In 1998, the American Film Institute published a list of the top 100 American movies of all time, the ones that everyone should see. I’m starting a quest to watch all of them. Currently I have seen 41 of these movies, which through a lengthy and complicated calculation I’ve been to determine is 41%.
I’ll be keeping track on this page, much like I’m keeping track of my quest to play my bagpipes in each of the 50 states. Feel free to check back and offer your suggestions for the next movie I need to see.
I just spent some listening to the grade 1 qualifying round from the World Pipe Band Championship on August 15; the BBC was kind enough to offer streaming coverage of the event and they still have the recordings on the web. The qualifying round was an MSR contest, and I believe bands were able to select which of their two MSRs they would play. The top six bands moved on to the finals.
I’ve noted before that it seems like bands always use the same tunes for their MSR, and I decided to keep track. There were 15 bands that played in the qualifying round. Here’s a quick analysis of what I wrote down.
- Unique marches: 7
- Most played marches (tie): Clan MacRae Society and Highland Wedding, 4 bands each
- Other favorites not in the prize list: Balmoral Highlanders (2), Lord Alexander Kennedy (1)
- Unique Strathspeys: 5
- Most played strathspey: Susan MacLeod, 6 bands
- Honorable mention: Dora MacLeod (4 bands), Atholl Cummers (3 bands)
- Unique Reels: 8
- Most played reel: Mrs. MacPherson of Inveraan, 5 bands
- Expected to hear more often: John Morrison of Assynt House (2), MacAllister’s Dirk (1), Sheepwife (1)
- Played the same set: Lothian & Borders Police and Fife Constabulary (Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod, Mrs. MacPherson).
My major complaint about MSR contests is that there seems to be a very short list of acceptable tunes, and I don’t find it very enjoyable to listen to the same few tunes repeatedly. Of those five different strathspeys, two of them were only played once: Maggie Cameron and The Islay Ball. That means that 12 of these 15 bands (80%) played one of the three most popular tunes.
Come on folks, these sets shouldn’t all be the same tunes! There are so many great tunes out there, of all of these types, so how about we try playing them in competition?
Michael Grey is a well-known piper and judge in Canada, and he has famously spoken out with his disgust for the MSR, and I’m not ready to take it that far. I would like to see some different tunes though, and I would love to see a year where the RSPBA would outlaw some of the more popular tunes listed here. People might have to think of something new for a change, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.
I haven’t posted a piping video for a while, so here’s one. Last weekend was the World Pipe Band Championship in Scotland, and the winning band in grade 1 was the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band from Vancouver. The week before the Worlds they appeared in concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and from what I’ve heard it was a fantastic show. This video is a clip from the concert, of the band playing the piobaireachd “Field of Gold.” I don’t know much about the tune itself, but it’s pretty modern as far as piobaireachds go, having been written by Donald MacLeod around the mid 20th century.
It’s rare to hear a piobaireachd played by a band, especially one played so effectively. SFU Pipe Band is a good one for expanding horizons, and inventive performances like this prove the point. I love the way it starts with a solo piper in a spotlight (Jack Lee if I had to make a guess) and the ensembles and lighting expand until the whole band is playing. My favorite part is the repeat of the ground with the solo piper playing and the rest of the band singing the canntaireachd.
The results from my solo piping competitions.
Quechee Scottish Games, Quechee, VT, August 22, 2009
Judge: Peter Kent
2/4 Marches Submitted: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, Mrs. John MacColl
Tunes played: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, The Shepherd’s Crook, Major David Manson
Judge: Nancy Tunnicliffe
Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, Black Donald’s March
Tune played: The Massacre of Glencoe
Result: 2nd, AGL
Judge: Gordon Peters
Tunes played: The Man From Skye, The Curlew
If you watch this video, you’d swear it was only one! I played a wedding back in May at the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire, and had the privilege of working with Meg Simone, a very good videographer. You can see her handiwork in the link above, and the video came out extremely well.
My first appearance is actually trying to get the groom dressed. He was also wearing a kilt and didn’t know how to attach the fly plaid, so asked for my assistance. To be honest I’m not sure how the thing is supposed to work, but we messed with it and got it to a passable state.
I provided a large part of the soundtrack of the video in the form of Scotland the Brave (repeatedly), which I had been asked to play for the bridal processional. The procession was rather long, so they had plenty of playing to work with. And just so you know, it sounds like there was a mistake at the very end of my playing, but I’m pretty sure it was a cut in the video. I don’t remember making a mistake that glaring.
Thanks to Meg for the publicity, and for a very well-produced video!
