by Hamish Moore
These pipes are copied from Cox’s Plans, circa 1740 – 1760. They are bellows blown, have three drones issuing from a common stock and have a conical bored chanter in contrast to the parallel bore of the small pipes, thus allowing the pipes to play an octave higher than the quieter and more mellow small pipes. The drone arrangement is A bass, A tenor and high E alto. The key of the chanter is A, and as well as the normal mixolydian scale, there are four semitones available, namely B flat, C natural, E flat and F natural. These are achieved only in conical chanters and by the use of a system of cross-fingering. The wood of choice for these pipes is either Boxwood, which is grown high in the Pyrenees Mountains or local Yew.
The pipes were traditionally popular on both sides of the border, this being reflected in what was often a common repertoire between the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. In Scotland many of the border towns employed a border piper who’s duty it was to play through the streets in the early morning and to sound the curfew at night. The pipes declined in popularity towards the end of the 19th century and had virtually died out of use by the beginning of the 20th century. An interesting phenomenon which survived however until the 1930’s or 40’s was the Boy Scout Pipe Bands in Northumberland playing and marching with Border bagpipes. These pipes were traditionally supplied by Robertson’s, a well-known firm of bagpipe makers from Edinburgh.
During the course of the present revival however, it has only been in the last five or six years that these pipes have gained much popularity. The reasons for this are many, not least of which is the recent improvement in the standard of the pipes and in particular the chanter reed which has resulted in an improvement in the sound of the pipes. The majority of people purchasing bellows blown pipes are Highland pipers and a large part of the attraction for them is to have an instrument which is quiet enough to be played indoors, is in tune, is low maintenance and is a contrast to their Highland pipes. The small pipes, with their quiet volume and rich tone, provide an ideal alternative. For the first ten years of manufacture, I estimate that 99% of pipes made by us were small pipes. Today, the proportion of small pipes to border pipes is approximately two to one. This is an interesting development and it is worth noting that the increase in orders for Border pipes is largely the result of people ordering who already have small pipes and who are looking for a more challenging and expressive instrument. The pipes are principally being used in multi-instrumental folk bands where they will cut through and blend particularly well with other instruments. In informal traditional music sessions, the pipes are also beginning to find a very strong place and there is a potential for their use with classical musicians in an orchestral setting. These uses are far removed from their original function and it is also interesting to note that, as yet, very few people are playing Border music on these pipes. The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, since their inception, have done an invaluable job in promoting Scottish Small pipes and Border pipes.
by Julian Goodacre
The Border or Lowland bagpipe is a loud cauld (cold) wind pipe, which is currently undergoing a great revival. Border, Lowland or 'Cauld Wind' bagpipes differ from the Highland bagpipe. Their drones are set in a common stock, they are usually bellows blown and they have a quieter, sweeter tone. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Scottish Border was a center of popularity for the use of these pipes and each town employed its own town piper.
My Border Pipe is a copy of a fine set of bellows-blown Border pipes that were given to the Royal Scottish Museum in the 1920s by a family from Peebles. It is a set that obviously has seen a lot of use. I measured this pipe long before I had any plans of moving to Peebles. I was initially interested in it because the thumb hole on the chanter has a distinct notch cut or worn across it. This is evidence of 'pinching' - a well-documented technique used by Scottish pipers of placing the thumb nail across the hole. This hole then acts as a vent which allows the chanter to overblow one note above the octave.
I have measured and copied the chanter in great detail. The internal conical bore is complex, with three different gradients. Several of the finger holes on the original chanter have been greatly enlarged - especially the C hole. It is hard to assess what actual pitch it originally played at; I have approached it on the assumption that it plays in concert A (A = 440). It plays well at this pitch with a special reed that I have developed, using fingering similar to the Highland pipes. It has a loud bright tone - considerably quieter than its Highland cousin. It plays a 'Scottish' scale with flattened top and bottom leading notes. The top, leading note can be fingered either flattened or sharpened which greatly increases its musical possibilities.
My brother John has been pioneering the use of covered fingering on this chanter with great success. This has involved only slight alterations to the finger holes. As a result it is possible to set up a lively dialogue between the melody and the rhythmic pattern generated by the percussive articulation.
The original pipes have the splendid combination of one bass drone and two tenors, set in their common stock. (I am prepared to discuss fitting a baritone or alto drone instead of one of the tenors). The chanter and drone ends are of boxwood and drone mounts are of brass. Horn mounts and ferrules can be fitted as an extra. The bag is hand-sewn leather, with a traditional green baize woollen cover.
