Using colour to convey musical pitches – Part 3

PART 1. The rift between vocal and written canntaireachd
PART 2. The rationale behind a proposed colour scheme
PART 3. Case study 1: Hiharin hiodreen – One of the Cragich (PS 36)

This series is dedicated to the memory of Lt Cl David Murray who awakened debate on the notation and timing of hiharin over 50 years ago. He was a source of tremendous encouragement to everyone whose approach to pibroch went further than “that’s the way I got it”.

In this part, I originally intended to look at how vocal sounds are mapped to bagpipe scale degrees by Hebridean singers. But responses from Keith Sanger and Simon Chadwick to Part 2 made me realise that something fundamental needs to be explained first.

I completely agree with you Keith that sound clips and purely aural/oral demonstration is the clearest and most obvious way to go.

Simon Chadwick, comment to Part 2 (above)

What is the point of using colour? Does it do anything better than existing technologies? Currently, the tools most widely used in pibroch education are staff notation (introduced in the 19th century) and audio recording (introduced in the 20th century). Each in turn caused a slow revolution because, over time, its usage brought about significant changes in how pipers learn, what pipers do and even who pipers are – at least with respect to pibroch.

Highland pipers’ growing reliance on staff notation, and more recently on audio recordings, has had a number of effects. I will draw attention to the effects that disturb me most by using three case studies, all pieces known only from Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797. In each case, I explore ways of making Colin’s notation more accessible. Editorial interventions are explained, layer by layer, showing how complexities and dangers multiply as the translation or ‘realisation’ gets further away from the source.

What emerges is a clear set of issues. In each case study, I introduce a coloured vocable score as an experiment, attempting to address these issues. The value of such a score lies, I suggest, in 1. being less prescriptive, 2. providing a more song-like visualisation of the music, and 3. making the tonal contrasts between phrases, parts and pieces clearer to the eye. This use of 21st-century technology would never replace the two older technologies of staff and audio, but it could usefully complement them.

As writing about musical interpretation is prone to miscommunication, I will (as Keith and Simon suggest) begin by using audio technology to explain my thinking. Please listen before reading on. This is a 44-minute recording in which I sing from Colin’s notation, explaining in detail what I am doing and why.

Case Study 1: Hiharin hiodreen – One of the Cragich (PS 36)

1 step away from the source

The facsimile above and the edited text below show Colin’s notation of fingering. This is not a notation of singing (see Part 1). A written score that conveys the sound of singing is found in the next section: 2 steps away from the source.

 Q1–2 Hiharin hiodreen hihodro dreodro
hiodin hiodreen hihodro dredarodo   × 2
 Q3 Hiharin hinodro hiõdin hiodro hiodin,
hodre cheodro hiõdin hiodro hiodin
 Q4 Hihodrõdin hiodre hodroo hinodro
hiodre hinodro dreodro hiodin
 Q1–2 Hiharin hiotroIe hodro barieveho
hiodin dilihe darie hodro bari darodo   × 2
 Q3 Hiharin, hinodro hiodro barihohio
hodre dilieho hiodro barihohio
 Q4 Dilieho barihohio hodre dilieho
barihohio dilieho, hiobari Ihehohio

The only significant editorial intervention here is presenting each part in four quarters (labelled Q1–4). This clarifies the calpa, one of the ‘original Terms of Art’ documented by Joseph MacDonald:

The original Terms of Art belonging to the Bag Pipe as the[y] were invented & taught by the first Masters of this Instrument in the Islands of Mull & Sky

Callip, Eurlair a Phuirt [Calpa, Ùrlar a Phuirt] – Adagio or Ground…

Ceithridh Callip [Ceathramh Calpa] – [¼th of a Ground (f. 20v), Quarter]

Ceathramh means ‘fourth’. As in English, it can either be an adjective or a noun. Joseph and Colin both use it as a noun and translate it as ‘Quarter’:

Source J, folio 26v

Source C0, pages 2–3

Colin’s use of  ‘1st Q’ as an abbreviation of 1st Quarter has not previously been noticed. In the margins of C0, he writes ‘1st Qr  / 2d Do / 3d Do ’. Expanding this to 1st Quarter / 2nd Ditto / 3rd Ditto is unproblematic in the light of Joseph’s treatise. ‘S. P’ probably stands for Single Part and ‘D. P’ for Double Part, given what Colin writes in the corresponding places on the opposite page, and his equivalent use of ‘Part’ in source CK.

