September 30, 2000

Pearly Victoria

The Victoria Collection
Compiled and published by Colin Magee
79 tunes, 68 pages

Reviewed by Roderick MacLean

Until now, Colin Magee was perhaps best known for composing the jig “Troy’s Wedding.” With the publication of The Victoria Collection, his much-anticipated collection, Magee’s reputation will undoubtedly grow. Overall, the book is quite strong and falls only slightly short of excellent.

I evaluated Magee’s book according to three categories of review. The first, and by far the most important, is the music. Were there enough good tunes here to recommend the book to other people? An appraisal of the technical aspects of the publication — type, notation, etc. – comprises the second category of evaluation. The third area of examination is additional information the collection provides.

To start, then, there is the music. Magee provides us with 79 tunes in total: 26 marches, six strathspeys, six reels, nine slow airs, 17 jigs and 15 hornpipes. Overall, I found the selections to be melodically strong. Magee has an ear for choosing pieces that surprise but remain musically pleasing. One often finds, for example, slightly different uses of tied notes or unusual placement, or combinations of gracenotes. In general, the collection is geared towards pipers of high technical ability. However, pipers of all grades will find something to suit their talents and tastes.

A number of tunes specifically sparked my interest. “Beausejour Cottage” by James MacHattie would enhance any band’s selection of street tunes. Magee’s “Dusty Miller’s Farewell to Dieppe,” written in 6/4 time, was also pleasing. Additionally, the “Lament for PM Harry MacAleer” demonstrates an effective use of the glissando or slur movement.

The real strength of the collection, however, is the jigs and hornpipes. Ann Gray, for instance, provides two 9/8 slip jigs that promise plenty of forward motion in an Irish style, while MacHattie adds a bright sounding, “Pugwash the Smuggler.” Magee’s “The Phantom Phiddler” and additional contributions from Gray, MacHattie and Michael J. Evans comprise a few of the notable hornpipes.

Technically, the book is also competent. I could find no obvious notation errors and the type is easy to read. The collection’s one real weakness, however, is the lack of additional contextual information. I would have enjoyed reading more about the City of Victoria Pipe Band (to whom the book is partially dedicated), the composers, and some notes on the origins of the tunes themselves. In short, this would have raised my ranking of the collection from very good to superb.

Roderick MacLean is from Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he is the Pipe Major of the Halifax Police Pipe Band.


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