Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Monthly Archives: October 2008

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Some funny (looking) guys

I like to laugh.  Pretty much anyone who has met me know that I like to laugh, and I like to make other people laugh.  When I was younger telling dirty jokes was one of my favorite things to do, and though I enjoy tossing around a slightly off-color quip now and then I like to think my comedic taste has become somewhat more sophisticated. 

There are some people who are really funny.  Stand-up comedians like Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and Eddie Murphy are really funny, and some of what makes them funny are their liberal use of colorful language.  Search YouTube for any of those guys, just be warned that the videos are very NSFW.  Behind the swear words are, however, really funny things.  It’s true the swears are gratuitous, but they add shock value, and even if you remove them what’s left is still pretty funny.  A current comedian who tries for the same effect is Rodney Carrington, but I really don’t think he’s funny.  Remove the bad language and what’s left barely qualifies as communication.

It’s possible to be a stand-up comedian and still present a family-friendly act.  Like him or hate him, Jeff Foxworthy doesn’t really swear in his acts and what he has to say is pretty funny, even if it is somewhat generic comedian subject matter (sex, rednecks, wife, redneck wife, kids). 

In my opinion the really funny people, the comedic genii if you will, are the people who can talk about perfectly normal and ordinary things and make you really laugh.  I heard this little gem on the radio today, and I think it’s brilliant.

Yes, that’s good old Andy Griffith there, before he was Sheriff Andy Taylor.  Nothing in there is inappropriate or even a little controversial; there’s no reason I wouldn’t listen to that with a six year-old, and it’s hilarious.

In my opinion the best example is what follows, and I think it’s one of the funniest things ever been recorded.  Again it’s completely clean, kid-friendly, and nothing short of brilliant.  I challenge you to find something funnier that you’d watch with your grandparents.  Ladies and gentlemen, Abbott and Costello!

The Mysteries of Piobaireachd Volume 2: The Story

Piobaireachd is one of the forms of music that is quintessentially Scottish.  It’s the original music of the GHB, played by lone pipers before anyone ever thought to make more than one piper play at the same time.  It’s sometimes referred to as the classical music of the bagpipes, and there is a lot more to a good piobaireachd than just playing the notes.  This series of posts will highlight some of the mysteries of piobaireachd, and why it’s such a unique style of music.

Another reason that piobaireachds are so great is that each tune has a story behind it.  Sometimes the general story can be deduced from the name (“The King’s Taxes”), but a bit of research can usually turn up some really interesting stories.  Here are a few of my favorites.

The castle of Duntrune in Argyllshire was at one time a stronghold of clan Campbell.  Legend has it that the MacDonalds invaded and captured the castle while the Campbell chief was away, but the MacDonald chief had to return home for some reason.  He left a small detail to hold the castle which included his piper.  The Campbells returned and retook the castle, killing all the guard except the piper.  They lay in wait for the MacDonalds to return, and the piper maintained a vigil on the ramparts, looking for his chieftain’s boat to come across the loch.  When he saw the boat he struck up his pipes and played a tune the chief would recognize, but slightly different to indicate something was wrong.  The MacDonald chief interpretted the warning correctly and turned the boat around.  The piper received a punishment worse than death: his hands were cut off so he could never play again.  He subsequently died from his injuries, and the tune he played has come to be known as “The Piper’s Warning to his Master.”  This story was thought to be just legend until excavations at Duntrune unearthed a skeleton with its hands cut off cleanly at the wrist, leading to speculation that maybe there was some truth to the story.

Donald Mor MacCrimmon had a younger brother with facial ticks, which earned him the nickname Squinting Patrick.  Poor Patrick was murdered by his foster brother, and Donald was not happy with this.  His clan chief advised him to wait a year before exacting his revenge, hoping the time would cool his anger, but it didn’t.  After 12 months Donald and a band of men rode to the village on Kintail, where the murderer was known to live.  He went from door to door demanding the murderer, but no one in the village would give him up.  Donald then had the doors nailed shut and set fire to 18 houses in the village, resulting in the death of several of its inhabitants.  As the village burned, he played a tune called “A Flame of Wrath from Squinting Patrick.”

Email me if you know other good stories and I’ll add them in a follow up post.

Previous Mysteries of Piobaireachd Posts
Volume 1: What’s in a Name?

End of the season reflections

I recently completed my last competion of the year, and it’s time to look back.  This was my second year in grade 2, and it had some high points and low points. 

