A friend of mine is working on an academic paper, and recently asked me what motivates me to compete. I’m not doing as many solo competitions as I did in the past, but it’s still a valid question. There has been a lot of discussion on the merits and drawbacks of competition, but that’s not the topic of this post.
The question was simply this: What motivates you to compete?
My response to him was this:
Solo competition is one of the few opportunities a piper gets to play for a truly informed audience, even if that audience is only one person. For me, solo competition is a chance to get an assessment of my playing ability from an objective source.
Solo competitions give me a reason to practice. Unless I have a performance coming up, I’m not likely to get the pipes out to just play, like how in school I wouldn’t sit down and do math problems unless they were assigned (although I have to admit that that now that sounds kind of fun). Preparation for a competition also keeps me honest in my playing, to make sure that I seriously practice and don’t just play. When I know the audience knows what it’s supposed to sound like, I’m pretty inspired to practice hard to make it right.
I also found competitions a chance to build character. It’s terrifying to be in front of a judge, and when you willingly subjecting yourself to that you learn a lot about yourself. I love the feeling of being nervous, and it’s so satisfying to mentally conquer the fear, suppress the nerves, and play a good tune. It’s a rush, and honestly that’s what I enjoy most about competing.
So what about you? What motivates you to compete?
I’ve commented before that pipers and pipe band folk tend to be good people. Anyone who has spent any time at all around a pipe band will recognize this: bands are just fun to be around, and are generally full of good people.
Another thing about pipe band folk is that they tend to be people of integrity, and love to do the right thing. An example surfaced recently as a Scottish band found itself with some extra money and decided to donate it to charity.
The West Coast Highlanders of Scotland Pipe Band was a cobbled-together group of folks from various bands. I should probably mention that the extra money they had lying around was prize money from their first competition. How great is it that they won the first competition they entered?
Oh, and by the way, that competition was the Worlds. Yeah, Grade 4B World Champions, right there. No big deal.
So they got together and had a vote, and unanimously decided to donate all £1000 of their prize to the Bone Cancer Research Trust.
Talk about above and beyond the call of duty.
So why that particular charity?
After the Worlds last year, Fiona Morris was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. Fiona is a tenor drummer with Boghall and Bathgate Caledonian Pipe Band; you may know them as the band that placed second at the World Championships a few weeks ago. She went through a barrage of chemotherapy treatments, lost her hair, nearly lost her leg, underwent surgery to replace a section of her bone with a titanium rod, and battled back to join her band in time for the competition season.
She’s been in every one this season. Fighting spirit.
In May, Fiona announced a fundraising campaign for BCRT after her experiences. The pipe band world picked up the banner and ran with it, gleefully buying the wristbands that Fiona was promoting and holding raffles and auctions. She set up a donation page with a goal of £500; that goal was met in a very short time, and as of this writing has exceeded that goal by £10,000.
Not bad, piping world, not bad at all. Keep doing the right thing.
It occurred to me recently that as of today, I have been playing the pipes for a decade and a half. It was 15 years ago today, on August 18, 1998, that I had my first lesson on the practice chanter. Twelve months after that date, I had learned a bunch of simple tunes, traveled to several places in the US to play, and traveled to Scotland, where I heard (and met!) some of the best pipers and bands around.
I will say that I was extremely fortunate to have been taught correctly. My first instructor, Burt Mitchell, is an incredibly talented piper who was himself taught by some damn fine pipers. It’s thanks to him, in no small way, that piping has been as important to me as it has for the last 15 years.
I’ve lived in a number of different places since I started, and in every one of them the piping community has opened doors for me. Some of my best friends are ones I’ve met through piping, and if it hadn’t been for this odd little hobby I’m certain our paths would never have crossed.
I’ve been able to travel thanks to piping, and that’s what led me to start this little map; as of this writing, I’ve played my pipes in nearly half of the United States. I’ve been to Scotland twice, and 50% of my visits to Mexico and more than 85% of my trips to Canada were either specifically for piping or because I was a piper.
But most of all, I’ve enjoyed the simple act of playing. When I played the trumpet in grade school, practicing was a chore. With the pipes, I don’t feel that way; they’re just fun to play. I love setting up shop in a small corner of a park somewhere and getting lost in the music for the next hour.
When I was talked into playing the pipes 15 years ago, I never dreamed there was this much to it, or that I would become so engrossed in this world. Call it serendipity if you like, but I’m glad it’s happened, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I share a small part of it with you. Thanks for reading!
This is Worlds weekend, and as far as I’m aware the grade 1 contest is again being streamed live around the world.
