October 31, 2004

Gray matters

Ann Gray’s Collection, Music for the Great Highland Bagpipe, Volume 2
Compiled and published by Ann Gray,
64 pages, 64 tunes

Reviewed by Iain MacInnes

Ann Gray focuses on modern compositions in her latest collection, drawing on the services of 21 composers, and offering an impressive range of material from the pared-back simplicity of the waltz, “Barbara Rose,” to a technically demanding multi-part setting of the “The Mason’s Apron” (in jig-time), drawn from the repertoire of Alasdair Gillies.

Gray’s own compositions form the core of the collection, and she tackles a variety of tune types and time signatures with considerable style and imagination, most notably in the 2/4 marches “Andrew Wright of Dunblane” and “Jere Edwin Wilkins,” and in the sweet-flowing slow air “The Road to Ardfern,” usefully set with harmonies.

Elsewhere John Recknagle makes a number of telling contributions, including a rollicking jig in “Stirling McMurchy,” and a beautifully evocative 3/4 march, “Terry Black.” Bruce Gandy contributes a wistful and attractive 9/8 march, “Memories of Coer d’Alene,” while Phil Cunningham’s “Jewel of 100 Years” (a 2/4 march) is already well-embedded in the general folk repertoire in Scotland, having done service as the centenary theme tune for the Royal National Mod in 1992.

Other tunes which catch the eye include the 6/8 marches, “The Celtic Dragon Pipe Band” by Ann Gray and Kevin MacPhail’s “Onaping Falls Centennial Pipe Band,” and a couple of lively strathspeys in Gray’s “Jonathan Graham” and “Robert Junor of Hardyards” by Colin MacKenzie.

The reel and jig sections are slightly threadbare by comparison, but an extensive section of hornpipes (16 in all) at the rear of the collection provides potentially rich pickings for pipe-majors looking for pipe band medley material. Here the outstanding tunes are “The Cumberland Coil” by John Toohey, “Rob Barrick’s Fancy” by Dan Diessner and “Patricia Kirkwood” by Ann Gray, although, in truth, there is a certain sameness in style and approach (and choice of key) which might suggest that the richest nuggets have already been extracted from this particular musical seam.

The collection has a general feeling of spaciousness, most of the 64 tunes having a page to themselves, with useful footnotes to explain background and titles. Key signatures are given, which should help avoid confusion when playing with other musicians, and a number of the tunes are attractively harmonized.

Time will tell which tunes hit the mark, and which fall by the wayside, but, in all, Ann Gray has put together an excellent collection: a welcome addition to the recent stock of pipe music publications.

Iain MacInnes is the producer of BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly “Pipeline” piping program. He has played with several top pipe bands, and several Celtic folk groups, including the Tannahill Weavers and Ossian. His last solo CD, Tryst, was named Fusion Piping Recording of the Year by Piper & Drummer Online. Iain MacInnes lives in Edinburgh.


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