February 10, 2007

Two tenors

There have been a few legendary instances of pipers in very big solo competitions having either a bass or tenor drone shut off mid-performance leaving them the equivalent of standing there naked with only one drone remaining. We’ll not name names, but suffice to say they’re still with us.

John Wilson (Edinburgh/Toronto) apparently used to get up from his judge’s seat and actually put his hand over each tenor drone to see if they were both actually going.

Which begs the question, if you can’t tell if two are going then why bother playing two? Whose bright idea was it to have two tenors anyway? Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that there’s another bagpipe with two drones pitched and tuned exactly the same. There aren’t two piano keys that play identical notes. So why us?

There are other examples of Highland pipe-music being hard for no other explicable reason than to make it harder. My tongue-in-cheek “Ban the B” blog of a few years ago resulted in not a few pipers’ blowpipes getting out of joint, including the fusty old Piping Times. But the unruly B gracenote in taorluaths, crunluaths and grips from D is an infamous example of Highland pipers’ self-flagellation.

Is the middle tenor a conspiracy by bagpipe makers to make a third more from the sale of a set of drones? Where are the reedmakers in all this? Aren’t these guys profiting from pipers’ middle-tenor misery? And what of drummers? Are they in on the conspiracy? All that extra drone-tuning means more sitting about, and we all know how much drummers love to sit about.

Isn’t it about time we rebelled against the insipid middle-tenor? Can anyone give me a compelling reason to have two tenor drones?




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