaps this melody is far from â€œtraditionalâ€.Â I donâ€™t know.Â
So there you go.Â My covetous list.Â Next up:Â 5 tunes I’mÂ glad I never wrote.
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