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For over three decades I have sought and learn what I could of the Cameron style from as many sources as possible. My primary mentor has been the late William Connell with whom I exchanged tapes and letters for over twenty years. Our face to face sessions were relatively few but always fruitful and treasured. I have also received encouragement and valued instruction from James Barrie. Barrie and Connell were both instructors at a weekend workshop I directed for six years that focused on the Cameron interpretation of the yearly “set tunes” of the Piobaireachd Society.

Equally critical to this discussion is the influence of James Campbell with whom I corresponded actively for the three or four years before his death. He was a fund of knowledge and reasoned appraisal. Andrew MacNeill (Colonsay) likewise was an active correspondent, a proponent and “keeper” of Robert Reid’s playing and an informed judge of piping matters.

Iain MacLeod (Jersey), who, with impeccable Cameron credentials, broadened my own appreciation of the style through letters and taped performances. And my first piobaireachd tutor, James McColl, had Cameron connections of his own through his tutor, Iain MacPherson (a Gillies student) and informally through Robert Reid (another Gillies student).

I would like to emphasize that this is all mainstream, competitive piping. None of my mentors could be considered “cranks” or “fringy”; perhaps not currently fashionable, but prize winning and broadly accepted in their day.

While I gratefully acknowledge the support and encouragement of my mentors and informants, they would all have disagreements with what I write. My task has not been to record the style of any one player, but to probe when possible underlying attitudes and assumptions about the music. That said, the bulk of my ceol mor understanding comes via William Connell, so these reflection have an inevitable Connell and perhaps Reid / Gillies flavor.I suspect that each of my mentors believes what they themselves play --- and they differ amongst themselves to varying degrees --- is most authentic or true to the traditional/ historical Cameron style. All others are suspect. I will not indulge in a discussion about which playing style or setting of a tune is more “authentic”. It is sufficient for my purposes that many fine pipers, part of the mainstream of modern piping history, have claimed to play in a Cameron style. I desire only to understand what that style is. I have perhaps made mountains of molehills. The reader may judge.

Throughout this essay I will use the term “Cameron style” as originally suggested, as a convenient label. What we have left of the playing traditions of the Cameron family has all been through the refinement of subsequent generations of artistes who, being artistes, were unlikely to be content with mere parrot playing. It may be that what I discuss here is actually unreflective of how the Cameron family played. Such has certainly been argued (see MacIntosh 1997). Yet, the evidence suggests that even the individual Cameron family members put their own stamp on the music. We should not expect anything less from their students or those student’s students. While there may have been extensive evolution of detail, to paraphrase James Campbell, I do not think there has been much deviation from first principles. But that, I confess, is an article of faith.

PART TWO, an Overview:

1) The Cameron style is more than a list of musical “quirks”. While there is musical variety among the Cameron style players of my acquaintance, those traits they hold in common are the manifestations of a subtle approach, an aesthetic that evolved through the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Still, it is useful to start with an overview, a summary of characteristics of the Cameron style and some of the “quirks” of its adherents. Included will be features of a performance that the listener might note to discern a piper’s stylistic pedigree. Part Three that follows this overview, should be seen as an expansion upon it and a pushing of the discussion to an abstract level.

2) The Cameron style player tends to play smoothly with a liquid - like flow. Short notes are not so short, nor long notes quite so long. Radical change of tempo between variations is frowned upon. This is not to say that the Cameron style player never aggressively cuts a note, only that such notes are not “snatched at” or “bitten at” (two of Connell’s favorite pejoratives.). This flow is central to the musicality of the style.


3) The Cameron style player values consistency of interpretation. A motif played one way early in a tune will be played the same way throughout unless there is overriding reason not to. There is also a tendency to generalize from one tune to another. A motif learned in one tune can confidently be incorporated into another with little modification.

James Campbell wrote to me that once one had accumulated a repertoire of 60 or 70 tunes, any unfamiliar new tune could be worked out through analogy. Moreover, Robert Reid was apparently of the opinion that all of ceol mor was based on 22 to 24 basic phrase patterns (Andrew MacNeill, personal correspondence).

This interest in consistency and working from one tune to another by analogy is at the core of Connell’s occasional use of the term “Cameron system” to de scribe what he taught.

The Cameron style player values the lower notes of the chanter and will often prolong a low G, low A, B or D that others would shorten. Low G gracenotes are given good weight.

Delight in the bottom notes of the chanter is key to the style.


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