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Issue 60 - Championship Dreams

Scotland Magazine Issue 60
December 2011


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Championship Dreams

We report from the recent Glenfiddich Piping And Fiddle Championships.

Since their inception, the Glenfiddich Piping and Fiddle Championships have become regarded as the most prestigious and respected championships of both the piping and fiddle worlds. Entry to each championship is by invitation only, to those who have won various recognised major UK solo competitions held throughout the year. The championship, “the Glenfiddich” as it is customarily called, is held at Blair Castle, in its splendid antlered hall, which has admirable acoustics. As its name suggests, it was founded and continues to be run by William Grant & Sons Ltd., distillers of Glenfiddich, and of a number of other delicious whiskies.

This year 18 entrants gathered at the prestigious Ballroom at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl to be put through their paces.

The Glenfiddich Piping Championship was established in 1974 to inspire and stimulate the world’s finest individual pipers, and to seek the best overall exponents of the legendary ceol mor or piobaireachd (the great music) and ceol beag (the little music).

Ten of the leading pipers in the world, all of whom will have won important awards since the previous October, are invited. Each of them submits a list of eight piobaireachd, and is required to play one of them. They also submit lists of six marches, strathspeys and reels, and play one of each, twice through.

There are prizes in each discipline, and an overall championship prize. The Glenfiddich Piping Championship 2011 was won by Roddy Macleod. Mr Macleod of Cumbernauld, Glasgow, won the championship for the fourth time, after competing against nine of the best solo pipers from around the world.

Other 2011 finalists included returning champion Angus MacColl of Benderloch, Chris Armstrong, from Airth, Callum Beaumont, from Bo’ness, Stuart Liddell, of Inveraray and Iain Speirs, from Edinburgh. Also, William McCallum, from Bearsden, Niall Stewart, from Kyle of Lochalsh, and Canadian-based pipers Jack Lee and Iain K Macdonald.


What is Piobaireachd?

Piobaireachd (in Gaelic means Pipe Music) and it is sometimes referred to as Ceòl Mor or the Great Music.

It is a very ancient art form of bagpipe music and is intended for solo performance only and can never be played by a group or band. The style and rhythm is unlike modern music, and is purely expressive. It is in a form most simply described as a theme with variations. It is therefore a set of distinct movements beginning with the ground, which is followed by a series of variations. If not for the variety of grace notes and expression, at least half of the movements would be identical. A piobaireachd is generally about ten minutes long and can even take longer than twenty minutes. The music was developed to be played on the Great Highland Bagpipe and as a result the music is subject to the limitations of the instrument. This limitation has had huge impact on the composition and structure of the repertoire. Composers of Ceòl Mor have had to find ways to overcome these limitations when composing tunes, however the playing of Ceòl Mor shows the Highland Bagpipe sound when properly setup and tuned.

What is March, Strathspey and Reel?

March, Strathspey and Reel (or M. S. R.) is a common combination of tunes played in competition and is referred to as Ceòl Beag – the Gaelic language term for “light music”.

Ceòl beag – which is comprised of marches, strathspeys and reels, is a fitting test for the finest of pipers and demands not only a finely tuned instrument but the utmost concentration of memory.

The music of the people, the popular or folk music, a vast majority of it is intended as dance music, however wildly the tempos may vary - from solo piping contest to pipe band contest to actual dance contest - to the vast array of arrangements and interpretations out there today among Celtic music’s elite and most respected artists.

In Scotland the separation of Ceòl beag and Ceòl mor, dates at least from the 17th century, with Ceòl Beag existing well before the beginnings of Ceòl mor. Ceòl beag included song and dance tunes, and also marching music, while Ceòl mor tended to commemorate great, often tragic events in clan history, or honoured chieftains. This is what you most commonly hear, including such tunes as “Scotland the Brave”.

The Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship

The Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship was added in 1989 to the already existing piping championships – to reward, encourage and perpetuate the art of fiddle playing throughout the world.

Today’s Glenfiddich championship is, globally renowned for being the most elite honour in the field, showcasing the very best of Scotland’s fiddle talent. Eight finalists were hand selected this year to compete following successes throughout the year, with each finalist giving a recital incorporating all the various styles of composition including a set of tunes by a specific composer – a new composer is chosen annually.

This year the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship 2011 was won by Maggie Adamson from Shetland.

Second place went to Graham Mackenzie, of Inverness and third place went to Barbara Anderson, of Huntly.