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Monthly Archives: August 2009

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Just added: the quest for classic movies

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.

How about some variety?

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.

Random piping video

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.

Competition Journal 2009 #6

The results from my solo piping competitions.

Quechee Scottish Games, Quechee, VT, August 22, 2009

Event: March/Strathspey/Reel
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
Result: 2nd

Event: Piobaireachd
Judge:
Nancy Tunnicliffe
Tunes submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, Black Donald’s March
Tune played:
The Massacre of Glencoe
Result:
2nd, AGL

Event: Hornpipe/Jig
Judge:
Gordon Peters
Tunes played:
The Man From Skye, The Curlew
Result:
1st

How many tunes do you know?

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!

Yar mateys

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!

The things you learn

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    1. 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.
  3. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

What’s wrong with this picture?

I’ve seen this before but came across it again this morning. Things that make you go crazy.

MHG eve

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.

Once again, I wish I were in Scotland

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.