Our piping heritage in all its wealth and detail

Our piping heritage in all its wealth and detail

by Christopher Anderson
article from Wednesday 12, December, 2012

Book review: When Piping was Strong by Joshua Dickson (2006, Birlinn) paperback £25.00, and Piping Traditions of the Isle of Skye, by Bridget Mackenzie (2012, John Donald) paperback £25.00

JOSHUA DICKSON'S book, When Piping Was Strong, provides an in depth social history of the pipers and music produced by the Gaelic speaking, southern Outer Hebridean island of South Uist. The author, examines and discusses in great detail the evolution of island music and the contribution made to local culture by pipers and present.

The concentration of historical fact suggests that is not designed for, and is unlikely to attract, the more casual reader who is likely to be anticipating more local anecdotes and a greater digression into folklore. It is, however, an impressive and valuable scholarly study which will be of great assistance to all who have an interest in the island culture and, in particular, in the history of piping.

The fourth of Bridget Mackenzie's notable series of books on pipers and piping traditions, deals with the Isle of Skye. The great wealth of material available fully justifies the author's decision to devote this, her latest book, solely to the island.

Much of the book deals with the history of the legendary MacCrimmon and MacArthur pipers and their pupils and peers. The relating investigation into the who, what, when and where of the various great old composers and their compositions is most intriguing, as are the author's speculations and conclusions on the subject.

As we have come to expect from the previous books of the series, as well as dealing in great detail with the pipers of Skye and their music, the book is chock-full of entertaining, fascinating and often amusing island anecdotes.

Although clearly a scholarly work by an expert in her field, this book is by no means stuffy or merely a plodding academic exercise. The author's light and conversational style of writing creates, and maintains throughout, a strong rapport with the reader. The book is a most welcome and worthy addition to her previous impressive work and will appeal to all with an interest in piping.

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