Classical Bagpipe Music, Old and New

A recital of early Gaelic bagpipe music with new compositions
Featuring Matthew Welch, Highland Bagpipes,
with works for string quartet and organ by Welch and Robinson McClellan

Dwight Chapel, Yale Old Campus, New Haven, CT
March 30, 2007


This concert introduces pibroch—the rarely heard seventeenth-century art music of the Highland Bagpipes—to a wider audience. Currently performed and appreciated almost entirely within an insular competition circuit, this sophisticated and hypnotic music from the golden age of Gaelic-speaking Scotland is due for a comeback. By presenting the music in concert rather than competition, we join a growing network of performers who have attracted audiences of hundreds to pibroch recitals in Europe and elsewhere.

The second purpose of the concert is to showcase pibroch’s potential as a creative resource for composers. The string quartet work by Welch and the organ piece by McClellan were both informed by pibroch, and there is a considerable body of pibroch-related works in the classical repertory. We hope to show that this music, and the ancient compositional formulae and structures it uniquely preserves, can provide a wealth of new musical resources for creative musicians working today.

For more information about pibroch, visit:,, and

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Visit Robinson McClellan at

This concert was made possible with the support of the Bulldog Pipes and Drums, the McDougal Center at Yale, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music,
and the Yale Graduate and Professional Student Senate

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Matthew Welch performing the pibroch The Battle of the Pass of Crieff
with photos by Robin McClellan (duration 14 min.)

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all performances are by Matthew Welch unless noted
composers are indicated in parentheses

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Air and Jigs (Welch)

Nameless, Yogic Flying Glen, Keen John, P-Vone Zone, Mrs. A. Gordon - Eskbank House - Inverness.
An extemporaneous air and four jigs written about four people and the way they moved whilst innebriated. ~Welch

Piobaireachd: The Clan Campbell's Gathering (Trad.)

This is one of the first piobaireachds I learned. Its minimal and repetitive nature is characteristic
of tunes played outdoors in order to collect a community for various purposes. ~Welch

Traditional March, Strathspey and Reel (Trad.)

John MacDonald of Glencoe, The Piper's Bonnet, Fiona Macleod. These tunes are designed to move the body
forward, vertically, in vectors and spins, abstractly stylized in the tunes by their cut rhythms. ~Welch

Piobaireachd: The Battle of the Pass of Crieff (Trad.)

The Battle of the Pass of Crieff was not a battle, but simply a skirmish between excisemen supported by the army and a gang of freebooters about 1730. The other name for this tune is The Laird of Coll's Barge and is a more suitable name since the tune is a rowing tune or "iorram." The term "barge" is quite misleading in describing a very fast and manoeuvrable "birlinn" or galley. These birlinns were propelled by long oars or sweeps with three men on each oar, one pushing, two pulling. The bow oar was the "stroke", the one who sets the timing, and this timing, which is of paramount importance, would be helped by the piper or by all the oarsmen singing. ~Roderick Ross in Binneas is Boreraig

Gorgamor the Giant Gecko (Welch 2005)

Bordering on the forms of a highland hornpipe and Balinese kotekan, this tune is for the foot-long gecko that shared my bathroom in Bali... ~Welch

Traversing Mad-hatten / Blues for Seraut (Welch 1999/2000)

A modular network with limited sequential parameters that stamps a salient sameness within mutable materials from performance to performance, segues into Blues for Seraut, a new look at pointillism. ~Welch

Organ Mass
(McClellan 2005)
Alistair Nelson, organ

I. Mercy

(this performance excludes the second movement)
III. Believing

IV. Hosanna

V. Peace

Commissioned and premiered by Carson Cooman. Not many settings of the Roman Mass have been written for organ since the 17th century; before that, they were most often short versets, based on plainchant, which sometimes replaced sung verses of the mass. Since an instrumental setting does not explicitly use the text, I was able to reference the texts only in a general way: the mood of each movement corresponds loosely to one concept from each of the five main texts of the mass ordinary: Kyrie = “Mercy,” Gloria = “Glory,” Credo = “Believing,” Sanctus/Benedictus = “Hosanna,” and Agnus Dei = “Peace.” Musically, the piece borrows an early 18th-century piobaireachd (or ‘pibroch’) known as The Fingerlock (named for being especially difficult to play on the pipes). A portion of the original melodic theme stands out prominently in the first movement against a drone. The other four movements are also variations on the underlying pitch structure of the original tune (pibrochs are structured around a repeating pitch sequence): B-B-B-B, A-B-A-A, B-B-A-A, G-G-G-G. The second melody heard in the final movement—‘Peace’— may sound familiar, though it is the first time it has been heard in the piece: it is a well-known lullaby about feeling peaceful. ~McClellan

Siubhal Turnlar for string quartet (Welch)
Miki-Sophia Cloud and Jihye Chung, violins; Jacob Adams, viola, and Estelle Choi, cello

Movt. i

Movt. vii

This piece is a sort of crossroads of ideas. The Gaelic term siubhal (pronounced shu-al) means most literally to move. Not only does this piece move through various sound worlds, siubhal is also the name of a very common type of variation within a bagpipe piobaireachd (pibroch) composition. This type of variation first puts into rhythmic motion the salient, or abstracted melodic components of a preceding slow air, or urlar (meaning ground, or floor of a composition). Isolating the main pitch features of the urlar, a siubhal also introduces passing tones to add power to the motion. This "turning" effect created by additional tones folded into the backbone of an air brings a unique color to the siubhal as a distinct variation. The use of turning, or siubhal-like process to an urlar (merged into one term T-ur-n-lar) is the basic mode of operation of this composition. This compositional methodology is extrapolated from observations of all types of Gaelic music and curiously enough, South East Asian ensemble musics. In Gaelic music, this variation process is usually composed of a linear sequence of "cycles" of homophonic nature, whereas in South East Asian traditions such as Balinese and Javanese Gamelans, or Thai Court music and Burmese Hsaing Waing, the concept is often presented simultaneously and vertically in a heterophonic texture. Throughout this piece, bagpipe melodies and interlocking Gamelan principles fold into each other in a unique symbiosis, the combination yielding an undiscovered, fictional world music tradition. ~Welch

Encore tune

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Pipes at Yale 1

Pipes at Yale 2

Pipes at Yale 3

Pipes at Yale 4

Pipes at Yale 5

Pipes at Yale 6



the concert flyer… 3-30-07, 6pm, Dwight Chapel at Yale