“The Northwest Collection”

Used by permission from the author Channing Dodson, who wrote this as an unsolicited post on Chiff & Fipple.

The other day, I was in Powell’s Books on SE Hawthorne in Portland, Oregon and amongst the hot new releases from Stieg Larsson, Gary Shteyngart, Michael Chabon, and Michael Pollan was a prominently-displayed yet highly incongruous volume that I would not normally expect to find in a major bookstore: “The Northwest Collection of Music for the Scottish Highland Bagpipe–A Collection of Music, Photographs, and Essays Composed, Selected, and Edited by John G. Dally.”

I’ve never met John Dally, but I’ve heard a lot about him. Back in the mid-1990s when I was just starting on the Highland pipes, he and my first teacher, Jay Salter, were instrumental in bringing pipers like Hamish Moore and Anna Murray over to the West Coast of the US for workshops. It was experiences like those that very early on in my piping career set me on a course of taking an interest in older Scottish and Cape Breton tunes, learning Gaelic, and studying “alternative” ceòl mór with masters like Jimmy MacColl and Allan MacDonald.

I first took an interest in learning bagpipes when I was a kid in Tacoma, WA, but I didn’t actually get started properly until I moved to Santa Cruz, CA some years later. Little did I know at the time that the Northwest had such a rich tradition of piping that went back so far. Dally’s essays on the history of piping in the region are utterly fascinating. I had no idea that D.C. Mather wound up homesteading in Montana, or that Gaels like Donald and John Sutherland, Colin MacRae, and Alistair MacMillan had had such a formative and influential impact on piping in the area. The idea that Alistair MacMillan was working at the old Asarco smelter just a mile or so up the road from where I grew up and teaching older-style settings of piobaireachd decades before I was born was quite a surprise. There are also some wonderful old photographs scattered throughout the book.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned any of the music yet. There are a number of fantastic old tunes from Highland collections, Cape Breton tunes from Barry Shears, tunes by Donald and John Sutherland, and and some very good new tunes by Kevin Auld, Barry Shears, Paul Cranford, Jerry Holland, Anna Murray, and Dally himself.

There haven’t been that many new collections of pipe tunes that I’ve thought were worth the money lately. This one’s worth every penny.