Clarence Valley Independent

Pipers set to pibroch in Maclean

“The sound of bagpipes, it’s in your blood; the skirl of the pipes raises the hairs on the back of your neck,” is a quote many bagpipers relate to. It’s in Alister Smith’s blood; so much so that he’s organising an opportunity for people to hear the classical music of the great Highland bagpipes at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Maclean on Saturday November 30. Image: Geoff Helisma

Geoff Helisma|

From 5.30pm to 7.30pm on Saturday November 30 the glorious acoustics of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Maclean will resonate with the sound of bagpipes played by some of Australia’s best exponents of the art.

And they’ll be playing pibroch or piobaireachd, which are Gaelic musical terms associated primarily with the Scottish Highlands.

“The word ‘piobaireachd’ literally means pipe playing or pipe music, but is now used to describe the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe,” says the UK-based Piobaireachd Society.

“Another name for it is ‘ceòl mòr’, meaning the big music, which separates piobaireachd from all other forms of pipe music (marches, reels, jigs, etc), which are referred to as ‘ceòl beag’ – the little music.”

“It’s ancient and sacred music,” says Maclean and District Pipe Band president Alister Smith, “mostly written between 1500 and 1850.

“Six pipers are set to play their ceòl mòr.”

Alister says the event was prompted by “Alistair Wallace, who commented to Alastair McInnes on the beauty of the church’s sound at his brother Jack’s wedding about 15 years ago”.

“Denis Browning, who has won the ‘R. U. Brown’ gold medal, the leading pibroch contest in Australia, was the first piper asked to play,” says Alister.

“His mum was involved in the parish; she taught me religion at St Joseph’s.

“When my uncle, Colin McSwan [from Grafton], who was a pipe major, passed away, I set up a fund – the Pipe Major Colin McSwan Memorial Fund – to promote pipe music.

“I want to continue my uncle’s legacy as a teacher of many pipers here and for the things pipe music has personally done for me – I want to share the benefits of the music with other people.”

The other pipers are Stuart Easton from New Zealand, who won the R.U. Brown in 2018, Alastair McInnes, who won in 2010, and Andrew Roach (Brisbane), Robert Gibb (Sunshine Coast) and Tom McGirr (Ipswich).

So what is it about ceòl mòr that feeds Alister Smith’s enthusiasm?

“The music is very…” Alister pauses for a moment to think, “…the music has a sound of reaching towards God.”

The event is free; however, gold coin donations are encouraged.

“Any money raised will be given to the Our House charity in Lismore, which has supported members of the piping community who needed their services,” Alister says.

Our House – a joint project by the Northern Rivers Community Cancer Foundation and Our Kids – is purpose built accommodation for patients, carers and their families who are receiving treatment at the cancer unit at Lismore.

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