December 01, 2008

Compose yersel’

The pipes|drums music archives.I was just re-visiting the comments posted in response to the review of The Warning Collection, a compilation of tunes (some of which are very fine) by Paul Hughes and his friends. James MacHattie makes a really good point; one that I’ve thought about in the past. James points out the attraction of a site like Jim McGillivray’s, which is essentially an iTunes for pipe tunes.

Instead of forcing people to buy a whole book, pipetunes allows people to pick and choose only the compositions that they want. It’s a great idea, since it also allows composers with a really good one-off tune to get it out there, without having to wait years to compile 50 or more compositions, scrape together enough money for expensive printing, and then hope that they sell enough books to at least break even.

About 10 years ago I compiled a book comprising almost-lost tunes by some of the greatest composers of the past. I spent a lot of time researching the old collections, playing through stuff by Roddie Campbell, John McLellan (Dunoon), James Center, Willie Lawrie and others, and picking out the ones that I thought should be preserved. The book did quite well, and I put the profits into a fund and eventually just put the money towards the development of pipes|drums. It was a long and painstaking process. Setting the tunes myself with the engraving software du jour made my right hand teeter on the brink of overuse syndrome.

Would I do it again? Probably not – at least not in print form.

But there is something to be said for a complete book of music. When it comes to music on iTunes, I almost always download the whole album. Most artists whom I listen to still put lots of thought into assembling a cohesive product, with a logical, musical sequence of songs, and, more often than not, my favourite songs on the album aren’t the big hits.

I still like to page through collections of pipe music, and I don’t really mind the chaff among the wheat – or the “potatoes,” as Simon McKerrell refers to tunes that aren’t really up to snuff. It’s all up to the compiler/composer. If Donald MacLeod or Willie Ross had nonchalantly allowed potatoes into their collections, they probably would not have the same stature that they carry today as collector-composers for the ages.

In their day, music “engraving” was actual engraving. Some poor engraver would actually pound out the music on sheets of metal. It was an expensive and time-consuming process, and the number of revisions were usually limited, hence the mistakes that we see in the older collections. Older collections were usually backed by actual music publishers, like Mozart-Allan and Paterson’s. You needed to be a big-time famous piper before they would entertain investing in your collection.

Music collections today, whether print or electronic, can still have the same quality through-and-through, provided the composer-compiler has a sense of purpose and a clear eye for their place in posterity. But for everyone else, there’s always the one-off route.


  1. Nice article, and interesting to know the history about the printing. I guess the only thing that tends to bother me today is the price of books, especially when they are not filled with quality content. Some tunes seem to just be notes picked out of a bag and thrown together, and there you have it. You just paid $35 dollars for two tunes. Great idea with

  2. RE:
    The idea of being able to buy and sell one tune at a time is a good one. Per the last post, there are books out there that contain filler as it is hard for most to compose the 40-50 quality tunes required to release a full publication.
    In addition, a website of this type can provide an outlet for the distribution of a few good tunes by those of us who cannot fill a book, and yet may have a few gems to offer which may be better that the tunes in the existing printed publications. Unless these tunes can be accessed, we’ll never really know…..

  3. I agree, but I would rather see people fill the books with other gems. Ask around, there are many people that have just 1,2, maybe 5 good tunes, and will never get published otherwise. I have one tune in Bruce Gandy’s 3rd book, and am greatful for the oppurtunity to get published as I don’t have the compilation or funds to put together my own. by the way, anyone interested in using some tunes can contact me. I have, I think, a few “gems”

  4. Most pipers that publish music books are just looking for a big ego trip. Only about 1 quality collection is produced every two years now. The rest is wastes of paper.

  5. Can’t blame people forwanting to get their tunes heard, but i agree that most tunes are a waste of paper.

    Better off to put it on a CD and pawn it off for $10 bucks!
    Thats cheaper than producing a book and you make more sales and a bigger profit margin as there’s no middle man, agents or dealer’s commission.



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