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Monthly Archives: September 2011

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Piobaireachd Wednesday: I Am Proud To Play A Pipe

Our weekly piobaireachd comes from Dave Mason, who was kind enough to let me use one of his recordings in a previous installment. Here is a recording of I Am Proud To Play A Pipe from January 2007.

If you would like to submit a recording for Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: The King’s Taxes

Our tune this week was submitted by Andrew Douglas, the pipe major of the Oran Mor Pipe Band from Albany, NY. He chose to send a recording of The King’s Taxes, which was made during his professional piobaireachd competition at the New Hampshire Highland Games on September 17.

He tells me that he didn’t place in the top six in the contest, which is an indication of how tough the competition was. Thanks for sending your tune, Andrew!

If you’d like to submit a tune for Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me.

Can you learn piobaireachd by yourself?

It’s generally accepted among pipers that every beginning piper needs an instructor. I heartily support this: it’s very important to learn the basics properly from the very beginning, and it takes guidance from someone with some experience to be able to point out places that need work.

Once a piper reaches a certain level of proficiency, an instructor isn’t as necessary. Once a player learns about reading music, tune structure, basics of phrasing, instrument setup and maintenance, and tuning, access to an instructor is not as critical.

Don’t get me wrong: meeting with an instructor on a regular basis is the best way to improve one’s piping, and it’s essential to have any reasonable amount of success in competition. My point is that it is possible for a piper to achieve some progress by working alone, learning music from books and applying knowledge already gained.

That’s all fine for light music, but piobaireachd is a different story. Reading scores from a Kilberry or Piobaireachd Society book will tell the piper what notes to play, but has only the faintest hint at the proper expression. This was why canntaireachd was developed, before piobaireachd was ever written down, to pass along both the notes and the expression. When learning a tune, it’s essential to have someone who knows the tune go over the expression and phrasing.

Or is it? The internet has done a very good job of making high-quality recordings available to the world, and listening to a recording can effectively get the tune in a piper’s head. Several well-known piobaireachd players, including Roddy MacLeod and Jack Lee, have made a business of selling recordings and manuscripts for many tunes.

The last few piobaireachds that I’ve learned have been essentially on my own. I can fill the time that I walk to class by listening to piobaireachd on my mp3 player; the walk is almost exactly two times through a ten- or eleven-minute piobaireachd, and if I listen to it two more times as I’m walking home it doesn’t take many trips before I have a good idea of how to play the tune (at least based on that one recording).

After learning a few tunes this way, I’ll try to meet with a piobaireachd instructor to get some feedback, playing through the tunes on the pipes and getting that expert instruction. I find this is a more efficient use of my time. It’s hard for me to get a sense of the tune without hearing it at least a few times, and I learn more from the instructor when I already have some idea of how the tune goes.

So to answer the title, can you learn piobaireachd on your own? My answer is “Yes, but…” Learn the basics of the tune from the recording, and then have an experienced ear listen to what you have learned.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Flame of Wrath

Our tune this week was kindly submitted by Patrick McLaurin of Lubbock, TX. When I asked him if he’d be interested in submitting a tune, he told me that he doesn’t really play piobaireachd. A few days later he sent me A Flame of Wrath For Squinting Patrick, which he had recorded during a practice session. After hearing this I find it hard to believe that Patrick doesn’t play piobaireachd.

This tune is one of my favorites, and it was after hearing it played by the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band on their “Flame of Wrath“ album that I decided maybe piobaireachd wasn’t so bad after all.

Learning from a distance

When I moved to Maine in 2006, I was concerned that my piping career would take a hit. Although Maine is known for many things (like cold weather, hiking, skiing, cold weather, the ocean, lobster, snow, and cold weather), piping is not generally among them. However I was fortunate enough to find a good instructor that I was able to see every few weeks, and I was able to improve significantly while I lived there.

Not everyone is as fortunate, and many people in remote areas or piping deserts still have an interest in learning or improving. Until the past few years, being in one of these places made it very difficult to get good instruction on a regular basis, and piping was generally limited to cities and regions with a high concentration of pipers.

But the times, they are a-changing.

Over the past several years, technology has allowed pipers to learn from some of the best in the game without all that pesky travel. Skype seems to be the preferred teaching method, allowing a free video chat between any two people on the planet who are appropriately connected.

In my experiences a video lesson is essentially limited to the practice chanter, which makes it more suited to a player who already knows the basics of playing pipe music. For someone who can readily translate practice chanter to pipes, though, arranging a video lesson with a top piper can be a tremendous opportunity.

I’ve recently signed up for a course through Andrew Douglas’ Dojo University, which has taken online lessons in the realm of group instruction. He’s currently offering several courses for pipers of all abilities with different instructors with excellent credentials.

I’ve signed up for the Big Piobaireachd class with Bruce Gandy, which starts next week. This goes nicely with my recent interest in piobaireachd, and Bruce Gandy certainly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to that.

I’m not sure exactly what to expect from this, but I’ll see how it goes. If it turns out to be a favorable experience, you’ll find out more about it here.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Lament for the Viscount of Dundee

I’m contributing to my own Piobaireachd Wednesday this week with a tune that I’ve learned in the past few months: Lament for the Viscount of Dundee. Informally known as “The Viscount,” this is the tune that was the catalyst in the love of piobaireachd that resulting in starting this feature on my blog.

The inspiration for learning it came around quite accidentally. For a while I’ve been thinking I should learn this tune, and one morning in early May I set my iPod on shuffle as I was walking to class. A recording of The Viscount by Roddy MacLeod was the first track to come up, and I enjoyed it so much I listened to it again. My walk to the engineering library is almost exactly twice as long as the tune, and from that day I began listening to it on my walk to school and my walk home. It didn’t take long to have the tune mostly memorized, with only barely looking at the music.

This recording was made yesterday afternoon in the fellowship hall of a church near my home. I used the Audio Recorder application and built-in microphone on my MacBook Pro.

The playing is not perfect, but that’s not the point of Piobaireachd Wednesday. The tune is relatively new for me, and I’m in the process of refining it. As I listen to the recording, I realize I have a lot of refining to do.

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