Source C0 was discovered by Keith Sanger in about 1980 and I am grateful to him and the National Records of Scotland for providing the image above. In 1995, the meticulous scholar Frans Buisman misread Colin’s ‘Q’ as Ln, expanding it to Line. Although it looks like a modern L, this form of Q is conventional in handwriting of the period; Joseph uses it four times for the word Quarter in his ‘March for a begginner’ (reproduced above).

These two documents show that pipers used ceathramh as a noun and that ceathramh calpa was not restricted to the Ùrlar – it could mean a fourth of any variation. They allow us to add with confidence another meaning of the word calpa to Scottish Gaelic dictionaries. Calpa was the musical equivalent to a poetic metre: a repeated pattern that was culturally familiar and possibly studied formally before the collapse of the colleges on Mull and Skye in the 18th century. In modern terms, it is similar to a chord chart or harmonic cycle underlying the stanzas of a song. Ethnomusicologists might call it a cognitive schema, but I will use the Gaelic term, calpa.

It is also found in the instructional pages of Donald MacDonald’s book as ‘calepe a phuirst’, which in standard Scottish Gaelic orthography is calpa a phuirt:

Source D1, Instructions, page 4

A more literal translation of the last line here would be ‘bone, ground, or frame of the tune’. Donald’s Instructions were published in 1817. A century later, calpa was still in use in the Western Isles. William MacDonald, born 1927, went for pibroch lessons to Lachlan Bàn MacCormick (1859–1952) in Benbecula. He recalls:

an calpa – that is what they called an ùrlar, calpa, although actually it doesn’t mean the urlar.

Proceedings of the Piobaireachd Society Conference, vol. 26 (1999), Session II, p. 4

As noted above, calpa means the repeated melody-bearing pattern that underpins every part, whereas Ùrlar means the first part only. Misunderstanding and confusion are likely because the Ùrlar is the first statement of the calpa.

Outside music, calpa means a range of things. What they all have in common is load-bearing, keeping a structure upright or intact, or keeping something valuable tethered. Dwelly gives nine meanings: 1 the calf of a leg, 2 a pillar, 3 the ply of a rope, 4 the shrouds of a ship (the fixed rigging which holds up the mast), 5 financial capital, 6 the spine and ribs of a boat (tairngnean calpa are the nails for joining the skin to the stem, keel and cross timbers), 7 the shank of an anchor or fishing hook, 8 the walls of a house, and 9 the part of a tether between the stake and the swivel. The Irish citations in eDIL have a narrower range: ‘thick part of leg between knee and ankle, shankcalf of legshin’.

I wonder if calpa first entered musical vocabulary as a culinary metaphor, likening the parts of a composition to the joints of meat served at feasts – bones with a decent bit of flesh on them. A parallel could be drawn with alt, one of two words used in Ireland for poetic metre. The primary meaning of alt is ‘jointarticulation (in human beings and animals)’.

The word ceithramh (fourth) was used as a technical term by both poets and pipers, but its meaning in Ireland and Scotland diverged. Irish citations in eDIL support the meaning ‘fourth part of a quatrainline’, whereas Scottish Gaelic dictionaries give ‘quatrain’. My stage one intervention, arranging each part into four quarters, alerts readers to pibroch’s intimate connections with both the strict-metre verse of the classical filidh and the stressed-metre verse of the vernacular bàrd. The first type of verse is defined by syllable count, the second by stress count, but both song traditions share a predilection for structures that fall into four quarters.

This four-quarter visualisation held a sacred significance across Europe. Before the Age of Enlightenment, a favourite model for structuring compositional craft was the Ark of the Covenant – a rectangular box. Iona was a powerful centre of learning and this conventional way of pre-visualising compositions left its legacy in fourfold layouts everywhere you look in Highland art: sculpture, metalwork, manuscript illumination and dance. Pibroch and poetry are part of a larger picture, the interconnected products of the same cultural environment.

Joseph’s account of the pipers’ method of composition fits this wider context perfectly:

This Rule we may more properly Call The Rule of Thumb. In effect it is much the same, for it was by the four Fingers of the Left hand that all their Time was measured and regulated; E.G. An Adagio in Common Time of Such a Style, must not exceed or fall short [of] Such a number of Fingers, otherwise it was not regular… Their Adagios when regular, commonly consisted of 4 Quarters. In each Quarter there were Such a number of Fingers; (which we Count as Bars) 2, 4, or 8 as the Quarter was Long or Short; or the Bar was Subdivided into more Fingers, according to their Length.

