October 2018 Tune of the Month: Ducks on the Mill Pond

Crazy (and long) post that includes the following: 1. Tune of the Month 2. The Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat 3. A Cocuswood David Glen highland pipe 4. Shepherd Bb chanter 5. Accidentals 6. Tunes outside the highland piping tradition. Whew!

This was my fifth year attending the Spanish Peaks Piping Retreat organized by Jim Conley in conjunction with the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival in La Veta, Colorado. The retreat/workshop focuses on the playing of Scottish smallpipes. Returning as an instructor this year was Tim(othy) Cummings who gave us a couple more Appalachian tunes to augment our repertoire from the year before; additionally Tim gave me a couple “challenge” tunes which have been quite fun and in line with my desire to increase my own repertoire beyond the highland tradition, both of these tunes can be heard below. A short plug for Tim: he is an awesome smallpipe instructor, music collector, and all around nice guy. Any workshop with him will be worthwhile. The band Heron Valley was over from Scotland playing at the festival and so their piper, Euan McNab, also taught a few tunes in the Scottish tradition when he had time to escape his performance responsibilities. What a great, young band.

The tune of the month for October 2018 is a tune Tim gave us during the retreat: Ducks on the Mill Pond. This is a great little hornpipey reel from the Blue Ridge Mountains here in the U.S. Sheet music can be obtained from Tim for $1.00. Just uno dinero. He’s got a bunch of other tunes that can also be purchased for that paltry sum, some of which are featured further down in this post. Note that this and some other sheet music obtained from Tim’s website comes with two versions of the tune, a simple melody that accompanies the included lyrics and also a “hoedown” version; I am playing only the hoedown version. Listen here on my new-to-me 1910ish David Glen cocuswood bagpipe (more on that below):

Ducks on the Mill Pond and The High Drive (Gordon Duncan)

A tune that surfaced during a jam session at the retreat was The High Drive by Gordon Duncan, but all mayhem broke loose when we reached the last line of the tune, as it seemed I was at odds with a few of the other versions out there. Without realizing it when I learned the tune from the music book “Gordon Duncan’s Tunes”, the last line has 5 bars! The others did a good job of having me question my sanity but upon returning home from the retreat I was vindicated by the sheet music, muahahahahahaha. You can hear Stuart Liddell play the extra bar as well in this youtube clip:

On to the 1910ish cocuswood David Glen bagpipe. CITES developments have made me nervous for a while so when this pipe came up for sale I jumped on it. It comes with the original chanter which is mostly for provenance now as I haven’t found a reed that doesn’t squeal yet (a thought just hit me, maybe a border pipe reed?). The pipe was located in Canada and had 2 rings that were still ivory along with the chanter sole. I had the seller ship the pipes to Dunbar to have the ivory removed and replaced with Mexican royal ebony, also known as katalox. I think Rick at Dunbar did a great job, at a great price, and at great speed. The saying about car repair, “you can have it done fast, well done, and cheap; but you can only pick two” doesn’t apply to Dunbar bagpipes, you get ALL THREE.



I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the pipes, but they don’t seem the most forgiving when it comes to drone reed selection. I’ve got a set of Rocket reeds in there now and they seem to go quite well. Canning reeds also seem to go well. For whatever reason, a lot of drone reeds just shut off. I’ve tied them into an old L&M bag and since my stash of Airtight smelled more gross than I remember a new bottle smelling, I’ve settled for seasoning the bag with 100% vegetable glycerin which turns out to be very runny. During the recording session I actually had some leak out around the chanter while I was playing! So I drained the bag a second time afterwards. Perhaps I need to get some more Airtight ordered? The drones come in right around concert Bb, 466 Hz, so I’ve paired them with a Shepherd “Orchestral” chanter, which is a solid Bb chanter. I’m playing a previous model Husk chanter reed. What will be obvious from the remaining recordings in this post is how well this chanter and reed combination plays the C and F natural accidentals!

You may have noticed I have not been posting much recently, save for the Tunes of the Month. I have been playing a lot of bagpipes in my new found unemployment, but not just highland bagpipes. In addition to Scottish smallpipes and border pipes, I am also playing in a border pipe ensemble using Jon Swayne border pipes in G. I understand they are English border pipes in G with some French chanter design influences, so I call them the Frenglish pipes. The chanter has the back thumb hole for the C natural (in highland terminology), and also plays the F natural and G sharp accidentals really well, in addition to having high B, C, C#, and D readily accessible in the next octave. This pipe has done a wonderful job making my fingers do new and crazy fingerings. Our repertoire is mostly English, French, Breton, and Galician. Here I am playing a Galician tune:

I also have a Seivane gaita chanter in Do (C) whose cork-like tenon wrapping fits perfectly into my 1960s Sinclair chanter stock whose drones I have tuned all the way up to concert C (Redwood bass reed, single Colin Kyo tenor reed, other tenor is plugged). Here I am playing a Galician tune:

Back to the highland pipes, influenced by my playing of non-highland bagpipes, I’ve got some more tunes for you on the new-to-me Glen pipes. First up is another Appalachian tune Tim gave us at the 2017 retreat followed by a jig I picked up from a Facebook video of uilleann piper Tiarnan O Duinnchinn. The Appalachian tune, Cluck Old Hen, utilizes C natural instead of our usual C#, which is fingered with the ring finger down instead of the pinkie. I play the song arrangement through twice followed by the hoedown version twice through. The jig that follows has no accidentals outside our normal A mixolydian scale, but it is also about a chicken so I figured they’d go well together despite being different time signatures.

