Saturday, April 13, 2019

Some encouragement to play church music

To the young man who wrote asking how he would get a copy of How Great Thou Art...  I included this hymn in Wedding Music, Volume 6 of The Church Piper.  It is quite possible that Henderson's Supply in Michigan will still have copies of this popular book, and I suggest that you esquire from them. When I moved to White Rock BC, this bagpipe supply company took my whole inventory.  Ask them for my new address too, and I'll write to you.

I commend you and your brother for your conscientious practicing.  I'd be glad to help you if you were to contact me.  A note could be forwarded to me with your e-mail address if you were to contact Trevor, the secretary at White Rock Baptist Church in White Rock British Columbia  The e-mail is office@whiterockbaptist(dot)ca.  Just ask Trevor the secretary, to forward the message to me.

You and your brother remind me of my own self and my younger brother.  We learned together, to play the pipes and our dad did also.  We went on many parades and in competitions.  Our Manitoba Pipers' Association Pipe Band regularly won the Western Canadian Championship.

With the cooperation of my friend, George Delanghe, who is an expert in music engraving, we have been continuing to publish music books in a new series, such as Prayers for pipers, Volumes One and Two, Bits and Pieces and Soul-Stirring Hymns.  We are presently working on Worshipful Hymns and A Pocketful of Jewels.  You can check to see what we have available so far in the line of books for piping in church, and for others to learn some beautiful music too. Give Lulu a try.  It is,  A person has to mention my name, because, apparently, there is another Keith MacDonald, and his publications aren't something we want to talk about.  It is necessary to specify that the books are by Dr. Keith E. MacDonald.

I'll be glad to talk to you about your piping ambitions when you drop me a line.

Kind regards,
Keith MacDonald

Monday, September 17, 2018

Two new books on the way

I must apologize for not having written for a while.  I have been very occupied preparing two more books of music and dissertations for the Highland Bagpipes.  Presently, as you must know, the most recent additions have been Soul-Stirring Hymns, the author of which hymns were Albert Brumley, a very  recognized composer of music and author of the lyrics, and our two other books, Prayers for Pipers, Volumes One and Two for the Highland Bagpipes.  These have been available from Lulu Publications, which is a subsidiary of  Amazon.  When ordering, one must indicate that the authors are George Delanghe and Dr. Keith MacDonald.  There are several K. MacDonald s who have published other books, but their subjects are not on bagpipe music.  Dr. MacDonald has had to use his title to differentiate.

This fall two new books will be introduced.  One will be Valued Bits and Pieces, which includes hymns, Patriotic pieces, favorite band tunes, new compositions, pieces not published before, dance pieces and some beautiful solos.  The other book is, Aspiring Hymns. It's actually the 16th volume in The Church Piper Series.

A piper will discover the music in which he or she is most comfortable. Much has been written of interest to the piper who is a soloist.  Besides the music, the written work comprises much of either book, to encourage a piper to be the kind of person who would be called upon to play for head tables, memorials, weddings, church services.  For those positions, a piper has to be dedicated to do a superb job.

With that in mind, both George Delannghe and Dr. Keith MacDonald have been endeavoring to do their very best, checking their work and using the finest techniques in producing the music.  One example of their dedication, is that Albert Brumley's music was written in an old style, with shaped notes, which notes are much different from the familiar egg-shaped notes.  Also, his music wasn't connected with beams.  That had to be deciphered, a process entirely different from transcribing today's music.  When one realizes how his music had to be filtered out of the hymnbook, he or she would have a far greater appreciation for it, for otherwise it would never have been discovered.  That  work was really worthwhile in revealing some beautiful music

The fall, be looking for those two new books from Lulu, and some fine new music for piping.

Best regards and good piping,
Keith MacDonald, OD and George Delanghe.                                   

Monday, April 16, 2018

Several new books for pipers

Pipers across the world have shown considerable interest in music transcribed and arranged for pipers who frequently play for church related occasions such as for weddings and memorials.  With music published in The Church Piper series,not only have we seen that this is so, but also newly published music for all sorts of times has been welcomed.  The Church Piper's move from Winnipeg out to British Columbia has interrupted in this flow of newly published pipe music, but in the meantime, a new set of music books has been worked upon, and is beginning to present itself by way of the convenience offered by Amazon-Lulu publishers.

The new series, printed with the same degree of sophistication is now emerging with several new books.  These are, Soul-Stirring Hymns, transcribed from an old hymnbook by Albert Brumley, and Volumes One and Two of Prayers for Pipers.  Astoundingly, many hymns are actually prayers and these two books capture the most beautiful of prayer-hymn-tunes and include the words..