Source J, folios 18r–18v

2 steps away from the source

Having made the physical movement of ‘the four Fingers of the Left Hand’ visible on the page, my next step is to reconstruct Colin’s singing. The impression that canntaireachd was once fixed or systematic is false. Colin’s notation aspired to achieve a systematic correspondence between written vocables and bagpipe fingerings, but it never succeeded in this goal nor does it represent traditional practice.

The coloured vocables below attempt to undo Colin’s innovative work, reversing his transformations. To make canntaireachd easier to handle, the score needs to represent vocal sounds accurately. My objective is fairly simple: not to contradict the substantial evidence, graphic and sonic, that I will be presenting in Parts 7–9 of this series. This evidence points to a craft of vocabelising in which the needs of learners were better served by expressive variability than by rigid consistency.

Many of the choices I have made in the coloured text below are fairly arbitrary – other solutions are equally plausible.

Q1–2 Hiharin hodreen hiodro dreodro
hiodin hodreen hiodro dredarodo   × 2
 Q3 Hiharin hinodro din dro hiodin,
hiodre heodro din hõdro hiodin
 Q4 Hiodrõdin hodre hiodroo hinodro
hiodre hinodro dreodro hiodin
 Q1–2 Hiharin hotroIe hodro barieveo
hiodin dilie darie hodro bari darodo   × 2
 Q3 Hiharin, hinodro hodro barioho
hodre dilieho hodro barioho
 Q4 Dilieho barioho hodre dilieho
barioho dilieho, hiobari Iheoho  

Key: low A  |  B  |  C♯  |  E  |  F♯  |  G  |  high A   (see Part 2 for the rationale behind these colours)

Often, ornamental notes are sung at pitches other than the main note – for example, in hio, hiharin and darodo. The obvious thing would be to colour them precisely as you sing them: hio, hiharin and darodo, indicating the pitch of the ancillary pitches. I have chosen not to do this. Instead, I treat them as a single block, applying the colour of the main note to the whole group. This achieves three things. First, it preserves the block’s integrity – a single chunk for the brain to process and the fingers to execute. Secondly, it avoids elevating ancillary notes to the status of main notes, which leads to musical misunderstanding. This was Lt Cl David Murray’s main criticism of the notational approach in the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor (1948): the melodic shape is severely distorted if not lost from view. Thirdly, it gives a more accurate impression of the tonality.

The application of colour is otherwise uncontentious. Reconstructing Colin’s singing, however, forces me to add a layer of personal opinion in the distribution of cadences. Traditionally, canntaireachd reflects cadences, but Colin removed this information, as explained in the audio recording above. Therefore, as soon as we translate it back from instrumental notation into vocal notation, we have to ‘cook’ the source.

Cadences are a highly personal matter. I will conclude Part 3 with Joseph’s tantalising remarks, contextualised by evidence from English lute manuscripts. Joseph knew that a cadence meant something else to his readers: the way you end a phrase, not how you start it. So, instead of calling them cadences, he calls them introductions:

This Exercise… must be all introduced in the manner you see the little Notes sett down, & the Learner must be always usd with these Introductions untill he can introduce them properly of his own accord (if he has any Taste or Genius without which no kind of Musick can be well taught him).

whenever the Learner arrivd at a Perfect degree of Proficience he was Judge where to dispose these Cuttings properly. Any Graces that relate to Invention [are] only exercisd in the Præludes & Little Voluntaries before you begin the March, which has been brought to as great a Perfection as the Compass can admitt, by the best Masters of this Instrument

The introductions which frequently occur (being noted down before each passage) seem to a stranger wild and rude, but will appear otherwise when known, being well applied to the style.

Source J, folios 6v and 23v

The introductions fall onto important notes, accentuating them in much the same way as an English lute ‘fall’ or a French harpsichord cadence. The French term provides the best explanation for the traditional usage of cadence in pibroch (see Understanding Cadences). Joseph’s remarks are important because they light a candle in an otherwise murky room: how to read hio and ho. Joseph’s comments explain why Colin was not bothered about specifying cadences. They bear witness to an attitude familiar from other instrumental traditions, such as the lute, an instrument widely played in Scotland in the 1600s:

There is little doubt… that Dowland and his contemporaries played many graces – manuscripts like the Margaret Board lute book, and the Folger lute book, in both of which Dowland wrote, contain numerous signs for graces. The fact that some other manuscripts contain no signs almost certainly indicates that the conventions of how to apply graces were widely understood but their actual application was a matter of improvisation and personal taste…

English manuscripts typically contain two signs, # meaning a “shake”, and + meaning a “fall”. … falls usually occur on the tonic note, quite commonly in the bass.

