July 31, 2010

Old School: thoughts on ceol mor with four piping legends – Lt.-Col. David Murray

IS: Would you like to see that being done?

DJSM: I would like to see that being done. It’s got to be done. The society will be not fulfilling its role unless it’s done.

IS: Would you like to see the more prominent pipers of today forming their own interpretations of tunes?

DJSM: Oh, yes, I would love to see that. And it happens to some extent with some of the players. The drawback, the difficulty about players playing their own interpretation of the tune, it will also affect the judges who have a difficult task at the best of times, but who are much more likely to award a prize to an interpretation of which they agree with – which is the way they were taught themselves, nine times out of 10. And this is where the difficulty in the, not the obstruction, because people are woefully obstructive, this is where the difficulty lies that if a free interpretation is going to be encouraged and permitted then the people who are going to have to put their thinking caps on are not the pipers but the judges.

IS: Are there any other changes you would like to see?

DJSM: Other changes? I would like to see far more discussion. I’d like to hear far more comment. There’s a tendency now to regard all comment as adverse criticism, which of course it isn’t. Any published book or any published piece of music is in the public domain and anyone who likes can make a fair comment on it, provided it’s a fair comment and it’s not defamatory in any way.

And I would like to see much wider discussion and much wider comment going on. And I’d like to see a far greater readiness on the parts of pipers to discuss and to comment and to accept comment and discuss comment as part of a way of life. At present a comment, as I said, tends to be interpreted as an adverse criticism, which it isn’t really. And when any comment is made then the ranks close up and it’s, “Backs to the wall, boys,” and instead of a dialogue or an argument taking place it’s everyone takes up their own entrenched position. And unless they were taught it by their own teacher they refuse to countenance any form of difference at all. The fact that our teachers taught us all we know doesn’t necessarily mean that they taught us all that they knew. And the sad thing, the thing I regret about my own piping, is that when I worked out what questions I wanted to ask, the men who could answer them were all dead. And I think that, again, could be overcome as far as the younger pipers of today are concerned if they were encouraged to ask the questions, instead of being told to shut up and get on with it. If they were encouraged to ask the question and their questions were discussed and argued and points made for and against so that the piper could make up his own mind. Now we hear things put up and everyone says, “That’s nonsense because ‘Willie McSporran’ never said that and he taught me,” the inference being a rather arrogant one that, “because I was taught by Willie McSporran for 10 years or something I know all about piobaireachd.” In fact, it is not the case.

IS: Do you see the use of recordings as important?

DJSM: Yes, I would like to see recordings at the major competitions. I would like to see the major competitions, the piobaireachd competitions certainly, being recorded officially for the use of the bench in the event of some discussion over the possibility of a slip having been made. It is extremely difficult for judges nowadays both to follow the score and to assess their performance. There are plenty of dyed-in-the-wool old men who will say that it is perfectly easy, but it isn’t.



  1. Brilliant, of all these great interviews this one strikes home the most. If you love the big music then reading this is a boost to your stand. While friends and all say that the piobreachd is just too much maybe they’re not giving it the chance it deserves. Great stuff.

  2. It would be very interesting to read an interview with Murray today, to ask him some of these same questions, to ask him if things have changed for the better over the last twenty years ago. Very valuable interview series. Thanks for publishing it here.

  3. That’s a very moving interview. Here is someone talking about questions rather than fixed answers, discussion and debate (rather than rules and dogmas), the possibility of different interpretations and ways of doing things. Open-ness and thinking, rather than the closed book and one way of doing things. Music to the ears. Thanks you for this great interview.



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