Nearing completion, and to be announced when it is launched in the fall or before, in 2018, is a book of which its two authors are going to be proud, even with its lowly name, "Valued Bits and Pieces:" for The Highland Bagpipe Player.

When you are checking with Amazon-Lulu publishing company on the net, request the bagpipe music published by Dr. Keith E. MacDonald, which will immediately differentiate it from some other publications that are entirely different.  They have been published by another K. MacDonald.  Just be sure you find the correct advertisement

George Delanghe is working along with Dr. Keith MacDonald, using his expert ability in music engraving along with the most up-to-date computer program to publish these books and the ones to come.  There will be more.  Together, he and I are proud of our work and we want you to enjoy the very best of which we are capable.

All the best!
Keith E. MacDonald, OD

Monday, October 2, 2017

Feeling the Pulse in Retreats

I'd like to respond to the piper who comprehends the concept of having an introduction to the music of most of our three-four retreat pieces.  Take for example, The Green Hills of Tyroll, After the Battle, Balmoral, or Pipe-Major J.K. Cairns,  There are many more three-fours to consider, but these will serve as examples.  He was asking for a video if that were possible.  I'm sorry that I don't have a video but I'll give careful instructions and maybe someone in the band can record the playing of a favorite three-four after making the corrections on the page of music.
I have to say that would be going to greater lengths than necessary, even to use a video, but these days, people are oriented to visual demonstrations.  I suggest, that such a piece of music should be set out before you, and with a pencil, you should draw the first bar immediately after the first two notes.  There, you have the introduction.  After that, count three beats and draw another bar.  Do so until you have completed the first part.  It will leave you with the introduction for the second part in the last bar of the first part.  The first note to emphasize in the second part will be in the very next bar..  You will know this by the emphasis given straight away on the left foot and that the emphasis is by giving the high A its proper length of time.  I'm thinking of The Green Hills or of Pipe Major J. K.Cairns as I write this note.  In the latter tune, it will be the E that is emphasized.

That's the significant part about playing retreats to give feeling in the music.  The emphasis comes naturally on the left foot all along the way.  Some call it the pulsation in the music.  That's what music is all about.  It has a pulsation, and one just has to feel it, and play accordingly.  I'd say one is fighting the natural pulsation in these three fours by playing them out of step.  Habitually, pipe bands have begun these tunes on the right foot rather that on the left., thus throwing them out of step right from the start.

When you come to the very last bar in the music, don't leave it unsatisfied for its three beats, but hold the last note for 3 beats, starting the hold on the right foot and ending it on the right foot which is the proper way to play any tune.  When you have accomplished what I have set out for you, will you please let us know, and do share your discovery with your friends in the band.  They will feel this discovery will be like a breath of fresh air and they'll enjoy playing three-fours like they never did before.  All the best, and thank you for writing.  I do appreciate your request.

Keith MacDonald, OD

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Out of Step

I want to thank Caveal for his reply to my blog, "A Problem With Three-Fours."  Well, Caveal, you are "a man after my own heart," and we are both in total agreement, that, sad as it is to say, pretty well all pipe bands in the world tend to play 3/4 - time pieces, generally known as Retreats, out of step.  Universally, Retreats, are played this way.   That is, with no regard to the pulsation that's part of the music when it is properly played.  Even our much reverenced hymn, "Amazing Grace," was played out of step by a small group of pipers in the movie, "The Titanic."   And this was by pipers from a well known world-famous pipe band.

For some peculiar reason, it seems that it is traditional to play out of step while playing 3/4's.  The fault has been passed along from teacher to student and has been repeated without anyone bringing this gross error to the point of being corrected.  Incidentally, I played in a very large band for the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena California several times, and during the practice for one of those occasions, for which we led the parade, one of the instructors stopped the band in the middle of "Scotland the Brave," and said, "This whole band is out of step."  One young piper spoke up and said, "It's because it followed "The Green Hills," " and so the instructor responded that we'll play "Scotland the Brave" first and then,"The Green Hills."  That occasion, and during the parade in Pasadena, were the only times I've ever heard that retreat played according to the beat or pulsation.  It's truly sad that excellent pipe bands have, and still are,"being led down the garden path," to play many otherwise beautiful pieces of music without any expression, but just simply in a mechanical sense, without regard for something that could be wonderful but it isn't, because of the lack of expression.

I should mention another great Scottish song that is played and sung without regard to the composer's feeling for the song, but I shall have to reserve this to comment on it when some interest has been shown in this subject.