Cluck Old Hen and When the Cock Crows it is Day

Next we have some bourrées. The first one is in 3/8 and is one of Tim’s challenge tunes. The rest are in some version of common time from the border pipe ensemble repertoire. You’ll hear heavy use of both the C and F naturals in the first and third tunes. You’ll also hear a mistake in each of the first three tunes, but the fourth managed to go unscathed.

Bourrees – the first one, “Calarem, calarem pas“, can also be bought from Tim’s website.

Lastly are some 3/2 hornpipes. If you have Gary West’s “Hinterlands” album he plays this set, turns out. However, I got the tunes from other sources. The first tune I’ve heard more recently in this very entrancing video on Facebook:

Comments in the video indicated the tune is called “Came Ye O’er Frae France”, however, what sheet music I can find doesn’t match what is played in the video so I transcribed it from the video (I have doubts about my transcription so I’ll have to work on it a bit more to make sure). I’m just gonna call it “A Lancashire Hornpipe”. Let’s just say, low G to C natural is tricky due to the ring finger and pinkie switch. The second tune is another of Tim’s challenge tunes: Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe. You may notice a dearth of gracenotes, which are less common in other piping traditions, which is just my excuse for sight reading the tunes and throwing gracenotes in there when I have the spare brain capacity to do so.

A Lancashire Hornpipe and Mr. Preston’s Hornpipe

8 thoughts on “October 2018 Tune of the Month: Ducks on the Mill Pond

  1. I’ve been playing a set of David Glen & son pipes for about a year and absolutely love them. They sound fantastic.

    You have quite a bit of experience mucking about with reeds so I’ll be interested in your observations as time goes on.

    1. Do you have a preference for drone reeds Ben? I haven’t tried real hard drone reed wise as the bag and chanter have occupied most of my time up until now. I just notice that a lot of reeds shut off when mouth blown, which strikes me as odd. I haven’t tried Crozier cane in a long time for any pipe but I think I will give them a go in this one just for giggles.

      1. I’m currently using Kinnaird evos. Which seem to go pretty well. I’ve also used Cannings. I don’t have a lot of different reeds kicking around right now so that’s about it. I’ve had a hard time setting up the tenors so they strike in without double toning.

        Otherwise, very stable drones and great tone.
        Mine look just like yours except they have nickel rings. The stamp includes “&sons” and is estimated to date between 1910-1920.

        1. Ben, my experience today with a whole slew of drone reeds is identical to yours. I decided Kinnaird were the best sounding and most reliable, though I’m playing the not too different originals. Regarding doubling toning: YES! More than any other pipe, I struggled with having the drones come in properly. If they’re howling on strike in, they never come in or shut off. It has to be perfect. Thankfully, Kinnaird work rather well, though I can’t imagine using them in a band setting at the moment. Mouth blowing the reeds was a useless exercise; they had to be in the pipes for me to observe how they performed.

          My chanter is just marked David Glen and Edinburgh. I need to do some research on how that ends up dating the chanter.

          1. Patrick, thanks for the feedback.

            I don’t have an original chanter, my pipes have a stamp on the bass stock immediately under the ferrule. Check with the experts but my information is that ‘& sons’ was added to the name of the company around 1912 and possibly to the stamp a little before that.

  2. Its very interesting to me reading Piping blogs from the other dide of the pond and how your piping repertoires differ totally from “traditional” Bagpipe music.
    Having been born into a Piping dynasty going way back, I was brought up on traditional and at the time and for many years “Irish” music, after nearly 60 years of playing around the world, l listening to some of your tunes is like listening to a different instrument.
    Not a criticism, but I found some of the sounds monotonous, I guess because I have a brain that is conditioned to the traditional type of Bagpipe music.
    With regards to drone reeds, having been born into the cane reed era and having experimented with most modern drone reeds, I have found that Selbie reed are the next best thing to cane, I have a set of bagpipes that are over 100 years old and tried many reeds over the years, Selbie have definitely been the best so far.

    1. Selbie are a fine set of reeds. Having gone through a bunch of synthetics today I don’t remember why I didn’t settle on them in this particular pipe, but generally they are a reliable, universal drone reed.

      I have played “traditional” Scottish music for quite some time. But it grows monotonous for me and I seek new challenges. Part of my problem is I’m addicted to bagpipes, but it is generally quite limited in its musical capabilities, so I’ve enjoyed seeking out new music on various pipes; it is fun to realize some of it fits back on the highland pipe. I think both you and I have been exposed to quite a bit of this music in the context of ensembles, so perhaps it sounds less interesting now due to the solo presentation?

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