Many years ago, Andrew MacNeill sent me a tape he had recorded for his friend, John Burgess. On that tape, Andrew summarized the features of Robert Reid’s playing as it contrasted with much of what Andrew heard as he went around the games as audience or adjudicator. It was his opinion that what Burgess had been taught by William Ross had little difference from what Reid taught. He felt William Ross was at heart a Cameron style player who had grown up in “Cameron country” surrounded by piobaireachd in the Cameron style as a living tradition. When the heavily pointed approach came into vogue, Andrew explained, Burgess adopted it to help assure his name in the prize list. In retirement from competition, however, Andrew said that Burgess had gone back to teaching the style he had from Ross, a style that Andrew felt was much like he got from Reid.
Connell dismissed this idea. For him, “playing in the Cameron style” was much about self identification, commitment to a cause in opposition to a current hegemony, and it was about pedigree. By all accounts, Ross, learned his music organically absorbing it from the music around him without a “big name” mentor. Winner of eight Clasps to the Gold Medal, he must have been an apt pupil. But lacking connection with Gillies or one of the Cameron brothers excluded him from the fraternity in Connell’s mind.
I take a less partisan view. I do not think that what I have identified as features of the Cameron style are exclusive to it. I rather think they are part of the collective culture of the music. Yes, some features have fallen into disfavor or disuse, but as long as open minded musicians are willing to play for the music not only for the prize the increasing availability of recorded material makes it unlikely that the style will be lost. It’s greatest enemy is ignorance, ignorance on the part of adjudicators and instructors who insist on characterizing approaches that are over a century long as “wrong” rather than “different”.
So, in my mind the Cameron player.......
plays smoothly with good length to the bottom hand notes, embellishments and graces.
is aware of the unique characteristic of each note of the scale and devises music that is sympathetic to those characteristics.
employes fewer link notes and will often resolve a phrase on a low hand note and revels in those notes.
values consistency within a tune and uses consistency between tunes to develop interpretations based on analogy.
recognizes the introductory E as indicating the beginning of a musical idea; recognizes a cadence as marking the end of a section of music.
uses pre-cadence pauses to resolve prior musical ideas before introductory E’s in crunluath variations.
normally plays suibhal and taorluath breabach variation “up the way”.
often employs flexible timing in and between rhythmic variations.
frequently elides double echo movements into subsequent phrases that begin on the same chanter note as the double echo.
will push or pressurize certain passages to keep the melody flowing and to add contrast.
varies the length of introductory E’s, lengthening them in prescribed contexts.
may play the redundant A movements.
There is nothing radical here, nothing that should threaten or undermine the foundations of the music, nothing that should be rejected out of hand. Some of this is unfashionable, much definitely old-fashioned........but I always thought that was the point of piobaireachd. It is gloriously old fashioned music.
References cited in Part Three:
Campbell, Archibald. 1948. The Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. John Smith and Son, Ltd. Glasgow, Scotland.
Campbell, James (ed.) 1984. Sidelights on the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. The Piobaireachd Society, publisher.
Campbell, James (ed.) 1985. Further Sidelights on the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. The Piobaireachd Society, publisher.
Thomason, C. S. 1975 (original circa 1890). Ceol Mor. E. P. Publishing, Ltd. East Ardsley, England.
Recordings (cited and useful):
There are only a handful of currently (2013) available commercial recordings that have an unambiguous Cameron stamp. Those that I can recommend without comment follow....
William Barrie, Ancient Piobaireachd Volume III.
William Barrie, Ancient Piobaireachd Volume IV.
Iain MacLeod, Some Piobaireachd As Taught by John MacDougall Gillies Between 1896 and 1906.
Robert Reid, Classics from the College Volume I, P/M Robert Reid.
To the above I would add Donald MacPherson, A Living Legend (2004) and any of the earlier MacPherson recordings that might still be available as CD or cassette. He was taught exclusively by his father, Iain MacPherson, who had been a Gillies student and briefly a student of Robert Reid. MacPherson plays much in the modern vein while still retaining the broad Cameron aesthetic.......and he is master of the instrument.
Archives (non-commercial collections):
There is increasing availability of recorded material in institutional collections and on line. Here are three I know about....
www.willieconnell.net: These is a wealth of material available including downloadable files of the instructional tapes Connell made. In total, I count 57 tunes that are archived here.
The College of Piping archives are massive including tunes by William Connell, James Campbell, Robert Reid and others. Unfortunately, while available for serious study the recordings are not digitalized or available on line.
The most exciting recent development is the digitalization of the archives of the Piobaireachd Society. This includes recently acquired recordings of Robert Reid that had once been at the College of Piping and that now will be available to members of the Society.
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