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Great Highland bagpipes
Nancy Tunnicliffe playing the Great Highland bagpipe, Great Highland bagpipes, 2009; Lanesborough, Massachusetts; Photography by Maggie Holtzberg
Nancy Tunnicliffe playing the Great Highland bagpipe, Great Highland bagpipes, 2009

Lanesborough, Massachusetts
Photography by Maggie Holtzberg
Fingering the chanter; Apprenticeship - Great Highland bagpipes; 2009:
Portrait of Nancy Tunnicliffe; Apprenticeship - Great Highland bagpipes; 2009:
Nancy teaching Sean pibroch; Apprenticeship - Great Highland bagpipes; 2009:
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Nancy C. Tunnicliffe
Lanesboro, MA
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Sean Humphries
Millville, MA
Nancy Tunnicliffe is an accomplished and well-respected Great Highland bagpipe player both in the United States and in Scotland. Historically and even presently it is extremely rare, if not impossible for female pipers to attain this level of access to, let alone success within, the piping community. Adding to Tunnicliffe's unique status is her mastery of the little heard "great music" of the bagpipe known as piobaireachd ( pibroch).

This style of music originated around 1400 AD among the Gaelic speakers of Northern Scotland, and reached its height in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The tunes celebrate and lament great figures and events in the history of the Highlands clanspeople. Deeply rooted in tradition, it was historically passed from teacher to student as an oral tradition, using a complex system of vocables known as canntaireachd ( canteroch), which means"singing" in Gaelic. In this system, each vocable represents a given note and its fingering. When sung, the voice transmits the timing of the tune, and the specific syllables indicate the fingering and ornamentation. Because this complex music is highly ornamented, there are many different syllables to learn.

Since 1978, Tunnicliffe has studied the dual art of canntaireachd and piobaireachd with piper James McIntosh of Dundee, Scotland. He is one of very few teachers who still primarily use this method of instruction, as many contemporary pipers view canntaireachd as both obsolete and unnecessary in this age of sophisticated audio recording systems. As Jim is now in his 80s, Tunnicliffe is especially aware of the necessity to pass this dying tradition on, so that the "great music" of the Highland bagpipe can be preserved and learned "not from the book, but from the heart." In 2009, Tunnicliffe was awarded a Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant to pass on the art of canntaireachd and piobaireachdto piping student Sean Humphries. Born to Scottish parents, Sean has always felt a strong connection to the bagpipe and the rich history of this music culture.
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