This year the format is different, with all grade 1 bands playing a medley and an MSR in a qualifying heat on Saturday and the top 6 bands in each heat playing another medley and MSR contest on Sunday. There’s been a lot of discussion about this new format, including some criticism in how the changes were decided upon and made public, and it will be interesting to see how it’s received.
In the meantime, this is pretty much what I feel like, along with everyone else who would rather be there than watch it on the computer:
Courtesy of Pipe Band Jungle.
I posted the other day about replacing the sole on my practice chanter by using a 3d printer to make a new one, and that got me to thinking. I don’t know much about the technology, but it’s pretty clear that the machines are becoming more affordable, and therefore more widespread, and their products are starting to show up everywhere. Online communities have sprung up to share ideas and sell products, people own them to make useful (and useless) things for themselves, and the company I work for was presented with a model of the reactor we’re designing that was made with a 3d printer.
Sooner or later the 3d printing is going to make its way into the piping world. The logical follow-up to my practice chanter sole is adornments like ring caps and projecting mounts, but what about things that contribute to the sound, like bodies for drone reeds? Or the tongue for that matter? Reeds for a practice chanter, or even a pipe chanter? A whole set of drones?
If you can build a CAD model of something, you can print it, and the pipes present some pretty simple shapes that are well within the capabilities of a 3d printer.
Now I’m not saying this is necessarily a good idea, but you never know until you try. If you hear anything along these lines, please let me know.
About five years ago, I bought a practice chanter that I quite like. It’s a regular length blackwood model made by Duncan Soutar, and for the price (less than $100 US at the time) I’m convinced there’s not a better blackwood chanter available. It has served me very well since then, and if some catastrophe were to render it unplayable, I would attempt to replace it with the same model.
My chanter has experienced some bumps and bruises, and within the first year or so of ownership it experienced its first major encounter with gravity. I dropped it from the height of my hand and it landed squarely on the sole, which shattered upon impact. I collected the pieces, stuck them back together with superglue, and it worked pretty well for a while.
Not long after that, the chanter suffered a nearly identical accident. For a reason that I don’t remember now (missing pieces? laziness? no superglue? futility?), I didn’t try to repair it this time, and I’ve been playing it without a sole for about three years.
For some time I’ve been trying to figure out a replacement sole. I emailed the manufacturer, who was happy to send me a new one, but the cost of shipping the part from Scotland made it impractical. Buying a new chanter was similarly impractical, since I still had a chanter that made a perfectly good sound.
A few weeks ago I had a sudden inspiration. I didn’t have the machinery or tools to make a sole, but it turned out I knew someone who did: a friend of a friend had a 3D printer, which he was mostly using to make new cases for his iPhone. I emailed him a description of the piece with measurements, and within a week he had printed me a sole. Actually he printed me three, in various colors, so I can change them when I feel like it.
The new soles are definitely not as pretty as the original: I simplified the design so they don’t have the interested contours, the layers generated by the printing process are clearly visible, and there’s a faint impression of the honeycomb pattern that provides structural support to the otherwise hollow sole. I’m not concerned about the appearance; it is for a practice chanter, after all.
I’m just happy that I have a sole again.
I can think of no instrument that has been infiltrated with gadgets to the extent that the highland bagpipes have been. There was a time that everyone played pretty much the same setup: cane reeds and sheepskin or hide bags, possibly with a tube trap. The reason for this was simply because it was all that was available.
Disclaimer: the information in the above paragraph is what I’ve been told, since my piping career doesn’t include that period.
When I started learning something about the pipes, it seemed like the the marketplace was just beginning to explode with toys and gadgets intended to make the piper’s life easier: synthetic bags, high-tech drone reeds, a myriad of moisture control systems, complex blowpipe valve systems, tone enhancers, drone valves; the list goes on.
Synthetic drone reeds range from very simple models that look kind of like a cane reed to wildly complex engineering marvels made from carbon fiber that require their own toolkit to adjust.
Synthetic bags eliminate the need for seasoning, which is great because that stuff is nothing less than disgusting. I think there are still stains on the carpet at my parents’ house from my early attempts at seasoning, and every day that I don’t have to go through that process I’m thankful. Some folks complained that they don’t have the heft of a hide bag and it feels like they’re playing a balloon, which led to hybrid bags with a layer of leather over a synthetic bladder to make them heavier. Zippers allow us to access the inside of the bag, and grommets mean we can tie our stocks in with hose clamps and a screwdriver.
