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.
|Hiharin hiodreen hihodro dreodro
hiodin hiodreen hihodro dredarodo × 2
|Hiharin hinodro hiõdin hiodro hiodin,
hodre cheodro hiõdin hiodro hiodin
|Hihodrõdin hiodre hodroo hinodro
hiodre hinodro dreodro hiodin
|Hiharin hiotroIe hodro barieveho
hiodin dilihe darie hodro bari darodo × 2
|Hiharin, hinodro hiodro barihohio
hodre dilieho hiodro barihohio
|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’:
Colin’s use of ‘1st Qr ’ 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. Pt ’ probably stands for Single Part and ‘D. Pr ’ 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 ‘Qr ’ 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:
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, shank, calf of leg, shin’.
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 ‘joint, articulation (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 quatrain, line’, 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.
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.
|Hiharin hodreen hiodro dreodro
hiodin hodreen hiodro dredarodo × 2
|Hiharin hinodro hõdin hõdro hiodin,
hiodre heodro hõdin hõdro hiodin
|Hiodrõdin hodre hiodroo hinodro
hiodre hinodro dreodro hiodin
|Hiharin hotroIe hodro barieveo
hiodin dilie darie hodro bari darodo × 2
|Hiharin, hinodro hodro barioho
hodre dilieho hodro barioho
|Dilieho barioho hodre dilieho
barioho dilieho, hiobari Iheoho (?hIeoho)
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.
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.
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.