George Moss – the Master Piper from Strathglass Part 5

“Cadences” and Anacruses

The time has come to explore George’s approach to the somewhat thorny issue of so called “cadences” in Pibroch.

Peter Cooke, in his own transcriptions of George’s playing (see here) places the introductory “e”s with a “g” grace note before the bar-lines preceding the notes to which they are attached. It is worth noting that at the time these transcriptions were made, Peter was a highly trained musicologist who had made in-depth professional musical studies of several traditions of world music. His choice is not to be taken lightly in this matter.

For example, here is a line from Peter’s transcription of John Garve MacLeod’S Lament – MacLeod of Raasay:

It is worth noting that at the beginnings of tunes, Peter doesn’t include a barline after the “introduction.”

Placing cadence E’s before rather than after bar-lines reduces the likelihood of the performer regarding them as notes requiring stress. The earliest evidence suggests that their use was optional and that when used they were not given stress, and it is highly likely that the present-day custom of frequently lengthening these E’s and playing them in stressed position is a result of Angus MacKay’s decision to write them out as if they were melody notes. George Moss, who also considers cadence E’s as optional embellishments, disagrees with the editor’s policy here, arguing that they should not be separated from the notes they introduce , any more than one would favour separating G and D grace-notes and grips from their melody notes. He considers that providing they are written as grace notes with their tails up, rather than as melody notes (tails down) there is no problem that oral/aural instruction cannot solve.

However, since cadence E’s in his own style and in the style of present-day pipers are given varying degrees of length, unlike other grace notes which are sounded extremely briefly, we are unrepentant and offer our style of notation for consideration by pipers.

- Peter Cooke

This is an area where the peculiar mix of oral and written tradition has created a great deal of confusion which could not arise in a purely oral tradition. Part of the problem is that historically we tend to place great importance on the written word so that even if what is written is incorrect, we are inclined to give it authority. This same phenomenon is evident in the current situation with 3/4 and 9/8 tunes in light music where the anacrusis had been turned into main beat, with the result that very many bands are playing these tunes out of time with the drum parts, from the perspective of anyone with a reasonable level of musical education outside of the piping world. This came about mainly due to an error in the incredibly influential second edition of the Army Manual Book 2 published in 1936, and occurs even at the highest levels of competition. You can read more about the issue here. It seems possible that an analogous situation has arisen in Pibroch due to the level of authority attributed to Angus MacKay’s manuscripts which, however excellent in some regards, could be considered to be severely flawed in their treatment of these introductory notes. George Moss himself is critical of the MacKay manuscripts for this reason.

The relevance of this here is that while George claims that:

there is no problem that oral/aural instruction cannot solve

Nonetheless, if there is a break in the oral tradition, then there is no way to correctly interpret the written versions, since they are not written with the level of accuracy of a highly trained specialist like Peter Cooke. And, even if they are, there are still many assumptions we have to make when working from a written source alone which could easily be mistaken. In the case of Peter Cooke’s transcriptions, as well as his training and experience, we also have a detailed explanation of his notational choices in the sleeve notes mentioned above as well as an extensive archive of audio recordings to make crystal clear what is intended

So what does this mean in practical terms for anyone who wants to explore the Moss style of Pibroch performance?

In many cases the note groups we have been taught to call “cadences” are better understood to be anacruses, and to be interpreted as such. Meaning, they are usually optional and when present should not disturb the rhythm of the piece. If they occur in the middle of a bar, the same treatment applies.  Either way, their duration should be taken from the preceding note.

This is one of the key differences between George’s style and the modern style.

To get a sense of they way Geoge approaches introductory “E”s, there is no substitute for listening to the archive recordings available on the Tobar an Dualchais website, here.

Links to resources mentioned in the article:


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