Five Études for Uilleann Pipes (2009)

‘Five Études for Uilleann Pipes’ (2009) – 25’

for solo Uilleann Pipes.

Duration: 20 mins.

Created with the aid of funding from the Arts Council of Ireland Deis Scheme and a bursary from Galway County Council.

Premiered by Mick O’Brien in August 2011 at the Masters of Tradition Festival, Bantry.

Programme Poem

(This poem was used to introduce the music at the premiere)

I once heard a piper forlornly discuss how playing their instrument was like wrestling an octopus

There’s so many things to try to control, The chanter, the bag, the regs and the drones

Most decent pipers will master just three, The regulators however remain a mystery

For those who don’t know the regs are those yokes at which most pipers occasionally poke

To add a simple harmony to the ornamented chanter melody

Now with these new pieces Mick O’Brien and me are hoping to bring more dexterity

To the art of regulator technique, so these pieces are a bit unique

There’s three Etudes you’ll hear tonight, each one has a different aim in sight

The first one shows how the pipes can be, a bit like a choir in harmony

The second one’s to train the fingers to treat, the regs like a keyboard, it’s very tricky

The last one you’ll hear shouldn’t tax your ear, It has a pleasant melody that changes gear

From a barndance to a hornpipe and then a highland, a reel and a slide and then Mick will be smiling

Cos he’ll have passed his toughest task to date, a challenge no other piper has faced

So please give him a warm welcome and attentive ears, Mick the master piper is here……

Programme Note

Études are study pieces in classical music. Musical exercises aimed at tackling various different techniques whilst being listenable as stand alone concert works. There aren’t any specific Études I am aware of for traditional musicians, although some traditional musicians do informally practice scales, arpeggios and other techniques by repeating difficult sections of tunes until they master them.The main purpose of these Études was to develop the harmonic capabilities of the uilleann pipes through a complex integration of the harmony-producing regulators with the drones and melody-producing chanter.
Some pipers, such as the great Leo Rowsome and Mick O’Brien, whom the pieces were written for, developed great technical command of the regulators so that they can harmonise with the chanter with ease.

With these pieces I’ve sought to develop the use of the regulators further than has ever been tried before. Each Étude is intended to develop a particular technique. Mick will choose three or four of the five Études to perform in the concert.

No.1 – Triadic Arpeggios – Partly inspired by American minimalist composer Philip Glass, in this Étude the piper treats the regulators like a keyboard, playing constant arpeggios against a slowly evolving melody on the chanter.

Étude No.2 – Long Arpeggios – Inspired by the numerous composers who’ve created long arpeggio studies. In this piece the regulators are used to extend the lower melodic range of the pipes in tandem with the chanter.

Étude No.3 – Poly-metric Chorale (Slow Chord Study) – Almost like a choral piece, inspired equally by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and the slow air playing of many pipers. The pipes turn into a choir of voices, slowly adding melodic lines until four voices are heard.

Étude No.4 – Pulsing Wrist Chords and Dextrous Chanter Work – As if Leo Rowsome combined with Philip Glass. Leo Rowsome’s piping bears some remarkable similarities to the music of Philip Glass, not least in Rowsome’s constant chugging use of wrist chords on the regulators. This piece echoes that similarity.

Étude No.5 – Chaconne – I’m not aware of any precedent for a chaconne for Uilleann Pipes. The chaconne is an old baroque form with a repeating ground bass. It is possible to play a repeated ground bass on the regulators using the wrist of the right-hand. Over this ground bass I place a tune which is slightly modified each time around to fit into five different traditional dance music forms; a Barndance, Hornpipe,  Highland, Reel and Slide.