Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Monthly Archives: October 2011

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Pay no attention to the man behind the table

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I spend a fair amount of time on the boards as a solo competitor. Solo competitions are something I really enjoy, and I plan to continue them for the foreseeable future.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories of things that happen to people while they’re competing. In almost all cases, they all the result of members of general public who don’t understand how piping contests work. They’re so excited to see someone playing pipes that they don’t notice the person sitting at the table writing on a clipboard. I’ve heard of people who pose with competing pipers for a photo, or try to talk to the player or the judge.

I have witnessed people walk between the piper and the judge, games staff try to move the table or canopy while the competitor is playing, and a sheep dog run through the middle of band’s competition circle. In one of my own competitions, a games volunteer drove a golf cart up and parked it at one end of my marching area, and the driver then tried to engage the judge in conversation. He looked insulted when the judge yelled at him to go away.

This weekend I came face to face with a photographer while I was competing. The tent was near the entrance to the grounds, maybe 50 feet off the path coming in from the parking lot. The guy was walking in as I started my hornpipe and jig, and I saw his face change when he realized “Hey, there’s someone playing bagpipes!” He walked over and took some photos of me while standing in various places: behind the judge, next to the judge, in front of the table, and between me and the judge. I did a nifty sidestep move to maintain eye contact with the judge.

I did make a mistake in my tune (it was the jig by that time), but it wasn’t because of the photographer. It was far more likely that because I hadn’t played that particular tune for a month. (Why would I be playing a tune in competition that I hadn’t played for a month? I said that I enjoy competing, not that I was always smart about it.)

I’ve been looking for any of the photos, but haven’t managed to find them. I don’t know what paper or organization the guy worked for, but if you happen to see a photo of a very cold-looking piper who looks like me and is wearing a raincape, please let me know.

Piping Quote of the Day

A quote (actually a paraphrase) of piping wisdom from Bruce Gandy:

When you have a movement that you are comfortable playing, turn it into an exercise. Make it uncomfortable, so you have to will your fingers to move when you want them to.

He was talking specifically about a crunluath movement, but there’s no reason it can’t apply to every movement in piping. Gaining control over every part of the movement is the key to altering the movement to fit the music of a specific tune.

There’s a reason the guy has won so many top prizes.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Battle of Auldearn #1

Last week Jori Chisholm announced his third online piping competition, which have been very successful. The first competition was in January and February, and was expanded to include piobaireachd events for the spring competition.

Videos of the winners of each event were posted online, and our tune this week was the winner of the grade 2 piobaireachd. The piper is Stephen Ross, whom I have never met, but I’d like to some day. His tune was the Battle of Auldearn #1.

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

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Lament for Mary MacLeod

Welcome to another edition of Piobaireachd Wednesday. Our tune this week is Lament for Mary MacLeod, submitted by John Bottomley of Bethlehem, PA. John is a judge in the EUSPBA, and he sends in one of the prettiest and most musical tunes out there. This recording is from his CD Bagpipe Classics New and Old, which he tells me will soon be available in an online music store.

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

How do you determine the best pipe band on the day?

Like them or hate them, band competitions are a fact of existence for most serious bands. It’s pretty much the only opportunity a band will have to play for an experienced and appreciative audience, and it’s a way for bands to be able to compare themselves to other bands.

Human nature has shown that pretty much any activity we engage in will become competitive at some point; it seems to strike an evolutionary need of ours to compare ourselves to other people who do the same activity. So in the piping and pipe band world, at least the part of it that I see on a regular basis, competitions are a big part of life.

I contend that pipe band competitions don’t do a very good job of determining which band is best. Here in the eastern US, almost every competition I attend with my band is a single event, so the bands have just one run to attempt to demonstrate their superiority. There’s not a lot that can be learned from a band in those few minutes, and the single event doesn’t determine which band is better, or even which band is better on that particular day, but rather which band had a better run in those five minutes in the circle.

I propose that the EUSPBA expand their band competitions to include all events for each band grade. Two contests would be a much better indicator of which is the best band on the day.

All the pipe band organizations in the world have determined that bands should be able to play a medley and MSR in order to be considered a grade 1, 2, or 3 band. Why not make them demonstrate that they can do both on the same day?

I’m thinking about golf tournaments here, where the winner is determined by the aggregate results of four rounds of golf over the course of four days. In order to win, a golfer must put together four strong rounds of golf, and at the same time making a few bad shots doesn’t necessarily take a golfer out of contention.

It’s still really hard to determine which band is best after only a few minutes of playing, but having the bands play twice in a day would be a better indicator than a single performance.

I understand that there are logistical challenges that may from essentially doubling the length of the band contest, and those must be addressed. That’s the topic for another post, so stay tuned to figure out how I solve that problem.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: The End of the Great Bridge

Our tune this week was submitted by Andrew Donlon, a friend of mine who studies piping at the College of Wooster in Wooster, OH. He sends The End of the Great Bridge, which he played in the second round of the Gilchrist Challenge at the Mid-Atlantic Branch’s Delco Workshop in February. He tied for third in the contest, thanks partly to his performance of this tune.

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