Charlie Glendinning,
Bagpipe Music
(Moonstar, 2001)

The Glendinning Collection is a great new compilation of music for the Highland bagpipe. It has a wide variety of high-quality tunes, many of which were written by Charlie Glendinning. Other composers range from well-known modern pipers, such as Bob Worall and Ann Grey, to the famed 19th-century piper Angus MacKay. The book contains more marches than anything, but there's a wide selection of tune types.

Note: While this book was intended for Highland pipers, it may be used by other instrumentalists. For hints to reading pipe music, please see the note that follows this review.

It seems that many modern pipe tunes are little more than finger exercises. They're impressive if you can play them up to speed, but not many have very memorable melodies. But Glendinning has a knack for writing good melodies and has written some tunes destined to enter the repertoire. In addition to writing new tunes, he has also written additional parts for existing tunes that fit well with the music. It often seems that he has tapped in to the composer's subconscious and is extending the tune in a way originally intended, if only the original composer had bothered to write down the remaining parts.

However, this is more than just a collection of tunes. In a way, this is an autobiography, written through music and punctuated with other arts. There are many photos, mostly of Glendinning's family, but also of friends, pipe bands, Scotland -- and one of Glendinning having a bad face day. There is some poetry, several drawings and a gorgeous cover picture of what I'd guess is Glencoe, Scotland. Each tune is accompanied by a bit of text describing its origin, the title's origin or a hint on playing it. As a whole, the book leaves me with a strong sense of what Glendinning finds most important: family, faith, friends and music. Given the stories and adventures related here, I'd guess that Glendinning is a fun guy to hang around with, just waiting for the next bit of excitement or humor to spring forth.

Back to the music....

Many modern pipe tune books have the misfortune to have a small number of tunes that are worth playing -- lots of fluffy filler, not much crunchy goodness. However, The Glendinning Collection has many gems scattered throughout its pages. For the number crunchers, here's the breakdown: 34 marches, 4 strathspeys, 10 reels, 7 jigs, 13 hornpipes, 1 piobaireachd, 10 slow airs, 11 Christmas/church tunes and one tune written with a 21/8 time signature.

"Moonstar" is one of those gems, written about two gems. It is listed as a 4/4 march, but it feels to me that it'd be best played without a strict beat.

One of my favorite tunes here is the slow air "Dunblane." Glendinning wrote this stunningly beautiful tune in memory of 16 children massacred in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996. The tune has a fascinating construction, shifting between 9/8, 12/8 and 6/8. This isn't often done in pipe music, but it works very well in this tune.

"Ginny Down the Sewer" is a very nice two-part reel. It is a cheerful, happy tune that goes quite nicely with Angus MacKay's "Green Fields of America." This second tune was included as part of MacKay's manuscript. Originally a 4/4 march, Glendinning arranged it here as a reel. Played either way, it's a very nice tune.

Another gem, or pair of gems really, is a set of tunes Glendinning wrote for his son Andy. "Andrew's Lullabye" is a gentle slow air that is also given in another form. As with all of Glendinning's tunes, the musicality of the tune is of prime importance. The second form, retitled "Andy's Lullabye," retains the good melody of the first but spices up the rhythm with a calypso beat. The two played together make for a nice set with interesting contrasting flavors.

A number of tunes were also contributed by some of Glendinning's friends. Roy Smith contributed "Red Brae" and "Ferny Bank," two very nice small 6/8 marches. (Notation errors seem to plague pipe tunebooks, and this last tune contains the only notation errors I've seen in this book.) Duncan Bell's "Charlie and Paula Glendinning" is a very nice 3/4 march written in honor of Glendinning and his wife.

The final gem in this collection is "A Prelude," the only piobaireachd included. It is short, a ground with a single variation. This is a very nice little piobaireachd, though it does have some non-standard embellishments that take a little bit of work to wrap the fingers around. This was transcribed by Paula Glendinning from a radio performance by John MacDonald of Inverness. The note lengths and note values were rigorously checked for accuracy, so it can be played as written, something which is seldom the case with a written piobaireachd.

I have picked out only a few of the pieces, but I could go on and on describing many such highlights from this book. Rest assured that there are plenty more. Charlie Glendinning has put together an uncommonly good collection of tunes. Pipers, harpers, fiddlers and anyone else who likes a good tune -- lots of good tunes -- would be well-served by buying this book.

One final question remains. When is the second Glendinning Collection going to be available?

Note for Non-pipers: For reasons that are beyond the scope of this review, Highland pipe music is written a bit differently than other music. Glendinning followed the conventions for pipe music. The music in this collection may be adapted to other instruments with little difficulty, but you must know a few things to play it and have it sound as intended:

  1. Pipe music appears to have no sharps or flats in the key signature (C-major.) However, the C and F must be played as sharps.
  2. The Highland pipe needs grace notes and embellishments to provide contrast and texture in order to account for some physical characteristics of the instrument. For this reason, pipe music tends to be heavily embellished. Melody notes have descending stems; gracenotes and embellishment have ascending stems and are smaller.

In short, to get the melody of a pipe tune play the big notes with descending stems, play C# instead of C, and play F# instead of F.

- Rambles
written by Wayne Morrison
published 17 April 2004