The biggest downside of a synthetic bag is that it doesn’t absorb moisture the way a sheepskin or hide bag does, so you have to find some way to deal with the gobs of spit that you’re blowing in. It would be fairly straightforward to catch pretty much all of the moisture, and there are several variants on the idea of passing the air through a container filled with a desiccant material that is effectively cat litter. The problem here is chanter reeds are still made of cane and therefore require some moisture, so any system has to absorb SOME of the moisture but not ALL of it, and since the local conditions affect it so much they have to be adjustable. There are usually provisions for altering the amount of desiccant in a chamber or tube that leads to the chanter, and getting just the right amount is something that takes many hours.
There’s also a ton of little gadgets that you can find at a piping shop: tone enhancers to enhance the tone of those synthetic drone reeds; drone valves to make starts and stops easier; a clamp that covers three holes on the bottom hand so there’s no false tones while tuning drones; a thumb stop to correctly position the thumb on the back of the chanter; blowpipe valves incorporated into the blowpipe.
In the 15 years I’ve been piping (yikes; has it been that long?), I’ve tried a bunch of this stuff. I’ve always played synthetic drones reeds; for a number of years I played a synthetic bag with a constantly-changing line of moisture control devices; blowpipes with integrated valves;
For all the gadgets on the market, I’ve found myself moving to a simpler setup. I now play a hide Gannaway bag with a simple water trap made from a tube of corrugated plastic. The seasoning is easier and less messy than it used to be, and isn’t required all that often. I’ve eliminated the complex drone reeds in favor of the easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive eZee Drones. They were among the early generations of synthetic drone reeds, and in my opinion they’re still among the best out there. A simple leather blowpipe valve is all I need, though I do keep a more technologically advanced backup on hand for emergencies.
I’m happier for the simple setup. Everything in my setup works well, and I don’t mean that it works well enough: I mean it works well. There’s a beauty in simplicity; as any good engineer can tell you, simple things don’t fail as often, and when they do they’re easier and cheaper to repair or replace than their complex counterparts.
Simplify: you should try it sometime.
A few weeks I was contacted by someone who asked if I would want to be included in an infographic he was assembling of the top 100 music blogs. I should have suspected something was up, because 1) there’s no way my humble blog would be on that list, and 2) he was undeterred when I pointed out that there hadn’t been much activity recently. I told him to go ahead and put me on the list.
I got a followup email a few days later with my position on the list (#83) and information for posting the graphic on my site. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he worked for a website that sold coupons and was trying to get links to that site. I politely told him I wouldn’t be providing him with the free publicity.
But that did get me to thinking: what are the best piping blogs out there? I’m not talking about news sources, but personal blogs by pipers who put their thoughts out there. Here are some that I follow, in no particular order.
Author: Andrew Berthoff
You may know Andrew Berthoff as the editor of pipes|drums, the best source I know of for piping news and results. He’s a piping and ensemble judge in Ontario, and uses Blogpipe for his personal thoughts and commentaries that are noticeably absent from pipes|drums articles. A frequent theme is getting pipers to think of themselves as musicians, and making the competition scene generally more user-friendly for those of us who are in it.
2. Jim’s McFingerwork Blog
Author: Jim McGillivray
Jim McGillivray is a well-known piper, teacher, and judge in Ontario. His prize cabinet contains both Highland Society of London Gold Medals (1985 and 1991) and a Clasp (1987), and more than a few top finishes in the Gold Medal (Canada). He is also the brains behind Rhythmic Fingerwork and Piobaireachd Fingerwork, the popular sheet music site pipetunes.ca, and is known as a dealer for antique and rare bagpipes. Frequent blog topics include practice strategies, aligning the mental side of the piping game, teaching, and instrument maintenance.
3. Dunaber Music
Author: Michael Grey
This list isn’t intentionally focusing on Ontario pipers, but they happen to write good piping blogs. Michael Grey is a top-flight solo competitor in Ontario, has a lot of top-level band experience, and has sparked much discussion and controversy with his innovative pipe band medley compositions. In his blog, he posts memories and snippets from his piping career, musical thoughts, and other interesting things to read.
4. Views From The Circle
Author: Stuart Milne (aka The Piping Nut)
Stuart is a Scottish piper who writes mostly about the pipe band scene in that venue. His posts include photos and videos taken at band contests, album reviews, and some very thoughtful comments on the health of pipe band competitions in the country of their birth.
Author: Vince Janoski
Vince is a New Jersey-based piper who created the Pipehacker persona by writing do-it-yourself projects for The Voice, the quarterly magazine of the EUSPBA. You can save a lot of money in piping by doing things yourself, and some of his tips and projects are worth reading. He has some very useful resources, including practice suggestions (record every session, every time), downloadable practice logs, reference articles, and lots of other goodies.
