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The Pipes of War
The Tuition of Young Regimental Pipers. By John Grant, Pipe Major


THERE is an establishment for the training of bandsmen at Kneller Flail, Twickenham, known as "The Royal Military School of Music," where regular soldiers are trained in a very efficient manner both in theory and practice, for brass bands. Each pupil remains for a considerable period, extending from one to three years, and not only do they become good performers on the various instruments, but they qualify for the rank of bandmaster in any regiment. A bandmaster holds the rank of a warrant officer, and, in some cases, a commissioned officer.

Some months ago a colonial soldier asked the question in a Highland newspaper why the pipe major in a Highland regiment did not also hold the rank of a warrant officer. In fact pipe major is only an honorary rank. In reality lie is only "sergeant piper." It would be very interesting to know the difference between the person in charge of the one band and the other. When the regiment is on the march the one band leads the men as well as the other. In fact many prefer a pipe band to a brass band on a long route march. In a pipe band the pipe major has to train his pipers efficiently in the performance of their music just the same as the bandmaster of a brass band, and why should a pipe major not be raised to the rank of a warrant officer along with his brother bandmaster? True it is that in a brass band there are many instruments for the bandmaster to teach and bring in in their proper places, in order to have a perfect band. But then the pipe major has the same task in front of him in training a perfect pipe band. In fact—if I may be allowed the analogy—in the case of a brass band a bandmaster might have many glaring errors and flaws in instrumentation and harmony in his band, and this is passed over by the average listener but detected by the expert conductor. The brass band, from its construction, has more scope for covering errors than the pipe band.

The regimental pipe band is so constructed that each performer must play in perfect unison, with pipes all timed in unison, and every finger should be lifted and laid down together, a thing which is much more difficult to do than is the case with a brass band. The errors in a badly trained pipe band are much more easily detected where every performer has to play in perfect unison, than the errors in a brass band, where different instruments take different parts.

The next important point is the bandmaster has been properly trained in his profession at the " Royal Military School of Music," Kneller Hall, but the pipe major in a pipe band has not had this coveted opportunity. There is no school where pipe music is taught in theory and practice, and that may be one of the chief reasons why the pipe major falls short of the trained bandmaster. If a military school of piping were instituted by the War Office, such an institution would supply a long felt want. The piper could then be educated in piping, to understand music in theory, and be instructed in practice on a sound basis and fixed system.

Few pipers in pipe bands, if any, are trained at the proper age, i.e., 12-14-16 years, except in industrial schools, where they are in many cases improperly taught. When the boy is young his fingers will do anything because they are very supple, but at the age of twenty they become stiff and set against perfect manipulation. At this age theory is picked up in a masterly fashion, and the pupil is unconscious of difficulties in fingering, which simplifies everything in the process of his training.

At no period in the history of our nation was there greater need for a military school of piping than at the present moment. There are hundreds of young pipers required to fill the places of those who have fallen in action. As can be seen from the record contained in this volume many pipe bands have suffered most heavily. In fact sonic have been entirely wiped out.

From experience of class-work in piping it has been proved that the training of young pipers at time age of fourteen to sixteen years under a fixed system is an ideal method of creating good performers. Boys who have never had a finger on the chanter before, are started in classes of from eight to ten in number. This prevents them from making an improper use of the chanter or creating bad fingering which, if allowed to go too far, can never be got out of. Each pupil should be provided with a properly made chanter, and all the chanters in the class should be of the same make and correctly tuned, so that, while at practice in class-work, they are all in perfect unison. If one or two improperly made and badly tuned chanters are used in a class, this is the cause of two great evils. The performer's ear becomes less sensitive to the notes in proper pitch and it discourages the training of a pupil to detect improper sounds and slovenly fingering. If there are two or three chanters out of tune in a class of ten they prevent the instructor from detecting errors in fingering.

The use of a properly tuned chanter tends to cultivate a good ear, whereas if the ear is used to improper sounds it loses its power of detecting the difference between what is real and that which is false.

In class-work it is hardly possible to get ten pupils with equal powers of picking up tunes and correct fingering. The ear may be compared to a machine which records musical compositions and sounds. In this respect the perfect machine has already been found. The phonograph will record and reproduce a tune in perfect form, but then it is only a reproduction, whereas the musician has life and power to create new and original tunes.

Take the human ear. Where it is perfect it will record a tune with the same accuracy as the machine ; but, where the car is defective, it will only take in what it is capable of. In cases where there is only a slight defect in car, and where a pupil is somewhat slow at fingering, care must be taken that the slow pupil is brought up in line with the smart pupil. This makes the results in class-work equal. Many instructors of piping fail because they overlook slovenly fingering. Each pupil must be made to finger exactly. The slovenly player spoils the class and every band into which he may go, so that, if a class is to be properly taught, each pupil must come to know his class mate as a musician as well as a companion. Each performer in a pipe band must form part of a machine, as it were, which acts systematically as a clock, in order to give good results and render a tune like one man. A properly trained class with a sufficiently long peiiod of training will, in time, finger together in a manner which is most surprising as regards regularity.