Martin Shepherd,

What is significant here is that Colin was not omitting information through lack of effort or attention to detail; in the case of hio and ho, he went to the trouble of deleting information that, in a straightforward transcription of canntaireachd, would have appeared on the page. This seems extraordinary from a modern perspective. Colin decided that specifying cadences was undesirable, or at least expendable, revealing that his approach to cadences is diametrically opposed to that of most pipers today.

I suggest that this revolution is the result, on the one hand, of the introduction of staff notation and audio recordings; and, on the other hand, of a performing culture in which the objective is to sound the same as previous prize-winners. The level of detail that these two technologies convey to the brain, coupled with a lack of social reward for any creativity in pibroch, leaves little chance for the development of the ‘Taste or Genius’ Joseph is talking about.

In Part 4, I test out a coloured vocable score with a class of students at the university of Glasgow. In Part 5, I will observe what happens when we go three steps away from the source, communicating an interpretation through staff notation and audio recording.


4 thoughts on “Using colour to convey musical pitches – Part 3

  1. Excellent Barnaby, I wonder if this should really have been the first part and certainly should be flagged somewhere near to the Home pages of Altpibroch so that anyone coming to site with an interest in canntaireachd passes through this first. I use the word ‘passes’ since in one way your 45 minute oral exposition actually makes the point that what was originally purely a sound medium is still best expressed in sound. Indeed I was so absorbed in that  45 minutes that the rest of the bottle of claret that had accompanied my lunch seems to have disappeared while I was listening.

    But a few minor quibbles although not worth messing the post as is, around for. One of modern piping’s unfortunate  habits is to denigrate those of the past rather than reflect that we all build on the shoulders of those earlier studies. Now I know your own view of the work done by Frans Buisman and that you would have no intention to create that sort of negativity about him. But in this particular medium easily open to anyone with an opinion without necessarily having any real facts the miss-reading by Frans needs to be put into perspective.

    As it is it took some study by you along with I think a request by you for me to find any other examples of that style where it could not be anything other than a ‘Q’. A Barony Court Record relating to the theft of a cow as I remember? So the miss-reading of the ‘Q’ for an ‘L’ was quite understandable especially given the quality of early photocopying.

    Calpa, is an interesting explanation but are they not really all different ways of implying the same thing. The legs are what you stand on, but you stand on the floor so they all relate to the basic structure of what is about to be constructed. Not that it changes your argument but perhaps is looking for a precision in language that was never there. As in fact implied by that quote you have used.

    Again with reference to balancing the past and the people involved. I have never met Kilberry but did have the opportunity to ‘study’ David Murray’ in possibly the best way as a very junior soldier parked at a small desk on some boring task, observing Major Murray as he was then ruling the roost in the Company Orderly room at the Fort. Without entering the politics of that period when the words you quote him as saying occurred they are correct as a straightforward comment on what Kilberry has but overall my impression was that as far as Kilberry’s work went it was the Biblical nature with which  it was treated b y some of his contemporaries that more bothered David.

    After all any one with any sense who actually reads the introduction to Kilberry starting at the point where it says;-It makes no pretence to be scientifically accurate or even intelligible to the non piper….’, would not therefore make any claim that Kilberry meant it to be played as written.

    Just as I wholeheartedly agree with your pointing out the problems with what Colin Campbell has written and what he probably would have played, it also has to be minded that there is a similar problem with Joseph MacDonald. We can assume that Joseph was taught orally but he was trained as a conventional musician, to the extent that his future was at one point going to be in that direction.

    Furthermore it is possible to gain an idea of what that musical schooling entailed as he was schooled at Haddington under the Rector Young, and we have an idea from Young’s daughter of the rigors of training at that time. She went on to create and patent a ‘musical game’ which almost needs a qualification in music simply to understand the rules. For further information see my articles on Joseph in PT 37. No 1 (Oct 1984), and the ‘Youngs’ in Scottish Gaelic Studies vol 26, (2010).

    So to put it bluntly Joseph MacDonald as a ‘classically’ trained musician was viewing canntaireachd partly through that  side of the prism and like Colin Campbell also adapting the music from one medium to another with all the problems of ‘translation’ that brings. In other words we can ‘temper’ Colin Campbell’s by reference to Joseph, but with whom do we ‘temper’ Joseph’s work? As you put it in the sound section, we will probably never have that answer.