I have put a great deal of care and attention into the design and construction of the bellows based on many of the better Scottish bellows I have measured in the collections. The leather is handsewn to the clapper boards, which are finely made of hardwood. The boards have a solid-drawn hinge, which gives a much more positive action than the simpler and more commonly employed system of using a leather thong as a hinge. For more information, visit my bellows page
Mouth-blown Border Pipes
I am quite prepared to make Border Pipes with a mouth-pipe instead of bellows - indeed there are several old depictions of Border Pipes being mouth blown. Click on pictures to enlarge image.
by Nigel Richard
Border pipes are bellows blown, have three drones in a common stock, and a conical bore chanter. They keep a lot of the characteristic vibrant tone of the Highland pipes, but at a lower volume.
Although they are not as well known as the Highland pipes, they have a history on both sides of the Border and in the Scottish Lowlands, which goes back some 500 years. The popularity of these pipes has increased over the last dozen years or so, as the quality of the pipes available has improved, and a growing number of pipers have appreciated their particular musical qualities.
One way in which the Border pipes are potentially more versatile than the Highland pipes or the Scottish small pipes, is that in addition to the standard scale, the chanters can give accurately pitched cross fingered accidentals. After many years work I developed, in the early 1990's, a Border pipe chanter which was fully chromatic by cross fingering, giving a good minor third, minor sixth, major seventh, sharp fourth, and minor second, without altering the standard fingering of the normal pipe scale.
Border pipes make excellent solo instruments. Their tone quality, and the fact that they are tuned to A (440) and do not sharpen during playing, also makes them ideal for playing with other instruments. The volume of most Border pipes is a perfect match for two fiddles but is certainly not too loud for one.
These factors are beginning to make them the Scottish pipes of choice for playing in traditional music groups, and they are also becoming much more common in informal sessions.
Apart from accurate tuning, the things I consider most important in making good Border pipes are:
- Rich and direct chanter tone giving clear articulation of grace notes.
- Drones with a full rounded tone like those of the Highland pipes.
- Moderate volume without sacrificing tone quality.
- Playing pressure at a comfortable level.
The key of A is by far the most popular for Border pipes, which suits other players of traditional music, particularly those playing Scottish music. Border pipes in Bb and G are also available. The standard sets have two tenor drones and a bass drone, a combination which has proved itself with Highland pipes. Other configurations with an alto or baritone drone are available.
152 Albert Street
web site: http://www.borderpipes.co.uk
by Ray Sloan
A view of a bagpipe-naming controversy
The issue of nomenclature has been discussed a number of times in recent years, both in the piping press, newsgroups and on the world-wide-web. There is still a lack of consensus, it seems to me, specifically, on whether or not what has commonly become known as the "Border" pipe should be so called. My own view is, by now, well known, they should not; they should in fact be called the "Lowland" pipes.
Controversy and misunderstanding are not new to the world of piping, indeed, it seems to me that they are inextricably linked! In his work of 1911, Bagpipes, Grattan Flood opens Chapter 22 with the following;
"Much misconception has existed in regard to the Lowland Bagpipe as distinct from the Highland. Some writers allege that the two instruments are totally distinct, and that the Lowland Bagpipe is rather of an inferior class." (Note the use of Lowland)
This sentiment is also echoed elsewhere by R.D. Cannon in his authoritative book, The Highland Bagpipe and its Music, where they are called "common." Cannon also states,
"Lowland Bagpipes (note again the use of Lowland) are thought to have been played from about 1700 but they were displaced to some extent by another type of bagpipe, the so-called pastoral pipe, and also by fiddle and concertina."
Lowland pipes are sometimes called Border pipes , but this term is a misnomer; they were played throughout the Lowland region, which includes the whole North-Eastern seaboard of Scotland. The last pocket of Lowland piping was to be found, about 1900, not in the Borders but in Aberdeenshire.
When it was that Lowland pipes became known as Border pipes, I am not sure, but I feel that it is certainly as a result of the renewed interest in this instrument around the late 70s and early 80s, when, perhaps, some of the new makers, with sales on their agenda, were looking for a description which sounded a little more catchy? There are, to my knowledge, and I accept that I may be wrong here, no historical references to this pipe as a Border pipe, only as Lowland, so where the term came from, or who first (inaccurately) coined it, are a mystery to me. There are now further confusions with a revived interest in Reel pipes. (I think that this whole interest in rediscovering our piping history is connected to the New Age movement, which I liken to the Enlightenment movement in the 18th Century.)
