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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - # 7, October, 2002



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

October, 2002:–

THEME: Northumbrian Bagpipes

SONG: "Wi' A Hundred Pipers"

DANCE: "The Durham Reel" – Northumbria (SE Scotland and NE England)

Q: What is a Reel?

Q: Where is Durham?

Q: What are Northumbrian Bagpipes?

Q: Where is Northumbria?

The tune for "Wi' A Hundred Pipers" ("The Durham Reel")
appears on Page 49, and an arrangement of "The Durham Reel"
is on Pages 65-74, of:

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2: The Violin in Major Keys
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

A: "Reel:
Dance, probably of Celtic origin, practised in northern countries of Europe, in which dancers stand face to face and perform figures of eight. Music is usually in quick 4/4 time and in regular 4 bar phrases." – Collins Gem Dictionary of Music (1980)

Scottish dance. It is danced by couples to the music of the bagpipe or fiddle. It may be a foursome, or eightsome, according to the number of couples in the dance. It is also popular in Ireland and Denmark." – Collins New Age Encyclopaedia.

Lively especially Scottish dance, usually of two couples in line and describing circular figures." – The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

A dance common in Scotland and Ireland (and a little used in North Yorkshire also, where it forms a part of the sword dance). It is one of the two national dances of Scotland, the other being the strathspey (q.v.); the strathspey is slow, whilst the reel is quick. It is danced by two couples, or sometimes more.

The music, like that of the strathspey, is in four-in-a-measure time, but unlike that of the strathspey, it is in a smoothly flowing rhythm. The Highland Fling is a particularly vigorous form of the Scottish reel. At the end of the 18th Century, an adaptation of the Scottish reel was popular in English ball-rooms.

The Irish reel is quicker than the Scottish.

Similar dances are common in other northern countries, and especially Scandinavian (e.g. the Halling, q.v.).

There is an American variety called the Virginia Reel which, it is said, is the same as the English Sir Roger de Coverly (q.v.)." –The Oxford Companion to Music

"The Durham Reel", though written in 6/8 time, is sometimes written in 12/8 time (i.e. 2 measures (bars) run into 1 measure), and, being quick, has a feel of 4 (dotted crotchet) beats to a measure (bar).

You can find the (Scottish) Bagpipe Melody for "Wi' A Hundred Pipers"
alias "The Durham Reel" at the Alba Pipe Band site:

Traditional Melodies can have several different versions. The original tune would probably not have been written down, but would have been passed down orally from one generation of musicians to the next. Thus the melody would have gained some variations, or lost some features, and would, in all probability, have had all the rough edges smoothed off.

This is why folk songs are miniature masterpieces.

They have had generations of editors!

People settling in new countries would have taken their musical traditions with them, quite often putting new words to old melodies, frequently adapting the old melody to fit the new lyrics. One example that particularly springs to my mind is the similarity of part of the melody of "The Oak and the Ash" to that of "The Rybuck Shearer" (See Article #1: April, 2002).

"The Durham Reel" is also known as "Wi' A Hundred Pipers", with words
by Carolina, Baroness of Nairn (1766-1845).

The words were inspired by the tragic events of 1745, which you can read
about in any good history book.

One Hundred Pipers

(The Hundred Pipers)

Carolina Oliphant, (Lady Nairne), 1766-1845

Wi' a hundred pipers, a' a', an' a',
Wi' a hundred pipers, a' a', an' a',
We'll up an' gie them a blaw, a blaw
Wi' a hundred pipers, a' a', an' a'.
O it's owre the border awa', awa'
It's owre the border awa', awa',
We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle ha'
Wi' its yetts, its castle an' a', an a'.

O! our sodger lads looked braw, looked braw,
Wi' their tartan kilts an' a', an' a',
Wi' their bonnets an' feathers an' glitt'rin' gear,
An' pibrochs sounding loud and clear.
Will they a' return to their ain dear glen?
Will they a' return oor Heilan' men?
Second sichted Sandy looked fu' wae.
An' mithers grat when they march'd away.


2. O! wha' is foremos o' a', o' a',
Oh wha' is foremost o' a', o' a',
Bonnie Charlie the King o' us a', hurrah!
Wi' his hundred pipers an' a', an ' a'.
His bonnet and feathers he's waving high,
His prancing steed maist seems to fly,
The nor' win' plays wi' his curly hair,
While the pipers play wi'an unco flare.


3. The Esk was swollen sae red an' sae deep,
But shouther to shouther the brave lads keep;
Twa thousand swam owre to fell English ground
An' danced themselves dry to the pibroch's sound.
Dumfoun'er'd the English saw, they saw,
Dumfoun'er'd they heard the blaw, the blaw,
Dumfoun'er'd they a' ran awa', awa',
Frae the hundred pipers an' a', an ' a'.


A: The City of Durham owes its origins to the threat to the Island of Lindisfarne from the Vikings, and the consequent necessity of moving the coffined remains of Saint Cuthbert to a safer location on the mainland...

Durham was founded in 995AD, and enjoyed a very colourful history.

Read all about it, including the Legend of the Dun Cow, at Durham City Origins:

A: Northumbrian Bagpipes are the last remaining English Bagpipes. Bagpipes still remain throughout Europe and the Middle East, and, of course, in Scotland, and Ireland. The Irish bagpipe is another bellows-driven bagpipe, like the Northumbrian bagpipe.

The Northumbrian bagpipe, however, has some unique qualities, being the only bagpipe which can play staccato to any real extent, though the Irish bagpipe can, to a limited extent. The Northumbrian bagpipe has a continuous flow of air from the bag, and the end of the chanter is closed. It also has an unusual fingering system, whereby the open finger hole is closed before the next one is opened. Players can obtain a smooth transition from one note to the next - legato, or leave a little space and play staccato.


See Making Northumbrian Smallpipes at:


Northumbrian Pipes and the Folk Music of Northumberland, at:

The Harmony of "The Durham Reel" is that of the Northumbrian Bagpipes.

A: Northumbria was an ancient Kingdom of Anglo-Saxon Britain, stretching from the Humber to the Firth of Firth, in the Eastern part of Northern England and Southern Scotland, and included the town of Durham.


The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria

Oswald, King of Northumbria, Martyr 5 August 642

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