Sunday, January 25, 2009

Which foot ?

Dean's "right foot or left foot" problem with the Retreat (3/4 and 9/8) stems from the fact that this time signature has a unique and interesting feature in terms of marching. In all our other time signatures we are used to the idea that the accented beat in the bar falls invariably on the left foot. For example, in 2/4 and 6/8 we have a Strong first beat in the bar followed by a Weak second beat. The bass drum is therefore loud on the strong (left) foot and muted on the second (right) foot, and this continues for the entire tune.

In the Retreat things are quite different. Here we have a strong first beat followed by two weak beats, so the strong beat from the bass drum (every third beat) alternates throughout the tune between the left and the right foot - a feature unique to the Retreat.

Once this is understood we can cut to the chase regarding which foot should mark the very first note of the tune - and the answer is simply "It doesn't make any difference as long as everybody is together". That said, it should be noted that in a tune like "The Green Hills" there is a source of ambiguity because the first two notes (A and B) are intuitively seen as "outside the bar", although they are often not written that way, and the bass drum emphasis falls naturally on the following C. If the pipe major deems that the first two notes are outside the bar, then the tune will start on the right foot with the A.

As I have remarked previously, if you are not now totally confused then you haven't been paying attention.

Old Angus

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good news on Karina !!

I heard on the grapevine today that Karina now has a second son - named Jacob.

Congratulations and best wishes, Karina and Jeremy, from all your friends in the Band.

Old Angus

Clearing up a few points.

This has nothing to do with the idea of falling back in a battle sense, but merely a signal to mark of the end of the soldier's day - usually around 6 pm. Traditionally, in the Scottish Regiments, the piper plays a traditional "Retreat March" at this time. What defines a "Retreat March" in the musical sense is a march played in 3/4 or 9/8 time - i.e. 3 beats in the bar in simple or compound time. There are many beautiful tunes to pick from, with the repertoire greatly increased during and immediately following the First World War.

The Hornpipe was traditionally an English dance accompanied by a simple single-reeded instrument called a hornpipe comprising a wooden tube with a horn bell on the end. In the last couple of centuries the music and the dance became (for reasons which escape me) associated with sailors. In the Highland Dancing world, the Sailor's Hornpipe has been in the repertoire for as long as I can remember, and the piper played such tunes as "Jackie Tar" or "The High Level Hornpipe" to accompany the dancers. However, in recent years there has appeared a whole swag of "Hornpipes" which have nothing to do with a dancing tradition, but are merely very lively marches which tend to require a bit more than average dexterity in fingering. It is almost mandatory in Grade 1 Pipe Band competitions to march on to a Hornpipe so this craze is not going to disappear any time soon !!! The hornpipe has exactly the same format as a 2/4 march - 2 beats in the bar and simple time.

Reels and Jigs.
These are traditionally tunes to accompany fast and furious dances. However, the Reel is in simple time (2/2) while the Jig is in compound time (6/8 or 9/8). But of course, pipers being what they are, the Reel can now be a dance tune or a "competition piece" with quite challenging fingering and played much more sedately with no hint of its wild origins. It should be noted that some Hornpipes (2/4) can be difficult to tell from Reels (2/2) when the tempo is raised.

This is the name of a traditional Scottish dance which probably originated in the valley (strath) of the River Spey a couple of centuries ago. The music is fiercely "cut and hold" to the point where it is probably unique in the world of music. The music is written in simple time, with 4 beats to the bar. Once again, the Highland Dancing scene is closely associated with the strathspey - e.g. the Highland Fling - but there is also a piping tradition of "heavier" strathspeys used in competition which uses the same unique musical structure to great effect.

Old Angus


I have a couple of questions that have nagged me for a number of years now but never had the inclination to ask. This is particularly for either Angus or the good RSM sitting in the wings but I'm interested in opening a discussion either way as there may be more than one point of view, let's face it in piping there usually is, and I'm guessing a number of folks have wondered from time to time.

The first is, apart from tempo, what specifically distinguishes one 'style' of tune from another? By this, I mean when does a reel become a hornpipe or a strathspey, a jig or vice versa? Another side track from this is, why do we refer to 3/4 marches as "retreats" while the others are still "marches"? Is this from the instruments' use in battle as a form of communication to regiments?

