While Reid talked formally of playing a tune in “passage and phrase form”, he was not an overtly analytical teacher. Connell said Reid expected a student to pick up the subtleties of a tune from sung and practice chanter demonstration.
However, Reid also often employed staff music written by his mentor, John MacDougall Gillies. According to Connell, these were mostly bits of a tune presented motif by motif without regard to the bars or building blocks of the tune. Each motif, whether passage or phrase, was written as it was to be played using relative note duration as a guide rather than strict time signature. Implicit in those manuscripts is an analytical approach. An approach that divided the melody in its basic components and saw those components as independent of bar line or time signature.
Connell, himself, did not use the concept of a ‘passage’ as opposed to a ‘phrase’ when he taught. He did, however, talk of “phrases” and “umbrella phrases”. Sometimes he used the term “mini-phrase”. Many of Connell’s phrases were the motifs Reid would have classified as a passage. No matter. The approach was largely the same although Connell tended to increased division. On occasion he treated a single note as a phrase. By this he meant that its melodic importance was especially significant.
Connell conceded that two equally skilled pipers might conceive of a melody line in different ways, both with very similar results. The results are important, but so too is the process of analysis and thought that goes into those results.
Much like Connell’s experience with Reid, James Barrie, taught by his father and surrounded by his father’s music, was expected to pick up the needed interpretation from his father’s performance. Yet, the singing of William Barrie on his commercial recordings of canntaireachd are usually phrased exactly as Connell would break down and analyze a melody line. I think this is significant. (see “Ancient Piobaireachd, Vol. IV)
Articulated or not, Cameron style pipers share a notion of breaking down the tune into smaller components independent of what gets written as a bar of music. They search for small units of melody, not organizational principles.
8. The phrase structure of a tune (primary, secondary, tertiary etc.) may have guided the composer. Knowledge of it may be a boon to memorization. But passages and phrases, Connell’s notion of phrase and umbrella phrase or the sung motifs of William Barrie exist independent of the phrase structure or “bars” of a tune. Sometimes a phrase may match a “bar”; sometimes they do not. Often a bar will break down into two or three components, but there is no necessary relationship.
The performer’s task is to make the best music possible regardless of the tunes organizational principles and regardless of the conventions of time signature and bar lines.
Melodic understanding begins by (1) analyzing the melody line in terms of smaller melodic units (motifs, passages, phrases, mini - phrases, umbrella phrases, etc); (2) artistic decisions are then made about how these units relate to each other; finally (3), the parts are integrated to best musical effect. Many of the small passages or motifs have a stereotyped interpretation that is carried over from one tune to another. Reid remarked that there were only 22 to 24 different passage or phrases from which all ceol mor is built.
While I find Reid’s distinction between passages and phrases useful on occasion, I tend to follow Connell’s direction and call all the small units of melodic analysis a “phrase”, or “mini-phrase”. Sometimes I use the term “motif” if the phrase is stereotypical.
9. The skilled interpreter of ceol mor finds his or her own organization around the demands of the melody line. This is a creative process, a process of discovery guided by first principles and analogy to other tunes in the canon. Once interpretive decisions are made in one part of a tune, the Cameron love of consistency will then motivate the application of that decision to other parallel contexts.
10. Fluidity of expression is desirable in a ceol mor performance. This sense of flow is achieved several ways:
a. Severely clipped notes are relatively rare, even in the rhythmic variations. For example, the low A’s in dithis variations are given more body than is commonly heard in the performance of pipers of other training.
b. Dramatic changes in tempo between variations are discouraged.
c. The second strike in the double echo movements are relatively broad, much more so than the students of John MacDonald (Inverness) or the students of those students etc. Campbell addressed this shorter second echo and found it a fault in MacDonald’s playing that was becoming increasingly accepted (1984, page 11 and 1948 page 18).
d. The last note of each phrase or passage is given approximately the same duration and that note is typically the longest of the phrase. There is a sense that the performer plays through each motif to an anticipated pause at the end, each pause balancing those around it. This technique of playing through to the end of a phrase is also the source of much of the rhythm and pulse in a Cameron style performance.
e. Quite often small passages of a repetitive nature occurring sequentially are merged into a larger, encompassing passage or umbrella phrase. The last note of eachconstituent passage is not fully resolved, the final resolution being reserved for the last note of the concluding passage. Andrew MacNeill talked of “pressurizing” certain parts of a tune. This pressurization or elision of one phrase into another is one of the keys ways that fluidity of expression is achieved.
Moreover, these pressurized sections stand in contrast to those parts of a tune that are more conventionally treated, and therein lies a significant source of interest and what Connell called “spice” in a tune.
An example of tying repetitive motifs into a longer phrase is found in “MacFarlanes’ Gathering as presented in Connell’s instructional book and tape:
MACFARLANE’S GATHERING: ground
The notes between double bars are “mini-phrases”. These have their emphasis shifted from the last note to the first note of the motif. This has the effect of pushing the music into the following phrase until a resolution is effected on the last C of the grouping. That resolution is followed by a mini-phrase that functions as a cadence marking the halfway point of the line. Then, the pattern repeats in the second half of the line.
This blending and elision of one part into another can be over done. It is very much a matter of making haste without hurrying.
While Connell often employed the technique when encountering repetitive rhythms or motifs it was not limited to those occasions. Occasionally I was directed to “pressurize” the concluding motifs often in the ground of a tune even if they were not of a particularly repetitive nature.
From Connells’ presentation of “The Wee Spree” comes an example of this. Here, the last four “mini-phrases” (written between double bar lines) constitute a larger “umbrella phrase” with a significant pause on the last note, B. None of the quarter notes (crotchets) that conclude the mini-phrases are a full resolution except the concluding B.
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