6. Kaypiob’s Chanter
Author: Kayla Harper
Kayla is a good friend of mine and former bandmate, and she uses this blog to down some of her musical thoughts. She’s got a particularly good feature called Circle Sunday, in which she posts a video of a pipe band performance that caught her attention. Kayla is extremely passionate about the pipes and the pipe band world, and she has a lot of good stuff to say.
7. Patrick McLaurin’s Bagpipe Blog
Author: Patrick MacLaurin
Patrick is a Texas-based piper, and he posts a lot of interesting pieces about a lot of things. He has an interest in Scottish music that’s not pipes, as well as smallpipes and ensemble stuff. He also sound clips of him experimenting with different pipe and reed setups. If you’re a sound-junkie, it’s worth checking out.
Got another piping blog I should be aware of? Let me know and I’ll check it out.
Holy cow, it’s been a long time.
After a self-imposed hiatus from blogging (read: I’ve been lazy), I’m back. It’s been a long few months, during which I’ve been adjusting to life in the Pacific Northwest. This move has allowed me to add two new states to my Piping Quest, join a grade 2 band, and enjoy the tasty craft beer for which Oregon is famous.
I’m happy to announce that with my return to blogging, I’m launching an ambitious project. The ubiquity of electronics and recordo-matics makes it a lot easier to share good music with the world, and I’ve created a website to do just that with the recordings I’ve collected.
I call it the Keydet Piper Bagpipe Recording Archive, and it can be found at bagpiperecordingarchive.com.
Browse through the pages and you’ll get an idea of what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m striving for a way to document contests, so I’m hoping to have recordings of as many participants as possible, not just a prize list or select few.
If you have some recordings from an event you’d like to share, I’d be happy to have them. Sean Cahill went to Winter Storm in January 2013 and was kind enough to share his recordings of both the Gold Medal piobaireachd and Ceol Beag light music events.
I’d like to have some band contests as well, but for the moment it’s just solo performances. I’d very much appreciate your feedback, so let me have it!
Ok, so I think the Keydet Piper may now have returned to blogging, after taking it easy for a few months. The reason for my absence is one of simple distraction (see point #4 below). I’m not promising to return to as full a blogging schedule as I’ve maintained at some points in the past, but I hope to be able to get some posts up on a somewhat more regular basis. There’s a few things that have occurred during my absence that I’d like to address.
1. The Piobaireachd Wednesday feature was proving to be pretty popular, and I’d like to resume work on that. I don’t foresee it being a regular weekly thing, but whenever I come across a good recording or manage to record some myself I’ll be sure to post it.
Speaking of that, here’s one to hold you over. I’ve been holding on to a stack of recordings I made at the USPF Amateur Piping Championship back in June, and this was the winning piobaireachd. The player is Kirk Brunson from Derry, New Hampshire, and the tune is Lament for Donald of Lagaan; he gives a very good account of this tune.
Kirk also won the MSR at this contest, making him the overall winner of the championship. Well done to him, certainly.
2. The Worlds happened a few weeks back, and Field Marshal Montgomery once again emerged on top, winning both the medley and the MSR. I wasn’t able to watch as much of the coverage as I would have liked, but I’ve listened to a lot of the recordings that are posted at the above link, and as usual Field Marshal put on a top-notch performance. The medley contest was actually really great, and commentator Bob Worrall kept commenting about the number of bands that played well.
In my mind the big story was ScottishPower, who put in a dynamite medley performance and ended the day in a solid second place. Their medley started with The Battle of Waterloo, which is one of those tunes that pretty much everyone plays, and showing (again) that a flashy medley opener is not required to contend as a top-tier grade 1 band.
3. We’ve also seen the Argyllshire Gathering happen, with the Gold Medal there going to Finlay Johnston from Glasgow. The other top prizes at this contest went to Peter McCalister (Silver Medal), Stuart Liddell (Senior Piobaireachd), and Gordon Walker (Silver Star Former Winners’ MSR, the seventh time he’s won it). I haven’t heard any of these performances, but keep an eye on Pipeline over the next few weeks, and hopefully they’ll have some recordings. Also keep an eye out for the Northern Meeting, which takes place later this week.
4. Holy crap I’ve moved. In my last post of any substance, I announced that I was moving west, and I’ve now had a little time to get my feet under me here in Oregon. I missed the end of the local piping season, but I’m looking forward to next year to see what it’s all about. I’ve heard the level of play here is very high, brought up significantly by the proximity to the grade 1 powers Simon Fraser University and Triumph Street. I don’t know about solo competitions in 2013, but I’ll do my best to join up with the Portland Metro Pipe Band.
So stay tuned (in all senses of the word), and hopefully you’ll see some more bagpipe-related content coming at you from the Keydet Piper blog.
