We will begin a series comprised of excerpts from lessons taken with Allan MacDonald on performing Slan Fuive, a tune that only survives in the Campbell Canntaireachd.
Over the course of several weeks, David recorded his lessons and will present his notes and relevant audio outtakes here as he struggles to understand and learn this pibroch. It promises to be an embarrassingly messy process for him, but perhaps his struggles will help others to not be afraid of experimenting, failing, experimenting again.
Here is the relevant score he has created; it will change over time as he attempts to capture some of Allan MacDonald’s insights into expression.
Slan Fuive (Download link)
I came to the lesson thinking, “I’m a musician. I have some ideas about what I’m doing. I can play this and hold my own.”
By the end of the lesson, I just was, like, “Oh ****, I have so much more to learn…”
So, after a couple of weeks of struggling, it’s time for the next lesson. Spent the weeks struggling a bit. Well, you’ll hear:
Yes, so: I can mimic. Heck, that’s what everybody does, I suppose. But I don’t want to just mimic. I want to understand.
Best I can do is ask if there are similar contexts, social settings out of which tunes arose and for which they were performed. Were there coming and going tunes?
And out of his bag of tricks, Allan fires up his electric chanter and begins to play/hum a tune I’ve never heard before:
PS 152 – Salute to Donald, but in Gaelic: Fàilte dhuit a Dhòmhnaill (Failte Dhute Donail), which, according to Roderick Cannon, “Welcome to you, Donald.” It’s earliest version is in the Campbell Canntaireachd.
And, you know, I suppose if you just take a look at titles, there are a couple of other “Welcome” tunes out there (PS 199 – You’re welcome, Ewen Locheil; as well as PS 92 – Lord Breadalbane’s Welcome to Scotland). Heck, I suppose Fàilte titles (typically translated “salute”) may just be a way to start looking more closely for genre indicators. But that’s for another day.
You know, I was teased a bit when I was fretting about getting my light music chops up to where I need them to be after a couple of years of neglect. One of my competition friends chided me with, “Yeah, it’s a bit tougher playing something according to expectations, isn’t it?”
Well, no. Not really. Not at all, actually.
It’s much more frightening taking a stab in the dark:
Okay. I made it out alive, anyway. I guess. A crushed bari and a damnable pibroch high-G or two could have been better done.
I think. And here is where things get interesting.
First thing Allan asks is how did I feel about it.
How often have you ever been asked that immediately after a try? a competition? a performance? Most times, the tutor or judge provides the comments and feedback. Rarely do they ask for your judgement.
Which means, of course, I panic and flip it back on him. Because I’m just not confident:
Numerous, different styles.
The responsibility is mine as a performer. No one else’s.
Breathe. Make a statement. Give the audience space. Pause, and let the audience follow along.
Well, okay. I’ll keep that in mind as I continue with the rest of the piece:
Made it. *Whew*.
There is so much more to learn, though. So much more to think about. And this is nothing unique: any musician struggles with these interpretive questions. It’s when the answers are not apparent that one feels a bit tentative and unconvinced about one’s choices:
So, fast-forward a few months. I was volunteered to perform at a Ceilidh. To be specific: at the post-dinner ceilidh of the Piobaireachd Society. Barnaby was nice enough to shove me in front of that bus.
I pulled out my pipes, warmed them up (but they just would not raise in pitch – something about the Scottish air, I guess), and then went into the Dining Hall of the Birnam Hotel (a glorious space) and told them, “I’m playing Slan Fuive. As per my instruction from Allan MacDonald. And I’m playing half-grips.” Not sure anyone knew what those were.
Here’s the result: