Dance to the Piper: The Highland Bagpipe in Nova Scotia.
Barry W. Shears.
Cape Breton University Press, 239 pp, over 60 photographs and illustrations, also includes an 18 track music CD.
Here’s what the critics are saying:
“Barry Shears book is a must have for fans of bagpipe music.” Dan MacDonald, The Cape Breton Post, September 3, 2008.
“Dance to the Piper: The Highland bagpipe in Nova Scotia provides an interesting complementary text to Dr Hugh Cheape’s new book Bagpipes: A National Collection of a National Instrument. These books are very different and rely on wholly different sources, but the conclusions they arrive at are not incompatible- and the intriguing questions they give rise will certainly prove seminal.” Mike Patterson, Piping Today, issue number 35, 2008.
“It has much to offer the more casual student of bagpipe music, as the words and many fascinating photographs deliver a portrait of the musical Gaeldom across the sea.” Scots Magazine, Fall 2008.
“The book began as part of Shears’ Master’s thesis at Saint Mary’s University. He has always had a strong interest in the history of the music and the language of the Scottish Gael in Nova Scotia. The fact he’s one of the Province’s top pipers adds extra credibility to a work that wonderfully manages to escape the usual boredom of an academic work” Elizabeth Patterson, The Nova Scotian, October 26, 2008.
“An acknowledged expert on the history and tradition of piping in the province, Shears explores the intrinsic connection to the Gaelic language, music and culture… Perhaps as valuable as the writing is the inclusion of a CD recording 18 samples of pipe to guide the reader’s ear through the musical meaning of the words Shears offers.” Frank MacDonald, The Inverness Oran, August 20, 2008.
“If not for the thoroughly researched historical data in a clear, methodic fashion, buy this book for the CD. Or buy it for the appendix on technique, the photographs and the wonderful anecdotes about pipers in the early days when practice chanters were made from saplings using a hot iron rod, and pipe chanters themselves were rare and cherished by families for generations… For whatever reason you buy this book you will be richly rewarded..” John Dally, Common Stock, The Journal of the Lowland and Borders Piping Society, 2009
'The Gathering of the Clans Collection, A Collection of Music, Photographs and Historical Essays, Volume 2,'
by Barry Shears
108 pages, 146 compositions
Reviewed by Iain MacDonald
[Republished from the May 2001 of the Piper & Drummer magazine.]
Nova Scotia's Barry Shears has published two previous collections of pipe music, and with his second Gathering of the Clans Collection he brings to light many traditional Cape Breton settings of tunes, as well as some new music that he has collected and written.
One of the really interesting developments in recent years has been the study of piping and pipe music in the context of the times in which it was played. Players and player/scholars have begun to re-examine how piping used to be, and how we got where we are today. As one of these piper/scholars, Barry Shears has given us a picture of piping as it existed and developed in Cape Breton over many years.
His latest collection includes an essay entitled The Piping Tradition in Nova Scotia, which provides a rich background setting for many of the tunes in the collection. Shears has researched his subject thoroughly, and presents a succinct yet comprehensive overview of the development of piping from the early immigration period through to the 1950s.
Whereas Volume 1 covers many of the individual pipers and piping families of Cape Breton, and his Cape Breton Collection covers the composers and their music, this new collection brings it all together to provide a real notion of how piping developed and changed over the years. The collection also provides excellent notes and background on the tunes, settings, and composers/arrangers. Like his earlier collections, Shears has included many fine historical photographs of the old pipers and pipe bands.
Once you've read the essay, and pored over the tune notes and histories, and wondered about all the right-shouldered pipers, you'll want to get down to the tunes. There is a great variety of idiom and style here, with marches (20), jigs (30), hornpipes (6), Gaelic airs and waltzes (11), and a piobaireachd.
This collection offers a stunning array of strathspeys (22)-some notated to convey the traditional Cape Breton dance rhythms (faster/rounder), and some in the more standard "competition style" notation (slower/pointed). Either way, there are many fine tunes here, and they are complemented well by a large collection of reels (46) that pipers will love to play.
There are a number of new tunes and arrangements by Barry Shears and other contemporary pipers to balance the traditional Cape Breton music and settings, and these will provide a rich source of tunes for band and solo concert material.
Once again, Shears has given us a collection that honours the traditions of Cape Breton, expands our knowledge of its culture, and provides an excellent source of new music for pipers, wherever they live.