As participants in an activity originated in Scotland, it should come as no wonder that sheep figure so prominently in it. I didn’t realize quite the extent of it until today, when Blogpipe had a post concerning just that. It should lighten your Friday to read it.
Good news for those pipers and drummers out there who aren’t planning to go to Scotland this August: The RSPBA has announced that the BBC will once again stream live coverage of the World Pipe Band Championship on August 11. The stream has been immensely popular in the previous three years that it’s been streamed, and I expect it will remain so this year.
Start planning your Worlds parties now!
I’ve said before that I don’t have much inclination to ever be a piping judge. I really enjoy listening to pipe music, and I love to sit down and watch a contest, solo or band, all the way through. There are things that I like about every performer, and to have to compare them to each other and subjectively rank them severely takes the enjoyment out of the music for me.
That being said, it is fun to be an armchair judge and come up with my own rankings for a contest. Listening critically to performances is the best way to train your own ear, and when you turn that ear on yourself it can really improve your own playing.
For the past two months or so, Andrew Douglas and Vince Janoski have been doing a live weekly radio show called Dojo Universe (also available for download as a podcast), and the episodes from June 6 and June 13 were both “you be the judge” shows. They took recordings of bands from a contest and played the audio, then ran a poll and discussed the performances with their live audience. I also recommend going back to listen to the recordings again after the discussion.
I won’t spoil anything by naming the contests that were recorded, but the June 6 episode featured some entries from a recent grade 4 band contest, and June 13 was a recent grade 1 band contest. I recommend you check it out and try your own hand at judging.
A competition for the elite players of North America, the United States Piping Foundation Championship takes place next weekend. Details:
United States Piping Foundation Championship
June 16, 2012
Amy E. DuPont Music Hall (map)
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware, U.S.A.
The competition is open to any North American professional or grade 1 piper, and the competitors include pipers from the eastern U.S. and Canada.
This year marks the first time I’ll be playing in the competition, and though I’m not expecting to be anywhere in the prize list I’m excited to be playing. I heard some great music when I went for the morning last year, but I was struck by the complete lack of audience. It was was really disappointing to see that the audience consisted almost entirely of other competitors. For such a high-profile event that’s been happening for over 20 years, I would have expected a larger crowd of knowledgeable spectators.
I feel this event doesn’t get the publicity that it should, so I’m doing my part to spread the word. If you’re able to attend, I encourage you do to so, even if it’s only to watch a few tunes. Both amateur and professional piobaireachd events start in the morning, with the MSR happening after lunch.
This year’s order of play and tune selections:
Amateur Piobaireachd, 9 a.m. start
Judges Peter Kent and Jim Stack
1. Nathan Wahlgren, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee
2. Kathleen Brown, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart
3. Andrew Donlon, MacIntosh’s Lament
4. John McGrath, MacGregor’s Salute
5. Ross Davidson, Battle of the Pass of Crieff
6. Sean Regan, The King’s Taxes
7. Albert Defusco, Lament for Mary MacLeod
8. Sean Poyntz, MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute
9. Avens Ridgeway, A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick
10. Mary Wallace, The Bicker
11. Kirk Brunson, Lament for Donald of Laggan
Amateur MSR, afternoon start
1. Mary Wallace: The Argyllshire Gathering, The Islay Ball, Dolina MacKay
2. Avens Ridgeway: David Ross, Tulloch Gorm, The Cockerel in the Creel
3. Nathan Wahlgren: Hugh Kennedy, Tulloch Castle, The Sheepwife
4. Kirk Brunson: The Pap of Glencoe, Susan MacLeod, The Blackberry Bush
5. Sean Poyntz: MacLean of Pennycross, Maggie Cameron, Cecily Ross
6. Albert Defusco: The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Caledonian Society of London, Bessie McIntyre
7. Andrew Donlond: Abercairney Highlanders, Inverary Castle, The Grey Bob
8. Kathleen Brown: Jeannie Carruthers, Caber Feidh, Thompson’s Dirk
9. Sean Regan: John MacFadyen of Melfort, Lady Louden, John Morrison of Assynt House
10. John McGrath: Duke of Roxeboro’s Farewell to the Blackmount Forest, Dora MacLeod, Broadford Bay
11. Ross Davidson: South Hall, The Ewe w’ the Crooked Horn, Lochiel’s Away to France
Professional Piobaireachd, 8:30 a.m. start
Judges Reay MacKay and Colin MacLellan
