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Monthly Archives: August 2011

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Piobaireachd Wednesday: Battle of the Pass of Crieff

Our tune this week is submitted by Vince Janoski, also known as Pipe Hacker. Vince plays with Oran Mor Pipe Band from Troy, NY, and he’s chosen The Battle of the Pass of Crieff, and had this to say about his tune:

I sent along an audio file of me playing “Battle of the Pass
of Crieff” from back in December. It’s a practice recording so
soundwise, my blowing is not the greatest, but not too bad. There is also a
misstep in the A-Mach just near the end that mars what I thought was a
pretty good run through.

I tend to play the tune a bit slower and less driving than is usually
expected. I like to think of it as the rowing tune it probably originally
was, so I’ve been working on getting the momentum going. I’m looking forward
to fielding it at Altamont.

Thanks for sending this in, Vince! If you’d like to submit a recording to be featured on Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me.

Bagpipe photo contest

This evening I stumbled across a website I had found some time ago and haven’t visited for years: Universe of Bagpipes. I remember there being a CD of 30 different types of pipes, and the site has a page for each type, and sound samples for a few. There’s a good introduction to many kinds of pipes, and it’s worth looking over if you have some time.

As I browsed the site I found that they are offering a photography contest. The submission deadline on Thanksgiving (in the US, that is) in late November.

There are ten different categories for photos, including Young Pipers, Women in Piping, and Alternative Piping, along with several that are specifically for pipes other than the Great Highland. If you’re handy with a camera, check it out.

A great pipe quieted

By now the word has spread ’round the world, and I’m sure this isn’t the first you’ve heard of the passing of Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies. At the age of 47, a truly magnificent piper has left this earth, and entirely too soon.

I’m not a piping historian, so I won’t talk about his career or accomplishments, except to say that it will take an amazing piper to beat his record of 11 Silver Stars at the Northern Meeting. I’m not expert enough to discuss the nuances of his playing, nor did I know him well enough to describe his personality beyond the ever present humility. Instead, I’m going to describe a few of my memories of the man.

The first time I saw Alasdair in person was at the Loch Norman Highland Games in 2000 or 2001. I was walking around the games and saw a small crown gathered around a solo piping competition, and I thought I recognized the guy from photos I had seen. I arrived just in time to hear him play, a 2/4 march I think, or else an MSR, and I remember asking the person next to me “Is that who I think it is?” It was indeed Alasdair Gillies. I could tell that his playing was very good, but I didn’t know enough about piping to realize that I was probably seeing a level of piping that is rarely heard on the east coast of the U.S.

The first time I spoke with him in person was in November 2001, when I was visiting Carnegie Mellon University as a potential graduate student. I was interested in playing in the pipe band, so I knocked on the door and there was Alasdair sitting at his computer. I was a bit starstruck, but managed to introduce myself and state my intentions of playing with the band. He asked me to play something for him, and he raised an eyebrow when I pulled my practice chanter out of the sleeve of my jacket where I had been carrying it for the last hour or so. I played my competition march at the time, The Siege of Delhi, and Alasdair said, “Oh aye, you can play with our band.”

The first full piobaireachd contest I played was at the Scottish Festival & Celtic Gathering (Bridgeport, WV) in 2004, and Alasdair was the judge. I went off the tune so often that I didn’t win anything, and I specifically remember he wrote on my scoresheet “Fingers going well, but memory letting you down.” He played a fantastic recital that afternoon, and by that point I had learned more about piping to recognize that this was something really good.

The following year at the same event, Alasdair again judged and played a recital. At the time he was suffering from an injured leg and couldn’t stand or walk, and he played his recital sitting on the edge of the stage, with his feet dangling. It made the recital feel very informal, and it was very enjoyable.

The last time I spoke with Alasdair was at the Scottish Arts Indoor Festival (Concord, NH) in 2010. He judged my piobaireachd competition (playing the same tune I had played for him in Bridgeport in 2004) and played a recital that evening. I made it a point to introduce one of my piping students to Alasdair. He was thrilled to meet the great man.

He played a set of two 2/4 marches that I would describe as his trademark: Tommy MacDonald of Barguillean and Dickie MacPherson MacDonald. They are the middle and final tunes in this video from the Lord Todd Recital Challenge in 2009, and this set is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Alasdair’s music. As you listen to this, think fondly of one of the greatest pipers of his generation and one of the finest light music players to ever pick up the instrument.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Duntroon’s (MacDonald’s) Salute

For the last year or so I’ve been following videos from the Eagle Pipers Society. From what I understand, the Society was a fixture of the Edinburgh piping scene for many years, having grown out of informal gatherings that started in the shop of Pipe Major George Stoddart. The Society was on hiatus for about 25 years, and then reappeared on the scene in January 2010. They meet on alternate Tuesdays at in Edinburgh, and within a few days some videos and a “match report” appear on their YouTube channel and blog.

I especially enjoy what seems to be a fairly informal setting. Instead of the pressure of competition, it appears to me to be a setting where one can share tunes and be rewarded immediately with a drink. I’d love to start something like this in my area, and have been thinking about it for a while.

Anyway, the  is the setting of this week’s Wednesday Piobaireachd. The player is Tracey Williams, the tune is Duntroon’s (MacDonald’s) Salute, which is a silver medal tune for 2011. This was recorded at the August 16 meeting of the Eagle Piper’s Society. Enjoy!