It is an amazing thing that you, Caveal, responded at this particular time, because I was just referring to a manuscript on the theme, that was prepared some time ago, to be published for "The Church Piper," by Amazon.  It is a compendium of a number of Retreats and Hymns written with the 3/4 time signature.  I have been intending to publish a good number of hymns and retreats, with their bar lines in the correct positions.  I happened now, to be borrowing from it, just a few hymns with the theme, "Prayers for Pipers."  My intention is to meet the objective of 75 hymns on the theme, "Prayers for Pipers,"for each of two proposed volumes.  They are almost complete and ready for publication too.   Recently, George Delanghe and I published "Soul-Stirring Hymns," by Amazon.  It is music composed by the noted hymn-writer, Albert Brumley.  It was quite a challenge, because he wrote his piano music in a shape-note style.  Most of today's musicians wouldn't know what we are talking about.  Of course, I didn't understand this notation either, but after deciphering it, the effort proved worthwhile.  Soon, we will publish the two volumes of, "Prayers for Pipers.," and soon after, I now hope, we'll follow those two volumes with the book I started a few years ago.

Because of your comments, I propose to bring that manuscript called "Strictly 3/4 Time Music"
up to standard for publication too.  I will definitely expound on the subject of playing three-four tunes according to the beat, or pulse, whether they are military retreats or hymns.  I will include the words, wherever they are available, so pipers will be able to sing as well as play the music.  After all, one has to be able to sing the words into his or her music in order to give to the music the right expression.  I know you were saying that very thing.

Once again, Caveal, thanks for your wise comments on how, through neglect and lack of good observation it has allowed pipers and pipe bands to have continued to play many of their tunes without proper thought to their natural pulsations.  We'll both work on the subject, with due respect for everyone who has been so badly affected by tradition rather than by being properly taught.  Keep in touch, Caveal.  We both have work to do, to bring up the standard for piping across the world.  Do you think it was by accident that you contacted me when you did?"  I don't.  I have implicit faith that our Dear Lord in Heaven has chosen you and me, to do this work.  After all, if we intend to play pipes in heaven, we have to play them right!  I've read that there will be nothing in heaven by which it could be defiled, and no doubt this is one of them.  Let's practice towards perfection, and not practice the same errors over and over.

But last of all, I want to congratulate you for having composed a 3/4 tune that you are convinced should surely have won the prize, but didn't, because it wasn't written to be played out of step.  I can't blame you for being disappointed.  Who wouldn't be?  - Only one who didn't know any better.  Thanks again.  I appreciate your forthrightness.

Kindest regards,
Keith MacDonald, OD

Thursday, May 26, 2016

We Appreciate Our Teachers

I’ve been noticing the improvement one of our younger pipers in the band has been making, and I’ve complimented him. He responded with a lovely smile. I said, “You must be practicing every day, and he nodded. “Are you taking lessons regularly,” I asked, and he responded affirmatively. It’s a definite fact that conscientious practice will result in improvement to the extent of one’s level of ambition.

This has caused me to reflect upon my own process of learning to play the bagpipes. My brother, Ken, and I, were fortunate to be taught by Hugh Fraser, pipe major of the Saskatoon Light Infantry. He was also a member of the police force in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As we became competent pipers in the Saskatoon Light Infantry (SLI) Pipe Band, we would be participants in many parades and ceremonies. We learned a tune a week, and steadily improved. Our playing motivated Dad to take lessons too, and the three of us had a wonderful time piping for many engagements. Ken and I were not necessarily competitive with one another, but instead, we were just highly motivated, and so was our dad. We would show him certain exercises that would improve his technique, but he wasn’t particularly receptive to our suggestions, and he would say, “You guys are just trying to hold me back.” That wasn’t the case, and he knew it. I’m sure Dad was greatly pleased to see the two of us improving steadily.

Listening to well-practiced pipers such as Peter Henderson, in the SLI band was a motivator. Peter excelled in playing reels. “Mrs. MacLeod of Raasay,” was one, and others were, “The Mason’s Apron” and “Mrs. Terence Eden’s Welcome to Cromlix.” His G, D, and E grace notes clicked in even cadence, and his music had a timing that was obviously designed for dancers. A person would want to play like that. I certainly did. His timing was impeccable. One can learn so much by listening to a good piper.

Hugh was a good teacher because he was appreciative of our conscientious attitude to learn. He was a band-piper however, and had techniques of his own that he passed along. An example was in how he played the burl. It was by sliding his little finger back and forth across the bottom hole. Later on, when we moved to Winnipeg Manitoba, and took a few lessons from proficient pipers, we learned there was a better way. Fred MacLeod and his dad, Donald, demonstrated the technique was to raise the little finger up to a position from which it could strike the bottom hole, then rise up to come down hard onto the hole once more, to really make that burl sound, while being supported by a well-tuned set of drones. Fred was a competition piper. His folks said he wore out the living room carpet by marching on it.

