John D. Burgess. MBE 1934 - 2005.
John D Burgess is a phenomenon in the world of piping. At the age of four he began to take an interest in playing when his father made a scaled-down practice chanter for him. When he was ten he went for lessons to the legendary Pipe Major William Ross at Edinburgh Castle, and from this his rise was meteoric. From being an infant prodigy he beacame a boy genius, whose playing in juvenile competitions brought professional pipers in large numbers into the audience.
In 1950, at the age of sixteen, he started his professional career - and started at the top. In his first appearance he won the Gold Medals for piobaireachd playing at both the Argyllshire Gathering, Oban, and the Northern Meeting, Inverness, an achievement never before dreamed of and never likely to be equalled. In addition he won the march at Oban, the strathspey and reel at Inverness, and several other prizes, making him easily the most successful competitor at these two premier meetings. Since then he has won all the major awards, many of them several times.
In 1952 he was invited, with Pipe Major William Ross, to visit Canada and the United States, and this tour carried the legend of his brilliance to a wide and appreciative audience. He then spent some time in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders before joining the famous Edinburgh Police Pipe Band, of which he eventually became pipe major. Later he moved to the Invergordon Distillery Band when this amazing "band of talents" was formed. After two years - when this interesting experiment was discontinued - he decided to stay in the North, where the atmosphere seemed more conducive to the maturing of his ability. There he had further help in piobaireachd interpretation from the old master Angus MacPherson, whose piping is two generation straight from the MacCrimmons.
With the years his playing has matured, yet his fingers have lost little of their dexterity which amazed his public a quarter of a century ago. His mastery of ceol mor, the classical music of the bagpipe, is evident in his delicate interpretation of The Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod, a sixteenth century MacCrimmon composition. The swing in his march playing, the deft touch in strathspey and reels, the breathtaking expertness of his jigs and hornpipes, all combined to make him one of the best all-round competing pipers of his time.
The music for the Highland Bagpipes can be divided into three distinct classes - ceol mor, the great music, ceol meadhonach, middle music:, and ceol aotrom, light music. Ceol mor, or piobaireachd, is the classical music of the bagpipe. It consists of a ground or theme followed by variations on the theme. It is played quite slowly, except in some of the final passages. The tunes are often laments, although not always - salutes, battles, descriptive pieces are also common. It is the oldest type of pipe music which we have, dating back at least to the fifteenth century. Ceol meadhonach, also played by the ancient masters, comprises two types of tunes - slow airs and jigs, both of which have their use and importance. The slow airs were (and are) songs without words, enjoyed particularly by the non-piobaireachd enthusiast. Naturally this is the area in which the singer and the piper found most common ground, and tunes were frequently exchanged between the two cultures. Jigs probably originated basically as exercises for the fingers, for there is no tradition of the Scottish jig as a dance - certainly not in the Highlands. The tunes themselves are always attractive, but it is the intimacy of the fingering which mainly appeals to both listener and performer.
Ceol aotrom was almost unknown at the beginning of the last century, but now it makes up by far the greatest part of all pipe music. The requirements of the army gave rise to the 6/8 and 2/4 marches, and these soon became very popular. Elaboration of these was automatic by men raised on the technique of piobaireachd, and eventually the "competition type" march gained popularity among pipers second only to that of the big music. There are several excellent examples of these on this record.
Strathspeys and reels also began on the pipes as functional music, purely as accompaniment to dancing. Soon, however, the inevitable desire of pipers to display their fingering skills asserted itself, and these two became demonstration pieces - important to the piper, although often quite unsuited to the dances after which they were named.
Most recent addition to the piper's repertoire is the hornpipe. Here again the player is mainly concerned with pyrotechnics and displays of fingering skill, and, for that reason, these tunes were frowned upon by many of the players of a generation ago. Their popularity is undeniable, and nowadays we look on them as an exciting development of pipe music, showing that man's ingenuity knows no bounds, especially when applied to the music of the great Highland Bagpipe…………………..
Details about John D Burgess from sleevenotes to the CD King of the Highland Bagpipes. Written by Seumas MacNeill in 1976.
John D Burgess died on 29th June 2005 after a lengthy battle with complications resulting from an automobile crash near his home in Invergordon, Scotland. He was 72.
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