1. James Bell, The End of the Great Bridge
2. Brian Meagher, Lament for Donald of Laggan
3. Dan Lyden, Fair Honey
4. Ben McClamrock, The Bicker
5. Duncan Bell, The Big Spree
6. Nick Hudson, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee
7. Liz Cherry, Salute to Donald
8. Alex Gandy, Catherine’s Lament
9. Elliot Smith, The Fingerlock
10. John Bottomley, The Blue Ribbon
11. Derek Midgely, I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand
12. Andrew Carlise, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay
13. Palmer Shonk, Tullach Ard
Professional MSR, afternoon start
1. Alex Gandy: MacLean of Pennycross, Arniston Castle, Neil Angus MacDonald
2. Nick Hudson: Abercairney Highlanders, Tulloch Castle, Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran
3. John Bottomley: Colin Thompson, Inverary Castle, Pretty Marion
4. James Bell: Portland Castle, Blair Drummond, The Smith of Chilliehassie
5. Elliot Smith: Pipe Major Willie McLean, Susan MacLeod, The Cockerel in the Creel
6. Dan Lyden: The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Caledonian Society of London, Lt. Col. D.J.S. Murray
7. Brian Meagher: The Braes of Castle Grant, Islay Ball, Alick C. MacGregor
8. Liz Cherry: Jeannie Carruthers, Cabar Feish, The Man from Glengarry
9. Andrew Carlisle: Kantara to El Arish, Inverary Castle, Bessie McIntyre
10. Duncan Bell: The Crags of Stirling, The Piper’s Bonnet, John Garroway
11. Derek Midgley: John MacDonald’s Welcome to South Uist, MacBeth’s Strathspey, John Morrison of Assynt House
12. Palmer Shonk: The 93rd at Modder River, The Bob of Fettercairn, The Sound of Sleat
13. Ben McClamrock: John MacFadyen of Melfort, Tulloch Gorm, Broadford Bay
Here’s a pretty easy do-it-yourself project that can bring a little bagpipe flavor to your living room. This project was inspired by my first journey to Winter Storm in Kansas City, MO in January 2009. I noticed that the judges’ tables were adorned with bagpipe chanter lamps (visible on the right of this photo). I thought that was a pretty neat idea, and although it’s taken me a few years, I now find myself in need of a few table lamps and have decided to tackle on the project.
There were four phases of this project: the base, the pipe, the lamp, and assembly. Check the gallery at the bottom of the page for photos throughout the project.
Phase 1: The Base
In the woodcraft section at the local craft store I found a selection of basswood plaques, and chose the 8″ x 10″ for this project. It’s plain wood to start, so I picked up some sandpaper and stain as well.
I started by drilling a hole in the center of the base for the cord; it started as 3/8″ and was later enlarged to 3/4″. I also used a chisel to carve a groove in the underside of the base for the lamp cord. (Yes, I recognize that a router would have been the right tool for this job, but I don’t have one of those.)
Once drilled and carved, it was a matter of sanding and staining the base. One coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane finish did the trick, just following the directions on the can.
Phase 1 cost: $23 total ($7 wood base, $12 wood stain and finish, $4 sandpaper)
Phase 1 time: 90 minutes plus drying time.
Phase 2: The Pipe
To do something different I decided to use a tenor drone instead of a chanter, and set about trying to find one. A friend has as a box of miscellaneous bagpipe parts that he’s collected over the years. As he said, “They have flaws, cracks, and gouges, but they are fine for furniture.” He set me up with a tenor drone top and bottom that look halfway decent but don’t sound like much.
Prepping the drone was pretty basic. I stripped the yellow hemp off the tuning joint and replaced it with black hemp, then held it in place with some wood glue. I had to trim about 1/4″ off the bottom of the reed seat so it wouldn’t protrude from the back of the base, and I cut a notch so I didn’t crimp the cord.
Phase 2 cost: free (because I have good friends)
Phase 2 time: 30 minutes
Phase 3: The Lamp
Many big box and home improvement stores sell lamp kits, and I opted for the kit designed to convert glass bottles into lamps. It comes with a variety of rubber fittings, and the smallest of these was just about right for the top of the tenor drone, just like a drone cork.
Phase 3 cost: $15 ($7 lamp kit, $8 lamp shade)
Phase 3 time: 1o minutes
Phase 4: Assembly
This is simply a matter of threading the lamp cord through the base, the drone, the socket base, and securing it to the socket with the attached screws. I held all the connections in place with a bit of wood glue, and after it dried I had myself a bagpipe accent for my apartment.
Phase 4 cost: $0
Phase 4 time: 10 minutes
Total project cost: $38. Not bad for a unique conversation piece.
If you undertake a project like this, I’d love to hear about it.
Some time ago I saw this video. I may or may not have posted it here. It’s pretty amusing.