According to Joseph MacDonald (1760), the Reel pipe was, "the same in form and apparatus with the greater," and was played for dancing. These so-called Reel pipes were not so loud as the Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB) and were offered by a number of makers throughout the nineteenth century. There was also the Half size pipes which were popular in boys’ bands from around 1900. Cannon states that Henderson of Glasgow maintained the distinction between the Half size and Reel pipes and says that the two are often confused, but unfortunately does not say where the confusion lies. What is certain, is that they were both mouth-blown and that they both had drones tied into contiguous stocks, as for the GHB, as distinct from the Lowland pipe with a common stock.
According to Cannon, bellows pipes were still included in bagpipe makers’ price lists as late as 1901, but these were not Lowland Pipes. They were bellows-blown versions of the Highland half-sized or Reel pipes. The last known player of such a bellows-blown Reel pipe was Angus MacPherson, who died in 1976, aged 96 years. He said that he played bellows pipes at weddings simply because they would stay in tune throughout the long night. His repertoire was the usual Highland.
What is clear here is that the Reel pipe is originally almost identical to the Half size pipe and was, like the former, mouth-blown and not bellows-blown, and has drone arrangements as for the GHB.
It is a worthwhile conjecture to assume here that the version of Reel pipe blown with bellows in fact preceded the Lowland arrangement of having drones in a common stock, for a very simple reason, and not just about reliable tuning. Try tuning drones which are slung over your shoulder and tied into contiguous stocks, whilst your right arm is tied down by a bellows strap! I have, and it is not easy — downright awkward in fact! So, having found that bellows-blown Reel pipes were more reliable for tuning, and perhaps easier to play for prolonged periods, the next most obvious step is to get around the physical problem of tuning the drones. This can be done by placing those drones into a common stock, so that they lie across your arms allowing you to wind your bellows, whilst comfortably "popping off" and tuning your drones. What we have now is a version of the Half size and Reel pipe, played with bellows, having drones in a common stock, and which we have come to call the Lowland pipe, for reasons already mentioned above.
I shall now throw another bagpipe into this cauldron of confusion, the so-called Northumberland Half-Long, a great sounding romantic term, and I would love to invent it! What is it? A Lowland pipe by another name. Where did the term come from? No one knows; we can only guess.
No one has yet come up with a definition, or description, of this Half-long, which differs substantially from the Lowland pipe. The only practical difference that has been historically noted, by looking at sets in the museums, is that some of the sets of Lowland pipes played throughout Northumberland and the Borders had the drones arranged as bass/tenor/alto. How these may have come to be known as Northumberland Half-Long is a mystery, and may have more to do with alcohol than history or expedience.
There has been a suggestion that the term may refer to a shorter bass drone. I think not. I have personally found only one example of a bass drone shorter than the norm for Lowland pipes. This is on the set of pipes of 1772 which belonged to Muckle Jock Milburn of Bellingham, the so-called "Muckle Jock Set." I found the bass drone to be only 5 centimeters shorter than others similar, quite insignificant and hardly justifying a new term for the pipe. This however does tell us about the lack of any kind of standardization between makers of the period. This term is another misnomer and is perhaps very simply a local term used to describe the Lowland pipe in Northumberland, for whatever reason. The term certainly does not imply the existence of any older, larger, or half-as-long pipe in Northumberland.
If this pipe had existed as a unique form of pipe, there would have been historical examples. There are not. There are only examples of Lowland Pipes which get called, sometimes, in Northumberland, Half-Longs. These were also, apparently, sometimes called variously the Hill pipes and the Northumberland great pipe. Historically it is very hard to find any written evidence of the term. In the Flood book of 1911, there is no mention of it at all, but there is mention of the Lowland pipe.
In the Border Magazine, number 371 of November 1926, a controversy was under way concerning the adoption of the term Half-Long for what was judged to be a newly invented pipe for the Boy Scout movement in Northumberland. An article had appeared in a previous issue, written by a Mr. R.N Appleby-Miller, Lieutenant, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers, protesting that the pipes adopted for the Boy Scouts are, "erroneously called Half-Longs…..and are alien to our county." These pipes were actually invented, re-invented, re-modeled, from the Lowland pipes around 1920 by the famed collector W.A. Cocks of Ryton, George Charlton and others, specifically for the Boy Scouts. In the above-mentioned article of November 1926, G. Charlton states that these sets were modeled on the Muckle Jock Set, in addition to a set belonging to James Hall, piper to the Duke of Northumberland at that time.
