Supporting Causes: la Marseillaise and “Trick or Treat”

Yesterday Paris was attacked and many lost their lives. I understand those who were in a stadium that was attacked starting singing the French national anthem. To show my support I arranged it for the bagpipe and the sheet music can be had by clicking here. It fits on the bagpipes quite well except it requires C and F natural in a couple spots if you’re to play the main melody, but dropping down to low A (which is the chord) is what I’ve done as my chanter’s C natural doesn’t sound very nice; either the C# or C is in tune, but not at the same time due to different taping requirements and both notes appear in the tune. There are also some transient high Bs in the ending phrases; I have substituted high As with what I think is minimal disturbance though I am not honestly very familiar with the melody. I guess I should try to play it on my friend’s new Kinnear smallpipe chanter with high B, F, and C natural keys…

la Marseillaise

One thing I appreciate about France from a piping perspective is the innovative piping of the Breton tradition and Bagad bands. Most notably, their use of minor scales, special chanters with pastilles for playing F and C natural without cross fingering, B instead of A drones (here’s a YouTube video of me playing a Scottish tune with my drones tuned to B and the scale adjusted accordingly), and the low F# instead of low G (other, older blog posts on these tunings here and here). These guys are real innovators and have adapted the highland bagpipes as needed to reflect their cultural traditions. A similar innovator is Lincoln Hilton, a piper in the SFU organization. He has recently put his compositions and arrangements, commonly employed by SFU, up for sale on his website with all proceeds going to fund cancer research in Australia in support of Andrew Bonar, a fellow SFU band member, who has recently been under treatment for cancer. One of Lincoln’s newest tunes is entitled “Trick or Treat” (link to his debut YouTube video playing the tune) for Halloween, the day before his fund raiser went live. This tune is awesome. It is in D minor (A phrygian) instead of our usual D major (A mixolydian), which means it requires an F and Bb instead of our usual F# and B. My tempo is dodgy but I’m working on it!

Link to mp3: Trick or Treat – Sinclair drones with Selbie tenors (a note about these at the bottom of this post), Redwood bass which is freaking awesome in this pipe, Colin Kyo chanter, Husk reed, 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape since my usual pinstriping tape isn’t wide enough to cover enough of the F# and B holes to flatten them as much as was needed to tune to D minor.

One issue with using alternate notes is how to tune them. Highland pipes are tuned using just intonation because all chanter notes must harmonize with the drones which are playing the note A (Bagad bands have developed sharper drones that tune to B thus necessitating special chanters where the notes more naturally harmonize with B drones). I’m still playing A drones, but I had to tape my chanter’s B down to Bb and my F# down to F, but how do I tune these notes? Luckily, I wondered about the tuning of non-standard notes back in 2013 (click the link) and had already figured out where these notes should tune if you were referencing a chromatic tuner which is useless for bagpipes unless you know which notes are supposed to register as “out of tune” and in which direction, sharp or flat, and by how much they need to be “out of tune” in order to be in-tune using the just intonation scale. That was a run-on sentence, no doubt.


  1. Tenor drone reeds: I started this recording session with old Wygent tenor drone reeds at the recommendation of Shawn Husk on the bookface and while they sounded glorious, they are gloriously bold and thus a big pain to tune, and stay in tune. The slightest differences in tuning between the tenors were noticeably audible making for an unstable bagpipe. I still maintain the steadiness of mellow tenor, blended drones a la MacDougall is really a lack of boldness in the tenors especially with regard to higher overtones making them sound as if they’re locked in tune when really, you just can’t hear that they’re out of tune. I’m not complaining, it’s good enough for me! I gave up on the Wygents and plugged my Selbie tenors in (Ezee are also too tedious to tune for me). The Selbies are surprisingly mellow in these Sinclair tenors despite being quite bold in most other pipes (my 1950s Hendersons for example are impossible to tune with Selbie tenors for the same reason these Sinclairs are impossible to tune with Wygent tenors = the tenors are just too bold and rich). To clarify, you can no longer hear the wawawa due to the lower frequencies but the higher overtones still indicate the drones aren’t quite together, and it’s getting those higher overtones matched which I just don’t have the patience for.
  2. A friend gave this 3M Scotch 35 vinyl electrical tape a long time ago. It seems to hold for long periods without getting gummy. I haven’t tried it in super hot weather yet, but perhaps soon.

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