Fast forward to this week, when I stumbled across Bagpipe Star. It’s not exactly like Bagpipe Hero, more like karaoke. Based on the demo video, it looks like it could actually be something that could be put to use in a number of situations.
Has anyone tried this? I’d love to hear your feedback on it.
You’ve probably noticed that the frequency of my posts has declined in recent weeks, and that’s due to a few life-chancing circumstances that will be announced here in time. Hopefully when things settle down I’ll be able to update a bit more frequently, but it’s also entirely possible that things won’t settle down and I’ll have to find some time to work in all the stuff I need to do. Whatever the case, rest assured that the Keydet Piper blog is not going away, and I am still floating around in bagpipe cyberspace.
I read an article is this week’s Sunday New York Times about classic violins; more precisely it was about the perceived value of class violins. The article opens with an interesting case study: 21 top violinists took a blind test in which they played six different instruments and were asked to choose their favorites. Among the six were two violins made by Stradivarius and one by Guarnerius, two of the most respected names in the field. The other three were modern instruments.
Here is where things get interesting: only 8 of the 21 players picked one of the old masters as their preferred instrument. One might ask if the old instruments are really as good as their reputation, but I think the real question to be asked is if one cannot find a new instrument that is just as good as one of the old ones.
This of course got me thinking about bagpipes (in all honesty, though, it doesn’t take much to do that), and the appeal of playing an old instrument as opposed to a more modern one. There are some key differences between what is considered an “old” set of pipes and an “old” violin; a classic set of pipes is generally more in the range of 100 years old than 300 or 400 you might find with a violin, and the price tag on a set of old pipes is usually significantly less (thankfully) than that of an old violin.
Those different aside, many pipers have on their wish lists a set made by one of the acknowledged masters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Lawrie, Henderson, Glen, Starck, MacDougall, Center. But why do so many pipers want to play those old sets? Do they really sound better than a new set? Is that the only way to get a really true pipe sound?
I’ll tackle those questions in reverse order.
1. Is a vintage set of pipes the only way to get a good sound?
Absolutely not. As a counterexample I present Alastair Dunn, general manager of RG Hardie. He plays a set that was made within the last few years, and having heard him live at the Metro Cup last year I can attest to the fact that this guy knows what’s going on when it comes to bagpipe sound.
Personally, I think the sound comes more from the player than the pipes. A good player can make nearly any set of pipes sound good, but will obviously prefer a good instrument.
2. Do old pipes sound better than modern ones?
I think this is something that every piper has to answer individually. Personally, I don’t have the ear to be able to distinguish the finer points of drone sound, but I suspect that many comparisons involve some amount of confirmation bias. If a piper tells you that he’s playing an old set that sounds really good, you’re going to listen to them with that already in your head. I suspect the violinists who picked the modern instruments would never have dreamed of that if they had known what they were playing. If you expect an instrument to sound good when you first hear it, it’s likely that it will.
To answer the question, do old pipes sound better? I don’t know. There are a lot of old sets that sound great, but there are also some modern sets that sound just as good.
3. Why do so many pipers want old pipes?
Simply put, because they’re neat. Old things speak to a part of the mind that doesn’t decide things based on logic, but rather on nostalgia, beauty, sex appeal, and a dozen other intangible qualities. People want old pipes for more than sound, just as classic car buffs fill their garages with cars that are admittedly less practical than a car made last year. Pipers want old pipes for the legacy and history that goes with the instrument, to try to draw them a bit closer to the traditions of this great instrument.
When it comes to sound, it’s all about personal preference. There are plenty of well-made modern instruments that sound really good, but there are also a lot of old instruments that sound good. The key is to find something that you like and go with it.
Even though my pipes are something over 60 years old, I have to admit that I am not satisfied with them. Don’t get me wrong, I love my pipes, I love their sound, and I’ve had many other folks tell me they sound good. I could play them happily for many years, and in all likelihood I will.
But my dream is to play a vintage set from WWI or earlier. I don’t have something specific in mind, but I’d love to be able to tell people that my pipes were made in the early 20th century, and are mounted with real silver and ivory. The reason I want an old set is not based on sound, but on my own vanity.
As I’ve done for the last few years, I’m forgoing the practice of making resolutions and instead making a list of things I’d like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Some are piping-related, and some aren’t.
- Learn four new piobaireachds. Last year I set the goal of learning two new tunes, and finished with four, thanks largely to the newly-minted interest in piobaireachd that was behind the launch of Piobaireachd Wednesday in July. I can do that again.
- Be a more active solo competitor. The last two years I’ve taken it easy on the solo boards, and the few times that I did play reminded me of how much I enjoy it. This year I’d like to compete at 6 highland games, whereas last year I only made it to two. Geographical relocation will probably determine which ones they are, and time constraints will determine how well I play.
