Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I’ve noticed that the third part of Highland pipe marches is usually played a little softer and gently than the first two and is then followed by a more “rousing” final part(4).

I’m assuming that this has to do with the part of the military aspect of the pipe band tradition and, possibly, represents a more cautious or slightly covert(even) stage of the march before the final onslaught or entry into battle.

Of course, many modern day tunes aren’t really about battles but, perhaps, this style of playing has just continued because it sounds “Musically” right. Maybe too, of course, it has always just been a musical ploy and I’m overthinking things?

I’m not a piper, as you’ve probably guessed, but I’ve noticed we also have to do this at fiddle rallies/concerts and such. I don’t hear much of this in sessions, however, and it’s not something I generally do in my normal playing. Should I?
It’s also not something which most modern pipers would do regularly in a band performance (Trad/folk group as opposed to pipe band) with other musicians either although anything might go these days in these situations.

Anyway, I was hoping to hear from some GHP players and pipers in general. Also, players of any instruments who enjoy playing pipe marches. I’m interested to know how this “tradition” developed and whether or not it’s something you do yourselves. Or is it only confined to the pipe band and/or certain other special performances?

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

As far as I’m aware, Johnny, bagpipes can’t play softly but I know what you mean.

For marches in A, I’ve noticed that the second part often goes up to high A (paradoxically a quieter note) before the third part pulls things back a bit by centring on the third of the scale (C#) and generally avoiding the high A. Then in the fourth part you get more high As again for the big finish.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

“bagpipes can’t play softly ”

Right enough, I hadn’t thought of that. It certainly sounds a little more “low key” on the third part though for the reasons you suggest.
When we’re doing fiddle concerts though, we are expected to play the third part quieter and it is usually arranged as such. This may be a more unique practice among large fiddle groups, of course though and the difference in pipe bands may be more subtle.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Here are some examples of 2/4 and 6/8 marches on site that exhibit this phenomenon, with the starting phrases of the 3rd and 4th parts:

The Conundrum(https://thesession.org/tunes/4784):
3rd part: e2|A>Bc2 A>Bc<A|c<eA>B c2
4th part: a2|f>ea>e f2e<a|f2e<a f>ea

George McHardy(https://thesession.org/tunes/11216):
3rd part: a2|c2e<f c2B<A|f>ed<f e2
4th part: f>g|a2a>e c2B<A|f>ed<f e2

Tommy MacDonald of Barguillean(https://thesession.org/tunes/20581):
3rd part: A>B|c>Bc<e A2f>e|c>Bc<e f2
4th part: a>g|a>ff<e f2a>g|a>ee<c e2

Farewell to the Creeks(https://thesession.org/tunes/4795):
3rd part: a|c3 d2f|c<ec c>BA|
4th part: e|a2e f2a|e2f e>cA|

The Bonawe Highlanders(https://thesession.org/tunes/10120):
3rd part: |c>Bc A>AA|e>cA c>BA|
4th part: |a>ea g>fe|f<af e>cA|

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

It’s not something I’d ever been aware of or consciously done, although I do enjoy playing pipe marches and my instruments can play quieter if instructed to do so! Thinking of the 3rd part of “Atholl Highlanders”, I would say that’s far from quiet or restrained with that “punch in” on the top A!

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I don’t know much about the finer points of Scottish music but this seems like a fairly generic musical device – drop down in the penultimate part in order to give the final part more impact. Perhaps it has just arbitrarily become the ‘formula’ for pipe marches (when played on instruments other than the pipes).

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Maybe it’s cos folk can’t remember how the third part goes?

I can’t say it’s something I’m particularly aware of, as a piper, but the third part is typically where the busy bottom hand stuff is. From a fiddle perspective, the natural response to that is maybe to use short bows and for the volume to fall off a little. And after a while this becomes “how it is done”…

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Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

“…but the third part is typically where the busy bottom hand stuff is.”

Yes, the lower pitches give the impression that the dynamics are pulled back but I would have to say that deliberately pulled back dynamics are not my playing experience “for pipe marches (when played on instruments other than the pipes)”, certainly not in sessions. We just give it laldy all the way through.

