Ross's Music Page

Favourite download: blank music paper

Here is the latest video from the Cambridge University Ceilidh Band. Things were tough during lockdown, given that our mission is organising the coolest superspreader events; how else can you describe a ceilidh? But we've been keeping our eye in with practice sessions in people's gardens and by recording videos.

I'm interested in the evolution of folk music in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This was a period of rapid change; the Scots, Irish and Northumbrian traditions developed into their current form, as did our three countries' pipes and many other instruments.

We have monthly Fenland meetings of Northumbrian pipers, not just online but also in person when the rules allow. Email me if you want to join.

Some selected historical materials

Hugh Cheape's thesis may be worth a read; he was curator of Scottish material culture at the National Museum in Edinburgh for many years. The life of John MacDonald is a biography by the late Roderick Cannon of my piping teacher's teacher. Roderick and I also scanned some other items of interest to pipers:

Here's an interview I gave Piping Today on the pastoral pipes, a hobby of mine. I've given talks and demonstrations on the pastoral pipes where I play an eighteenth-century Robertson set I've got back into playing condition. (The set is described in v 2 no 5 of the Sean Reid Society Journal.) Here's a recording (60Mb) and slides from a talk in 2008 at the William Kennedy festival.

The rest of this page has a number of highland pipe manuscripts, mostly scanned by the late Roderick Cannon and myself, followed by a number of old highland piping MP3s and other resources. Then there are many of the music manuscripts that trace the development of the pastoral/union/uilleann pipes and the Northumbrian pipes from the mid-18th century onwards. They enable us to trace how the three traditions developed as they grew apart from the mid-18th century onwards. You'll then find Irish pipe music MP3s (of old out-of-copyright recordings) and some assorted piping links. Finally, there's a regular podcast on the subject by Jeremy Kingsbury.

Highland Pipe manuscripts and recordings

We have scanned, and host here, six of the most important sources of pibroch - the classical music of the highland pipes. For more on pibroch, see the Wikipedia entry and the Piobaireachd Society website. For sound samples, visit the Piobaireachd Society's music index, or listen to the first four tracks by John MacDonald below.

Donald MacDonald's book has been put online by the Piobaireachd Society here; the Society also hosts the Hannay-MacAuslan manuscript. See Jim McGillivray's site for the Nether Lorn Canntaireachd, the manuscripts by Peter Reid and David Glen, and the remaining manuscript by Angus MacKay. has the Gesto Canntaireachd. The Piobaireachd Society has a web page with copies of, or links to, most of these manuscripts. These resources give you free access to all of the major early source materials.

There is a paper by Roderick Cannon on future publications of the Piobaireachd Society.

Now here are some music recordings that are now out of copyright, and so free for anyone to download and use as they wish.

John MacDonald MP3s - Here are five recordings by John MacDonald of Inverness. The first is thanks to Michael and Diana from Juneau, Alaska, while the last is taken from a 7-CD set of out-of-copyright pipe music available from Tony Langford, who is t.langford AT The others are from Brett Tidswell.

Brett has also provided a track of Reels by John MacDonald, but we're not sure by which John MacDonald; Donald Anderson and Josh Dickson suspect it may be the John MacDonald of South Uist (Seonaidh Roidein).

Robert Reid MP3 – Here's a recording by Robert Reid: Captain MacLean, Tullochgorm, The Piper and the Dairymaid (1937).

John McColl MP3s – Here's John McColl playing The Campbells are Coming and the The Cock o' the North followed by a strathspey and reel. These recordings were made in 1899.

Willie Ross MP3s - And here are some recordings made by Willie Ross. (The Reid tracks and these five Ross tracks are from Tony Langford's collection.)

Note how the tempo has slowed – Willie Ross generally took 2 minutes 40 seconds to play a march, strathspey and reel in 1910, and 2 minutes 50 in 1937. Competition players took about 3 minutes 40 forty years ago, and almost 4 minutes now!

More Willie Ross MP3s: Here are MP3s of twelve recordings by Willie Ross, dating back to the period 1910-1939:

These are from the test disks Willie got from the record companies, and which are now the property of his granddaughter, Lesley Ross Alexander – to which we owe our sincere thanks for making them available. Thanks also to Richard Powell for digitising them.

