NEFA - The North East Folklore Archive

Pipes and Pipers

A Piper's Notes - David Low discusses Henderson's bagpipe music books
The Sources

Henderson's bagpipe music collection consists of four editions published during the mid nineteenth century. Music publishing was not so sophisticated then as it is now and it has been difficult to assign a precise date to each. A preface page, dated 1835, in the collection by Donald MacDonald apologises for the very problems of meeting publication deadlines, but according to Henderson's painstaking annotations, an identical preface was apparently present in an earlier edition of 1828. An order of publication would appear to be:

1. Donald MacDonald & Son Collection, 1831
2. Angus MacKay: The Piper's Assistant, pre 1847
(The first 56 pages of the work closely correspond to William Mackay's Complete Tutor for the Great Highland Bagpipe, which was revised by Angus Mackay in 1843. Cannon tells us that the latest possible date for the work would be 1847, when the publisher's address changed).
3. John McLachlan: The Piper's Assistant 1854-77
4. Angus MacKay: Tutor for the Highland Bagpipe 1878

With the exception of Donald MacDonald's Collection (published by Donald MacDonald and Son) the books were published in Edinburgh by members of the Glen family whose name had been synonymous with pipes and piping since the time of the legendary Adam Glen.

Although these books' age and usage has led to some damage, they have, nevertheless, been very carefully restored over time and it is clear that certain pages have been reproduced from other sources and / or editions of similar collections. It is especially interesting to see the care and attention given to the transcription by hand of a series of preface pages in the MacKay Tutor, and likewise the tracing of the artwork for the title page of McLachlan's Piper's Assistant. This has all contributed to maintaining each edition's degree of completeness. MacKay's Piper's Assistant has been embossed with "Castle New, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire" on the title page and "Charles Forbes" (the laird of Castle Newe) on page 55. This implies a certain exclusivity in ownership. These collections would not have had large print runs and therefore might be described as luxury items. In addition, Henderson notes that the collections may have been gifted or resold within the piping fraternity, viz. reference to G. S. McLennan's ownership of these and comparable editions.

Go to A History of the Great Pipes from McLachlan's Piper's Assistant in the history section

back to top

Henderson's Annotation

Henderson obviously spent considerable time in the study of these editions, comparing in detail the changing versions (or in piping terms "settings") and titles of tunes. For a contemporary student, even with an extensive modern-day knowledge of pipe music, or a corresponding personal repertoire, it is a very demanding task to make sense of what he achieved. Henderson was absorbed with making connections and the many months (if not years) he must have invested in these researches, mean that a student today would need to invest a substantial amount of time to derive any profit from the study of these editions. It appears that Henderson was keen to interrelate other music collections (e.g. fiddle) and there are cross-references to a wider field or sources other than those associated with pipe music. One of the interesting debates of modern times that continues to engage musicians is that over origins - whether the pipe, fiddle, harp or vocal - of particular melodies. This may well have been in Henderson's mind.

back to top

Notation of Bagpipe Music

It must be remembered that when these collections were at first edition stage, the practice of writing bagpipe music in staff notation was in its infancy. Music had hitherto been passed to the student orally and aurally, and indeed the "classical" forms of pipe music, i.e. piobaireachd (or Ceol Mor) were taught by Canntaireachd (can-ter-ach) systems through much of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century. (CANNTAIREACHD meaning the chanting or singing of melody using a system of vocables to interpret the exact and appropriate notes and technical movements required on the instrument).

Angus MacKay first produced his collection of Piobaireachd in staff notation in 1838, and this still remains a definitive work. The collections of John Murdoch Henderson however are of lighter and more popular airs and melodies extending over the complete range of tempo, time signature and character. Many of them are still played today, some identical in name, while others have had not one but several alternative titles. It is also not unusual for some to have their whole character transformed: a very well-known example being from Donald MacDonald's collection, "Posadh Piuhar Jain Bhain", ostensibly a jig, but undoubtedly the forerunner of the modern slow air "My Home."

back to top

Diversity of Titles and Structure

Many of the airs / melodies are predominantly two-parted and remain so in present times, equally, in common with today's collections, the majority of the melodies are eminently forgettable - tunes which never captured the popular imagination widely enough to be adopted in most piper's repertoires. From John McLachlan's Piper's Assistant the well known tune "Bonnie Ann" appears as a four-parted march attributed to Daniel Ross. In its score there is little elaboration or accenting and the parts are not repeated.

