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Monthly Archives: November 2011

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Piobaireachd Wednesday: The Rout of Glenfruin

Our tune this week comes again from the author of this blog. For the sake of diversity I’ve tried to not include a lot of my own playing, but this week I make an exception to present my submission for Jori Chisholm’s most recent online competition. This ended up being the winning tune in grade 1 piobaireachd.

The tune is The Rout of Glenfruin, which is one of the tunes I learned this fall in the Dojo University piobaireachd class, taught by Bruce Gandy. The tune was written to commemorate the Battle of Glenfruin in 1603, which was a rather lopsided victory (hence the title).

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

Is it ok to break down in a solo competition?

This is a question that I have been asked from time to time. If, while playing a solo competition, you make a mistake or have an instrument malfunction, is it ok to just stop playing? There are, obviously, two answers: YES and NO. I’ll explore each one.

YES. The obvious downside of breaking down is that you know for certain that you won’t place in the contest. By quitting in the middle, you earn yourself a disqualification and, in the EUSPBA at least, hand your point to those who do finish.

Then again, it is a competition, and if you make a mistake that eliminates you from the prize list, why bother continuing? Well that depends on why you compete.

NO. This is my general response when I’m asked this question, especially by pipers who are new to competition. As a new competitor, the goal should be to gain experience rather than win a prize. Fighting past rough spots and getting back on the tune is only going to help you, and it also gives you the benefit of the judge’s comments on the rest of the tune.

You can probably guess that my preferred response is NO, especially for newer competitors. There’s always something to be gained by fighting through your errors, even if it isn’t a prize.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Black Donald’s March

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and I present a very interesting tune for the occasion. Andrew Bova is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a degree in Bagpipe Performance. He competes at the professional level, plays with the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, is an excellent player, and a good friend of mine.

While he was at Carnegie Mellon, he worked with Maestro Denis Colwell to the compose a piece entitled Variations on Black Donald’s March. He sent me the recording for Piobaireachd Wednesday, along with these notes from the program.

The Variations on Black Donald’s March is an experiment in using the traditional Highland Bagpipe alongside Western classical musical instruments. Here the bagpipe is featured, in fact, as the solo instrument, its line excerpted from the ancient piobaireachd Black Donald’s March (Piobaireachd Dhomnuill Duibh).

Black Donald’s March has been linked to the first Battle of Inverlochy (1431) where the MacDonald leader was Black Donald Balloch, a kinsman of Alexander MacDonald, Third Lord of the Isles. Clan Cameron has also laid claim to the tune, as MacDhomhnuill Duibh was then the patronymic of Lochiel
Cameron Chieftains.

Since the Variations on Black Donald’s March uses excerpts from an existing set of traditional bagpipe variations as its solo line, the resulting piece is a set of variations on a set of variations.

The piece was premiered by the Carnegie Mellon Wind Ensemble on February 10th, 2011 in Carnegie Music Hall, Pittsburgh PA.  The ensemble was under the direction of Maestro Denis Colwell featuring soloists Andrew Bova (bagpipes) and Adam Hill (tenor).

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

Piobaireachd Wednesday: I Got A Kiss of the King’s Hand

As it turns out there’s a lot of good piobaireachd recordings on YouTube, and while looking through some of them this week I came across this one. Recorded at a recital at North West England Piping Society in 1993. The player is Brian Donaldson, former pipe major of the Scots Guards, and his tune is I Got A Kiss of the King’s Hand.

Unfortunately the tune is in two parts, but it’s worth the slight inconvenience.

Part 1:


Part 2:

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

Piobaireachd Wednesday: Flame of Wrath

I’ve featured this tune before on Piobaireachd Wednesday, but not like this. This video was sent to me by Shana Blake, the vocalist and bassist for the Celtic folk/fusion band Gael Warning. This was a performance from the Scotland County Highland Games in North Carolina on October 1 of this year.

You may like this, or you may not. I think it’s interesting, and it’s certainly worth a listen. As the recording suggests, they do indeed “rock the piobaireachd.”

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

Change your mental approach with online an competition

Jori Chisholm of Seattle is running his third online piping competition of the year, and as far as I’m aware it’s the third online piping competition in history. This is a pretty neat idea, and a good use of technology that is now widely available.

As an aside, he’s extended the entry deadline so there’s still a few days left to register if you want to get in on it.

I’m registered for a few events this time around, and for the past few weeks I’ve working on material and recording my videos. As I’ve been working on that, it’s occurred to me that an online competition requires a different state of mind than the traditional in person competitions.

For the online competition, competitors enter events by submitting a video recording for each event. The contest rules state that videos must be recorded in a single take, but there is no limit to the number of recording attempts a competitor can make. This is where the online competition differs most from a traditional one, where a player has exactly one shot to get it right.

Errors made in a traditional contest, whether they are note errors or memory slips or result from instrument issues, weather, or distractions, can eliminate players from the prize list, but they are done and in the past. If that happens to me in a competition, I accept that there’s nothing I can do to change it, and I move on with my day.

With an unlimited number of attempts in the online competition though, I’d bet that most videos submitted for this contest don’t have those issues. There’s no excuse for sending in a video with wrong notes if you have another chance to fix it. Indeed, there’s no excuse for sending in a video with any performance less than one you’re satisfied is the best you can possibly play.

This has caused some frustration for me as I’ve been recording my videos, since I hate listening to myself play. I never sound as good on tape as I thought I did when actually playing, and though that feedback can be valuable it’s really hard to listen to. I’m not the only one who feels this way; even Angus MacColl has said he’s never heard a recording of himself that he’s been completely happy with.

The result of this is that I’ll be sending in videos that I’ve determined to be “good enough,” but there’s will be that nagging feeling in the back of my head that it’s not the best performance I could have recorded. This is compounded by the fact that in all likelihood the determination of “good enough” will probably be made due to time constraints.

The online competition is a neat idea, and one that I think should definitely continue. I’ll have to come to grips with my mental approach to the competition though, and as I do it more I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Piobaireachd Wednesday: MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart

I’ve featured MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart before on Piobaireachd Wednesday, in a rather unique version. This week we’ll have a more traditional version of the whole tune on pipes. The piper is Alasdair Mackenzie, whom I know nothing about, but he has this video floating around on YouTube, recorded in the tuning rooms at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow.

The tune is one of my favorites, and appears on my ever-growing list of tunes I need to learn. The ground is very pretty and has a mournful quality to it. It is not an easy tune, but Alasdair does a great job with it. Enjoy!

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