As an example of irregularity in fingering, take for instance—one pupil is playing in perfect time, one graces his note a little too soon and another a little too late. This gives three different renderings as regards time, and how could they become pleasing to the ear or ever attain regularity in time or fingering?

"Patience is a virtue," and an instructor of piping must be imbued with that qualification. Without patience there can be no climax, no perfection, and no goal to aim at. One may compel a person to do work even by punishment, but to compel a pupil to play the pipes would be hopeless. If a pupil has to be forced to play an instrument against his will, the music will be anything but pleasing to the listener's ear. Then it will lack expression, the most important and wonderful thing in all musical performances. To be successful as an instructor of piping one must first win the hearts of his pupils, so that they will like and respect him speak firmly but kindly to them ; enforce strict discipline and good behaviour ; and conduct his school just the same as all well-governed establishments of education. One hour's instruction should be given at a time, and this should be given by the instructor of the school himself. Although boys are boys, they are sensitive to insult and degradation, and they will not accept tuition from another boy, even although he is a good performer. It has been found to be the ease that intelligent pupils must have instruction from the proper source, and, when one boy teaches another, their time is wasted and they drift into slovenly and careless fingering. This constitutes a reason for strict supervision on the part of an instructor himself in a school of piping, so that the best results may be attained and good order and obedience maintained.

In bagpipe music, theory is entirely neglected. The average piper is able to read the names of the notes : G A B C D E F G and A, and he plays from them and pays little attention to their value. They may be all crotchets, quavers or semi-quavers, for all he cares. In almost every case the piper has already heard the time played on the chanter, and the relative value of the notes mean nothing to him. Then, one hears illegal syncopation, e.g., the taking of the value from the lengthened note and giving it to the next one, which should be the shortest note in the beat, especially in six-eight time. Then, in writing down an original time without a knowledge of the theory of music, the average piper is of no use.

Boys should be started on the chanter at fourteen to sixteen years of age, and given a period of chanter practice of from six to nine months; at the same time it is necessary to see that, from the very start, they are able to read music at sight. Then, towards the end of nine months tuition in practice, theory should be taught ; then they make more progress than they would at the very beginning of their training. Theory enables the piper to put expression into his playing, and, in his turn, he can in time take his place as a qualified instructor of piping.

One thing of great importance in piping and the training of young pipers is the rate of speed at which they play. The regimental regulation pace is 120 paces to the minute. This may be all very well with a brass band, where the performer with his 120 paces to the minute has a curtailed, nipped, or broken step, but in pipe music it is far different. Any one who has a knowledge of the Highland bagpipe and its music knows that piping at the rate of 120 paces to the minute is not pipe music at all. The great majority of marches for the pipes are written in two-four and six-eight time. Two-four time has a crotchet beat and six-eight has a dotted crotchet beat. The beat in six-eight being a clotted crotchet is of longer duration than the two-four or crochet beat. When both are played at 120 paces to the minute they are more or less equalized and spoiled. Time must be given to the beat note in six-eight to distinguish it from the two-four beat; hence, 100 to 105 paces to the minute in two-four time is good marching, and 90 to 95 paces to the minute in six-eight time gives the proper swinging pace which the men in a Highland regiment like. To adopt such a suggestion would give time and expression to pipe music, differentiate the pace in one time signature from another, and, above all, would tend to give more time for correct fingering and clear, distinct playing. A young piper who has only been playing the bagpipes for about six months is very often spoiled for life as a performer when he begins, at that stage, to play at 120 paces to the minute. He is unable to get the fingering in in time. What he cannot find time to finger is left out altogether, and then, worst of all, he becomes a slovenly and incorrect performer.

The teaching of piping has always been placed on an unequal footing as compared with brass bands in His Majesty's forces, and one wonders how long it is to be allowed to remain so. It is absolutely certain that a Military School of Piping would be a blessing to regimental pipe bands, and the standard of performance could be raised to the highest point of perfection. In times of peace many people single out the brass band as the apple of their eye in the garden of music, so to speak, but let us Highlanders mark time and see what the great Highland bagpipe has done in war. Many pipers have gone over the parapet playing the bagpipes and have won laurels which can never be forgotten. Hundreds of pipers have fallen in the great war to sleep their last sleep in the graves of heroes, after sounding the triumphant charge. The bagpipe has lived in war in its majestic power and splendour, and in peace it should not be allowed to die.

In war there is, to our highland regiments, no music like that of the great Highland bagpipe. Its notes inspire the men to victory, and the glory of the results of the music of the Piob Mhor with its fluttering pennons has left a landmark in the history of the world's war.

The great Highland bagpipe is the hallmark of a race whose achievements are second to none in the world. It has been played in every great battlefield in the history of our nation, and the heroic deeds done by Highland regiments inspired by its music deserve to be perpetuated in a lasting memorial.


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