Now I understand we play strathspeys for example, very exaggerated with regards to dots and cuts, and this gives them a particular feel to play (and sound to listen to obviously) but jigs, similarly have that clipped feel to them so what is it technically that differentiates those two? I have experienced reels and hornpipes that feel the same to play and to my relatively inexperienced ear, sound the same. I must admit that generally the hornpipe is a longer tune though. It can't be time signature because we have the same time signatures on all types of tunes. When does a 2/4 march become hornpipe (I've seen Black Bear written as both)? This is probably a numpty question but I don't think it's really often addressed as a subject and I don't recall ever having had it explained to me. Is this purely down to what the composer wants to call it or is there a general rule of thumb?

My next question is about the 3/4 vs. "the others" habit, tradition, whatever, many bands have of starting the 3/4 on the right foot?? This has always intrigued me but I've never questioned it, always figured there must be some reason or it wouldn't happen. While we're at it, why do we often not repeat measures in the 3/4?

I await the learned responses, cheers from a wee bit damp Townsville.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tribute to a Hero - by Bill Gall

Click on the image for an enlarged version.

Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) Trooper Mark Donaldson V.C. was awarded the first Australian Victoria Cross in January 2009.

During a heavy engagement with the Taliban in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, Trooper Donaldson ran 80 metres across open ground under heavy fire to rescue a wounded comrade.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


In Aberdeen of course

In Edinburgh Castle

Outside Edinburgh Castle

Just back from a adventurous tour of Scotland. Had a day and a half in Edinburgh with my cousin who lives at the famous Edinburgh school of Fettes where her husband is housemaster. Angus's I'm sure Malcolm M may have heard of this school; it reminded me of a huge Scotch College!

Then up to my homelands of Aberdeen. Spent 4 days in Aberdeen. It's a changed place from my last visit 8 yrs ago. I loved getting the bus to hear folk speak like my parents.
Visited Balmoral, Ballater, Tomintoul, The Lecht, Alford, Granton on Spey. Amazingly many famous whisky distilleries were shut for winter - not happy Jan!, Ive put the names in for Angus senior; I'm not sure if anyone else knows these places.

Angus had a fine meal in Ma Cameron's. Enjoyed some Rowies and Buttries. Had a great time.

Off to London tomorrow for 2 days.

Enjoy first band practice. Not happy missing it. I've been so busy I haven't played pipes for a while.

Take care all Regards

Andy T

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Piping at New Year

Hi all

Here is some video, from New Year's Eve.

I thought it sounded okay on the night, but I now think High A is a bit too sharp. It was taken on Aimee's camera, so sound on these are not too good.

At the time we all enjoyed it!

Regards Andy T

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year from Yorkshire

Piping into the foyer, New Year's Eve

Piping in the Entrance Hall at Norton Hall

The Thomson Family walking the grounds of Graves Park, where we are living is in the grounds. It's vvv cold!

Norton Hall. You can see the top 5 windows, where we are living, also St James church founded in 1150 - there's some history.

Piping at midnight.

I piped last night. I was piping down the stairs, then down in the foyer, and people were appearing from all the apartments.
There were about 50 or so people in the entrance hall. I think some people were amazed, an Australian, was piping Scottish tunes in Sheffield!
It went down extremely well. I played Auld Lang Syne. Outside it was -4Deg, but my pipes were sounding fine; once again tuning is very different.

A little background on Norton Hall-
The Hall was built around the 1810, by the Shore family.
Around 1850 Charles Cammell bought the estate. He owned a Sheffield steel works, and as some of us know Sheffield steel is very famous.
It has had various owners since then and has also been a Hospital in that time.
Recently it was converted and updated into apartments. They are very modern and spectacular inside. They have heated floors, which is great. Being in the top floor is great as the views are wonderful.

On Wednesday Aimee and myself head to my ancestral homeland, Aberdeen Scotland. We look forward to seeing family. I look forward to seeing all the granite, as it reminds me of my Dad.

Angus snr and Flora, I'll post pics from Aberdeen, just to let you both know it's still the 2nd best city - No1 is Elizabeth of course!

Liz, great work on the dance floor mate. I enjoyed the photos from the Munno Para Caley show. Ray great to see you getting better.

Regards - Andy T

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Liz takes the floor.

There's a lot more to being a bass drummer than meets the eye !!!

Here we have Liz in action on Hogmanay.