- Shift Piobaireachd Wednesday to include more recordings I’ve made myself. I’m not talking tunes that I play, but recordings that I make at events I attend. I picked up a new recording gadget this year, and I’m itching to try it out. I’ll be at Winter Storm in a few weeks, and hope to be able to record at least some of the piobaireachd competitions. Look for the tunes I collect over the next few weeks. I’ll also try to grab recordings from some of the other events I attend (see #2).
- Learn to juggle. I’ve included it on the list for the last two years, and since those came up empty I’m going to include it here again. One of these days I’ll get to it… one of these days.
- Buy a house. I’ve rented for long enough, and it’s time to contribute to the economy by being a homeowner. I hope to be gainfully employed here in a few weeks, and that will determine where I do my house-hunting.
- Survive the end of the world in December. There are some who are certain the world will end on December 21, 2012, and I’m not one of them. It’s true the Mayan calendar ends then, but I’m wondering what they knew and we don’t?
As I’ve done before, I’ll post a review of these goals next year, providing I do #6.
What about you? What’s on your to-do list for 2012?
Happy New Year to my readers (all three of you), and I hope your year is off to a good start. As seems to be the trend on blogs everywhere, this time of year is good for reflecting on the past year and preparing for the one ahead. I’m no exception, so here goes.
- Learn two new piobaireachds. I actually blew this one out of the water. I somehow pulled off four tunes this year, including two in September and October. In February-March I learned Corienessen’s Salute, then Lament for the Viscount of Dundee in May, and finished with Rout of Glenfruin and Melbank’s Salute in the fall. The last two were notable because I learned them in a very short time: I had both memorized and on pipes within a few days of seeing the music for the first time.
- Get a bagpipe sound that I’m really happy with. It seems that I accomplished this one, although I can’t exactly when it happened. It seemed that suddenly I had a good sound, and it was noted by the judges in all four events I entered in the fall online piping competition. It was a Colin MacLellan reed for my Naill chanter that seems to have done the trick, and since that’s a winning combination I’m going to stick with it.
- Check off three new states on my piping quest. Unfortunately this wasn’t one that I was able to do. I only managed to add one, (Washington, DC) and it isn’t technically even a state. I had been hoping to enter competitions in Connecticut and Tennessee, as well as the USPF competition in Delaware, but calendar conflicts seemed to get in the way of all of those.
- Graduate. I did this one! I didn’t actually walk the stage (and I won’t technically have my degree until it’s officially posted to my academic records in mid-January), but I finished the remaining 21 credit hours for my master’s degree.
- Work in a career-related summer internship. Unfortunately this one didn’t work out for me either, and not for lack of trying. I applied for a good dozen or so positions all over the country, and no one seemed to like me enough to hire me. I ended up working for a professor over the summer as an unpaid research assistant, which was better than nothing, I suppose.
So overall it was a mediocre year in terms of the goals I set at the beginning. In the next day or so I’ll put up some goals for 2012, and I encourage you to do the same and share yours as well.
Pipehacker’s Morning Comix sums up my answer to this pretty neatly. Check it out.
This week a new podcast appeared over at Pipehacker.com: The Small Tunes Podcast. For a while he’s had a feature on small tunes that he’s dug out of somewhere, and now he’s launching that feature as an audio podcast. The first episode explains his thoughts on small tunes and where the podcast is going, and it’s pretty interesting. That whet my appetite, and I’m looking forward to the next episode when he starts posting tunes.
Subscribe to it with your RSS reader or iTunes, and be ready to add some small tunes to your repertoire.
Even though we’re in the piping offseason now, it won’t be long before things start up again. I’d venture to say that most bands are already hitting new music pretty hard, and if you’re a solo competitor this is a good time to be thinking about learning some new music as well.
If you’re in the mid-Atlantic area (or even if you’re not), I suggest you check out the Delco Mid-Atlantic workshop, coming up on January 28 and 29. This is a regular event in the Mid-Atlantic branch of the EUSPBA, and it always promises to be a good time. The piping and drumming instructors are well-known as judges, and it’s a good way to get your fingers warmed up and learn some new music before the competition season gets started.
Also, if you’re a young piper, consider entering the Gilchrist Challenge. This piobaireachd competition requires four tunes from each player (everyone must be under 22 years of ago), and the winner receives airfare to play at the MacGregor Memorial competition, part of the Argyllshire Gathering held in August.
I’ve been to this workshop before, and I highly recommend it. It’s definitely worth considering, and I hope to see you there.
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.
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.