July 31, 2010

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

Most of the competitions you see all three judges with their eyes glued to the printed page. Nobody is listening and sitting back and letting the music roll over him, so to speak. Nobody’s sitting back and immersing themselves in the tune. Everybody has got their eyes on the printed page in case, horror upon horrors, the man misses out a cadence – in which case lines are drawn through it, he might as well stop there and then.

And this is the most, utter nonsense to my way of thinking. But we have to realize that the competing pipers are sensitive on the subject of inadvertent errors or note mistakes and they tend to view that the man who plays a tune without a mistake should be placed higher than the man who plays a wonderfully interpreted piobaireachd but makes a note mistake. And their point of view has got to be taken into account. This is why I say I would like to see the major competitions recorded officially by the organizers and the tapes made available to the judges. I think in that way the judges could really discuss the performance and make up their mind about where they wanted to put it.

IS: Do you think there will be that change?

DJSM: I think there’s got to be that change. I think there’s got to be that change. And when obscure tunes are set it’s very difficult for the judge to learn all the set tunes perfectly if he doesn’t happen to play them. And to memorize six obscure tunes is quite difficult. And so in those cases I think that some form of recording or the assistance of a reader is going to be essential. I think it will come.

IS: As presenter of piping on Radio Scotland, do you think anything can be done to provide a program dedicated to piobaireachd?

DJSM: Well, there’s a piobaireachd every second week. And in “The Noble Instrument,” that’s the bi-monthly magazine, we include discussion on piobaireachd and discussion on the ways of playing piobaireachd and that sort of thing. That’s a great improvement on 30 years ago when there was no piobaireachd played or very rarely did we hear it. It was said that piobaireachd was too dull to be of interest to audiences. I think that we have to bear in mind that the majority of pipers are in pipe bands. And though it’s a welcome sign that pipe band players are playing piobaireachd more and more – and that teachers are teaching all the pupils some piobaireachd, anyway – we have to face the fact that the average punter is pretty bored by the time he’s heard 64 taorluaths played on the same four notes or the same taorluaths played 128 times on the same four notes. And then the crunluath played 128 times on the same four notes. As pipers we get too involved in our fingers, if I can put it that way. And because the technicalities are difficult it’s difficult to execute these movements well. We tend to be attracted by that aspect of the tune instead of how is the taorluath movement being played? How is the man making 128 taorluath movements on four notes, what’s he doing to make it sound interesting? There have been efforts made to make it sound interesting. One case by holding the theme note before the cadence, you know what I mean?



  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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