The Wee Spree: ground

The last line of the ground of “Lament for the Earl of Antrim” is treated in the same way. Here are further examples of short motifs, passages or mini-phrases that are pressurized:

MASSACRE OF GLENCOE: ground doubling



f. Another interpretive “trick” that the Cameron stylist uses to enhance the fluidity of an interpretation and add interest to the music involves the double echo. These are stereotyped motifs that occur quite often in the ground work of a tune. Each has a fundamental rhythm that can be manipulated to musical effect. For practical purposes their timings fall into two categories. Thomason, in fact, discusses these approaches as well (1975).

The first of these is “fully resolved”. The last note of the motif is held as a phrase ending to a sense of completeness. A “full stop”. This would be the normal or baseline approach to the movements. The second treatment is “blended” or “tied”. Both treatments are found in the second line of the ground of “Lament for Donald of Laggan”.

The double echoes on D occur as melodic anchors at the beginning, the middle and the end of the line. In each case, fully resolved. On the other hand when a double echo ends on the same note the subsequent motif begins on, the double echo is blended into the following phrase. Not only does this improve the flow of the melody by keeping it from feeling strung together from isolated pieces, but the contrast between resolved and blended double echo movements adds interest and appeal to the interpretation.


Another instance of blending a double echo comes from the second line of the ground of the “Massacre of Glencoe”, a line that also includes double echos that are fully resolved.


g. A final way that a Cameron trained piper enhances fluidity of expression is simply through interpretive consistency. A passage or phrase that is played one way early in a tune will be played the same way whenever it reappears. The reappearance of familiar bits of the melody eases the listener through the tune. The familiar become welcome points of rest in the ebb and flow of an often complex melody.


11. Nothing in a Cameron style performance should seem shocking. Every effort should be made to negotiate the intricacies of a melody line in a sympathetic way. Partly this is achieved through tonal sensitivity. Many features of an interpretation are designed to respond to the unique volume and timbre of each of the notes of the chanter and the aural effect of moving from notes of one character to notes of another:

a. High G and especially high A must be treated “sympathetically” because they are the quietest notes on the chanter. In the ground of a tune, high G and high A are rarely shortened; often they are slightly prolonged. The rhythm of a variation may demand a shorter high A (e.g. Variation Two of the “Desperate Battle”) but even here one must avoid the tendency to clip the upper note.

b. Transitioning from a lower, louder note to a high A often demands a slight dwell on the lower note to ease the transition, to keep it from seeming too abrupt by simple aural contrast. Even an F or E before a high A is slightly prolonged.

The result is a “gravitational effect” in the interpretation. When moving up the chanter scale from a note of lower pitch to higher, soften the transition, broaden the notes. (You are, after all, working against gravity; slow down) When moving down the scale, from a higher and thinner note to a lower and louder one, you may be more aggressive as long as you avoid a clipped or staccato effect. (Gravity is helping you; let it, but keep control).

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