    Finally, and I can hear the sighs of relief, I certainly would not fault Alan’s interpretation of ‘one of the Cragich’ meaning one of the ‘rocky’, but would certainly not agree with your suggestion that it had any connection to the quarry or implied he got them from someone who did.  To start with he is the piper, or rather that family are the only pipers around that area for whom any actual evidence exists at that period. For anyone who has sleep issues I can recommend the quarry records as a sure cure for insomnia.

    I have suggested in the past and have yet to see any reason to change my mind that the ‘one of the Cragich’ relates to the position of the Campbell’s holding and where they played. The croft or it’s remains sit fairly close to a rocky cliff and the quickest way from there to  Ardmaddy Castle itself is along the narrow shoreline under the continence of that that cliff. Furthermore on a still day between the cliff and the sea it would act as a sounding board (or echo), and we know from the poem by the Blind Piper, Ian Dall that he was interested in echos.

    Before the modern period of sound recording the only way to actually hear yourself playing would in fact have been by using sound reflection. But anyone tempted to take their pipes along to Ardrioch to try the Cragich, unless it is really dry take wellies, and look out for cattle.

  2. Thank you Keith. I am delighted to rectify the negative impression I have cast on Frans Buisman’s work, most inappropriately, through my omission of any acknowledgement so far in this series to his seminal articles on Colin’s notation in the Piping Times, 1987–1998:

      PT 39/7: 44-9 (1987)
      PT 43/3: 34-7 (1990)
      PT 47/11: 21-8 and 47/12: 26-34 (1995)
      PT 50/3: 24-30 and 50/4: 28-33 (1997-8)

    These articles are the bedrock for my work here. I think it would be fair to say that they are the only reliable literature on canntaireachd in the public domain, certainly the most significant, rigorous and original. In many ways, what I am doing in this series is nothing more than making his findings more accessible – verifying that he was right, disseminating his work in a more digestible way, and applying the results in ways that are relevant to practitioners – learners, players and teachers.

    I was always awe-struck by the generosity with which he shared his immense knowledge by email. He was my mentor, correcting my mistakes and opening my mind. Given his formidable scholarship, I am guilty of over-excitement at being able to find anything he got wrong!

    Rather than tempering understanding in one direction – using Joseph’s evidence to illuminate Colin’s – what I am doing is bi- or multi-directional. When something questionable receives support from more than one witness (particularly when the witnesses appear to be independent) this raises confidence levels. The ‘Qr’ reading in C0 makes it much more difficult to accept that Joseph’s hitherto uncorroborated assertions are poppycock from a 21-year-old biased by his Haddington music education.

    I don’t think anyone can deny that Joseph’s Qs and Colin’s Qs are the same letter. The significance of this is that we now appear to have two independent witnesses for the use of Quarter as a technical term in pibroch. That’s a lot better than one!

    my impression was that as far as Kilberry’s work went it was the Biblical nature with which it was treated by some of his contemporaries that more bothered David.

    You are absolutely right. David was incredibly encouraging to me personally – he stood out, a ray of light, giving me strength to keep going when conditions were not so favourable for the sort of research that opened new doors, challenging orthodox beliefs and behaviours.

  3. There is a slight miss-understanding I am afraid, I was not questioning Joseph also writing ‘Q’, and whatever he was it was not a  young poppycock. He would though still have had the problems of anyone attempting to effectively change from one medium to another. To turn piobaireachd into written music requires that the person doing so has had at least some instruction in written music. In Joseph’s case his qualifications in that regard was clear.

    Biased, was not a word I would have used but since it has been raised then certainly biased by his Haddington education. It cannot logically be otherwise although that does not mean he was unqualified to write a dissertation on piobaireachd, simply as I put it he was looking through one side of the prism. We are all biased by the world we actually and currently live in and that includes education.

    We all I assume can read and though from birth to when we first started reading means we went through a period when we were functionally illiterate, childhood memories are unsound as evidence so effectively we are all perfectly literate. There is I am afraid no way can have any idea of how adult non literate people actually view life. We cannot unlearn what we know and the same applies to music, which is why I described it as the sides of a prism.

    That does not mean that what is learned cannot be applied to analysing oral arts but there are limitations to fully understanding that other side by crossing that divide and seeing it exactly as it appears from the other side.

    But to end on a question which has been a source of curiosity since I first saw it. I was reminded by the crop you show of page f.25 r. The switch he makes from Skye first and Mull second on his title page to the reverse on that page. I have often wondered about his time with Patrick at Kilmore and if he had any contact with John Rankin?

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