APC Approach I – Rule 1

Primary sources are required.

What does this mean?

  • It means we recognize that while all other sources may be interesting from the perspective of stylistic evolution, they are secondary and full of accretions.  Later sources reflect the styles of later periods and editorial hands. This is particularly true of the Piobaireachd Society and Kilberry Collections, both of which are the idiosyncratic product of a particular person on a personal mission. They are interesting as a way of witnessing the development of the song’s* performance over time.  But secondary sources are late, and what we want to do is get at the earliest core behind the score to help us understand what we will be interpreting.
  • It means, regardless of whether you decide to review and eventually perform the secondary, derivative materials,  you start by getting back to the the primary sources, contrasting and comparing them with each other and with these later sources. This will help you understand the development of the pibroch over time. It will also help you get familiar with the family characteristics of style that certain manuscripts and editors represent.  It will help you interpret these stylistic choices, and begin to sensitize you to the extent and breadth of the living aspect of musical performance that has been lost due to notational fundamentalism and interpretive orthodoxy.
  • It means that after you review the many sources to a song*, you work with (and not against) the scores to respect and appreciate the particular interpretive approach that the transcriber captured.  This will bring you new musical insights that will inform your interpretive choices and eventual performance.
  • It means that when you choose modern primary sources (e.g. Donald MacLeod, John McClellan, Bruce Gandy, etc.), you pay for their tunes and get them from legitimate sources.  Sometimes these sources are written.  Sometimes they are performed, only. Regardless, you give the composer their due and your respect. (On the other hand, you needn’t slavishly mimic the composer’s interpretation of the tune – the composer is simply one interpreter of the score s/he created.)

In every case, you set aside the accretion of secondary editions and their editorial hands and you experience and let confront you the earliest origins of the tune you have available, as a matter of developing your own musical and interpretive education.

Otherwise, it would be as though one were an artist or art historian who found it acceptable going to a museum and seeing a poster of a third-party reproduction of the Mona Lisa: no matter the excuse, but you haven’t actually seen the real thing, until you have.

Not the Mona Lisa

4 thoughts on “APC Approach I – Rule 1

  1. I see where you are coming from, but I’d appreciate seeing your definition of primary sources.

    The modern composers you cite are clearly primary sources since they wrote the tunes, but none of those in historic sources (with the exception of a handful of tunes) were the compositions of the authors, and may have been received decades, possibly centuries after the tune originated.

    If you mean ‘first written record’ for any given tune then that’s clear, quantifiable, and as useful a line to draw as any, but we have no way of proving that compilers later in the 19th century got tunes from these written sources and not from alternative oral ones.



  2. You are correct.  By “primary sources”, I am metaphorically referring to “earliest possible source” for a song*.  I might even suggest that in some cases, if the living Gaelic song tradition is still available, we should go back to it as part of what we would do under this “first rule” of the Alt Pibroch Club approach.

    If not available,  getting back to the earliest written materials is the best we can do.

    Addendum – during the summer of 2016, we had the great pleasure of working with Bruce Gandy at the Invermark School, where we asked if we could learn a couple of his own pibroch compositions. During the course of that week, as result of our performance, performance styles and feedback, he spoke of and perhaps may even have gotten around to publishing several stylistic changes to one of them. From which arose the interesting question of which version constituted the “primary source” of this tune. This is a question whose answers reveal more about one’s approach to pibroch as music than one would think, at first glance.

  3. Perhaps a primary source in pibroch could be defined as the earliest witnesses in each domain: musical notation, canntaireachd, Gaelic lyrics and audio recordings. The idea of an urtext needs to be dropped – there is no single truth, only multiple truths and wrongs!

    If David replaced “APC” with “David Hester” I would be very much happier. My own approach is fundamentally different and I don’t like the idea of one approach being identified with the APC. I think that runs against the grain of  what the Club is about. Where are improvisation and composition? Are those non-APC approaches?

    This is a valuable project, but it is specific to 2017 and to David Hester. The APC, as I understand it, celebrates and cultivates pluralism not just of style but also of approach. We are all beginners handling this material – co-learners, supporting experimental approaches that potentially yield something valuable.

    One vital approach is to hold onto something deeper than the surface detail of any notation – primary or secondary. Another is to present original music that is less backward-looking. These deal with the image of pibroch being ‘ancient’ and all the problems that come with monumentalising and canonising musical works.

    So that these two approaches (and others) can feel safe about coming out in the APC fold, please rename yours!



    1. As I said: sausage making and de-mystifying the process.

      Barnaby by and I differ. Perhaps even in intent regarding this website and the things we do at the APC. Diversity of opinion is good. It helps us grow and learn.

      I am am proposing this approach in order to offer a roadmap for those who are intimidated by the idea of picking up an early source and learning it. Much of it seems a mystery. A kind of self-doubt creeps in: where donI go? can I read this and make sense of it? what are these unfamiliar movements? how can I be certain I’m doing it right?

      There are no easy ways to address these questions, and the hosts of others that follow in their wake. Couple that with the solitary nature of pibroch learning and performance, and we feel very vulnerable.

      Well, maybe we needn’t. Maybe we can develop an approach that provides a rubric that offers both a context and a few rules that give us a sense of definition and freedom.

      I am not a musical genius like Barnaby or Allan. I learn through sheer force of will, not by talent and intuition: those are the domain of the few. We can all get to those domains, but it takes guidance and experience.

      Out of deference to my colleague and editor, I will call this the “APC Approach I”, so as to allow him (and others) to offer approaches II, III and IV, etc.

      The purpose of the APC Approach I is to offer one means of taking away the mystery of interpreting these earliest sources by offering a simple set of rules to help you get to the core of a tune, understand it, and fill in the interpretive and expressive details once you feel confident in its outline.

      And the APC is a safe space and  a group of people with whom we can identify and no longer feel alone or intimidated when undertaking such a task.

      Because I know many of you have reached out to me offline asking me how I do this, and are a bit nervous at trying it yourself.

      Well: here’s a way.

      And I hope, ultimately, you gain the confidence in your own musical ability to abandon it and find your own path to the music in the scores and in yourselves.

      Until then: here’s the “APC Approach I”. To be supplemented and critiqued by all and any of you.

      But I hope it opens a door to your own journey.

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