I’ve just realized that International Talk Like A Pirate Day is coming up soon: September 19, to be exact. That also happens to be the date of the New Hampshire Highland Games, during which I will be playing in the solo competitions. You can believe that I’ll be talking like a pirate:
- “Yar, ye say there be two to play a’fore me? That be fine.”
- “Yar, for me piobaireachd today I be playing Black Beard Donald’s March.”
- “Yar, me strathspey today be The Pirate’s Hook” (any other day it’d be The Shepherd’s Crook)
Since this will fall on Saturday, I’ll have to celebrate in my classes on Friday. The sad thing is this: my school’s homecoming is the following week, and our mascot is the Raider (like a pirate). If homecoming were a week earlier it would be perfect!
This past Saturday was the Maine Highland Games, and although not nearly as prestigious as the World Pipe Band Championship that happened on the same day, it was a bit more accessible for those of us in New England who weren’t able to travel to Scotland.
I took over running the solo piping and drumming competition this year, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Organizing events like this is something that I really enjoy, and I’d like to do it again. There are a few things I’ve learned from the whole process, and I’ll put those forward here.
- Be organized! The work for a piping competition is not difficult, but it can be somewhat tedious. Being organized is by far the most important thing. On the day of the event, there are a lot of people handling a lot of pieces of paper, and every one of those pieces of paper needs to get to the right place. There must be a simple and quick filing system for scoresheets, rosters, results, judges’ fees, band prize money, etc. I was perhaps over-organized for this weekend, with more copies of roster sheets than were really necessary, but I’d rather have it that way than the opposite.
- Have a good staff. The organizer of any event can only do so much, and it’s vital to have good volunteers. I had some excellent stewards this weekend, and they were the ones who made the actual competition run so smoothly.
- Corollary: anticipate high-volume times and have an extra person behind the table at that time. Most of the time one person behind the table was sufficient, but at 10:00 a.m. I got a bit swamped. The drumming competition was just getting started, band representative were showing up for the draw for order of play, and several events worth of solo competitors were waiting to get scoresheets. It would have been nice to have an extra set of hands to help with some of these, but no one was to be found when I needed help. It’s also nice to be able to run off to the bathroom or to check on judges and stewards and know there’s someone at the table.
- Be specific when requesting information. This is something that I should have been able to do better, especially since I think about this stuff when I’m writing tests for my students. The original draft of the entry form had a line identified simply as Address, and from the first few entrants that was all I got: house number and street. City State and ZIP code might have been nice, and I amended the entry form to reflect that.
- Corollary: Don’t assume people understand why you are asking for specific information. I have no problem with writing my EUSPBA number on entry forms, but some people apparently guard it as closely as their Social Security Number. It’s also possible that they lost their membership card and don’t know how/where to look it up. It’s really not that hard folks. I also had a few people who didn’t give me their email address, perhaps assuming I would sell it to spammers. While that might be a good way to raise some extra money for the competition, I wouldn’t because I hate getting spam too.
- Corollary 2: Make sure the entry form specifically says “Piping and Drumming.” I received a copy of my entry form filled out by a gentleman trying to enter the athletics competition. Seriously.
- Be prepared to send out a few envelopes of your own. Each entry is supposed to have a return envelope with it, but there will be a few who forget. You could email them and ask for one, but you have to decided if that a battle you really want to fight.
- If you’re away and have someone collecting your mail for you, ask several times if they have any more for you. My friend gave me a few entries on the Tuesday after the games. They had been sitting under some things on his dining room table for two months. Nuff said.
All in all it was a good experience, one that I enjoyed and would like to repeat. Looking forward to next year!
I’ve seen this before but came across it again this morning. Things that make you go crazy.
I’m sitting here in a hotel room in Brunswick on the eve of the Maine Highland Games. I’m not playing tomorrow because I’m running the solo competitions, which is the first time I’ve done something like this. It’s been fun, but I am eager to get this day over. I’ve been working on this for about six months, and while the work is not difficult there’s a lot of it, and organization is very important.
I’ll plan to do another post as a wrapup to this event, but now it’s about time for bed.
Andrew Berthoff over at Blogpipe is providing some good coverage of the Piping Live events while he’s in Scotland. I just read this review of Wednesday’s events, and I just wish I were there.
