Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Monthly Archives: April 2010

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New piping contest

I’ve been working with Lezlie Webster from the New Hampshire School of Scottish Arts and John Daggett from the Back Bay Solo Piping Contest to create a new competition, to be held June 5 at Mount Cranmore ski area in North Conway, NH.

I’m excited about this one because of the wide range of events being offered (every sanctioned contest in EUSPBA in every grade), and also because it’s right in my backyard.

The entry deadline is May 25, so if you’re planning to go be sure to get your form in quickly. The entry form is available for download here.

Random piping video

As I mentioned earlier, this weekend I competed in my first grade 3 band contest. The video of the band has made its way to YouTube, and I post it here for your enjoyment. I can hear a few things that could stand to be improved, but overall I thought it was a good performance.

Back to the bands

The Celtic Festival of Southern Maryland happened this weekend, and this event traditionally marks the start of the competition season in the mid-Atlantic region. I opted out of the solo competitions this time around, choosing instead to focus on my first band competition in about 18 months. Even though I took last year off to concentrate on my solos, I found myself missing the band competition scene.

A few months ago I committed to be a distance member of the grade 3 MacMillan Pipe Band from Rockville, MD. Rockville is a long way to go from Maine, but I have been a groupie of this band for a few years now, so I know most of the folks in it. They play good music and have fun, and that’s what I look for in a band.

This contest was not only my first competition with this band, but also my first band competition at the grade 3 level; it’s not really that much different than the myriad of grade 4 contests I’ve played.

The band ended up winning the MSR contest, out of a field of three bands. This gets the band off on a good start, and we’re looking forward to the medley competition at Fair Hill in a few weeks. At that games I’ll also be looking forward to the grade 1 band contest, featuring the 78th Fraser Highlanders from Ontario. I haven’t decided if I’ll be doing solos at Fair Hill, since I still have a lot of practicing to do on band music, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

The secret to a good pipe band

Michael Grey posted a statement of what he identified as “the blindingly obvious” about pipe bands:

People playing good music well with people they like is the secret to a good pipe band.

That’s why I enjoyed my three years with Macdonald Pipe Band in Pittsburgh so much: as a band, everyone wanted to play the music properly, and to improve their own abilities. As a group of people, they enjoyed hanging out together. It was ideal, and I miss it very much.

Random Piping Video

One of my favorite pipers is Angus MacColl; he’s definitely among the elite competition players on the scene today. I heard him play at the Winter Storm concert last year, and it was almost magical. I kept thinking, “Man, this is what bagpipes are really supposed to sound like.”

I came across this video of Angus playing in an instructor’s recital at a piping school a few years back. It’s hard to tell the quality of pipe sound on a recording, but this one has pretty good sound and I can only imagine how good it sounded live in person. I love the very slight crow on the high A, and the harmonics it makes with the drones is great.

Reflections on competitions

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for about a week now, but am finally getting around to it. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to look back on my first (and now second) competitions in grade 1, I have a few thoughts about my experiences so far in the premier amateur grade.

  • Sound is very important in grade 1. The judges expect the instrument to be well set, very well tuned, and to be steadily blown. I went into my first contest with the same approach I used last year in grade 2, and while I didn’t get slammed by the judges they all commented that my pipes could be sweeter. Listening to the others in the grade, I see what they meant. While practicing since then, I listened very carefully to my pipes, and I feel that I’m able to tune the drones better than I was, and better able to keep them in tune. It’s still not perfect, but when listening with a more critical ear it’s amazing what you hear.
  • Expression is very important. Every player in grade 1 is generally very good technically, and it’s expression and musicality that sets the best ones apart. In my 2/4 march this weekend the judge intentionally chose the same tune as the player who ended up winning the event; she told me after that I played very well (placed 4th out of 8), and in order to beat the winner I should concentrate on making the phrasing a bit more aggressive, especially at the beginning of the part. I’m not exactly certain what she means by that, but I recorded my performance so I’ll listen to it and see if I can learn from it.

After my second competition, I feel like I actually belong in grade 1, which if you were following the blog a few weeks ago was something that was on my mind. Although I broke down in my strathspey and reel, I placed in the middle of the pack in the other competitions, so I’m starting to feel better about this year. I’m still not planning to do as many competitions as I did last year, but I’ll definitely feel more comfortable about competing this year.

Video: 2/4 March

This was the tune I played in competition yesterday.Watch the video then see below for my thoughts on it.

Listening to it, I’m pretty pleased with how I played, especially considering it is usually the weaker of my two marches. I hear a few spots where I’m rushing off of notes and not holding them long enough, but I think it’s pretty good. The top hand seems a bit sharp at times, so that’s something else that needs to be fixed.

Competition Journal 2010 #2

The results from my solo piping competitions.

Scottish Arts Indoor Festival, Concord, NH, April 10, 2010.

Event: 2/4 March
Judge: Lezlie Webster
Sets Submitted: Hugh Kennedy, Major Manson at Clachantrushal
Set played: Major Manson at Clachantrushal
Result: 4th

Event: Piobaireachd
Judge: Alasdair Gillies
Tunes Submitted: The Massacre of Glencoe, The MacFarlane’s Gathering, Black Donald’s March
Tune played: The MacFarlane’s Gathering
Result: 5th

Event: Strathspey/Reel
Judge: Donald Lindsay
Tunes Submitted: Arniston Castle, Tulloch Castle, Dr. MacPhail’s Reel, Major David Manson
Tune played: Tulloch Castle, Dr. MacPhail’s Reel
Result: Break down