To submit a recording for Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me!

Piping so good the ground shakes

The news media around Washington, DC this afternoon has been astir since a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Richmond, Virginia. I happened to be playing my pipes at the time (1:52 pm EDT), and had just stopped to take a short break when the ground started moving. I was in the basement of the church where I often practice, and was standing essentially on the concrete slab that was directly on the ground. As a result, I felt it pretty well, though by the time I realized what was happening it was over.

If the epicenter had been closer I might have claimed credit for the quake, what with the resonant frequencies of that concrete slab and all that, but since the quake occurred roughly 100 miles from where I was at the time, I think it’s unlikely that I had anything to do with it.

I’ve played many times in that same room and there haven’t been earthquakes. That could be a pretty good indicator as well.

Keydet Piper doesn’t win a set of RG Hardie bagpipes!

Well, I didn’t win a set of bagpipes as I had hoped. I had a reasonably good run at it though, and I’m pleased with my predictions, especially since I made the pick more than a week before the Worlds without having seen any of the performances. Here’s how close I came, compared to the actual results from the RSPBA and the winning entry.

Actual Results My Prediction Winning Entry
1. Field Marshal Montgomery 1. Field Marshal Montgomery 1. Field Marshal Montgomery
2. Simon Fraser University 2. Simon Fraser University 2. Simon Fraser University
3. Scottish Power 3. St. Laurence O’Toole 3. St. Laurence O’Toole
4. Inverary & District 4. Boghall & Bathgate 4. Inverary & District
5. St. Laurence O’Toole 5. Inverary & District 5. Scottish Power
6. Boghall & Bathgate 6. Scottish Power 6. Boghall & Bathgate

As you can see, I had all 6 bands, just not in quite the right order, and I had the top three bands the same as the winning pick. There were actually more than 30 people who tied for first, and the grand prizes were awarded by a random drawing of those entries.

I’m still trying to figure out what I would have done if I had won the pipes, since I have a set that works very well for me, and I certainly don’t have time to keep two sets of pipes active. I have this noble thought that I would have donated it to a learning piper who couldn’t afford his or her own pipes, but I guess it’s a moo point.

Wednesday Piobaireachd: Desperate Battle of the Birds

This week’s tune is one I recorded at a professional piobaireachd contest a few years ago. The player is Eric Ouellette, who plays with Oran Mor Pipe Band. He’s playing the Desperate Battle of the Birds, which is one of my favorite tunes.


If you’d like to submit a recording to be featured on Piobaireachd Wednesday, please contact me!

Field Marshal on top at Worlds

Yesterday was the World Pipe Band Championship, and I spent a great morning watching some great bands.

Field Marshal Montgomery emerged as world champions. Check out their medley performance to see why (WordPress won’t let me embed the html file on the page, so you’ll have to head to the BBC to watch it). That medley was the total package, and no one else was touching that performance. It’s a great medley in terms of how it’s constructed, with a nice combination of modern and classic tunes, new versions of classic tunes (I especially like the innovative setting of The Train Journey North as the closer), and harmonies and transitions that complemented the separate tunes without being overbearing or distracting.

It didn’t hurt that they played it absolutely flawlessly either. There’s good pipe band playing, there’s great pipe band playing, and then there’s this performance. Be sure to listen to Bob Worrall’s comments at the end of the video: “How a band can play better than that, I have no idea.”

Congratulations to Field Marshal on their well-earned victory.

Kudos should go to Inverary and District as well; they ended up in fourth place overall courtesy of two very strong performances. This is especially fantastic considering that this is the band’s second season in grade 1. The medley is great and well played (third place with a restrike), and its construction is very characteristic of their pipe major Stuart Liddell.

The BBC coverage was pretty good, and it was really fun to watch everyone’s comments on Facebook during the event. I hope they continue to offer the event, and I plan to watch it every year that I possibly can.

Thursday Piobaireachd: MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart

This week we’ll have to settle for a Thursday Piobaireachd instead of Wednesday. Sorry about that.

Again I didn’t have any tunes submitted, so I went crawling the interwebs looking for a good tune. This one came up: visual piobaireachd. Barnaby Brown is rather an expert in many aspects of piobaireachd, and in this video he performs a visual canntaireachd that was developed in the 1970s.

Canntaireachd is an oral teaching tradition that was used to teach piobaireachd before it was ever written down. Each note and embellishment have a specific sound, and by singing them one is able to convey the technical details of the tune (what would be written on the page) as well as the expression and presentation.

In this video, Barnaby Brown adds a visual aspect to the canntaireachd as he sings and signs the ground of Maol Donn, also known as MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart or The Widow’s Grief.

If you’d like to submit a recording to be featured on Piobaireachd Wednesday, please contact me!




Piping Live! video

Today was the first day of the Piping Live! festival, a grand celebration of all kinds of bagpipes and bagpipe music leading up to the World Pipe Band Championship on Saturday. The festival takes place all over the city of Glasgow, with performances by soloists, bands, ensembles, and jam sessions happening basically non-stop.

I wish I were in Scotland to see some of this, but it just wasn’t going to happen this year. The festival’s YouTube channel has some videos from the day’s music, and I imagine there will be more as the week progresses. Here’s one I watched today, featuring a performance by the festival’s organizer Finlay MacDonald.

I’ll post more videos throughout the week as I can, so check back to see the good stuff I’ve found.