listen hereBonnie Ann Piper's Assistant, McLachlan

Today the tune is highly ornamented with grace-notes and is accented ("pointed" is the piper's term) to the point where the ability to actually march to it is threatened. This is the feature of the "heavy" or competition-type march which was being developed at the time of these publications. Other similar four-parted but much lighter tunes are "March of Donald of the Isles to the Battle of Harlow" and "The 79ths Farewell to Giberalter [sic]". Both scores, complete with repeats, are almost as they are played or written today. A yet further example is the air "Miss Proud" ("D. Rowan's Favourite") and is one of the few four-parted reel tunes, the structure of which holds up as of today's versions. In Angus MacKay's Tutor there is a very full version of "Piobaireachd Dhomnail Duibh" ("Pibroch of Donald Dhu") or "Lochiel's March." It is comparable to many present-day regimental settings, though here the score shows no repeats. Yet in another collection of David Glen, published towards the end of the century, one finds the tune expanded to no less than eleven parts, the latter parts requiring advanced Ceol Mor technical skills.

The need or demand to elaborate on a simple tune comes from the aspiring player's need to demonstrate ability and technical skill. This is a recurring phenomenon, as with two current settings of "The Mason's Apron" and "Pretty Marion", each respectively having eight or ten parts. Over time, it is interesting to see how an air begins to evolve from its original two-part beginning. This early stage of development is best seen by examining two 9/8 jigs, settings of which occur in three of these editions. In MacKay's Piper's Assistant (p.86) additional parts for "Go to Berwick, Johnnie" and "Kenny Would Dance with the Maid" are listed.

listen hereGo To Berwick Johnnie - Piper's Assistant, MacKay

In each case, while the additional part three takes the tune forward, part four is simply a repetition of part two, so the total structure is part one, part two, part three and part two. This is actually stated at the foot of page 16 - for no apparent reason - the tune above it is called "If I'd Get a Dram I'd Take It." Henderson contends this is an alternative version of the tune on page 50, "Greig's Pipes" and if one checks the third additional air on page 86, the extra part is for this latter tune. Henderson asserts that "Greig's Pipes" = "Greig's Pipe" = "Fill the Stoup" = "The Daft Dairymaid" = "Fill the Measure" as well as "If I'd Get a Dram I'd Take It", and right he is.

listen hereFill The Stoup - MacDonald Collection

Equally, he has established that "Kenny Would Dance with the Maid" = "Saw Ye the Carl(e) of Late (Lately) - "The Rigs of Yarrow" and further titles "Kick the Rogues Out", "Would the Minister Dance", "Guzzle Together", but these may be from non-pipe music sources. Incidentally, a modern recording of "Guzzle Together" seems to be stretching the musical connection to the first air just a bit too far. It does seem that the interchange and linking of similarity of airs and titles had become a compelling (and at times confusing) issue for Henderson.

listen hereKenny Would Dance With The Maid - Highland Bagpipe Tutor, MacKay

back to top


Playing Style and Interpretation

Tunes were more simple, gracing was slightly less elaborate and certainly the accenting was often left to the player. Quite often one finds that Henderson has added his own, or what seems generally accepted, for a particular tune. In McLachlan's Piper's Assistant, the well known "Muckin' O' Geordie's Byre" does not appear to have been accented. Again, in MacKay's Tutor, a setting of "Gille Calum" (the Sword Dance) has been accented throughout and despite being in 2/4 time (the dance is more of a strathspey), only, some of the couplets sound "back to front" to a modern interpretation.

listen hereGille Calum - Piper's Assistant, MacKay

The effect is more noticeable when one compares MacKay's Assistant's setting of "The Green Hillock" with his Tutor's setting of "Tulloch Gorum" (i.e. the same tune). Nothing at all is accented in the former, while only the opening four bars are accented in the latter.

listen hereTuloch Gorum - Highland Bagpipe Tutor, MacKay

The writer cannot conceive that a whole part of what is predominantly a dance tune could be played so uninspiringly. That being said, the more modern G. S. McLennan allegedly made little accenting to many of his own compositions, a particular case being his classic reel "The Little Cascade", thus leaving much to the player's interpretation. Returning to Donald MacDonald's collection, and specifically to "Posadh Piuhar Jain Bhain", given that there is not a single piece anything but a dance tune, it would be entirely justifiable to play this as a jig, despite the melody line of the slow air "My Home" ringing so close.

