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Scottish competition bagpipe performance: sound, mode and aesthetics [PhD Thesis]

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Simon McKerrell


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This study is an ethnomusicological analysis of Scottish competition bagpiping, examining three fundamental aspects of performance: sound aesthetics, performance aesthetics and the modal complex of the core repertoire. Through a mixture of discussions, modal analysis and reflections upon performance, it deconstructs the music of the 2/4 competition pipe march and the aesthetics surrounding competition performance. Focussing on a small number of the world’s leading Highland bagpipers, this research demonstrates how overall sound combined with the individual choices about repertoire and how to play it, results in the maintenance of individual identity. In chapter three, analysis of the ‘modal complex’, comprising pitch sets, hierarchies, phrasing-structure, the double-tonic, structural tones, melodic motifs and rhythm-contour motifs reveal the characteristics of various modes in the 2/4 competition pipe march. As an insider of this music-culture, I offer a definition of mode based upon motivic content rather than pitch set. The modal complex is framed by an understanding of how pipers themselves think about their competitive tradition. Understanding the concepts presented in this thesis provides an original and holistic picture of how Scottish bagpipe competition performance sounds the way it does.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKerrell S

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Year: 2005

Number of Pages: 555

Print publication date: 21/10/2005

Online publication date: 16/05/2014

Publisher: St Andrews University/Royal Conservatoire of Scotland



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