Three years ago this week I was in Scotland, and on Wednesday of that week I saw a magnificent recital by the incomparable Willie McCallum at The Piping Centre, and that evening I was at the pre-Worlds concert for a great concert by the Robert Wiseman Dairies Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. It was only because we were staying in Stirling, 45 minutes by train from Glasgow, that I didn’t get to see more of the Piping Live events, but the ones I did see were awesome. To be able to go to a dozen different venues in the city any time of any day during the week before the Worlds and hear different musicians is just fantastic.
Call it bagpipe heaven if you like. It was great, and I really wish I could go every year.
I was driving around Westbrook, Maine this morning trying to find a certain bank, and I saw this sign. I looked at the sign a bit closer and saw the subtitle “School of Metaphysics.” A bit of internet detective work turned up their site; it is indeed a school for metaphysics, as well as a new age supply shop. Here’s a link to the biography of the owner, founder, and headmaster. It would be hilarious reading if it weren’t so genuinely believed; that makes it just sad.
I won’t make any further comments, aside from the fact that it’s kind of embarrassing to have one of these places in my own state (almost my own community; it’s pretty close as Maine distances go). The bigger embarrassment is that the place has been open now for three years, so there are enough people nearby who buy into this nonsense to support it.
I had hoped Maine was better than this. Sigh.
As of yesterday, I have mailed in my registration for the rest of the solo competitions I’ll be playing in this season. The schedule looks like this:
August 22: Quechee Scottish Festival, Vermont. Piobaireachd, MSR, Hornpipe/Jig
September 5: Capital District Scotish Games, New York. Piobaireachd, MSR, Hornpipe/Jig
September 19: New Hampshire Highland Games, New Hampshire. Piobaireachd, MSR, Hornpipe/Jig, 6/8 March.
October 24: Meadow Highland Games, Virginia. Piobaireachd, MSR, Hornpipe/Jig?, 6/8 march?
It would be nice to play another contest in early October, but don’t think it’s going to work out. I haven’t played any H/J competitions yet this year, and as you can see the rest of the year is full of them. It will be good practice if I do get upgraded this year, which I am planning to apply for once the season is done.
And now if you will excuse me, I must practice.
I don’t think I’ve made a serious post since I got back from Canada last Sunday, so I guess that makes me a bad blogger. Anyway, in the wake of Maxville, Andrew Berthoff posted a very thoughtful post with his thoughts about the day. Andrew is a judge in the PPBSO, and I played my strathspey/reel for him (though admittedly not very well).
While all of the points on his list are good, the last one is the most important for competitors, and indeed musicians in general: “It’s a musical instrument. It’s art. Concentrate on enjoying the music that you are creating, and just do the best you can.”
For any musician I think there’s the danger of focusing so much on playing a piece or a tune correctly that you forget it’s supposed to be music. Focus on getting every note and every gracenote in exactly the right spot and your performance will be technically brilliant, but musically rather boring. I use PiobMaster software to do typesetting of tunes, and it has a playback feature. I’ll use it to make sure the notes on the screen are what they’re supposed to be, but what it plays is just a bunch of notes. It is not music.
Piping is all about the music; contrary to what some may believe, the pipes are indeed a musical instrument, and they can evoke the complete range of human emotions*. The instrument may be more technically demanding than some, but in the end it’s all about the music.
The last sentence is a good one too: “There’s no such thing as a flawless performance, so you might as well accept that and have fun.” In a Winter Storm workshop, Angus MacColl said that he’s never heard a recording of himself that he’s been completely satisfied with. It’s so easy to be critical of your own playing, and it’s far more important to just have fun. If it’s just a hobby, and it’s not fun, why do it? Just play, and enjoy it.
*The emotions of disgust and rage are easy to find if the pipes are not in tune.
I saw this today on the illustrious Fail Blog:
see more Fail Blog
It caught my attention because of the station stamp in the bottom right hand corner: WBAL in Baltimore. I used to watch that channel when I lived in Maryland. I’m so proud!
Any by the way if you’re not sure what’s wrong with that picture, go look it up. Hint: I’m pretty sure that Prince Harry spends the majority of his time on dry land.
Go Maryland… you rock!
I was listening to Weekend Edition this morning on NPR and there was a brief chat with musician Paolo Nutini about his new album. In the introduction, interviewer Scott Simon identified Nutini as being Scottish, which was immediately obvious as soon as the singer spoke for himself. He talked for a while, and it was clear that Simon had a terrible time trying to figure out what he was saying.
The funny is that I didn’t have any trouble with that. At all. It was perfectly clear to me what he was saying. Having been around a number of Scottish people off and on over the last few years I seem to have gotten used to the accent, and if he hadn’t been described as being Scottish in the introduction I’m not sure I would have really noticed the change in accent for a few minutes.
