Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 44, Page 25

Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 44, Page 25
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periodical Publisher
Na Píobairí Uilleann
periodical Editor
Chairman, NPU
periodical Title
Píobaire, An
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25Historically, in printed tutors for theuilleann pipes, it is common to see anintroduction to basic musical theory,moving directly to a presentation of variousforms of ornamentation. This presentationmoves from the simple (grace notes), throughrolls, to relatively more complicated manoeu-vres (triplets, crans), all given their own iso-lated chapters or isolated series of remarks.To the beginning piper new to the instrumentand to the music, it thus can seem that Irishtraditional dance music is an endless series ofquavers one after the other, punctuated grand-ly and dramatically from time to time by anevent called an ‘ornament’. The effect can bethat ornamentation in piping comes to be per-ceived like marzipan and frosting on aChristmas cake: decoratively smeared acrossthe surface, but not an integral component ofthe cake itself.But one need only listen to a great piper play-ing to realise that ornamentation in piping isas much a part of the music as the bare bonesof the tune itself. In the September 2006 issueof An Píobaire, Gay McKeon wrote, “The uilleann pipes have their own distinctivetechniques, and tunes which suit the range ofunique sounds which the instrument has tooffer… the use of these touches, which inessence define the instrument, is vital.Otherwise, music it might be, but piping it’snot.” I doubt that such a truth could be better stat-ed. The printed tutors can be an aid, or a refer-ence, in pointing one in the right direction,but they do little to present how ornamenta-tion might be integrated into one’s playing.Ornamentation in piping does not exist in avacuum, and it cannot be learned or taughtwithout placing it within the greater contextof the music in which it occurs. This theoret-ical idea is reinforced and symbolicallyreflected by the physical reality of playing thechanter: ornamentation is executed with thesame fingers that play the basic notes of thetune. Whether or not this is profound, it iswell illustrated by the fact that so much ofpiping ornamentation has one physical phe-nomenon in common: the use of the index fin-ger of the bottom hand on the chanter.The index finger of the bottom hand on thechanter is, for sheer variety and frequency ofthe demands made upon it, the busiest fingerin uilleann piping. In mature, sophisticatedpiping in any style, this finger and its effec-tive use is responsible for so much of thearray of techniques, effects, and ornamentsthat – one might say – ‘make piping piping’.In fact, this finger is involved in virtuallyevery type of piping technique utilized on theinstrument.Basic FunctionsIts most basic and essential function, ofcourse, is to be raised (in tandem with the sec-ond finger of the same hand) when the note Gor G’ is desired, and put down on the chanterfor F# and F#’ (and all other notes, for thatmatter). It also aids in the production of tophand notes in the upper octave: the soundingof high A, B, and points higher up the scale isfacilitated by the technique called ‘venting’,whereby the piper ‘walks up’ to these highnotes through the split-second sounding of F’or G’. In addition, the cross-fingering for the note C-natural in the lower octave of the chanter’srange requires on most chanters the raising ofthis finger. The ‘wide’ C-natural characteristicof the piping of Séamus Ennis and Willie~ Chanter Technique ~
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Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 44

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