Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Monthly Archives: April 2009

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Griping about Advanced Placement Tests

As I write this I’m sitting in my classroom, watching a group of six physics students work on sample problems from a past AP exam. It’s around this time of year that I remember how much I don’t like the AP system. I know it’s my job and I probably shouldn’t badmouth it, but whatever.

My biggest problem with the exam is that the scoring is scaled relative to students’ performance. The scores are assigned from 1 to 5, with a 5 carrying a recommendation that the student is “extremely well qualified” for a college course in the same subject; 4 is “well qualified,” 3 is “qualified,” 2 is “possibly qualified,” and 1 carries no recommendation. The scoring system is set up so that a specific percentage will earn each grade, so the top 15% of students will earn a 5. So if there are a lot of students who do poorly on the exam, it helps those who do slightly less poorly. To earn a decent grade you don’t have to answer lots of questions correctly, you just have to answer more correctly than most people.

The AP Physics exam is pretty difficult, which leads to a lot of low scores. Here’s an example: from the 1998 AP Physics C: Mechanics exam, the cutoff score to earn a 5 was 55 points out of a possible 90. That’s a 61%, which in a normal class at my school is failing (65% is passing). I’ll say that again: for a student to be designated as “extremely well qualified” for a college physics course, he or she would have only had to earn 61% of the possible points. Here’s the rest of the breakdown:

Designation Score Points Percent
Extremely well qualified 5 55 61.1
Well qualified 4 43 47.8
Qualified 3 32 35.6
Possibly qualified 2 21 23.3
No recommendation 1 0 0

So yes, to earn a designation of “qualified”a student must only earn 36% of the total possible points, just over one third. I wonder what that student is qualified for?

Video: MSR

The weather on Saturday was hot and humid, a sharp contrast from the more temperate spring climate in Maine, but a nice breeze coming off the Patuxent River made for a few quite pleasant spots on the grounds. The competitions were of course in the sun, so while playing there was no avoiding the heat.

The MSR was the second event I played, and generally speaking I was satisfied with my performance. I thought the march was very good, the strathspey was good, and the reel was mediocre. I felt the reel got away from me a bit, especially toward the end, but I didn’t have any slips in this performance. The new reed went over well, as the judge commented a “972% improvement” in the sound since he heard me two weeks ago at the NH Indoor contest.

Many thanks again to K for being the videographer of the day.

Video: Piobaireachd

At Southern Maryland on Saturday my first event was piobaireachd, playing for judge John Bottomley for the first time this season. The hot and humid weather made me kind of nervous as I was tuning; playing 10-minute long tune in the direct sun is sure to play havoc with the pitch, but it turned out fine. I played a few minutes in the shade, did my final warmup in the sun, and was asked to play The Massacre of Glencoe when I got to the bench. My drones were set pretty well at the start of the tune, but by the toarluath they had really locked in and were sounding great. I was quite pleased with the whole performance: the pipes sounded good, the tune flowed, and the embellishments had better technique than my last competition.

I spoke with John later, and he commented several times that he enjoyed my tune. He tells me I have a slight hitch in my crunluath movement, pausing just a bit on the second low G before playing the top hand grace notes, so this is something I shall work on in the next few weeks. His last comment on the sheet: “Polished performance overall, small details yet.”

Semi-Random Piping Video

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these random piping videos from YouTube, so I thought it was time for an addition. This video is actually only semi-random; I made the recording myself instead of searching YouTube for it. The player is Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies, a household name in piping.

I was at the Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland yesterday and happened to be walking past the site of the professional MSR competition just as Alasdair was finishing his tuning. Knowing Alasdair to be one of the finest MSR players of the last century, I grabbed my camera and took up a position. The tunes are The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Susan MacLeod, and Dr. MacPhail’s Reel.

There were other pipers warming up within earshot, so the quality of the recording isn’t as good as I had hoped, but there’s no mistaking that this man is a master. At the end of the march, when he turns for the strathspey and reel and has his back to the camera, you can tell the depth and tuning of the drones. The notes were clean, embellishments perfect and rhythmical with the music, and the sunglasses added the touch of style. This man is no amateur.

Competition Journal 2009 #2

The results from my solo piping competitions.

Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland, St. Leonard, MD, April 25, 2009

Event: March/Srathspey/Reel
Chris Hamilton
2/4 marches submitted: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, Mrs. John MacColl
Tunes played:
Major Manson at Clachantrushal, Arniston Castle, Major David Manson

Event: Piobaireachd
John Bottomley
Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, Black Donald’s March
Tune played:
The Massacre of Glencoe

Piper of the Day… again!

I just got back from the Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland, where I emerged as the grade 2 piper of the day in the solo competitions. I placed first in piobaireachd (Masacre of Glencoe) and 2nd in the MSR (Major Manson at Clachanstrushal, Arniston Castle, Major David Manson). This is my second competition of the season, and the second time I’ve come away as piper of the day. Obviously, I’m pleased. K was again an excellent videographer and recorded my competitions, and those will be posted on YouTube once I get the videos processed.

New practice chanter

While visiting the Tone Czar yesterday I bought a new practice chanter. It’s a blackwood Soutar with an imitation brier sole, and with a Walsh reed it sounds pretty nice. Here’s how it sounds:

That’s me playing The Old Wife of the Mill Dust, one of my favorite jigs. Before you ask, I am aware that the video is inverted left to right; that’s how Apple’s iSight camera works. I could probably switch it, but I don’t feel like figuring it out right now.

A new reed?

I’m really hesitant to go messing around with the setup of my pipes soon before a competition: no rehemping, retaping, no re-anything preferably, so I was pretty hesitant to go for a brand new chanter reed two days before my next competition.

I’ve been playing a Soutar reed in my Kron chanter, but have recently found it to be a bit too bright for my drones (which are very mellow apparently). So when I went to visit the Tone Czar this afternoon he suggested a new reed, so I went for another Soutar. It’s very mellow.

I gave the new guy some good playing time tonight, and I’m quite pleased with it. The pitched seemed to vary a bit toward the end of my playing (about 40 minutes continuously), but I think it will be fine on Saturday since I don’t plan to play that long at any point during the day.

I’ll give it another go tomorrow to try to settle it a bit more. I’ll let you know how it goes.

On the road again…

The grand tour of the Mid-Atlantic region begins Monday. We fly from Manchester to Baltimore, visit some friends and family in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and conclude the trip with solo competitions at the Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland on April 25. I’ll be sure to post the results of my competitions once I get back to a computer, and I should be able to have the contest recorded like last time.

Keydet Piper’s new look

K was messing around with a new graphics program today and put this little logo together. I like it… Might have to try it with a different photo though. The hat looks a bit strange in line drawing, and the sunglasses make it look like I’m wearing aviator goggles. Way cool though. Look for the logo to appear on a t-shirt soon. Thanks K!