Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Monthly Archives: August 2008

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No wonder the US is in debt

I just watched a History Channel behind the scenes deal about Air Force One.  It was really interesting to see what goes on before the plane can take off, the planning behind the missions (not just flights, they’re called missions), and all the logistics that must be worked out for the president to travel.  The show followed the plane, its crew, and the advance teams during a five day trip to Africa in February 2008, and even had a brief exchange with the president himself during the flight. 

Before I get to the title of the post, I’ll start with some interesting things I learned.

  1. All the food on the plane is purchased by undercover Air Force staff members in civilian clothing.  Nothing is delivered, so all the food that goes on the plane has been under the direct control of the Air Force since it left the shelves in the grocery stores.  To prevent tampering, everything is brought from the US; no food or water will be purchased while out of the country.
  2. The plane has two real kitchens, not just reheating stations.  It has all the implements and tools of a standard kitchen, many of which (knives, scissors, etc) are not allowed on a commercial flight.
  3. The plane is not actually called Air Force One until the president is on board.  If he were flying on a plane operated by the U.S. Navy, the call sign would be Navy One.  Just doesn’t haven’t the same ring.
  4. The arrival of the plane is meticulously planned.  Air Force agents arrive at the destination a few days ahead of the plane and make arrangements.  They arrange everything from fuel to where the plane will park.  They mark the tarmac with tape to position the plane within a matter of inches.
  5. The planes are immaculately maintained and thoroughly inspected before every flight. The exterior (some 17,000 square feet) is waxed entirely by hand.   
  6. The president travels with many of his top staff, so he can call a meeting about nearly any topic at any time in the air.  The conference room on the plane can conduct a secure video conference with any government agency, and the room can be sealed and soundproofed.  There are also secure phone lines, fax machines and copiers, and broadband internet connections. 
  7. Passengers sometimes make personal phone calls while on board.  How cool would it be to get a call from Air Force One?

Naturally, this is an expensive venture.  Flying a specially modified and very heavy Boeing 747-200 is not cheap to begin with, and traveling with the president makes it even less so.  Here’s a bunch of factors that make it get really expensive.  All of these I understand and make sense from a security point of view, but still.

  1. Air Force One has a twin; two jets are maintained by the Presidential Airlift Group, and both planes travel on every international trip.  They are identical in every way, right down to the gold-rimmed plates in the galley.  
  2. Before takeoff, a ground crew sweeps the runway at Andrews AFB (Air Force One’s home base) for debris, pebbles, and anything that might cause damage to the engines.  I guarantee this doesn’t happen at a commercial airport.
  3. Destination airports must have equipment as mandated by the Secret Service.  Anything that doesn’t meet these standards, like emergency vehicles and flood lights, is airlifted from Europe and the US.  
  4. Other methods of transportation, including the armored presidential limousines (yes, plural) and Marine helicopters (plural again) are brought along.  Air Force cargo transports fly these over before or together with Air Force One.
  5. The president may choose to cancel his trip at the last minute, causing weeks of planning and millions of dollars of preparation to be spent for nothing.
  6. Only fuel from trusted sources can be used.  Advance agents make arrangements for the purchase, delivery, and testing of fuel at the fuel stops, and the containers are sealed.  If the seal is broken, the entire tank is compromised and cannot be used on Air Force One.
  7. If an airport does not have the facilities to safely store fuel, it will be brought from home.  For this Africa trip, seven fuel tanker trucks were flown out on cargo planes to refuel the two 747s before the flight home.  

Like I said, all of these things make sense when security is a serious consideration, but they seem excessive from a financial standpoint.  I suppose if something happened and they needed to switch to the backup jet, or the fuel was tampered with, or the host country provided old and unsafe ground vehicles, everyone would be saying “If only we hadn’t made those budget cuts.”  Just seems odd to me that the president to travel somewhere on Air Force One it takes a thousand people, weeks of planning, an additional duplicate jet, and three or more cargo planes just for a week out of the country. 

Tour of a bagpipe shop

I’ve been playing the pipes now for ten years, and although I’ve wondered how they go from wooden blocks to musical instruments I never really gave a whole lot of thought to it.  I assumed there was a lathe involved at some point, and probably some other machinery and a lot of time, but I stopped there.  I started wondering about it seriously when I saw an episode of “How It’s Made” (season 5 episode 9) that featured bagpipes, but they can’t go real in depth in a four minute slot.  It was pretty cool for sure, but not as informative as I would have liked.