December 31, 2007: for seasonal cheer, here's Auld Lang Syne the way pipers played it in the 18th century, pinching the high B. This isn't an electronic special effect – I played it on a standard set of highland pipes. The trick is to get a fairly soft reed, and when playing the high A you put down the first and second fingers of your left hand, so that the A is played with just your thumb raised. Then you increase the pressure to keep in tune, and continue to slide your thumb over the thumb hole so you're now playing an A with the thumb hole half closed. Then raise the B finger just as you close the thumb hole.

Pastoral/union/uilleann and Northumbrian pipe music

1743: The first book of music printed for the pipes was Geoghegan's Compleat Tutor (there's a high-res scan of the frontispiece here). Thanks to Roderick Cannon for this copy; for comparison, here is the one in the British Library.

1740s: The Young-Macfarlane manuscript is nominally for the fiddle but contains a lot of pipe tunes, many of which ended up in the Northumbrian repertoire

1765: Here is a manuscript from the Advocates' Collection of the National Library of Scotland, thanks to their trustees: Part 1 (front of book, tunes 1-33), Part 2 (front of book, tunes 34-end) and Part 3 (back of book). There is also an article I wrote about this manuscript for Common Stock, the journal of the Lowland and Border Pipers' Society.

1785: Here is John Sutherland's manuscript: the front matter, the index, pages 1-40, 41-80, 81-120, 121-160, 161-200, 201-240, and 241-266. Here are some of the tunes I typeset, in pdf and abc formats, a copy of the fingering chart at pages 143-5, and an article I wrote on the manuscript for An Piobaire (magazine of the NPU). The tune index is here.

1794 saw the publication of Robert Riddell's Collection of Scotch, Galwegian and Border Tunes, which contains a number of variation sets and other tunes that became popular in the Northumbrian piping tradition – plus the fiddle pibroch Mackintosh's Lament.

1804-10: O'Farrell's Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes appeared in 1804-10. Here's volume one, volume two, volume three and volume four. Thanks to Matt Seattle for volume 4. These books are also available nicely bound from Pat Sky.

1805: Peacock's Favorite Collection of Tunes was the first book of music for the Northumbrian smallpipes, and gives us a snapshot of border music two hundred years ago. It's long out of print; this is a scan of Francis Wood's copy.

1828: The MacKie manuscript came down to us along with a fine pastoral set that's recently been on display in the piping museum in Glasgow. Here's part 1 and part 2.

1830: The Millar manuscript has settings for both the Northumbrian pipes (from page 1) and the union pipes (from page 29). The Montrose musician Robert Millar was given a set of union pipes, which had been made by Robert Reid, in 1830 after he left the army. This tune book of his has the earliest known arrangements for Union pipes with regulators. Here's pages 1-16, pages 17-32, pages 33-48, pages 49-64, pages 65-80, pages 81-96 and pages 97-123. Finally, there's a bio of Millar by Keith Sanger.

1840: Colclough's Tutor for the Irish pipes was published about 1840. Here are the introduction and the tunes, thanks to Ken MacLeod (whose copy it is) and Wilbert Garvin (who scanned and retouched it). There's also a picture of the author Dudley Colclough (whose name was apparently pronounced `Cockley').

1840: The Rook Manuscript, also from about 1840, contains over a thousand tunes collected for the Northumbrian pipes and other instruments. Start from the front page or the index (which is also available as a spreadsheet). Thanks to Anita and Rob Evans who scanned and indexed it, and to Matt Seattle whose copy she used.

1936: Tadhg Crowley's tutor dates from between the wars, when Irish piping almost died out. Here's the tutor and the tunes. His style owes a lot to the Highland pipes, which he learned first.

2006: Here's a manuscript of tune settings donated to this site by local piper Dickie Deegan.

The tunes in the above manuscripts were generally played on pastoral pipes until the late 18th century, then union pipes (the name given to the instrument as the foot joint was abandoned and the number of regulators increased from one to three). The instrument became known as the uilleann pipes with the Gaelic revival in the early 20th century. The first three sources - Geoghegan, the Advocates' manuscript and the Sutherland manuscript - let us track the evolution of the music during this transition. The McKie manuscript is the last pastoral source known to us. Finally, the Millar manuscript supports the hypothesis that regulators increased in number to three after the Napoleonic war in order to provide accompaniment to dance music. Except where noted otherwise, the above manuscripts are mostly thanks to Ken McLeod.

