February 28, 2003

Long live The King

His Complete Compositions
Duncan Johnstone
Distributed by the College of Piping, Glasgow
67 pages, 70 compositions

Reviewed by Greg Wilson

Duncan Johnstone’s His Complete Compositions contains a grand selection of tunes of all types. It represents the lifetime work of a quite remarkable composer. The book is plainly presented and is all the more effective for it, letting the music speak for itself. The cover proudly displays the famous photograph of Duncan with the Scottish Pipers’ Association inaugural Knockout competition trophy in 1964 where he was placed first in front of his great friend, Pipe-Major Donald MacLeod, MBE.

The foreword gives an excellent synopsis of Duncan’s life and piping career and quite rightly singles out some tunes for special mention: the march “Farewell to Nigg,” “The Isle of Barra March,” the hornpipe “The Streaker,” the jig “James MacLellan’s Favourite,” and the plaintive piobaireachd “Lament for Alan my Son.”

His Complete Compositions contains 33 marches of various time signature, eight strathspeys, one reel, four slow airs and three piobaireachds. There is no acknowledgement relating to the software program used in this publication, but it appears to be Bagpipe Music Writer Gold. The music is clear and easy to read with only minor aberrations in the form of extra bar lines in some tunes. However, this does not detract from the overall presentation.

There is one composition in this collection not attributed to Duncan Johnston (“Father John MacMillan of Barra”), but to Norman MacDonald of Skye, and one tune appears twice under its different names (“Feis Bharaigh ’84” / “Twelve Torlum”). The march section could possibly benefit from being ordered by time signature, but this may just be my militaristic background kicking in!

Some of my favourite tunes are included in this book: the strathspey, “Isa Johnstone,” is a particular favourite bringing back fond memories of my early competing years. “Chrissie Smith’s Jig,” “Finley Murchie’s Birthday,” “Barbara’s Jig” and “Lt. McGuire’s Jig” are further standout tunes. 6/8 marches are well represented, particularly in “Cameron MacFadyen” and “Meg McRae.” There are some very worthy 2/4 marches as well: “Mrs. Mary Anderson of Lochranza,” “The Isle of Barra March,” and “Mrs. Alex Johnstone.” Good 2/4 march compositions are always an accurate indicator of a quality composer.

His Complete Compositions contains some outstanding tunes for all levels of player and represents an important part of piping history. I am confident that the piping public will embrace this book and, in doing so, ensure it becomes one of piping’s best sellers of all time.

Greg Wilson has won almost all there is to win of the world’s biggest solo piping prizes, including the Clasp in 2001 and this year his third straight Silver Chanter. A major in the New Zealand military, he lives in Palmerston North.


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