While talking to a friend a while back, he said that Charley Kron loves visitors, and last Wednesday I happened to be driving through the area.  I gave him a call, he said “Come on by,” and I got myself a personalized tour of a real bagpipe shop.  There’s a lot that goes into making a set of pipes, especially the really nice pipes that Charley makes, and it was fascinating to see how everything came together.  He was kind enough to let me use my camera, so here is the tour I got.

This is the outside of the shop, an old industrial building in Dobbs Ferry, NY.  It overlooks the Hudson River about 3 miles south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, and is set back from the road a bit.  Wandering around in the hallways inside I found the entrance to the shop, and it’s behind this simple door with the humble sign that the magic happens.
Walking into the shop, there are bagpipe parts everywhere.  I found Charley at a band saw in the back room, and he took me back to the back back room where he had blocks of African Blackwood drying.  All the wood he receives comes in blocks about three inches square and already cut to the required length.  It’s also green and needs to dry before it can make bagpipes.  He starts by boring a hole through the center of each block, turning it down on a lathe into a rough cylinder, marking it with chalk to indicate the date, and setting it aside to dry.  The blocks will sit from two to four years before he works with them again.  
These blocks are spaced out on shelves while they dry.  Below are blocks that will eventually become  Medalist chanters, and they dry for just as long.  He said there are about 300-400 chanters drying in this pile, and another 500 or so on the left side.  
After an appropriate drying time, they’ll move on to a lathe.  The wood shrinks as it dries, which means the center hole gets smaller and needs to be bored out again to the proper size.  As soon as the wood is machined it begins to change, so moving from one machine to the next must be done quickly.  Also a flaw or knot in the wood might not be visible until the lathe has taken off some wood, and depending on the placement it can leave the whole block unusable.  He has a bucket of blocks, drone tops and chanter parts that suffered this unfortunate fate.  Below are a few of the lathes he uses to do the boring, profiling, beading, and combing.  Charley made all of the tool bits himself.
Note the handle on this lathe; looks like a tenor drone top.  He bought the lathe for cheap but it needed some work to make it usable.  The lathe below was in the shop of the famous David Glen in 1900, and quite possibly for some time before that.  It has been making top-quality bagpipes for well over a century.
Looking around the shop, there are bagpipe parts everywhere in various stages of completion.  
Here’s Charley in front of a computer controlled lathe that he uses to bore the pipes. 
One of Charley’s famous products is the Medalist chanter, which he developed in conjunction with Jim McGillivray of Ontario.  I can speak to their quality; mine has done very well by me in my solo competitions.  I brought in my chanter and he took a look at the bottom; each chanter has a serial number engraved on it.  He looked it up in his chanter book and was able to tell me that he finished it in March 2006.
These chanters have been turned down to their final shape.  There are no finger holes yet, and they need a finishing coat of varnish, but that’s the only work left to be done.  Just behind Charley are a few finished chanters that are ready to be shipped to distributors.  
Charley also does repairs, and he has a rack of pipes and parts that people have sent him for refitting and repairs.  He told me about a few of the projects he has and how he’ll take them on.
Most interesting to me was to see the raw ivory he was using for his mounts.  All of his ivory was imported before the ban, so it’s legal.  It’s also difficult to work with since a tusk is hollow at the thick end, leaving a relatively small portion of the solid tusk available for machining.  Also a crack in the ivory will likely run the entire length of the tusk, making it all but unusable for bagpipe parts.  He also works with mammoth ivory, which is difficult to get unless you are the first to look through a shipment from your supplier.  
There’s a lot more to it than I’ve let on here, and making pipes is quite a process.  Charley is a super nice guy and very happy to give a tour, so if you’re traveling through the area I recommend you stop by and see what he’s up to.  Well worth the few hours I spent there.

Maine Highland Games: Piper of the Day!

I just returned from a day at the Maine Highland Games, and in my solo competitions I seem to have come out pretty well.  The short summary is that I won the overall prize in Grade 2 piping, with a second place finish and two firsts.  Unlike my last piper of the day award I didn’t take any photos or video; I didn’t take either of my cameras.  The reason for that was twofold, first that there was rain in the forecast and I was there by myself, with no one to hold the camera while I played.  Turned out the weather was great; the sun was out almost all day and the rain held off until the drive home.  But anyway, here’s a picture of me at home with my medals and trophy. 