The Sean Reid Society is the club for people interested in the history, organology and musicology of the pastoral and early union pipes.

You can see pastoral pipes being played by Carlos Nunez here and by Remi Decker here: Carlos's tunes are from Geoghegan while Remi is playing modern tunes. In addition to the old instruments, reproduction sets have been made in recent years by Geert Lejeune, Jon Swayne, Chris Bayley and Brian McCandless. Finally, Duncan Gillis sells a foot joint that can extend modern uilleann chanters to play pastoral tunes.

Irish music recordings

Richard O'Mealy recorded ten tracks for the BBC in Belfast in 1943, in his uniquely staccato style. Here they are, thanks to the BBC archives folks and cleaned up by Ronan Browne. The tracks are O'Mealy's Hornpipe, Harvest Home, The Wheels of the World, The Blackbird, Drops of Brandy, The Sligo Lasses, Smash the Windows, The Donegal Reel, The Mountains of Pomeroy, and The Maids of Mourneshore. There's also a surviving film clip.

Seamus Ennis: Here are four acetate recordings Seamus made for an American friend in 1948. They are Salamanca, Lord Gordon's Reel and the Merry Blacksmith; The Bucks of Oranmore and The Sligo Maid's Lament; Paddy O'Rafferty and the Reverend Brother's Jig; and The Groves.

There are mp3s taken from old 78s of Patsy Touhey playing The Maid on the Green, Jackson's Jig and Give us a Drink of Water; of him playing Drowsy Maggie, Scottish Mary and the Flogging Reel; and of Michael Carney playing The Jolly Tinker. Phil Martin plays The Greencastle Hornpipe, The Quarrelsome Piper and The Cork Hornpipe, and The Cup of Tea and The Flogging Reel. Seamus O'Broin plays The Green Groves of Erin and a hornpipe. There is a performance of An bheann do bhi cheana againn (My Former Wife) probably by Sergeant Early. Dinny Delaney plays The Repeal of the Union and The Old Hag at the Kiln; and Bean air Tir air Urlar ag Obair and The Geese in the Bog.

Uilleann cylinders: Here are three old cylinder recordings of the uilleann pipes. The first two are of Bernard Delaney playing in Chicago in 1898: the tracks are Colonel Taylor's, or the Beauty Spot, and The Cook in the Kitchen. The third track is the last of the old-school Kerry pipers, Mici `Cumbaw' O'Sullivan, playing fragments of Alasdrum's March - possibly a seventeenth-century piobaireachd lost to the Scots tradition but preserved in the Irish.

Irish fiddle: Here is Padraig O'Keeffe playing Caioneadh Ui Dhomhnall - the Lament for O'Donnell after the Battle of Kinsale, recorded in 1948 or 49.

Most of the 78s, plus the cylinder and the fiddle recordings, are courtesy of Ken MacLeod.

There are over a hundred old uilleann pipe recordings at, and still more at the Irish Traditional Music Archive. And probably the best collection of Patsy Tuohey's music is in the Dunn family collection.

I plan to put many more old tracks and books online, as time permits. (Email me any out-of-copyright stuff you think I might put up here!)


Sheet music: here are some links to online sites where you can download out-of-copyright or other public-domain sheet music.

A couple of my tunes were published in the RMMB book: a jig called The Chaffinch, and a pipe adaptation of the Cajun song Ou ce que t'es parti. I also wrote a jig, Dogmatix and the Bricklayer, which you can play on the highland pipes against A drones, on the Northumbrians against G drones or on the uilleans against D drones; it sounds quite different in each case.

I am concerned about the effect that the copyright lobby has had on traditional music; see here, for example, about how things developed in Ireland, and here for flamenco. I summed up the issues in a response I wrote to the EU's consultation on the collecting societies.

Finally, since I admitted in my EU response to having been a busker during my student days, there has emerged an embarrassing photo of me, on the Ku'damm in Berlin, aged about 20 (thanks to Francis Sim for identifying the location). I put it here to forestall the blackmailers!

My proper home page is here.