back to top

Pipe Tunes : David Low plays selected tunes from Henderson's pipe book
Pitch of the Recorded Tunes

The recordings of the tunes on this website are all played on a bagpipe with what is called an "A" chanter. This is a suggestion of the pitch which might have been prevalent during the time these tunes were set down. Present day chanters are made with the A = B flat and the instrument at this pitch makes for more compatible ensemble playing with other instruments e.g. brass as in the Military Band / Pipe Band context. At the time of these publications the quality and diversity of instrument-making and reed-making was such that all the makers sought to do was to create a chanter scale that was in tune with itself and more or less equivalent to the key of A major. It is at the present day much easier to produce a bagpipe capable of some degree of concert pitch - there simply was no demand to do so a century ago.


listen hereBecause He Was A Bonnie Lad (strathspey) Piper's Assistant, MacKay, pre-1847

Also known as Keppoch's Rant, Kiss and Come Again, Highland Laddie's Fishing, and Taking Dogfish from the Shore. From the Donald MacDonald Collection and later published in Angus MacKay's Tutor by David Glen, Edinburgh, 1878.


listen hereDonochd Head (jig) MacDonald Collection, 1831

A 6/8 jig from Donald MacDonald's Collection, published c1828. Also known as The Roses Blaw, Ellis' Jig, Plovers Around the Hills, My Love is the Fair Lad and Braes of Mellnish. Donald MacDonald was a native of Glen Hinisdale in Skye. In 1805 he published what could be the earliest collection of Ceol Mor in existence.


listen hereFair John's Sister's Wedding (jig) MacDonald Collection, 1831

A jig from Donald MacDonald's Collection, c1828. Also known as My Home (Scots Guards Collection 1) and Ian Ban's Sister's Wedding (J. MacFadyen's 2nd Collection).


listen hereGlengarry's March (quickstep march) Piper's Assistant, MacKay, pre-1847

A well known country dance tune also known as The Pair (Poor) Auld Wife. This version, or, in piping terms, "setting", is from The Piper's Assistant by Angus MacKay, published by Alexander Glen of Edinburgh, c1847.


listen hereGown and Apron, The, (jig) MacDonald Collection, 1831

In the early to mid 1800's the premier award for playing of the piobaireachd was The Prize Pipe, presented annually by the Highland Society of London. This Donald won in 1817, when he was noted as piper to the Argyllshire Militia. Donald died in 1840, in or close to his ninetieth year.


listen hereHighland Ketty, (6/8 jig) Piper's Assistant / Tutor, MacKay, pre-1847 and 1878

Also known as The Cock Knowe, First of May, Little Katie and The Bride's Jig. From Angus MacKay's Piper's Assistant, 1843, and later his Tutor for the Bagpipe, published by David Glen, Edinburgh, 1878.


listen hereI Lo'oe Nae A Laddie But Ane (air) Piper's Assistant, McLachlan, 1854

An air also known as For All Those Endearing Young Charms, but today more commonly known as My Lodging's On The Cold Ground.


listen hereJohnnie Lad (reel) MacKay's Tutor, 1878

A reel commonly known today as Marion and Donald but also found in past publications as Donald's Wedding and Donald Was The Laddie's Name.


listen hereLady Macbeth's Strathspey - MacKay's Tutor, 1878

A tune of ancient origin also known as Miss Montgomary and Lady MacKenzie of Seaforth's Strathspey.


listen hereMacpherson's Lament (quickstep march) MacKay's Tutor, 1878

From the song Macpherson's Rant written by freebooter and outlaw James Macpherson who was hanged at the Plainstones in Banff in 1700. Legend has it that he played the tune to the crowds at the gallows and offered the fiddle as a gift. When no-one accepted his offer he broke the fiddle over his knee and threw the pieces into the crowd.


listen hereMiss Forbes Farewell To Banff (march) MacKay's Tutor, 1878

To which particular Miss Forbes this tune refers is unknown but it would be likely that she was a member of one of the North East's well-to-do families who during the 18th century retained town-houses in Banff and spent the season socialising there.


listen herePease Stray (reel) MacKay's Tutor, 1878

A reel also known as If I Had an Old Rascal as a Husband, If I Had a Dirty Carl, Ducking the Carl and Quoth the Carl to his Wife. From Angus MacKay's Tutor for the Bagpipe, published by David Glen, Edinburgh, 1878.