You might say, “Hey, put down your coffee cup and show us the trophy.”  Well, that is my trophy.  “Gee, what an odd trophy” is the first thing I said when I opened the box; there’s actually nothing trophyesque about it.  It’s a ceramic mug.  With blueberries on it.  I’m not saying it’s not a nice mug, but it’s more of a door prize than a first prize.  When I put it on my trophy shelf it will appear that I have good taste in pottery, which simply isn’t the case.  I’m not ungrateful or anything, but it is an odd thing to win in a contest.  Oh well. 

There’s a number of other exciting developments from the day, which I will post more information about in the near future.  Aside from that, it’s time to get practicing for my next competition… only 35 days until Loon!

Competition Journal 2008 #6

The results from my solo piping competitions.

Maine Highland Games, Brunswick, ME August 16, 2008

Event: MSR
Judge: Nancy Tunnicliffe
2/4 marches submitted: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, The Clan MacColl
Tunes played: The Clan MacColl, Arniston Castle, Lexy MacAskill
Result: 1st

Event: Piobaireachd
Judge: John Wassman
Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, Sir James MacDonald of the Isles’ Lament
Tune played:
The Massacre of Glencoe
Result: 2nd

Event: Jig
Judge: Nancy Tunnicliffe
Tunes submitted: The Curlew, Duncan the Gauger
Tune played:
The Curlew
Result: 1st

Maxville videos posted

I recorded the Grade 1 MSR competition at Maxville, and have posted the videos here in this YouTube playlist.  The rains came down and we didn’t stay for the medley contest, or I certainly would have been uploading videos of that too.

Here are the Grade 1 results:

1. Scottish Lion 78th Fraser Highlanders
2. Toronto Police Pipe Band
3. Peel Regional Police Pipe Band
4. 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel)
5. Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band
6. Windsor Police Pipe Band
7. Oran Mor Pipe Band

1. Scottish Lion 78th Fraser Highlanders
2. Toronto Police Pipe Band
3. Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band
4. Peel Regional Police Pipe Band
5. Windsor Police Pipe Band
6. 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel)
7. Oran Mor Pipe Band

1. Scottish Lion 78th Fraser Highlanders
2. Toronto Police Pipe Band
3. Peel Regional Police Pipe Band
4. Dowco Triumph Street Pipe Band
5. 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel)
6. Windsor Police Pipe Band
7. Oran Mor Pipe Band

Next competition: Maine Highland Games

My next solo competition is one that I really look forward to, and I feel like it’s the home competition.  It’s not the closest one I’ll do this year, but it is in Maine, and since that’s where I live it has a different feel to it.  Last year I didn’t do very well in solos, but this year I’ll be practicing up and hopefully will come out better. 

Held at Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, it’s right on the water and a gorgeous venue.  It’s about 45 minutes from Portland, 20 minutes from Freeport, and a good way to spend the day.  Come out and watch some solo piping in the morning, pipe bands in the afternoon, and athletics and dancing throughout the day.

We’re hoping for a good turnout and good weather; hope to see you there!

Maxville wrap up

Got back a few days ago from our road trip to the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, Ontario.  All in all it was a good trip and a chance to hang out with my friends, but as always a few things went wrong and are listed below. 

Things that went wrong at Maxville:

  1. I didn’t get to play my solos.  My entry form didn’t get there in time so I wasn’t on the list. 
  2. Glenn Brown didn’t win the former winners’ Gold Medal piobaireachd.  He should have. 
  3. The kids camping behind us wanted to start a riot.  Or at least that’s what they were chanting from midnight until 2:00 am after they returned from the beer tent. 
  4. After a very nice day on Friday and nice morning on Saturday, it rained.  And it didn’t just rain, it RAINED.  At least it waited until the Grade 1 MSR band contest was done, but that’s small consolation.

I’m not bitter about any of these (except maybe #2), and I’ll classify the trip as a success.  We heard lots of good piping, saw some friends we hadn’t seen for a while, and had a good time.  Next time we won’t be camping for reason #3, but I still thought it was fun.