The Gathering of the Clans Collection, Volume 2
Reviewed by Brian MacMahon for The Tartan and Green Magazine, Ireland
This is an excellent book by Barry Shears of Nova Scotia, Canada. The book includes an historical essay on piping in Nova Scotia and several rare, old photographs. The story of piping in this part of the world is a truly fascinating one and the book would be worth purchasing just for the information contained. However, the book also contains 137 tunes including the piobaireachd Berisdale's Salute. A number of the tunes are ones that would be found in this part of the world under different names and it's interesting to see the local name variations. Many of the settings are based on the playing of old pipers and fiddlers in Nova Scotia and on the styles heard on some old recordings. The Nova Scotian style of strathspey playing is much different to the very formalised and pointed style nowadays found in Scotland. It is thought by many to reflect the style of strathspey playing that would have been found in 18th Century Scotland. In addition there are eight fascinating pages of notes on the tunes, composers and arrangers.
This book is an addition to any musician's library and will be of interest to non-players who are interested in the history of the bagpipe and its music. Barry Shears is to be complimented on a scholarly effort.
Gathering of the Clans, Volume 2
Reviewed by Jock Agnew for the Lowland & Borders Pipers Society [LBPS] journal Common Stock
These 130+ tunes were, it must be remembered, composed and notated for the Highland bagpipes- which presents no problem to the players of Scottish small-pipes and Border pipes.
The historical essays include some fascinating vignettes on both well-known and not so well-known pipers who have contributed to the musical traditions of Nova Scotia. Then follows 77 pages of music after which there are 9 pages of notes on the tunes, (though it would have been helpful to have had the page numbers of those tunes immediately alongside).
Of the 130 tunes, some 56 are marked "Traditional" and most of these are arranged by Barry Shears. The majority are great to play, particularly on Border pipes, but I would specially recommend you try the strathspey Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk, a lovely arrangement of that tune, If I had a Wife of My Own, the only 9/8 jig, and Farewell to the Creeks as a 6/8 jig.
The gracings, while appearing to be set for the Highland pipes, in most cases also work well for smallpipes. Only about a dozen tunes use grips and taorluaths, and while some of them are rather heavy on the G gracenote, they can usually be played "adjusted" by the small-pipe player (to an E or D) if they become too intrusive. The marches, in my opinion, are best suited to being played on the big pipes, as of course the one piobaireachd- Failte Mhorar Bherisdale. But this leaves 46 reels, 30 jigs, 22 strathspeys, 6 hornpipes and 11 airs and waltzes for the small-pipe player to get his or her teeth into.
Although the reel Oran Na Teine has a tantalising reference to "melody Traditional, words by Am Bard Ruadh, no words could I discover! And occasionally I recognized the tune but not the title. For instance the jig The Leg of the Duck I first played as a 6/8 march from William Ross' 1885 collection, where it is called Boddach-a-lander .
One tune- J Scott Skinner's Hector the Hero- has seconds printed alongside, and although I couldn't (naturally) play melody and seconds together, it does appear to have been treated in the usual pipe band style i.e. note for note harmony.
Now I have mentioned mostly traditional melodies up to this point, but there are some really nice contemporary ones. As a taster, it is well worth playing Barry Shears' Aunt Mae's Reel, and John Dally's Biodag Chalien. I have marked many more that I intend to return to- let me just mention Brenda Stubbert's The Longest Night which is really haunting.
This book is rich in music and reminiscences. I could go on, but best you obtain a copy for yourself- you won't regret it.
A Cape Breton Piper
Reviewed by John Dally for the LBPS journal Common Stock
Barry Shears ' recording, A Cape Breton Piper is significant to the readers of Common Stock because Barry plays the bellows blown Scottish small-pipe, an instrument that until the present time was never used to play traditional Cape Breton music.
Barry is the leading authority on piping in Cape Breton. His three books, including the recently published The Gathering of the Clans, Vol. 2, are as important and influential as any books of pipe tunes published in the last two decades. They sparked the new interest in Cape Breton piping of the last ten years among "alternative" pipers and influenced the pipe band medleys as well. The history and photographs they contain are as important as the tunes themselves. For those of us who know these books, the release of this CD is very exciting and long anticipated.
The CD features a very old MacDougall of Aberfeldy Highland pipe with a beautiful reedy chanter and Hamish Moore small-pipes in A. The small-pipe drones are rich and nasal, but you have to listen hard to hear them through the guitar and piano accompaniment. Barry's strong fingers and rhythmic style show off the small-pipe chanter very well. Bottom hand movements, which tend to disappear on the smallpipe, come through clearly. After listening to this CD many times other recordings featuring Scottish small-pipe seem lacking when compared to Barry's bold and athletic fingering. Barry works the chanter the way a fisherman works rod and reel with a big salmon on the line.
'The Foxhunter' is very much at home on the small-pipe in his expert hands. The old favourite, 'Hector the hero", brings the best elements of old and new together in a seamless and timeless way. Strathspeys appear and personal, easily recognized but completely unique, the real mark of an expert who has devoted his life to the music. And listening to Barry play a set of jigs it is difficult to imagine there could be anything wrong in the world.