listen hereRob Roy McGregor (quickstep march) Piper's Assistant, MacKay, pre-1847

An old tune written in honour of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy Macgregor, a famous Highland robber chief who was born c1670. He was a landed man who was once a legitiamate cattle dealer or drover. When he fell into debt with the Duke of Montrose the Duke confiscated Rob Roy's lands and the Macgregor became an outlaw. The tune, also known as Duncan Gray, is from The Piper's Assistant by Angus MacKay, published by Alexander Glen sometime between 1843 and 1847.


listen hereThere Came A Braw Lad To My Daddy's Door - Piper's Assistant / Tutor, MacKay, pre-1847 and 1878

A tune also known as The Brisk Young Man, The Man with the Big Head, Lord Dunmore's Jig and Traverse the Rough Hills.


listen hereWood Of Fyvie, The (reel) MacKay's Tutor, 1878

Also known as The Widdy Wood, I am in Need of Shoes, Little Black Duncan Wants His Shoes, Lady Bighouse's Reel, Keep The Country and Bonnie Lassie. A traditional tune from Angus MacKay's Tutor for the Bagpipe, published by bagpipe maker David Glen of Edinburgh in 1878.


listen here92nd Highlanders March, The - MacDonald Collection, 1831

From Donald MacDonald's Collection, c1830, more commonly known today as The 92nd Quickstep. A pipe march dedicated to the 92nd Gordon Highlanders. The Gordon Highlanders was one of the British Army's most celebrated regiments. It was the local regiment of the North East of Scotland, recruiting mainly from Aberdeenshire, Banffshire and Kincardineshire, an area which took great pride in the Regiment's record.

back to top


David M. Low - Piper and Dancer

David LowDavid Low of Kintore, Aberdeenshire, has been involved with bagpipe playing for over fifty years, having started with his local Kintore Pipe Band in the autumn of 1949. He has concentrated predominantly on solo playing, but during his career he has been a member of several bands and led the Inverurie Pipe Band in the early 1960's.

During National Service in the late 1950's David performed as a solo piper (and dancer) with the Military Band of the Gordon Highlanders (some fifteen years before the "Amazing Grace" sound captured musical imaginations) and during the 90's fulfilled a similar role as piper with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra.

David was a successful competing piper during the 70's playing both light music and ceol mor (great music), this latter branch of bagpipe music being a lifelong passion.

He studied with the acclaimed masters of Piobaireachd, Robert Brown and Robert Nicol "The Bobs of Balmoral" both wonderful musicians who had been honoured as pipers to the Royal Family during the reign of George V.

He has researched widely the use of the bagpipe for dance accompaniment and in the mid 1980's produced the definitive dance albums "Dancing Feet", volumes one and two, and he continues to be in demand for performances in this specialised context. His substantial and enthusiastic career also includes the teaching of the pipes and adjudication at dance and pipe competitions.

Over the years David built up an extensive personal library of bagpipe music and continues to collect older editions of publications. His experience as a bagpipe tutor, with knowledge of the instrument as a bandsman and as a solo piper, make David a most welcome member of the Henderson Collection team.

back to top


Adam Glen 1625 - 1715

Adam GlenThe name Glen in the city of Edinburgh has been for centuries synonymous with the bagpipe and its music. The family, who made, played and published for the bagpipe were descendants of the legendary "Pawky" Adam Glen (1625 - 1715), a piper, balladeer and dedicated Jacobite supporter. Alexander Glen (1801 - 1873), wrote the following for the 1854 publication of The Piper's Assistant.

"Adam Glen was long a favourite in every farmers' village and fair in the west of Angus-shire. He was an excellent performer on the bag-pipe, a faithful reciter of our ancient ballads and in every way an eccentric character. In the Memorable year of Mar's rebellion he joined the battalion of his country on its march to Sheriffmuir and he remained behind, winding his warlike instrument in the front and fire of the enemy and fell on the field of battle, November 13th, 1715 in the ninetieth year of his age. A few months before his death he married his eighth wife, a maiden of forty-five." From The Piper's Assistant, 1854.

"Pawky" - An old Scots word meaning someone who has or shows a dry sense of humour which includes a shrewd and down-to-earth criticism of hypocrisy or pretension. (Collins Scots Dictionary).


listen hereAdam Glen - 3/4 air - Pipers Assistant, McLachlan, 1854


back to top



aberdeenshire council logo

aberdeenshire council logo