November 30, 2000

Instructional Efficacy On Tape

Pipes Ready! A Set-Up and Maintenance Guide for the Great Highland Bagpipe
with Jim McGillivray

Video, 86 minutes

Reviewed by Mike Cusack

The great Highland bagpipe is an incredibly finicky and demanding instrument, which, if not properly maintained, is a constant source of irritation. To the beginner who just received that long awaited first set of pipes, figuring out how to make them work can seem more difficult than a crunluath. A couple of good maintenance manuals from Capt. John MacLellan and the College of Piping give basic details and instructions, but lack the instructional effectiveness that comes with watching a professional at work.

Gold medallist and Clasp winner Jim McGillivray, author of Rhythmic Fingerwork, has just released a new bagpipe maintenance instructional video, Pipes Ready! A Set-up and Maintenance Guide to the Great Highland Bagpipe. Assisted by producer Rob Crabtree, McGillivray gives a light-hearted but thorough overview of basic bagpipe maintenance.

Anyone who has recently purchased a set of pipes, or anyone waiting to on receive a set of pipes should buy Pipes Ready! The video is divided into different topics such as the bag, blowsticks, valves and watertraps, fit of joints, chanter reeds, drone reeds, and a workshop, a basic section on proper hemping, seasoning and the like.

After providing an overview of each main topic, McGillivray goes into greater detail, examining the different problematic issues that arise with each component of the bagpipe and demonstrating the proper way to resolve each problem. The video case has a timed index corresponding with the time code in the left corner of the screen, allowing you to go to the topic of interest with ease.

Professionally produced and filmed, with good, tight close ups of various maintenance techniques and comparison charts of different types of bags and reeds, the video leaves nothing to chance. McGillivray deals thoroughly with the basics of maintenance and addresses a few of the topics I tend to harp on at summer piping schools, such as bag size, blowstick length and bore size, and chanter reed strength.

It is nice to hear him emphasize that the good sounding bagpipe will always be the comfortable bagpipe. He does make the necessary distinction between solo and band instrument, but still gives the amount of time a person should be able to play continuously on either type of set up. This in itself should be an eye opener to many beginning players and a good defense against those who still insist that you cannot be a good player or produce a good sound unless you are on the verge of death through physical exhaustion.

The video is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to be. As McGillivray states a couple of times in the video, more details on topics such as tuning will be available on forthcoming videos in the series. I am sure the tuning video will be more exhaustive in its treatment of reed manipulation. These finer points would be lost on a beginner. There is enough to learn and absorb as it is.

If you are a teacher, buy this video. I played it to my sixth grade students and they loved it. I loved it too. Now I don’t have to repeat the same things over and over again. I’ll just let Jim McGillivray do it for me.

Mike Cusack is director of the piping and drumming program at St. Thomas Episcopal School in Houston, Texas, USA. Along with just about every other piobaireachd prize, he has won both Highland Society of London Gold Medals, the Bratach Gorm, and the Clasp. He lives in Houston.


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