Re-extending the idiom

The Alt Pibroch Club began in May 2013 as a collaboration between David Hester and Barnaby Brown. The Club aims to expand contemporary pibroch interpretation by making challenging historical material easier to find, understand and integrate into musical performance. It has grown into a suite of three websites with a collaborative commons philosophy:

  1. Musical Materials – this site prioritizes written notations pre-1850 and audio recordings pre-1980, but will expand to include pibrochs composed more recently. (altpibroch.com)
  2. Learning Living Pibroch – a haven for discussion, performance, research and new creative directions. This site serves to stimulate understanding of the historical material, fueling insight in interpretation and inspiration in original music-making. (learning.altpibroch.com)
  3. Bibliography – this is the leading research database for published books on the bagpipe music of Britain and Ireland. (bibliography.altpibroch.com)

Most of the musical materials were online before the Alt Pibroch Club existed. Our mission has been to gather them together, to identify and fill the gaps, to connect them with the brightest scholarship, and to add new material (such as audio for Gaelic pronunciation) which makes the primary sources easier to find, explore and digest.

Our sites were designed with three audiences in mind:

  • Students and players – making it easier to discover the full breadth and depth of pibroch; not just for Highland pipers, but singers and players of other instruments such as clarsach, fiddle and lyre.
  • Competitors – making it easier to stand out from the crowd, adding something extra from the source materials that may be more authoritative or musically compelling than the stereotypical interpretation and thereby bring a competitive advantage.
  • Researchers (music, history, Gaelic language) – providing a reliable and comprehensive digital library that makes close study of the primary source materials (visual and audio) easier than ever before.

This collaborative enterprise has received generous support from several quarters, for which we are tremendously thankful. Please click the logos in the sidebar for more detail.

Membership is not required. All materials can be downloaded, reviewed, perused without the encumbrance of registration.

Welcome to the Alt Pibroch Club!

A few housekeeping notes

We publish the musical materials in two ways: under Notation by Pipers/Non-pipers, where you can explore the different tunes in each source, and under Explore by Tune, where you can explore the different sources for each tune and learn about the variant titles.

Every Tune page has as its title the 3-digit Piobaireachd Society catalogue number and a standardized English title that is unique. Below this are standardized Scottish Gaelic titles with audio pronunciation, and further down the page are source spellings and alternative titles. If your search results are unsatisfactory because we have omitted a variant title, then please let us know.

The Explore by Tune page lists every tune and most of the titles associated with each one before 1841 in Piobaireachd Society number order. This is good for browsing, but if you know what you are looking for then the best thing is to use the Search box in the sidebar. If “macleod” doesn’t work, try “mcleod”.

Most of the source pages under Notation by Pipers contain two lists: alphabetical (using source spellings) and numerical (in the sequence in which they appear in the source). Note that these titles often match neither our standardized tune title nor the title in the Piobaireachd Society Collection. We have tried to handle the organic, messy nature of transmission in a sensible way, presenting things as they exist immediately beside or underneath any interpretation or editorial tidying up.

Two source pages have a single list because they differ from other sources in consisting of short, mostly untitled excerpts: Joseph MacDonald’s treatise (J) and Angus MacKay’s specimens of canntaireachd (SC and CK). These two sources are used to illustrate our tune pages owing to their brevity and the fact that they frame the primary sources of pibroch chronologically.

The source pages under Notation by Non-Pipers also contain a single list. For these sources, we only list the pibrochs, whereas for sources under Notation by Pipers, we list the complete contents.

On our 313 tune pages, under Primary Sources, we give links to facsimiles of all pibroch sources written or published before 1841 in chronological order. The only gap we are aware of is Sir John McRa’s manuscript (c. 1824) which we hope to add soon. The process of identifying and filling gaps so that every link under Primary Sources is live and brings up the correct image was completed on 16 May 2016.

All PDFs and JPEGs may be downloaded for free for non-commercial playing and study uses. Our file naming convention is as follows:

[3-digit PS catalogue number]-[source]_[tune number in that source]-[Standardized_English_Name]

For example: 161-Dow_20-Duntroons_Warning.pdf

In this way, an alphabetical sorting of files will group different settings of the same tune together. You will frequently notice that the name given in an early source is completely different to the standardized English name. We have taken great pains to remove every obstacle to finding facsimile images of comprehensive musical evidence relating to every piece of music. In order to reduce the confusion that results from different tunes having the same title, a few of our standardized titles may be unfamiliar to you.

J David Hester
Barnaby Brown