A Tune from John MacFadyen

November 13, 2021 on 5:13 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Stories, Video | No Comments

The piobaireachd, Rory McLoude’s Lament has always been a favourite. The old Anglicized spelling of MacLeod is likely connected to its first appearance in the Campbell canntaireachd manuscripts. And, as this is the spelling chosen by the editors of book eleven of The Piobaireachd Society Collection (1966), this is how pipers generally spell the tune. But that’s enough on letters. It’s a fine piece; in fact, Joseph MacDonald, in his Compleat Theory (1762) described it as a “…very soft lament …”. This tune, too, was among the first I learned from the hands of Bill Livingstone. He, in turn, was taught this tune by John MacFadyen (1926-1979).
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John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

June 29, 2021 on 3:58 pm by Michael Grey | In Photographs, Solo Piping, Stories | Comments Off on John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

Anyone who has visited the excellent G S McLennan website will have seen a smashing photograph of John MacDonald of Inverness. I include it here for easy reference (well, for those click-averse). This version is colourized and “enhanced” – and I’m not entirely sure its better than the original.
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Imagining Three Greats: Animating Ross, McLennan & MacDonald

March 6, 2021 on 1:30 pm by Michael Grey | In Audio File, Photographs, Solo Piping, Video | Comments Off on Imagining Three Greats: Animating Ross, McLennan & MacDonald

There’s a famous photo generally available online and everywhere (I suppose that’s redundant) of three of the most famous pipers of the twentieth century – if not all time. The photo is a post-WWI study of Pipe Major William “Willie” Ross, George S McLennan and John MacDonald (Inverness). You’ll likely know, MacDonald almost always gets an “Inverness” plugged on to his name due to the popularity, to this day, of the combination of given and surnames. Though, truth be told, he isn’t the only John MacDonald to ever call Inverness his home. But to pipers everywhere, when the name appears with the marker “(Inverness)” we know precisely the man mentioned: one of the greatest exponents of piobaireachd, one who left a great musical legacy thanks to a hugely impactful lifelong teaching effort.
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Bill Livingstone on Lament for Mary MacLeod and Ceol Mor (generally)

February 24, 2021 on 10:56 am by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Stories, Video | Comments Off on Bill Livingstone on Lament for Mary MacLeod and Ceol Mor (generally)

I’ve known Bill Livingstone since I first met him as a young feller attending The Seaway School of Piping in 1981 where Bill was an instructor. The school was held each July centred in and around Ban Righ Hall of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Colin MacLellan directed the school and his, dad, Captain John MacLellan, the school’s principal instructor. I recall this because, in part, the video presented here has Bill talking a little about his time there and a pithy – yet monumentally important – piobaireachd lesson Captain MacLellan offered Bill related to piobaireachd interpretation. You’ll have to watch the video to glean that secret (33’15”) and the many others mentioned connected to interpreting the big music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.
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Advice from G S McLennan: “There are those who can …

November 30, 2020 on 2:05 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Technique, Tips | Comments Off on Advice from G S McLennan: “There are those who can …

George Stewart McLennan was not just a great player and composer; he was an important contributor to the evolution of the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe. In his approach to technique (meaning embellishments and associated phrasing) he was on the vanguard of the music’s transition from the 19th to 20th centuries.
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Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert

October 31, 2020 on 5:03 am by Michael Grey | In Random Thoughts, Solo Piping | Comments Off on Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert

You’ll know today was the annual Glenfiddich Piping Championships. I tuned in to the pandemic version and took in the contest online. It was while Connor Sinclair was in mid-tune that the thought struck me: the piece he’s playing is not really all that old. Sure, it’s a good stretch older than the performer but as a tune written around 1837 its still shy of 200 years old. There’s even wine and beer around that have been known to be drinkable after 200 years. Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy is a much-liked favourite in the repertoires of many piobaireachd players: purely melodic, it hits the mark as a tune to be savoured – and played.
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The 2021 pipe band season: possible solutions

August 31, 2020 on 6:13 pm by Michael Grey | In News, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on The 2021 pipe band season: possible solutions

Not too long ago Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Teresa Tam offered up a sobering – if not depressing – update to Canadians:

“We’re planning, as a public health community, that we’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don’t know yet.”

It seems that – as much as we’d hope – there may not be a swift magic way out of the fog of our pandemic-lived lives.

I’ve been thinking for a while about competition possibilities for pipe bands (and soloists, too). Pre-recorded online activity is ok, maybe, for a brief locked-down moment in time but it does nothing to slake the thirst of the competition-loving piper and drummer. To create an event – a real event, a happening of importance and one where a paying audience is interested – any competitive online presentation must be live (or, at least, a recorded “one-off-only” performance; more on this later)
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Online Piping Competitions

June 10, 2020 on 7:01 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on Online Piping Competitions

Hats off to New Zealand. This past Monday (June 8) marked the first day since February that there’s been no active cases of Covid-19. Among many other pleasant pre-pandemic freedoms, the country can again hold public events without limitations on numbers. Thinking of piping and pipe band competitions the Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands’ Association enjoyed a pipe case full of good luck in the timing of their final contest of the year. Presented in the South Island city of Invercargill on the weekend of March 13, the organization’s national championship came in just under the quarantine wire. I thought at the time it would be the world’s final pipe band championship of 2020. And I may be right (sadly). Barring, of course, some kind of online “championship” – just the kind of post-apocalyptic thing New Zealand pipers and drummers can take off their to-do – or worry – list.
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Tunes from John Wilson (1906 – 1979)

May 29, 2019 on 4:51 pm by Michael Grey | In Audio File, Solo Piping, Stories, Video | Comments Off on Tunes from John Wilson (1906 – 1979)

There aren’t a lot of easily available recordings of great players of the past – especially the long past. Here are a few samples from the great John Wilson. I no longer assume people know of him, or, for that matter, almost any of the greats of the not-so-distant-past.

John Wilson was born in Edinburgh. He came from a piping family, his Uncle John, for instance, was “The Baldooser” (how’s that for a nickname). You can find the jig named “The Baldooser” in Willie Ross’s first book. John Wilson took to the pipes very young and, even then, was a good player. His life changed forever when as a kid in Edinburgh he was playing on the beach with a detonator (as one did) and blew off big parts of his left hand. He always noted in the story’s telling that this happened the day before the Great War’s Armistice in 1918; the irony appealed to him, I’m sure.
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Book 7: Barry Ewen (a hornpipe)

October 23, 2018 on 4:23 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Tune Score, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on Book 7: Barry Ewen (a hornpipe)

A long time ago I made a tune for my friend, Barry Ewen. It was first published in Neil Dickie’s “First Book”. Knowing that there has yet to be a music book published anywhere (to my knowledge) that has been without error or typo, it still bugged me that there was a typo in bar one of the tune I named for Barry.
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