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Monthly Archives: February 2011

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Back Bay Solo Piping Contest

Anyone in the Boston area on the weekend of March 26 should make it a point to get out to Andover, MA for the second annual Back Bay Solo Piping Contest. My friend John Daggett started the event last year, and it turned out to be a really great way to start my competition season. I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to make it up this year, but I’ll do my best to get there.

He’s made some changes in the contest this year, including adding a professional competition. He told me he’s had several good players commit to attend, so it should make for a good day of piping.

John has again gone out of his way to line up some great prizes. The overall winners in the grade 1 and grade 2 contests will each walk away with a blackwood pipe chanter, and the grade 3 winner will have a very nice new practice chanter.

Check the link above for registration information; you have a week left to get your forms in. I hope I’ll see you there.

Metro Cup sound bites

After listening to many hours of truly excellent bagpiping last weekend at the Metro Cup, I had hoped to be able to record a few of the performances and get the video up here. I was experimenting with the video recorder on my new phone, and unfortunately the sound didn’t come out very well so I didn’t get any videos worth posting.

There are some recordings out there, however. Pipehacker has a few highlights on Bagpipe Nation this week, including Stuart Liddell’s winning piobaireachd Lament for the Children, which is as close to perfection as I think I’ve ever heard in a live performance.

There are also a few videos that have found their way to YouTube by now, and I’ll start by posting Alex Gandy’s medley.

This was just a taste of the kind of piping that we heard in the medley contest, and the fact that this performance didn’t make it into the prize list will give you an idea of how good the playing really was.

Metro Cup afterglow

Wow, what a fantastic weekend at the Metro Cup! I think it’s safe to say that this is THE event in the bagpipe world this weekend. I saw some really entertaining medley performances from some of the world’s top players, as well as more than a few really, really, REALLY good tunes during the piobaireachd competition.

Bruce Gandy emerged as the overall champion, winning the event for the sixth time. The real highlight was the after party that carried on in the hotel restaurant until the wee hours. Actually the party started in the wee hours (the winners weren’t announced until nearly 1:00 a.m.) and I’m guessing it lasted at least until sunrise; I went to bed at 5:00 a.m. and it was still going strong.

I took some videos of the medley competition, and I’ll try to get those posted over the next few days. Keep checking back to see what’s new. In the meantime, Pipehacker has a more detailed summary of the event, and complete results.

More Metro Cup goodies

Here’s another video to get you through to the Metro Cup: Gordon Walker playing his medley (and winning the event) at the 2010 Metro Cup.

I moved into the 21st century this week by acquiring a smartphone, and I’ll try to take some video this weekend. Look here early next week to see what I came out with.

Counting down to the Metro Cup

This weekend is a great weekend for bagpipes. The Metro Cup takes place in Newark, NJ, and the list of players includes some really top-notch pipers. Saturday is filled with competitions from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m., with an amateur piobaireachd and MSR in the morning and a professional piobaireachd and medley in the afternoon.

This is an invitational contest, and some really great pipers are coming over from Scotland, as well as some more local folks. I’ve never been, and I’m very much looking forward to the whole thing.

Here’s a video of Bruce Gandy playing his medley at the event in 2010. Bruce has won the event more times than anyone else, and he and his son Alex are both competing there this year.

If this is an indicator of the level of piping, it will be a great weekend.

Some thoughts on piobaireachd

As far as bagpipe music is concerned, there aren’t many people who truly appreciate it. Many a piper who can’t play proper gracenotes or tune his own pipes has made a fair living playing for the uninformed public, and it could probably be argued strongly that the vast majority of people will never hear a bagpipe played by a piper with solid instruction in the fundamentals.

As esoteric as truly good bagpipe music is in general, the genre of piobaireachd is the extreme. To the unaccustomed ear, this classical music of the bagpipes all sounds pretty much the same, and the owner of that same ear might assume that the piper is making it up on the spot. I agree that piobaireachd is an acquired taste, and until a piper has learned a few tunes and what makes a good performance it really does all sound the same. It’s is often maligned by those who haven’t gotten to that point yet: I heard about a piper who named his pet snake Piobaireachd (because it was long and no one liked it), and I have met more than a few people who would much prefer to listen to a modern hornpipe with flashy fingerwork.

After a dozen years as a piper I’ve recently realized that I really enjoy piobaireachd. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked it for a while, but it was only in the past few months that I realized that I REALLY like piobaireachd. I guess my piping has matured to the point that I can listen to piobaireachd all day, and watching a full competition of skilled piobaireachd players is about as good as it gets for me.

A well-constructed performance on a good bagpipe is mesmerizing, and can leave me glowing for hours. To hear several of them back to back is really something special, and a great way to spend a day.

I’m still coming down from the piobaireachd high I experienced this weekend at the Robert Gilchrist Memorial Challenge (more on that in a later post). I heard five competitors, the oldest of whom was 18, demonstrate an understanding of tone, technique, and musicality that is present in very few pipers of any age. All of these players are amateurs, competing in grades 1, 2, and 3, but I heard a few performances that would not have been out of place in a professional level contest.

If these young players are the future of piobaireachd in the eastern US, we have no reason to fear that the art is dying out or unappreciated by today’s youth.

Online Piping Competition Entries

As I posted a while back, I entered the first (so far as anyone can tell) online piping competition, organized by Jori Chisholm from

These are my two videos I sent in for the two grade 1 events, MSR and jig.

For the MSR, I had originally planned to play all new tunes, but they just weren’t ready. I ended up playing the march John MacDonald of Glencoe, strathspey Arniston Castle, and the reel Sandy Cameron. The reel was the only new tune I played, and perhaps I should stress that it’s new to me and is by no means a new tune to the world.

My choice of jig was complicated because it was required to play it twice through. I haven’t played any jig only competitions in grade 1, so I’m used to playing a hornpipe and jig, both once through. I ended up submitting Alan MacPherson of Mosspark, a jig that has done pretty well for me over the last few years.

The results of the contest will be announced probably in the next week or so, and I’ll be sure to pass those along.