I won’t recap all of my solo competitions from the year; you can peruse the gory details yourself on the solo recap page.  There were high points and low points, and I came away with a fair amount of hardware, including my first AGLs in grade 2.

After two years, I’ve decided to leave the Graham Highlanders.  This is for several reasons, mostly the distance to the band, but also because I want to really focus on my solo competitions for at least a year.  As to future band involvement, I’m sure I’ll be back with a band soon, but I have no thoughts as to which band or when.

Speaking of solo competitions, I’ve decided that 2009 will be my big push to get up to grade 1, and there’s a lot of work I need to do for that.  I’ll be hitting the exercises hard over the winter and trying to learn a bunch of new tunes for next year’s competitions.  

There is a new development as well.  Although I won Piper of the Day at the Maine Highland Games, I will likely not be returning to defend my title.  That’s because I’ll be organizing and running the solo piping and drumming competitions there.  I’m taking over from Ross Faneuf, who has run the solos since about 1999.  I have some ideas for things I’d like to do, including an increase of the number of grade 1 and 2 pipers.  If you play solos in any grade, August is a great time to be in Maine!

As to instrumentation, I’m still playing my 1940’s Hendersons, and I plan to continue that.  They have done very well by me, and I’ve been generally very pleased with the performance of my Kron Medallist chanter, especially once I fitted it with a Higgins reed.  I’ve also come to be the owner of an early model MacLellan chanter, which I’ve played a little but needs a nice reed.  I have a feeling that the right reed will make that chanter nothing short of spectacular, and I’ll be working on finding a match for it.

As to the noncompetitive piping, I’m going to try to cut back.  By this I mean gigs like weddings and funerals.  The extra money is nice, but it takes a big chunk of my time (usually weekends) and dealing with the “This is where I want you to stand and this is what I want you to play” gets old.  I played a lot of gigs in August and September, and I’ve realized there’s a limit to the amount bagpipes I can talk with people who know nothing about pipes.

That’s all the piping stuff on my mind for now.  Have a good one!

Competition Journal 2008 #8

The results from my solo piping competitions.

Anne Arundel Highland Games, Crownsville, MD October 11, 2008

Event: MSR

Judge: Chris Hamilton

2/4 marches submitted: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, Hugh Kennedy

Tunes played: Hugh Kennedy, Arniston Castle, Thompson’s Dirk

Result: 3rd


Event: Piobaireachd

Judge: John Bottomley

Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, The MacFarlane’s Gathering

Tune played: The Massacre of Glencoe

Result: 4th

Security Recap

A few days ago I wrote about taking bagpipes through airport security, and as promised I’m reporting in with the results from this weekend.  The first time I went through security was at the Portland International Jetport (PWM) in Portland, Maine, and the screener called her supervisor over for a bag check.  The supervisor looked at the screen for a minute and said “Bagpipes?”  Turns out he was a firefighter for 30 years and has heard his fair share of pipes.

The return trip through BWI was far less eventful.  I don’t think there were any confused looks, but I was preoccupied with the change in my pocket that set off the metal detector so I didn’t really get a chance to look at faces.  By the way, I’ve gone through security before with change in my pocket and it didn’t do anything.  Guess it just wasn’t my day. 

Scopes and barrels?

I was once stopped at airport security while traveling with my pipes; the x-ray technician said it looked like the case contained “a collection of scopes and barrels.”  I understand the description, but I still have to crack a smile at the situation.  As mysterious as the instrument may look when disassembled, it’s unlikely I would be trying to bring a high-powered sniper rifle onto a plane as a carry on (even though this particular event was pre-9/11), but even so I imagine it’s better they examine unknown objects before the explosion rather than after.

Now that I think about it, that was the first time I had taken my pipes through security.  I’ve done it many times since, and while I’ve never quite been accused of carrying a firearm on board again, I have gotten some strange looks.  The highlight of my airport security experience (have to make it fun somehow, right?) is trying to predict the reaction when my pipes go under the x-ray.  I’ve seen a bunch of raised eyebrows, some furled foreheads, a few that call to the supervisor and say “Hey, can you take a look at that?”, those that ask me what they are (“Oh cool, can you play them for us?”), and occasionally I’ll get no reaction.  About a third of the time they’ll search the bag..

So the reason I’m thinking about security at the moment is that I’m packing a suitcase, flying out tomorrow for the Anne Arundel Highland Games in Crownsville, MD.  I’ll keep an eye on the security folks and let you know what the reactions are this time.

The Mysteries of Piobaireachd Volume 1: What’s in a Name?