Apparently, that is how he, a competition piper improved upon his timing.

Bill Watt, and competition piper and a veteran of the Second World War, added to my learning by demonstrating how the ending on a competition two-four march should sound. He called it, “Harry Haw, Petraw.” By playing a nice clear C doubling, then a low A using an E grace note to emphasize the A, he would finalize the ending with that nice firm A burl. The pipes “spoke” as the phrase was completed. Bill Watt was not only a great teacher of the pipes, but he was also a composer. One of his fine marches was, “Tornaveen Cottage,” with which I won a first place medal in an open competition. Another technique Bill Watt taught me, was to finish off some 2/4 competition marches with a Bibero Harry Haw Petraw.

Lessons at Bill Watt’s home were memorable. We regularly practiced pipes in his little kitchen for a couple of hours or so. Mrs. Watt would go to the movie theatre. Lesson time would be completed when she got back, and she’d make us a nice evening snack. Bill could produce a marvelous sound from his pipes, and he was keen to pass along his techniques to a piper really wanting to learn. Bill’s son Chris, is a fine piper, and it’s great to see that his dad taught him.

Jack Reay, pipe major of The Manitoba Piper’s Association Pipe Band also taught his own son to play the pipes, and young Jack was an outstanding piper. It was in perfecting band competition sets that I spent time with Jack Sr. where he worked, in the Manitoba Telephone Exchange building. Our band won the Western Canadian Championship three times, and our members participated in The Rose Bowl Parade in Florida several times. Every week-end in the summer, we had engagements.

Later on, Dad, Ken and I became part of the ANAVETS Pipe Band. This was the Army & Navy Veterans Pipe Band. Doug Will, who taught dozens of pipers in the city, was an ardent member. He was enthusiastic about my desire to transcribe and arrange church music and he furnished me with a small collection of hymns as a starter. Since then, I published a number of hymnbooks and continued to transcribe for future publications, all of which are under the title, “The Church Piper.” Ian Conn from Scotland, joined our band. He had the keenest ear for setting pipes. Ian was an ex-member of the Schotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and was playing with them when the band was winning world championships. His technique verified it. I learned from Ian the need to open up my doublings; those F’s, E’s C’s and B’s and the others as well. It meant lifting the fingers more and coming down firmly on the notes. He required an extra consciousness for fine tuning. Our pipes were singing when Ian was in charge, and when he played harmony, it was ecstasy.

One other piper who was a help to me in learning to play well, was Colin Cameron. Colin played several instruments and he was also one of our judges. As I demonstrated to him my mastery over a certain tune, he took note of my D doublings and demonstrated how to improve upon them. I was to play a grip, then bridge the C and lift the fingers to form the D. That’s how I play the D now, to obtain more quality of sound, but of course, if there are two consecutive D’s, the second one would be a shake, while another D doubling might be played with the top hand.

It's grand to recall my various teachers and the times I simply listened to them play. Their encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to play for weddings, funerals, call to worship, banquets and official events. I do appreciate them. I also expect other pipers must feel the same way about their teachers of piping.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Humility 101 For Pipers

At the last supper, Jesus was sitting among a few of His disciples. From their conversation, one can visualize their proximity and can follow their conversation. They would have been reclining at the table, as compared to sitting, which is our custom. There wasn’t a slave to wash their dusty feet, so Jesus undertook to begin with Peter, who responded by asking Jesus if He actually intended to wash his feet. Peter was reluctant to consider Jesus’ kind offer, so Jesus replied that their relationship could not be the same if He didn’t.

Each of the disciples considered it inappropriate, but Jesus said He was about to set an example; that each should wash one another’s feet. He told them it would be a wonderful symbol of caring, because it would reveal an attitude of service, care, love and genuine humility, all characteristics of those who would be His followers.

This ceremony pointed towards Jesus’ impending death; a prelude to the cross, which might be stated in the words, “I am among you as he who serveth.” (Luke 22:27(b)). He also said, “The Son of Man came to serve.” (Mark 10:45) There is a beautiful hymn that reminds us of the faithful saying, that “Jesus emptied Himself of all but love, and was obedient to death, even to death on the cross, where He laid aside His glory,” and took on the nature of any of us. It is from the hymn, “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley:

“He left His Father’s throne above, 
So free, so infinite His grace! 

Emptied Himself of all but love, 

And bled for Adam’s helpless race!

’Tis mercy all, immense and free, 

For O my God, it found out me.

