Explore by Genre

J David Hester, PhD

If we conceive of a musical genre as tunes arising from similar social contexts demanding a particular idiomatic style of communication from the performer, we may be able to identify and collate pibroch tunes showing hallmarks of similarity.

This is nothing new: we do it all the time, and it is very ancient.  Aristotle is among there earliest efforts of categorizing communication.  He started by identifying 3 genres of public speech: epideictic (praise/blame), deliberative (decision-making), apologetic (defense/accusation).  He also proposed classifying plays as comedies (happy endings) or tragedies (unhappy endings).

Additionally, we are intuitively aware of genres, being raised in social contexts where appropriate behavior and communication norms are internalized.  So much so, we recognize as offensive certain communicative acts that are “inappropriate” for the particular setting: one risks much by castigating a bride and groom at a wedding, for example.

Similarly for music, even bagpipes: One probably wouldn’t be invited back if a piper played a jig at a burial, or a pibroch at a wedding dance.

Of course, genres are broad categories, allowing a great deal of flexibility. Creative artists may even mix genres intentionally, playing on audience expectations.  Genres also shift over time, as communicative contexts change.

In some respects that is exactly what has happened to pibroch: a shift occurred over time.  The social settings that were the occasions for particular genres of pibroch performance disappeared, and as a result the tunes and their respective generic idioms were unmoored.  But we know from the written history, from the titles tradition, and even from the earliest commercial publications of pibroch that many genres existed: Gatherings, salutes and laments, rowing tunes, taunts are found throughout the early corpus.  And it is communicatively reasonable to assume that the idiom for commemorating the loss of a loved one represented a different style of performance demanded of the piper than the idiom for sending out a call for gathering around the chieftain in the heat of a battle.

The Genre pages that are on the site will be proposals, only.  They are not rigid or determinative lists.  They are intended to begin a conversation, and to get Club members thinking about finding similarities among the tunes with which they are familiar.  Feel free to provide comments, which we hope will spawn discussion.  There is lots of room for discovery, disagreement and exploration.

We do hope, however, that by identifying different genres within pibroch, performers will begin to explore interpretive possibilities by adjusting tempos, expression and phrasing, helping to bring to life lost nuances of this incredibly diverse and vibrant musical form.

We hope you join us!