April 03, 2017

Balanced approach to 2018 Set Tunes

The Piobaireachd Society has released its annual list of piobaireachds set for the solo piping competitions at the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering at Inverness and Oban, Scotland, respectively. Competing pipers will be faced with choices from lists of well-known and more obscure tunes. Various other competitions around the world also choose to use the lists for their events.

“The aim is to try and strike a balance between better and less-known tunes overall,” said Piobaireachd Society President Jack Taylor. “The Senior and Gold lists have less-known tunes compared with this year and last, whereas the opposite is true for the Silver Medal, containing the likes of ‘The King’s Taxes,’ ‘Desperate Battle of the Birds’ and ‘MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart.’

“The Senior list is notable for its inclusion of ‘modern’ tunes, and the Gold for recommending Gesto and MacArthur settings from the new edition of the Piobaireachd Society Collection Book 10. We regard these settings as much better than those of the same tunes (“War or Peace” and “The MacLeans’ March”) in the old Book 10. Also “The Brother’s Lament,” found only in the John Smith MS, and published in book 16 is a very fine tune.”

Senior (submit four, play one)

  • “Farewell to the Queen’s Ferry,”* Piobaireachd Society 20th Century Ceol Mor (published first in the Piobaireachd Society’s Twentieth Century Collection and is also included in the Complete Compositions of Ceol Mor by Captain John A MacLellan MBE published in 2016 by Colin MacLellan)
  • “Good Health to You, Donald,” PS 13
  • “The Menzies’ Salute” PS 15, Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor (K)
  • “Mrs. Smith’s Salute,” Piobaireachd Society Collection (PS), Book 9
  • “The Red Hand in the MacDonalds’ Arms,” PS 10
  • “Salute to James Campbell,”* Piobaireachd Society 20th Century Ceol Mor, published first in the Piobaireachd Society’s Twentieth Century Collection and later in Archie Kenneth’s first Piobaireachd Book. As originally composed, it contained a dithis variation but in the latter publication this was omitted, and can therefore be considered as optional.
  • “Sir James MacDonald of the Isles’ Salute,” PS 14
  • “Salute to the MacCrimmon Cairn at Borreraig,” Piobaireachd Society 20th Century Ceol Mor

Gold Medal (submit four, play one)

  • “The Brother’s Lament,” PS 16
  • “Clan MacNab’s Salute,” PS 15, K
  • “MacKenzie of Applecross’s Salute,” PS 10
  • “MacKenzie of Gairloch’s Lament,” PS 10
  • “The MacLeans’ March,” ** (MacArthur-MacGregor setting recommended) updated PS 10
  • “The MacRaes’ March,” PS 10
  • “War or Peace” ** (Gesto setting recommended), updated PS 10
  • “The Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute,” PS 10

Silver Medal (submit four, play one)

  • “Chisholm’s Salute,” PS 14, K
  • “The Desperate Battle,” (crunluath a mach required) PS 7 , K
  • “Glengarry’s March,” PS 2 , K
  • “Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks,” (crunluath a mach required) PS 5, K
  • “The King’s Taxes,” PS 5, K
  • “Lament for the Little Supper,” PS 8, K
  • “MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart,” PS 7, K
  • “The MacLeods’ Salute,” (crunluath a mach required) PS 12, K

“While it’s true that these tunes only involve a small number of pipers, their influence spreads wider, as they are often taught and taken up by many more,” Taylor added about the lists overall, referring to the fewer than 75 pipers worldwide who might actually work with the lists.

This year, pipers competing in the Silver Medals have to choose from lists of similar old/new/obscure variety.

+ Set Tunes ’17 a Silver salute to MacLeod

The Piobaireachd Society’s usual caution about deviating from recommended settings was softened in their statement to read: “Competitors are not restricted to settings in the Piobaireachd Society Collection and Kilberry Book. Those who wish to play alternative settings should submit legible scores, indicating the origins of the settings, to competition organizers along with their tune selections.”

Interested pipers – and drummers, too – can check out known settings to most of the tunes above in the pipes|drums Set Tunes Series by Dr. William Donaldson, which now numbers more than 160 compositions, each with various renditions and analysis by Donaldson.

+ pipes|drums Set Tunes Series



  1. You could be right, Simon, and it’s a topic well-discussed over the decades at pipes|drums and on my personal opinion Blogpipe blog. The reason for Set Tunes is traditionally stated as getting more repertoire out there by requiring top pipers to learn new stuff and play them around the games as well as the big contests. But in the age of the Internet, where umpteen recordings can be found of even obscure piobaireachds, is that still a good reason? Judging solo contests, especially amateur ones, there is often a desire by competitors to submit obscure stuff. I think it’s their attempt to show off their “piobaireachd-ness,” and that will continue. Willie Donaldson’s thought (greatly generalized) that standardized settings and set tunes were originally the product of a know-little, play-poorly aristocracy controlling the music by making it easier to judge, thus stifling once-thriving music creation/interpretation, I agree with. I also think that the piping community still suffers from that, with relatively intransigent older folks clinging to the past by asserting their “authority.” Happens in pipe band music, too. (See



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