As soon as you bring in arbitrary dynamics for pipe tunes it becomes an “arrangement”, in my humble opinion - fine for the stage but not really appropriate in a session.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Totally outside the ¨tradition¨, but brass marching bands, and mainstream military marches in general are formulaic in nature. The universally recognized ´Colonel Bogey´s March´ pretty much follows this format. The opening statement, followed by what is often called ´the dog-fight´, followed by a somewhat subdued ´trio obbligato´, and finishing with a reprise of the initial theme. On the American side, this three part with a reprise formula is almost mandatory as codified by John Philip Sousa, ´The March King´. His famous ´Stars and Stripes Forever´ is the universal template.

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Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

“I’ve noticed that the third part of Highland pipe marches is usually played a little softer and gently than the first two and is then followed by a more “rousing” final part(4)”. Where ?
I’d be very surprised if you could post an example of any piper or pipe band doing this.

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Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Maybe it’s just a “fiddle thing” at rallies and so on.
I don’t encounter it at sessions and most other situations.

Also, as Donald suggests, it’s not that easy for pipers to play quietly.
However, I assumed it would have been carried over from the piping tradition in some way.

I’ll try to locate some examples later today.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I think it’s highly likely to be a fiddle rally affectation. Bagpipes have no dynamic control. The only way a pipe band could get quieter would be to move further away from the listeners (or have some pipers drop out).

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I haven’t been aware of pipe bands doing this but if they did the volume of the band is controlled by the drum corps.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Yes, I should maybe have said “some times” rather than “usual” or “often” and I had been making assumptions that the practice had come from the piping tradition itself.
To be fair, I’ve not seen pipe bands do this either but I thought, like Donald suggests, some pipers might just drop out. Apparently though, this doesn’t happen.

I’m struggling to find even fiddle examples now but, please take my word, many large fiddle groups do this. 😉

Oh, here’s one example although there’s probably a few more obvious ones out there.
Tune one..
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3l628aL_Ds&ab_channel=ElginStrathspey%26ReelSociety-Topic

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I wouldn’t say the fiddles are playing any less quietly there, it’s just that the accompaniment drops out (and coming in a bit too randomly for my liking).

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

“Maybe it’s cos folk can’t remember how the third part goes?”

This is me all the time, especially with Highland pipe marches where all the parts kinda sound the same. ;)

But seriously, it’s more than “not that easy” for pipers to play quietly; it’s impossible. Like Donald said, you have zero dynamic control.

These trad fiddle orchestras do all sorts of weird things with arrangements and dynamics, but that’s not what people do in (most) sessions or pipe bands.

I say most, because I was playing in a very fiddley session somewhere (Edinburgh?), and mid-set, someone gave a signal, then all the fiddlers dimenuendoed (can that be a verb?) and played a part of the tune really softly. I, of course, could not do this and dropped out, thinking, really?

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I see what you mean about the accompaniment dropping out, Donald.
Here’s another example of the same
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kD-7ArJ1wyQ&ab_channel=TheScottishFiddleOrchestra-Topic


From my experiences, the fiddles generally play a little more gently too but, maybe, it’s just a case of “holding back slightly” rather than anything too deliberate.

Of course, the above is a “fiddle march” as opposed to a pipe march. 😉

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

I’m not a (Highland) piper, so I can’t comment on that tradition, but I do know that it’s common in the (at least Welsh) hymnal world to have a quieter verse somewhere in the middle, presumably to increase that dynamic range and make the last verse all the more powerful.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Oh that brings back Episcopal memories, Piwomir!

The penultimate verse sung somewhat softly, followed by a solo organ improvisation, the organist showing off his skill by difting to ever further-away keys, and as he got closer and closer to the beginning of the final verse, only two bars left! only one! and us wondering how on earth he will be able to modulate back to the home key in time, only to pull off a brilliant cliffhanger modulation and land perfectly on the first note of the final verse in the right key, the full power of the organ resounding through the small old field-stone church, the Sopranos’ glorious descant added to that of the Baroque piccolo trumpet.

Re: Why is the third part of a pipe march often played softly?

Lovely, Richard! Last off topic response: I also love the technique of slowing down before rapidly speeding up again, as in the last verse (Dyma sylfaen gadarn gref…) of this version of the hymn Llanfair https://youtu.be/3qMQL7vnAeA


I wonder if similar things are done in pipe bands.