Och, the bagpipes, “those deep and plaintive sounds which have done much to imprint upon the characters of those who hear them a melancholy and resigned despair,” as Stephen Leacock wrote long ago. Composition N. 247 is McBraxton’s long piece for a trio o’ bagpipes (Matthew Welch) an’ twa multiwoodwind tooters (James Fei an’ the composer), an’ ’tis near minimalist. It consists o’ an almost endless, fast, unison line (circular breathing) skirling o’er the bagpipe drone. The line is a wee quarter-note phrase, at first five beats long, played o’er an’ o’er again; wee variations i’ the repetitions continually alter the phrase. Every few minutes a laddie improvises for a minute or so, under or aboon the unison; very rarely, the bagpipe lays out briefly, as at 49 minutes when McBraxton breaks into a bonny 90-second alto solo. In fact, the bare handful o’ times when he plays fierce, staccato, rhythmically contrary passages are maun welcome, amid au the lang repetitions.
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