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At Long Last — A bold, majestic 4/4

At Long Last is an extremely popular 4/4 march that was written by professional piper James MacHattie, who now lives and works in P.E.I. with his family. He and his wife Kylie are both on the staff of the College of Piping in Summerside, P.E.I.
Photo: glengarryhighlandgames.com

So in my inaugural post upon launching this site, I’d uttered the phrase:

At Long Last …

And I’d mentioned that phrase is also the name of a really cool little march. So then I thought to myself … “sounds like you’ve got your first Tunes & Music post!”

Where to find it:

At Long Last
4/4 march by James MacHattie
Pekaar Database listing
Scots Guards, Book 3 (Amazon, Piper’s Hut, Tartan Town)

Discovering the tune

Some tunes just strike you immediately upon hearing them, while others need to sink in for a while before you really start to enjoy them fully. Well, At Long Last is certainly not the latter—at least not for me.

I first heard it at work one day, many years ago. I was sitting in the newsroom (this was around 2006, so I was a newspaper designer then for a group of local weekly papers) looking for something new to listen to for the day. I started zipping around Youtube, and came across this video of the Toronto Police Pipe Band:

Click image above to open video in YouTube
(I can’t embed this one)
The 4/4 march At Long Last is the opening tune of this medley, played by the Toronto Police Pipe Band in 2006. The tune is played from the start through 0:42.

The very first tune to open the medley is the one I’m talking about … from 0:02 – 0:42.

God … it still gives me chills and thrills.

The whole medley is wonderful to listen to (particularly the transition at 2:29), and I listened to it on repeat for hours and hours that day.

But overall, that stunning opening tune is what grabbed me the most.

I’ve always been fairly adept at picking out tunes by ear, so it wasn’t long before my repeated listening resulted in my figuring out a good 99% of the tune. However, I had no idea what the tune was called … it was simply “that tune from Toronto’s 2006 medley.” … ((( shrug )))

In time, people commenting on the video mentioned that the tune was an original by one of Toronto Police’s own—a then-unpublished tune called At Long Last.

Getting the music

A year or two later I was helping a friend of mine staff his piping supplies booth at the Loon Mountain Highland Games. It just so happens that Toronto Police were the featured band at the event that year.

One of their pipers stopped by the booth at one point. We got to talking and I told him how enamored I was with At Long Last. A couple of hours later that same piper came back to the booth and gave me his copy of the sheet music. He said that he’d gone back and asked the pipe major if it was alright to give me a copy of the tune, and the pipe major had agreed.

I must say, I was both thrilled and stunned by their kindness. Regretfully, I don’t recall the name of the piper. I did know the name of the pipe major though, James MacHattie. As it turns out, upon looking at the sheet music in my hand, I found that he’s also the composer of At Long Last.

A 4/4 march with gusto

When it comes to pipe tunes, it would seem that time signature matters. Or at least, with written Highland pipe music, that’s the way things evolved.

In a practical sense, there’s no real difference between a 2/2 tune … or a 4/4 tune … or a 2/4 tune …. there’re all simple time tunes with notes written at different values. A tune written in 2/4 could be easily rewritten to be 2/2 instead—quarter notes become half notes, sixteenth notes become eighth notes, and so on and so on.

But with Highland pipe music, the time signature has somehow become a way to also organize the playing style of tunes.

2/4 marches are often written to be heavy, technically challenging tunes, played in a rather pointed fashion.

4/4 marches, on the other hand, tend to be much lighter tunes that are not as challenging, and are usually more rounded and even in style. This round and even style can also lead to them sounding quite drivey, which is certainly the case with At Long Last.

On the right (or below on mobile) are a couple of typical examples to illustrate the difference.

2/4 marches
(starting at 0:40) Piper Angus MacColl playing a few typical 2/4 marches. Note how pointed they sound, though with a distinct swing to them.

4/4 marches
A good example of some typical 4/4 marches. This video is from the Henderson Bagpipe shop.

This seems to have led to 4/4 marches being somewhat overlooked in piping circles—in comparison to 2/4s and 6/8s in any case. Tune composers tend to churn out oodles of robust 2/4s and 6/8s, but only occasionally do 4/4s seem to be written. Suffice it to say that 4/4s just don’t usually seem to get a lot of effort put into them, both in writing or playing.

So imagine my elation upon hearing the bold and majestic effect produced from At Long Last. Truly a tremendous effort went into this epic-sounding tune.

When I first heard the name, I thought myself:

That’s a fitting name, at long last we have a contemporary 4/4 march that’s a stunner.

Needless to say At Long Last has remained a favorite of mine ever since I encountered it. For the longest time, people would eagerly ask me what tune it was when I played it.

In the years since, I’ve been hearing it played more and more, particularly from pipe bands. It’s also recently been published in the Scots Guards Standard Settings, Book 3 (Amazon, Piper’s Hut, Tartan Town), and it’s available individually on Jim McGillivray’s PipeTunes.ca (also with harmony!).

James, with his wife Kylie, and their daughter Briar.
Photo: Ryan MacDonald Photography

Meeting James MacHattie

This past year I finally got the opportunity to meet James MacHattie, who is now one of the directors at P.E.I.’s College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts. He and his wife Kylie MacHattie (who also works at the school) organize an excellent annual competition in the early spring called the Atlantic Canada Piobaireachd Challenge.

I decided to make a trip up for it this year (2019) and I’m glad that I did. The event is run incredibly smoothly, the standard of piping up there is quite astounding, and the MacHatties are wonderfully warm and gracious folks.

I couldn’t help myself—upon finally getting to shake James’ hand, I said immediately … “at long last.”

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