The liner notes are well written and informative. Barry gives the background to the tunes themselves and pays homage to many traditional pipers who preceded him, especially those he was fortunate enough to learn from directly. Barry took every opportniy to spend time with such old pipers as Arthur Severence, Alex Currie, Archie MacKenzie and Dave MacKinnon before they passed away. He offers the CD as a tribute to these culture bearers.
There is one complaint I must acknowledge. I wish the listener heard Barry on the solo pipe. Only a piping geek like myself would complain about having too much accompaniment from the best musicians in Cape Breton, but there you have it.
There are other reasons why this is an important recording, having to do with proprietary arguments swirling around Cape Breton and Gaelic piping styles in the more mystical corners of our little world. The quality, honesty and vitality of this recording make it unimpeachable in that regard.It is wonderful music because that is just what it is.
A Cape Breton Piper
Folk Music from Cape Breton performed by Barry Shears
Reviewed by Brian MacMahon for The Tartan and Green, Ireland
Barry William Shears was born in Glace Bay, Cape Breton, Canada , on February 10th, 1956 . Descended on his grandmother's side from North Uist immigrants to Cape Breton in the 1820s, Barry began to learn the bagpipe at age 12 .His first piping instructor was Angus MacIntyre, a retired coalminer and direct descendant of the family pipers to the MacDonalds in Clanranald in Scotland.
In the 1980s, Barry set out to record and document the last of the old-style, ear-trained Gaelic speaking pipers in Cape Breton. He has managed to accumulate many hours of taped conversation and performances of pipers who represented a bygone era, and sadly, who are no longer with us. In the course of his research, Barry has published two historical/musical works on Nova Scotian pipers and pipe music: The Gathering of the Clans Collection (1990) and the Cape Breton Collection of Bagpipe Music (1995). He has also published various articles in journals and magazines.
This CD is a collection of mainly dance music played in the distinctive Cape Breton style of piping . There is a rich tradition in Cape Breton of piping dance music. Pipers played an important social role in the isolated rural communities of this area during the 1800s and early 1900s. They played for enjoyment, for stepdancers and square dances, and they learned to play the pipes to a large extent in the Gaelic oral tradition, using home made
chanters of local wood and reeds made from oat straw. The test of a good piper in this environment was whether they had a good driving dance rhythm, and could keep dancers and the square sets going for hours at a time, all without the benefit of written music . Many played sitting down beating out the dance rhythm with both feet. Sometimes they would play with fiddlers and quite often both fiddlers and pipers would exchange tunes. There were many such pipers in Cape Breton at one time but sadly none are alive today.
It is the above heritage that Barry attempts to explore and record on this CD, a task he performs eminently well. Barry has an excellent piping technique and a fine set of pipes. He also plays small pipes on the recording. The dance music is played with tremendous energy and often with tremendous pace while the airs are played with a gentle lilt and great feeling. Pipers trained in the competition tradition will find the strathspey playing extraordinary but this is quite possibly how strathspeys were meant to sound before the strict rulebook took over.
Each tune is accompanied by interesting background notes. Barry is accompanied by guitar on some tracks and by piano on others. The recording also includes a recital of the poem ' Lament for Mary MacDonald' by Jeff MacDonald. This is beautifully done in Gaelic.
I have to say I love this recording and couldn't recommend it highly enough. It's a real gem of a recording. One that will be played over and over.
From The Living Tradition
Reviewed by Alex Monaghan
This album has everything- pipes, Gaelic poetry, excellent sleeve notes, pipes, Cape Breton's finest accompanists, dozens of great tunes, and of course the pipes. Barry Shears is a composer, researcher, publisher and talented player of Scottish bagpipe music as found in Cape Breton. On this recording he attempts to recreate the sound of the pipers who played for dancing in the farms and villages of Cape Breton, the original kitchen pipers whose music has been emulated by many Scottish pipers over the last decade. The line of these pipers was broken some time ago, according to Barry, but their music survives in old recordings and manuscripts.
The Cape Breton piping repertoire combines great Scottish pipe tunes such as "The Hills of Glenorchy" and "Thompson's Dirk" with fiddle tunes from Scottish and Cape Breton composers, as well as a fair helping of Irish tunes squeezed onto the Scottish pipes. The distinctive feature of this album is that nearly all the tunes are played for dancing: the beat and lift are the most important aspects of the tunes, and the elaborate ornamentation of competitive piping is replaced here by a wild relentless style which would keep you on your feet for hours.
Barry Shears is a professional piper and piping teacher, so his playing is technically sound as well as being exhilaratingly danceable. He alternates between the highland pipes and small pipes, and gets a fabulous sound from both. His version of "Hector the Hero" , one of the several Scott Skinner tunes o this CD, has a beauty rarely heard on the small pipes. Other highlights include the set of Inverness County reels with Dave MacIsaac, the following set of strathspey and reels, and the rattling Irish jigs on track 1.