March 31, 2002

Wow factor

Pipes Up! A Complete Tuning Tutor for the Great Highland Bagpipe
Jim McGillivray
The Tribbling Partnership Ltd.

Reviewed by Iain Macey

As an avid exponent of Jim McGillivray’s Rhythmic Fingerwork book for both my own playing and that of my students, I looked forward to the release of Jim’s latest video, Pipes Up!, with anticipation.

Jim’s groundbreaking Pipes Ready! video is already a huge success and the latest release, at 2 hours 20 minutes, covers all aspects of tuning the Highland bagpipe, and promises to be equally successful.

Pipes Up! starts off by introducing Jim’s comic cohort, Duff MacKechnie, performing on an out-of-tune bagpipe and very cleverly eases the viewer into a lovely rendition of Jim playing the urlar of “The Lament for the Children” on a perfectly tuned instrument. The contrast is quite breathtaking and leaves the viewer in no doubt as to how a properly tuned bagpipe should sound like.

For many pipers the desire to have a well-tuned instrument is already there, but the knowledge and education required in achieving this goal is not. Jim, in his latest release, covers in a clear and concise manner how to tune an instrument from the basic to advanced level of performing and, most importantly, leaves the viewer confident in being able to do so.

The video covers basic drone tuning to begin with — tenor to tenor, bass to tenor, and how to practice tuning. On the back of the cover the viewer is advised to play the video on high quality audio equipment, but I found the tuning demonstrations crystal clear on normal equipment.

From tuning drones on their own, Jim then demonstrates tuning the drones to the chanter and covers all related problems. He covers in detail how to balance the chanter and tweak individual notes of the scale, how to tune two chanters together and the difference between solo and band chanters.

I was particularly impressed by some of the finer points put across when tuning drones to chanter and tweaking individual notes. The pressure variance technique, which is absolutely essential for successful solo performances, is explained in depth and pipers of all levels will find this extremely useful. Intrusive background noises such as air-conditioning, refrigerators and fans that can affect tuning are all covered in this excellent production.

There is a useful workshop to conclude, which covers tuning-meters, reed manipulation, moisture, temperature and blowing steadily.

Everything a piper needs to know to achieve a perfectly tuned instrument is explained in detail in this outstanding video. The contrast between Jim McGillivray’s superb sounding instrument and that of Duff MacKechnie’s out-of-tune one is an interesting and compelling comparison that provides a comic reference throughout each stage of tuning.

Pipes Up! is the perfect reference source for pipers of all standards and is the natural sequel to Pipes Ready!.

Iain Macey is a world-class piobaireachd player known for his finely tuned and steady bagpipe. Twice he has been second in the Highland Society of London Gold Medal competition at the Northern Meeting, and he has won, among many other prizes, the Bratach Gorm at London. He lives in Michigan.


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