By Scott Williams





The Tone Czar Collection, Volume 1

By Chris Hamilton
A Music Book Review

The Tone Czar Collection Volume 1 published in 2005 by Tone Czar Bagpipes of Frederick, Maryland ( contains bagpipe music composed, compiled and arranged by Christopher Hamilton. The 126-page book contains 34 marches, 8 airs (some with harmony), 4 strathspeys, 15 reels, 17 jigs, and 25 hornpipes, along with a series of skill-building finger exercises, and a drum score. The book also contains the stories behind the tunes, short biographies of the 20 composers whose tunes are featured in the book, and a neat little photo gallery at the back. Some of the tunes are suitable for use in competition by players at a variety of levels, while others are more suitable for parades, sessions, or concerts, and some are just plain fun to play! In short, there is something here for everyone.

Born in 1961 in Wichita, Kansas, Chris Hamilton began his study of the bagpipe with Joyce MacFarlane (McIntosh) in 1972 and later studied with Ed Krintz, Roderick W. MacDonald, and Jimmy McIntosh. Over the years, he attended summer school sessions with Donald Lindsay, Iain MacLellan, John MacFadyen, Sandy Jones, and Sandy Keith who were all instrumental in helping to shape his piping technique and musical style.
Chris played with the MacDonald Pipe Band of Pittsburgh and the Erskine Pipe Band of Hamilton, ON before becoming a key member of the City of Washington Pipe Band in 1979. He remained with the band until 2004, winning, among other notable honours, the Grade 2 World Pipe Band Championship.

A graduate of The American University in Washington DC in 1983, Chris has had a lengthy and excellent record as a professional solo piping competitor. In 1987, for example, he won the Boreraig Trophy at Fair Hill, Maryland; in 2001 he won the Professional Jig contest at the Fort Erie, Ontario; and in 2004 was awarded the John Ure Anderson Gold Medal for Piobaireachd at the Ligonier Highland Games. In addition to playing in professional contests, he also serves as a piping adjudicator for the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association.

Chris has been on the faculty of the National Piping Centre (of Glasgow, Scotland) Summer School, the Ohio Scottish Arts School, the Southeast EUSPBA Workshop, the Delco Workshop, and Winter Storm in Kansas City. He has focused in recent years on teaching young people, and several of his students are making impressive showings in the EUSPBA amateur competitions. He is currently the pipe major of the MacMillan Pipe Band of Rockland, MD and director and instructor of the Guilford & Glencoe District Juvenile Pipe Band of Baltimore, MD.

Chris is the proprietor of Tone Czar Bagpipes – -- a piping consultancy and retail sales business. He has written a number of well-received articles for piping magazines, and is now the regular Basics columnist for the EUSPBA magazine, The VOICE. I asked him how he came by the name Tone Czar. "Though I mostly played with Denny & Dunipace / Scottish & Irish Imports / City of Washington pipe bands from 1979 through 2004," he explained, "I had a few sojourns in other bands during that period. Back in 1985 I was playing with a Grade 3 band called the Lionhart Pipe Band. I was the Pipe Sergeant and ‘tone guy’ for them. It was during the Reagan era, and President Reagan had appointed William Bennett as "Drug Czar" - an ad-hoc office in charge of all federal drug policy. One of the guys in the band started calling me "Tone Czar" and the name stuck."

It was a lengthy but enjoyable chore, working through the tunes in Chris’s collection of bagpipe music. I met a couple of friends there – Neil Dickie, for example, was once the Pipe Sergeant of the Scotia Legion Pipe Band with whom I played in the late ‘70s and, like many others, I have benefited from the teaching of Jimmy McIntosh whose wife, Joyce MacFarlane, was Chris’s first teacher and was the inspiration for one of his fine marches in the book. There is even a tune commemorating the City of Washington Pipe Band’s visit to Antigonish, which I remember fondly.

One of the most touching pieces I came across in the book was a Suite written by drummer Roy Hamilton of the Western Australia Police Pipe Band to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy. With second and third harmony parts, at least a trio of pipers would have been needed to assess its full impact, but I think it has real potential. While on the topic of slow pieces, I was glad to see Matt Seattle’s composition, "Lindisfarne" in the collection, complete with two harmony parts. I’ve used this tune in a pipe band medley in the past and we all loved it.

While most of the tunes in the collection were new compositions, some were arrangements of old favourites. There was even a selection of what might be called ‘sing-a-long’ tunes – "Waltzing Matilda", "Ye Jacobites By Name" and "Wooden Heart", for example. These would be real crowd pleasers for bands working out popular concert sets. It was nice to see "The Road To The Isles" (called by its other name, "The Bens of Jura" in the book) with the timing of the second part written out almost exactly the way I was taught to play it! In another widely used collection, this tune has the off beats written in the wrong places, which always bugged me. Not all of his arrangements were so successful, however. I didn’t think that the change of gracenotes in the march, "Lord Alexander Kennedy" was an improvement, and the same could be said for the arrangement of "Hey Johnnie Cope", but those were very minor complaints.

As a teacher of bagpipe music, I found the section of skill-building exercises very interesting. All pipers, regardless of their experience level, need to revisit the basic technique from time to time and Chris’s exercises will be a valuable asset to teachers and pipers alike.

Another interesting feature is that Chris has released a CD-ROM of his book. All of the tunes and text can be printed off. The book sells for $30 US, the CD sells for $25 US, or you can purchase both for $45.