I guess you just get used to it.
I just returned from a most excellent weekend in Maxville, Ontario, for my fifth solo competition of the season. This is the first time I’ve competed in Canada, and there’s a lot of good piping up there. I’ve already posted my results, and I’m generally quite pleased with them.
This was the first time I haven’t won the piobaireachd, but with the size of the contest and the fact that it was in Canada I’m happy with 3rd place. I felt I played pretty well, and though I wasn’t extremely satisfied with the sound of my pipes the judge liked it; “lots of harmonics” he commented on the sheet. I was also happy with the 2/4 march, and 3rd (out of 17 players!!) is quite satisfactory for me. I still have a little bit of technical bits to clean up on the march, but I’m happy with how I’ve been playing it. The strathspey and reel was quite disappointing, and I was not happy with how I played. My fingers just stopped working as I went to play, so I guess I should be happy that I got through the tune. The jig felt good, but it was the first jig contest I’ve played this year and all the Canadian contests have them, so most of the other competitors have played it more recently than I.
That all happened on Friday, and Saturday was the really fun part. With no obligations, I decided to watch the Grade 1 and 2 bands, so I camped out in a nice shady spot in the bleachers and stayed there through the Grade 2 medley (won by Hamilton Police), Grade 1 MSR (won my 78th Highlanders Halifax Citadel), and Grade 1 medley (won by Peel Regional Police). Hamilton Police was the overall winner in Grade 2 when combined with the MSR (which I didn’t watch), and 78th Fraser Highlanders were 1st overall in Grade 1. It was great to be around so much good piping for two days, and since the weather cooperated on both days, there the only things that could have made it better were if I:
- Had gone with a group of friends
- Had been able to watch the Gold Medal piobaireachd
- Had been able to get my Kilberry Book autographed when I was standing next to Bill Livingstone in the beer tent.
All in all it was a good weekend, and I had quite a good time. It’s good to be home, and I’m now working on the details of the solo contest for the Maine Highland Games on August 15. Next solo competition: Quechee, Vermont on August 22.
The results from my solo piping competitions.
Glengarry Highland Games, Maxville, ON, July 31, 2009
Judge: Andrew Berthoff
Tunes played: The Shepherd’s Crook, Major David Manson
Result: Did not place
Event: 2/4 March
Judge: Iain Macey
Tunes submitted: Major Manson at Clachantrushal, Mrs. John MacColl
Tune played: Mrs. John MacColl
Judge: Geoffrey Neigh
Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, Black Donald’s March
Tune played: The Massacre of Glencoe
Judge: Ken Eller
Tune played: The Curlew
Result: Did not place
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that when this is published I am in Canada. I’m not writing this from my mobile phone, but it’s a previously written post that I’ve magically arranged to have published while I’m out of the country.
The key to piping is to let many aspects of your playing become habit. After a while you don’t think about blowing and squeezing, and you can execute movements without dwelling on them. Once you’ve internalized a tune (different from learning it), and don’t have to think about blowing or worry about bad execution, you can focus on bringing the music out of a tune, and that’s what makes the distinction between a good piper and a really good piper.
Much like a car needs service from time to time, it’s important to check up on your piping habits. Spend some time thinking about those automatic embellishments to make sure they are still sharp and haven’t gotten sloppy.
Most of my embellishments are to the point where I don’t really think about them when I play, and this is a good thing. Go long enough without thinking about them, though, and they can start to deteriorate. Every once in a while I’ll hear myself play a few bad D throws, for example, and my first thought is “Whoops, I’d better fix that.” A few minutes worth of exercises a day for the next week, along with paying them careful attention while in a tune, usually gets them working pretty well again.
I regret to say that this action is usually after the fact, not preventative. Doing a few hundred D throw exercises each week would keep them from breaking down, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the patience for that. If I want to find myself at the very top level of competition it would probably be a good idea to do things like that, but my method is ok for where I am now. I don’t take the car to the shop every day, only when it seems like it needs it. It could probably stand to go more often, but it still gets me where I need to go.
John Bottomley is a friend of mine, a piper at the professional level and judge in the EUSPBA. I’ll see some of his posts of Facebook that he’s doing exercises. Here’s one from the other day: “An hour of piobaireachd scales, culminating in a few hundred D taorluaths in a row–it’s a very relaxing, Zen-like thing. Of course that touch of OCD helps!”
Let me remind you that John is already a professional-level player, and he’s practicing basic execution exercises for hours a day. That is dedication, and he is not settling for good enough. I wish I had the patience for that.