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Thread: Canntaireachd

  1. #1
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    Canntaireachd

    In 1816 a piping competitor brought forward for the inspection of the judges

    a folio volume in manuscript, said to contain numerous compositions; but the contents merely resembling a written
    narrative, in an unknown language, nor bearing any resemblance to Gaelic...

    However Murdoch MacLean, a pipe-maker from Glasgow, offered to decipher the manuscript...his proposal received no encouragement, and the owner refused to part with the volume, which gave me much regret.


    General Dalyell's Musical Memories

    Like a piper of old, I can stand here on a green knoll
    in a yellow fog, out of the field of the fray
    and incite people to battle
    with the strange words of the Isles

    Hiodroho hodroho haninen hiechin
    Hodraha hodoho hodroho hachin


    JF Campbell, Islay

    These quotes refer to Canntaireachd (chanting) which was the ancient musical notation of the Ceol Mor (great music, usually called nowadays Piobaireachd). It remains in use today, and is still regarded as the best way to teach and learn Ceol Mor.

    Here is canntaireachd being sung along with the pipes, with Closed Captioning so to speak

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCHRQuITwWs

    Here are pipes, orchestra, and singer performing piobaireachd with canntaireachd

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljrz0GhQgs8

    Here is the great uilleann piper and pipe-maker Tim Britton singing Cr˛nan na Caillich 's Bheinn Bhric (the croon of the old hag of the speckled mountains) with a drone provided by the audience, quite cool

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM-laV7W5KA
    Last edited by OC Richard; 12th December 19 at 05:41 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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  3. #2
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    I was unaware of this until just this week this video came up in my suggested videos on youtube.

  4. #3
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    Thank you OC for sharing these. I have enjoyed them drinking my coffee this morning. I plan to revisit this evening to hear some more selections but I won't be drinking coffee.

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    The fascinating thing about canntaireachd is that by singing the tune, one conversant in the art can demonstrate to another not only the notes to be played for a tune, but the embellishments to be played. The words indicating a torluath vs. a grip for example.
    'A damned ill-conditioned sort of an ape. It had a can of ale at every pot-house on the road, and is reeling drunk. "

  6. #5
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    Yes the vowel in Canntaireachd suggests the melody note, the consonant before the vowel specifies the ornament to be played on that note.

    To me the most fascinating thing about Canntaireachd is that it retains and perpetuates performance practices not done on the pipes.

    This is related to a mystery about Highland piping: why does Highland piping, alone amongst the hundreds of bagpipe species of Europe, not use vibrato and note-bending?

    Here for example, is an air (not unlike the Urlar of Ceol Mor) played on uilleann pipes where you can hear the frequent vibrato and note-bending

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=328wZ5jo_G8

    And now to the opposite end of Europe, here is Kostadin Varimezov on the Bulgarian bagpipe playing a slow air with note-bending, vibrato, using alternate fingerings to alter tone-colour, etc (first flute, then pipes)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETaDYzKatEM

    Contrast this with the pipe organ-like pure tones of the Highland pipes

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRWa6RCEaPo&t=55s

    Yes I know that innovative pipers have been introducing vibrato and note-bending into Highland piping in recent years, but in traditional Highland piping the notes are pure tones as heard above, while other European piping traditions have always done these expressive devices as part of the instruments' standard technique.

    Being that Ceol Mor was played on harp for centuries before the bagpipe arrived, the theory is that when pipers came onto the scene they learnt not only the repertoire but also the performance practices of the harpers, maintaining the pure bell-tones of the harp-strings on their bagpipe chanters. Then harping died out and the pipes alone transmitted Ceol Mor to modern times. We can detect harp things in Ceol Mor, for example

    1) no vibrato
    2) no note-bending
    3) the rising sequences of rapid notes much like a harp's glissando
    4) the Ceol Mor tune titled Lament For The Lost Harp Key

    Be that as it may, it's interesting that when pipers sing Ceol Mor in Canntaireachd they DO employ vibrato and note-bending. And it's not willy-nilly: listen to a number of pipers sing the same Urlar and they'll put vibrato and note-bending in the same places. In other words the employment of these expressive devices has been maintained within the piping tradition, the way tunes are performed in Canntaireachd being a different though parallel tradition to the way the tunes are performed on the pipes.
    Last edited by OC Richard; 2nd January 20 at 06:16 AM.
    Proud Mountaineer from the Highlands of West Virginia; son of the Revolution and Civil War; first Europeans on the Guyandotte

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