Pipers' Ceilidh
at the Gaelic College,
St. Ann's, Cape Breton
(8 October 2006)

Last year, I didn't make it to the Pipers' Ceilidh, but this year I did, and I'm very glad. Out of all the concerts I saw at Celtic Colours, this was one of my favorites!

After an introduction from emcee, Martha Bennett, Ellen MacPhee, a very talented local piper, kicked off the show on her border pipes. The poor girl had no voice, but she still was in good spirit and gave an amazing performance. Accompanying her were Boyd and Ryan MacNeil on bouzouki and piano. After a bit of tuning (which happens often by pipers), they played a lively set of jigs, the last of which was by the infamous piper, Gordon Duncan.

To contrast the lively jigs, Ellen played a slow air next. I'm not sure if I heard her correctly, but I believe she said that she learned it from Benedict Colder, and she made him play the tune over and over so she could learn every note. From listening to her performance, I can say that it sounds like she is a very good student.

Following the air, she played a set of strathspeys and reels. This was my favorite set from her performance. The set started out with a tune called "Fifty Years of Bliss," and when the transition from strathspeys to reels happened, there were a lot of whoops from the audience. Then, Ellen topped her performance off with one more rousing set of reels.

Next up was a piper from the west side of the island, Ryan J. MacNeil, who was also playing border pipes and was accompanied by Boyd and Ryan. He, too, started off with some jigs, including the popular tune, "Oh, Dear! What Can the Matter Be?" Then he played some reels, which I found to be very interesting. The first tune was one that he wrote called "Realigning Wheels." Then he played a unique rendition of "The Contradiction." This was followed by "a fancy little D tune," as he put it, which turned out to be "Music for a Found Harmonium." This was fascinating to me because I had never heard it, or thought I would ever hear it, on the pipes. I was really into it.

After that, he picked up his whistle, which he made himself, and he played a waltz called "The Trip We Took Over the Mountain." (I think the name is longer than the tune, itself!) He followed this with another one of his own reels called "Schooner Lake."

Last, Ryan J. played some strathspeys and reels, to which his wife, Jennifer, came out and showed her steps. This set really impressed me as well, because it included the "Tullochgorum" in A (typically, it is in G), with all the variations. Then he played "Devil in the Kitchen" as a strathspey AND a reel.

Matt MacIsaac was next to take the stage. Playing Highland pipes, he began with some 6/8 marches, to which he marched across the stage. This, too, was very interesting; I liked it because it was nice to see someone carrying on a long-standing tradition. Matt was wearing the traditional attire, as well, which included a kilt that his mom made!

He followed the marches with a set that began with an air called "The Ocean Cycle." Then, he played some jigs and a typical Scottish set of marches, strathspeys and reels. After that, he pulled out something that isn't so traditional: his electric bagpipes! It is amazing how electric instruments can be made to sound just like the real thing. Either that, or Matt is just extremely talented, because he played some reels in E-flat (with Boyd MacNeil on bouzouki), which included "Farewell to Ireland."

Matt finished his set on the Highland pipes. I had to laugh because he announced he was going to play a "reel in 3." For those of you who don't play Celtic music, reels are typically in 4, which I had just finished explaining to a friend before Matt started his last set. He played "The Mason's Apron" in 3, with variations. It was another impressive performance.

After intermission came the one performer who was not from Cape Breton, but from Spain, Carlos Nunez. He is an extremely talented Galician piper, and after hearing him at the opening performance of the festival, I was really anxious to hear more. He was accompanied by another bouzouki player, and the sound was fascinating. I think there was a sustain pedal on the instrument, because the combination of the two instruments sounded somewhat like a pipe organ. The bass sounds of the instrument complemented the pipes really well.

Carlos also played various whistles. This kept things interesting because he was constantly changing instruments, sometimes right in the middle of a tune! No matter what instrument he played, the sound was always very clear and clean and he always looked like he was enjoying what he was doing. This performance was unique because it included Celtic music from various parts of the world, such as Japan, Britain, Cuba, Brazil and, of course, Galicia.

After our trip around the world, Carlos brought us back to Cape Breton with a set of reels including "Glass of Beer." The set kept getting faster and faster, so the audience was really into it.

To end the show, all of the pipers played a set of jigs together. I was overwhelmed by the amount of talent in this concert and would highly recommend seeing it if they have it again at this festival.

by Kaitlin Hahn
6 January 2007