Piobaireachd is one of the forms of music that is quintessentially Scottish.  It’s the original music of the GHB, played by lone pipers before anyone ever thought to make more than one piper play at the same time.  It’s sometimes referred to as the classical music of the bagpipes, and there is a lot more to a good piobaireachd than just playing the notes.  This series of posts will highlight some of the mysteries of piobaireachd, and why it’s such a unique style of music. 

One of the best things about a piobaireachd is often its title.  Tunes were traditionally written to celebrate or mourn a person, commemorate an event or battle, announce the gathering or movement of clans, or make a general commentary on life.  As such, each tune has a unique story behind it and the names are often very descriptive.  Here’s a list of some of my favorite piobaireachd names, in no particular order.  Tunes that I play are marked with an asterisk (*).

  • The Unjust Incarceration
  • The King’s Taxes
  • The Red-Speckled Bull
  • The Rout of the MacPhees
  • Lament for the Only Son
  • The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy
  • Lament for the Dead
  • The Massacre of Glencoe*
  • The Finger Lock
  • The MacKay’s White Banner
  • Scarce of Fishing
  • Lament for the Union (the Union being between England and Scotland)
  • The Vaunting
  • A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick
  • The Bicker
  • The Bells of Perth
  • Too Long in this Condition
  • The Glen is Mine
  • The Little Spree (A spree in this context refers to a drinking binge.  There are also tunes called The Big Spree and The Meddling Spree)
  • The Old Men of the Shells
  • The Desperate Battle of the Birds*
  • A Piper’s Warning to His Master

These are my favorite piobaireachd names; do you any others you like? 

People read my blog!

Wow, what a surprise!  I did a random Google search this morning for my internet handle Keydetpiper, and I was quite surprised to see my post about my tour of Charlie Kron’s bagpipe shop linked to in the Bagpipe News blog.  I feel like I’m famous now; at least it’s nice to see that there might be a few people reading.  I invite comments, it’s encouraging!

What is a piper’s real job?

Playing the bagpipes is a great hobby, and for me at least it’s a source of some extra income when I do weddings and things. I know of a few pipers who make their entire living by playing gigs and giving lessons (mostly lessons), get paid as a full-time piping instructor at a school or college, or run piping-related businesses (like the Tone Czar or Roddy MacLeod).  It’s really hard to make a living just from competition income, since amateur competitions don’t have prize money and to win prize money you have to be very good. 

So that makes many pipers who need a primary source of income, and as you might imagine the jobs pipers hold are quite diverse.  At the amateur level, I know pipers who are teachers, students, insurance adjusters, stay at home moms, electricians, newspaper editors, cops, fire fighters, computer programmers, military, cubicle-based paper pushers, opthamologists, nurses, bus drivers; the list is nearly endless.

I was in a discussion the other day about what some of the top-level pipers do (or did) for income when they weren’t piping.  Here’s a few I know.  Willie McCallum is an accountant for Glasgow University, and somehow still finds time to win every major prize in piping; Stuart Liddell is a piano tuner; the late Gordon Duncan was a rubbish collector; his brother Ian Duncan used to be a math teacher, and now teaches piping in a school; Colin MacLellan makes reeds and renovates houses; Lorne Cousin was a lawyer and now plays in a Celtic fusion band called Dram.  I’m curious about Roddy MacLeod; he’s now the principal of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, but what did he do before?  I also wonder about Angus MacColl.

Just some thoughts, trying to remember that the people at the top of the discipline are regular people and have regular people jobs, too.

It’s a conspiracy!

I’ve constantly wondered at McCain’s choice of a VP running mate since it was announced.  Sarah Palin has been the governor of the US’ least populous state for less than two years, has views on scientific history and education that are questionable at best, and seems to have no sense of where her party actually stands on several issues (like this one), and has famously been ridiculed that the extent of her international relations experience is being able “to see Russia from my house.” 

I thought (and still think) that McCain wouldn’t be a terrible president, but with his choice of running mate I’m fairly convinced he’s shot himself in the foot and there’s pretty much no way he’s going to get my vote.

But now I realize that McCain’s hands were tied, and he actually had no choice in the matter.  There were bigger and far more powerful people pulling strings and aligning the dominoes to fall as they did: the executives of NBC.  They strong-armed McCain into choosing Palin, not for political or financial gain, but simply so they can have Tina Fey portray her on Saturday Night Live. 

The impression is better than pretty good, sometimes I’m not sure who I’m actually watching.  They have the same voice, inflection, gestures, and they both say things so crazy I’m sure no one can actually believe them.  It’s eerie.