Another pipes|drums first: a complete new Silver Star-ready MSR from the pen of R.S. MacDonald
Most pipers with a few years experience can compose a tune. A few can compose a tune that some will want to play, usually a 6/8 march or a jig. Some composers will produce and self-publish multitudes of tunes, hoping a few will stick. A rare few can create an original-sounding “heavy” 2/4 march or a four-parted strathspey or reel that could take a rightful place in competition.
But it’s a once-in-a-generation composer who can write a complete MSR that could well be heard in the Silver Star at the Northern Meeting or the light music event at the Glenfiddich for years to come.
Roddy “R.S.” MacDonald we feel has done this with the debut of “James Feeney, MD, MEd., FACS,” “Mrs. Chris Duncan,” and “Dalwinnie,” heard and published for the first time here on pipes|drums.
What’s more, we believe that this is the first time that a full original march, strathspey and reel has been published at once, complete with sound recordings of the composer himself performing his music.
R.S. MacDonald is without doubt one of the greatest composers of Highland pipe music in history. He has an uncanny ability to create original, yet melodic and playable tunes popular with soloists and pipe bands at every level.
Originally from Inverness, Scotland, MacDonald is the son of the great William MacDonald, Benbecula. Not really thought of first as a competitor (he stopped competing when he was 21), he has made his mark as a composer and a player of the highest order.
At age 26, he moved to London, and later moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2000, and in 2003 to Queensland, Australia, where he is was pipe-major of the Queensland Police Pipes & Drums until only recently. He’s now back in Osaka.
In 2006, he released Good Drying, a full-length award-winning recording, and, in 2009, he published The Collection, a much-heralded book of his music.
“Dr. James Feeney, MD, M.Ed., FACS” is named for the accomplished piper and trauma surgeon from New York and now living and working in Massachusetts. He’s played with the Grade 1 78th Fraser Highlanders, Parlin & District Oran Mor, and New York Metro, and is currently the pipe-major of the Talcott Mountain Highlanders, a youth band with about 25 members, Dr. Feeney was the Director of Trauma & Acute Care Surgery, Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York, when we spoke with him in November. He recently accepted a new position as Director of Trauma & Acute Care Surgery at Westchester Medical Center in Massachusetts, and in late August, as part of his service with the United States Navy, took a temporary teaching role in 29 Palms, California. In addition to his bagpipe teaching, Feeney has an outstanding history of providing medical advice to the piping community. He was a part of pipes|drums’ two “Doctors of Piping” video panels so far conducted during the pandemic.
Click on the MP3 sound file below to listen to R.S. MacDonald playing “Dr. James Feeney, MD, M.Ed., FACS.”
MacDonald says his four-parted strathspey “‘Dalwhinnie’ is named for the small village at the head of Glen Truim in Scotland. It is most famous for its whisky distillery. It lies in an area of outstanding beauty. It has always fascinated me and o feel like I’m truly ‘home’ every time I pass it.” It is almost universally agreed that creating a good strathspey is the most difficult challenge in pipe music composing, exceeding even piobaireachd as an idiom notoriously hard to capture well. “Dalwhinnie,” we believe meets that challenge – and then some. It’s a single malt dram of a tune that rolls off the fingers and makes you want more.
The six-parted reel, “Mrs. Chris Duncan,” is for the well-known World Championship winning bass drummer of the Grade 1 Vale of Atholl Pipe Band of Pitlochry, Scotland, and a great friend of the composer. Chris Duncan’s accomplishments and thoughts were captured in an exclusive pipes|drums Interview in 2016 and we encourage readers to revisit the series. (See links below.) Beginning in the 1980s, Vale of Atholl was one of the first top bands to incorporate R.S. MacDonald’s music into its repertoire. Like its namesake, “Mrs. Chris Duncan” is a tune of simple complexity, with subtle nuances and musical surprises at every part.
Click on the MP3 sound file below to hear R.S. MacDonald playing his own “Mrs. Chris Duncan” and “Dalwhinnie.”
About the sound recording, R.S. MacDonald remarks, “I’m playing a Blair Digital Bagpipe pitched at 480 Hz With reverb on volume 9. I’m simply using a JBL Flip 4 speaker with audio input and an iPhone 12 plus max.” He thanks Grade 1 Police Scotland Fife Pipe-Major David Wilton for typesetting the manuscripts.
We are truly indebted and thankful to Roddy MacDonald for once again working with pipes|drums as the platform to unveil more of his new music, which has become a towering collective achievement in the piping repertory.
As with other of his compositions that have debuted in pipes|drums, we predict that all three of these unique and melodic pieces will be played by pipers worldwide in competition and other performances in perpetuity.
‘Donald Blair OAM,’ a brilliant new eight-part jig by R.S. MacDonald
December 17, 2020
Chris Ross: the p|d Interview, Part 1
March 20, 2016
Chris Ross: the p|d Interview – Part 2
April 3, 2016
Chris Ross: the p|d Interview – part 3
April 30, 2016
Chris Ross: the p|d Interview – Part 4
May 28, 2016