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The Balkan Hills (third part)

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  • The Balkan Hills (third part)

    This is one of those tunes I've played for years having osmoted it rather than learnt it, so it's taken me until now to realise there are two completely different third parts floating around.

    Although not much seems to be known about it, or the composer, a J Gillan, I understand it's a WWI composition connected to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, and as far as I know it was first published in a fairly obscure collection by Willie Gray and John Seton in 1922 (without attribution). I don't have access to that one, and the next publication of the tune seems to have been in the early fifties. The Scots Guards has a third part going down to a taorluath on low A, and the Master Method by James Robertson and D.S. Ramsey [was this the pipe-maker Robertson or 'the Creeks' Robertson?] has a part going from an anacrusis A to a D, a big difference. This last is what I play, and what I've always heard dance bands play.

    The only other evidence to hand is the Standard Settings of the Queen's Own Highlanders, who list Gillan as a Cameron, and give the third part as per the Scots Guards.

    So where did the difference come from? Who's 'right'?
    http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
    -- Formerly known as CalumII

  • #2
    Originally posted by Calum View Post
    Although not much seems to be known about it, or the composer, a J Gillan, I understand it's a WWI composition connected to the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign
    Salonika Campaign, not Galipoli.

    Originally posted by Calum View Post
    So where did the difference come from? Who's 'right'?
    Define ‘right’?
    In piping circles, the term ‘correct setting’ means what’s written in the Willie Ross or Scots Guards books. Anything else (including what the original composer actually wrote) is not correct. (Hence the expression “play it as it was written”, meaning “play the correct setting”)

    Given that Corporal James Gillan served with 2nd Bn QOCH - a parent regiment of the QOH, one might assume that QOH had an original score, especially given that the QOH collection contains another (otherwise unpublished) tune by him, but the army started moving to standardise settings across the regiments in the 1940s so chances are, QOH simply copied the ‘correct’ setting.

    The 1953 Master Method tutor was an update (presumably by DSR) of Robertson’s (Royal Scots/pipemaker not Gordons/FTC) 1925 rev 1945 tutor. I don’t have access to an index for that original tutor, but assuming Balkan Hills was in it then the Master Method version predates the SG one by a good few years.

    You may be surprised to learn that SG settings of tunes in all three volumes rarely follow the originals. SG settings gather grips and taorluaths the way Liberace gathered sequins.

    As an aside – there’s another much nicer 2/4 quickstep from Salonika that’s still not made it into the piping books 100 years on. Donald Mackay of Upper Barvas was dedicated to a gunner from the Ross Mountain Battery awarded the Serbian Gold Medal for Valour (think VC) during that campaign (where the Battery was posted after serving through the whole of Galipoli).

    Cheers
    Scratch

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    • #3
      Haha, yes, there was a reason I put the word right in inverted commas! There's a great line in the preface to the fifth edition - "no claim is made that the settings are the authentic ones".

      I just find it an odd change to make - I've nothing against editing tunes, quite heavily if I think it's merited, but in this case it's composing a different third part.

      That's interesting on the Master Method, I hadn't realised there was a predecessor. Cannon's bibliography says the music was completely reset for the Master Method, so we can't be completely sure. I'll see if I can find someone with a copy of Seton's book or the original tutor.

      (and thanks for the information on Gilan himself - I didn't even know his first name. Do you know if there's anything recorded about him anywhere?)
      http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
      -- Formerly known as CalumII

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      • #4
        PS if it's the tune I'm thinking of, I think the reason Donald MacKay of Upper Barvas isn't in the piping books is because it has a low F!
        http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
        -- Formerly known as CalumII

        Comment


        • #5
          I have a copy of the Robertson/ Seton edition somewhere but can’t lay my hand on it immediately. To the best of my recollection, the differences between this and the revised ‘Master Method’ are mainly cosmetic e.g. typeface and some “modernisation” of the way some execution is depicted.

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          • #6
            I don't know the tune, but have enjoyed the conversation. Regarding a tune, a simple answer of what's "right" would be what the composer intended (and I'm excepting when there is an unintended error). However, on the very few tunes I've composed, I've had knowledgeable friends suggest some changes (which I've heard and made). The changes were not my original intention; but they made the tune (more) "right". I've also made changes to other composers' tunes; and in a couple cases, was told that they'd originally written it that way, but changed it back before publishing. Which was right, and what was intended? I also heard Bob Worrall play a tune he'd composed, and it was different from what was published. When I asked him about it, he said that he often modifies what he'd written when he plays.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Calum View Post
              thanks for the information on Gilan himself - I didn't even know his first name. Do you know if there's anything recorded about him anywhere?
              David Murray (ex QOCH) mentioned Gillan briefly in something he wrote somewhere about the tune, but damned if I can find it again.
              Originally posted by Calum View Post
              I think the reason Donald MacKay of Upper Barvas isn't in the piping books is because it has a low F
              I’ve heard the fourth bar played with a low F by a couple of fiddle players, but this is how I got it, and it works fine. Like Balkan Hills it was probably written as a schottische/quickstep and migrated into a march.
              barvas.jpg
              Cheers
              Scratch
              Scratcher
              Forum Silver Medal
              Last edited by Scratcher; 01-10-2022, 05:09 PM.

              Comment


              • #8
                Well, I posted a query over on bookface and the Pipers and Drummers group came up trumps, with copies of the tune from both the books in question.

                Here is Grey/Seton (1922):

                Screenshot from 2022-01-13 14-06-09.png
                And here is Robertson's Tutor:

                Screenshot from 2022-01-13 14-07-12.png

                Not really much further forwards!

                Speculatively: the 1922 version is simpler in content and technique and to me it's very much a pre-war playing style. It also has a different fourth part, again slightly simpler and more conventional.

                Robertsons setting is technically more complex, though there are more unplayable errors in the setting (things like G gracenotes following a high A, for example), and added variation.

                If I was going to bet, I would guess the 1922 setting is as close to Gillan's original as we can get, and the setting in Robertson's is due to the effect of MSR competition encouraging players to write and play more complex versions of pre-existing tunes, but unless a MS in Gillan's hand were to turn up, I don't think we will find out much more about this!
                http://www.callingthetune.co.uk
                -- Formerly known as CalumII

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