January 31, 2001

Rich material

Ann Gray’s Collection – Music for the Great Highland Bagpipe
Compiled by Ann Gray
82 tunes, 76 pages

Reviewed by Anne Spalding

Ann Gray’s Collection appears first as a nicely laid out book with a comprehensive range of tunes. The book comprises an abundant eighty-one tunes, new compositions with a peppering of new arrangements of traditional melodies.

The march section contains a hefty twenty-two tunes and includes all the familiar time signatures. The two 12/8 marches, “Miss Patricia Robertson,” by David Laws, and “The Renfrew Rose” by Colin Magee are instantly attractive tunes. The seven 2/4 marches are all fairly solid tunes, written in the traditional idiom. 6/8 marches follow, seven in all, with Stuart MacNeil making the rhythms just a little different in his tune Allan John MacNeil.

The strathspey section of the book contains only seven tunes, lending weight to the notion that it is difficult for composers to find new inspiration for this category. Indeed, two of the strathspeys are arrangements of traditional tunes. “The Rose Among the Heather” has had a part added by Jeff Brewer “to meet the minimum four part requirement for competition standards,” but it adds little to the tune. (Incidentally, the rose in the heather should be roes, as in roe deer!) Of the new strathspeys, Robyn Whitty’s “Tartan Teddy” is a bouncy little two-parter.

A mix of round and pointed reels makes up the next section in the book. Some of the reels would make better hornpipes, or maybe even marches. “Fabotcha Gotcha” by Cynthia Spears would be a catchy “up to the line” tune, especially if played round, not pointed as it is written. “The C.L.S. Aircraft Laundry” is an interesting piece (I hesitate to call it a reel), and it has quite a unique rhythmic feel to it. I would imagine a band doing something with it. “Dirty Little Harry” and “Memphis Rendez-vous,” both by Ann Gray, are in 3/2 time and are little reels that beg for percussion to catch the quirky rhythms.

The aires and waltzes section of the book comprises nine tunes. Standing out, for me, are two arrangements of old tunes, “Sad am I to be in Ireland,” arranged by Alasdair Gillies, and “Hector the Hero,” a poignant fiddle tune simply arranged by Ann Gray. I am mystified though by the odd spelling of the word “aire.” Nowhere can I find the word in any English dictionary, but in Chambers Scots dictionary it is listed as meaning “an itinerant court of justice”—no clues there then. I just hope the spelling wasn’t used just because it looked “neat.”

Ending the book are fourteen jigs and seventeen hornpipes. The majority of these tunes are good practice for shakes, and GDE triplings, and most flow along in an easy round style. Alasdair Gillies’s hornpipe “Stitch by Stitch” has an attractive melody.

This book is a rich source of material for pipe majors looking for catchy new tunes of all types, with tunes to suit all levels of player.

Anne Spalding is a top solo piper who has won many awards over her career. Among many distinctions, she was one of the first female pipers to break the gender restriction in the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering. She lives in Broughty Ferry, Scotland.


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