This hymn is an eloquent message about humility. Automatically, we will ask, “How do we become humble? Left to ourselves, we become proud, and lose any quality of humility. It is a quality of character revealed in how we relate to one another. Now is a good time to resort to prayer. It is then, when one becomes humble before God. Only in humility and brokenness, can we approach the throne of God. That is actually why we resist praying. When we pray every day, we will become humble. There is no place like Calvary to reveal our humility. A hymn by Dr. Isaac Watts explains that we can look contemptuously at our pride, when we consider Christ’s humility in forfeiting His life as a Sacrifice for us. His Sacrificial death was so we can have direct access to God. The hymn is, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

1. When I survey the wondrous cross 
On which the Prince of Glory died;
All my gains I count but loss
And throw contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood.

How can one possibly be proud, knowing that God did this? Nevertheless, pride and ambition are our motivators. Pride manifests itself subtly. There is pride in ownership and achievements, and it is quite natural to be proud of what we have earned and done, and yet it is quite possible to be proud and still not be ostentatious. We must keep mindful that it is only because of God’s graciousness that we’ve had the vitality and wisdom to do what we’ve done. We are not humble by nature, but humility can become a natural part of us when we make a practice of considering others first. Peter tells us to clothe ourselves in humility and God will lift us up in due time. In the scriptural words, we are to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Jesus was asked, “What is the most important commandment of all?” He replied, “To love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength, and to love your neighbour as thyself.” (Mark 12:30, 31) He exemplified His love for others and He laid aside His position. As scripture tells us, “There is no greater love than that a man will lay down his life for his friends. After telling us that, Jesus went to the cross and laid down His life not only for His friends, but for everyone who will recognize His Sacrifice as God’s evidence of His love. By acknowledging God’s love, and by asking for forgiveness for what would otherwise separate him or her from God, a person can have a personal relationship with God.

To promote unity with others, it is well to abide by instructions given to us from the Bible. Paul, in Philippians, encouraged Jesus’ followers, saying, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:4) Humility will unite us while selfishness and superiority will divide us. Humility is the quality of being one in spirit and one in mind. Rather than claim we are right in a situation, it is best to give up our right to be right. Rather than insist on having our own way, we will show grace and gentleness. Humility will gives us the ability to value others above ourselves. (Phil 2:3)

An example of humility would be the ability to graciously accept criticism or suggestions about your playing. Consider criticism to be given in the spirit of good advice. Thank the individual, and ask him or her to demonstrate the improvement. Listen carefully, and together, refer to the music page. Individuals may play the music so often that it is by ear. Consequently, the printed music should be the authority for this situation. By giving time to consider the advice, both pipers will benefit. The result is to have made a friend, and it is quite possible he or she was right. If so, you can humbly say thank you, and if he or she was wrong, you will have helped to improve the music as well as having maintained your respect as a player.

Being humble, makes us more like Jesus. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death.” (Phil. 2:7, 8) Following in Jesus’ footsteps, means to back away from what we would consider best for us, and to allow it to be best for others…Jesus gave up His life for us. We could ask Him in prayer, to help us make sacrifices for the sake of others. By putting others first, it would reflect upon our humility and be honoring to God.

Pipers can think how they may develop the character quality of humility. It could be by not trying to impress anyone or one another by the quality of their music, but honestly accepting, that to accomplish the level of playing they recognize in others, it must have required much practice. Those persons deserve to be recognized and complimented. That gives the other person an opportunity to say, “Thank you,” and probably acknowledge that you have an appreciation for their playing and that you might also know a great deal about the way the music should sound. Remember always, that your style of music could be different from theirs and vice versa. While one person might specialize in hornpipes, jigs and reels, another might excel in playing marches and memorials and for special occasions. And, if someone should complement you on what you’ve just played, a simple “Thank you,” is adequate. Definitely, never be critical of another’s playing when in conversation with anyone else.

Our conversation began with a discussion on humility. In actuality, humility is opposite to pride. It is natural to be proud of an accomplishment. One should be proud of his or her achievements, but not to the extent of bragging about them. To complete this discussion, several quotations on pride, will be found in scripture. James 4:6 tells us, “God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble.” The disciples of Jesus condescended to wash one another’s feet, and Jesus said that if they were unwilling to let Him wash their feet, they could have none of Him. In James, verse 4:10, we are reminded to “humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Finally, Paul, in Romans, 12:16, advises us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.” God loves us to be humble individuals. He requires us to be close to Him, and it is in Micah 6:9 that we are told, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

I hope you will enjoy playing the two hymns included with this blog, and that you will learn the lyrics too, so your music will carry the expression where words or music alone are inadequate.