The owner of the Muckle Jock set, Mrs. C.M. Stoddart of Ashington in Northumberland, stated that the set had been in her family for over 150 years and that they had always been called Half-Longs in her family. This effectively disposes of Mr. Appleby-Millers’ statement that the term is "alien to our County," but does highlight confusion and dissent. Mr. Charlton goes on to say that the smallpipes (Northumbrian) had been tried for military use but were found to be not loud enough, and that they were anxious that the Scouts "should have pipes which could be heard out-of-doors."
In defense of the redevelopment of what he called the "Northumberland Large Pipe," that his movement had worked to save from extinction in 1926, he says,
"sixteen troops of Boy Scouts have adopted the Northumberland Half-Long pipes, and every troop has been presented with a set of pipes free of charge from the people of Northumberland. Two troops have adopted the Northumberland Smallpipes. A band of eight Pipers is in the process of formation by Armstrong College in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and their pipers have already played publicly. A band of six pipers has been formed by Newcastle Royal Grammar School. Over sixty sets of Half-Longs have been made during the past twelve months."
These will, undoubtedly, have been made by Robertson of Edinburgh. Robertson, initially produced a number of Half-longs with chanters possessing G# in the scale. These were, however, at some point withdrawn and replaced by chanters with the flattened 7th in the scale. The reasons for this are not fully known, but one would naturally suspect that this is because enthusiasts were by now more familiar with the more widespread flattened 7th scale, of the Scottish conical bore chanter. The drones of these Robertson Half Longs, as redesigned by Messrs, Charlton, Cocks et al remained and persist to this day in the form of tenor/baritone/bass.
I can only assume that the reasons for putting a baritone 5th in place, instead of the alto 5th, was for volume, as they were quite specific about this need for volume. I believe that this was in fact a fundamental error, in historical as well as musical terms. The style of the drones may indeed have been modelled upon the Muckle Jock and James Hall sets, but the arrangement was quite wrong. I have looked at in excess of 14 antique sets of Lowland, or Half-Long, pipes, and only five of these had a 5th interval drone, all others being the normal Scottish tenor/tenor/bass. Of these five only one had this 5th interval drone in the baritone position, i.e. between the tenor and bass, this was a Robertson set from circa 1930. All of the others had this 5th at alto, i.e. bass/tenor/5th. This Robertson pattern is the Brien Boru pattern of drones. The 5th drone found in the alto position has more of a musically blending effect, complementing the harmonic structure of the bass drone. One only has to listen to a set of drones with a baritone, and then a set with alto, to become convinced of the superior merits of the alto, the old makers obviously realized this.
In 1906, one William O’Duane, working with Henry Starck in London, produced and patented the Brien Boru pipes, as a new form of Irish Warpipe. The drones were three in number, issued from a common stock, and were arranged tenor/baritone/bass. It is important to note the predating of these to the Robertson Half-Longs. It is quite possible, if not likely, that those searching for pipes loud enough for the Boy Scouts of Northumberland, saw these Brien Boru pipes, were impressed by their volume, and therefore decided to adopt this pattern for the new Half-Long, as opposed to the older Northumbrian pattern of Lowland Pipe with an alto drone.
The Brien Boru pipes never really took the imagination of pipers in this country (U.K), and had only limited success in Ireland, the two drone GHB holding sway in that country. One of the reasons for this unpopularity was the apparent difficulty of fingering the complex keyed chanter.
So, where does this leave us? I started by looking at the nomenclature of a certain bellows-blown pipe, and ended up with a potted history of some other common stock instruments, Lowland/Half-Long and Brien Boru pipes, taking in some interesting relatives like the Reel pipes and Half-Size GHB. What I have learned is that there is little mention, or historical evidence, to support our conical bore/common drone stock/bellows-blown pipe that is the Lowland pipe, being called the Border pipe.
Throughout history, pipers have been associated with bawdiness, drunkenness, and behavior generally perceived to be that of the, so-called lower classes. Notwithstanding that in modern society today the playing of bagpipes appeals to a pan-cultural and pan-social interest group, it might save a lot of confusion if we simply re named these things, generically, "Lowlife Pipes!"
North Tyne Workshops,
Wall, Northumberland, NE46 4DZ, England.
Tel/Fax +44 (0)1434 681122
web site: http://www.ray-sloan.com/