SMG Whistle and FluteFling: The Chanter’s Song

Irish piperThis week’s tune is The Chanter’s Song, an Irish march to compare with the Scottish marches we learned last term and also Egan’s Polka, another Irish tune in 2/4 time.

This is an interesting tune for a number of reasons. I first came across it in the 1980s as a tune suitable for beginner fiddlers, but also in Robin Williamson’s Penny Whistle Book, which is highly recommended and is available through a number of outlets, including The Flow Amazon shop.

Alan Ng’s website has an excellent database of traditional music recordings and Bibliography with some other references for the tune. There aren’t many recordings of it and I haven’t heard it played in sessions for a good number of years. Perhaps it is due a revival.

The Traditional Tune Archive that has evolved out of Andrew Kuntz’s excellent Fiddler’s Companion website indicates it was first published by Bunting in 1840.

There are some slight variations in the title, but the Chanter in question is the melody-playing part of the bagpipes. The tune is also found in more than one key. Our setting fits the Highland pipes and it is worth pointing out that the Highland pipes are played in Ireland as well as the uilleann pipes (roughly pronounced “illen”, meaning ‘elbow’), sometimes called union pipes because of their design. These latter pipes are bellows blown and for a period were also played in Scotland, where of course there are other types of “cauld wind” pipes.

From a whistle and flute perspective, the uilleann pipes are in D and play over two octaves, so much of the decoration and repertoire is very accessible to us.

The tune itself is beguiling. Closing phrases merge into opening ones, for example and only resolve at the end of the part. I think that a key to ensuring it doesn’t all unravel is to keep the rhythm secure. I have never heard it played fast (the entry in the Traditional Tune Archive lists it as a number of different tune types, including “listening piece”), so playing it slower than usual will help.

Reminder: while the Scots Music Group classes continue as usual this week, the FluteFling classes take a break and resume on the following dates:

  • Thu 31 January: Improvers
  • Thu 07 February: Beginners

Tradfest news: unfortunately I won’t be putting on a flute and whistle workshop as part of Tradfest this year due to time constraints.

Photo: Uilleann Piper by Alessandro Ferese, some rights reserved.

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