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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The World Pipe Band Championship is just a week away! A few weeks ago the BBC announced that they would be streaming the Grade 1 competition from the Worlds live over the internet. Coverage includes the qualifier and both rounds of the final, and starts at 9 a.m. BST, which is the wonderfully early time of 4 a.m. where I live here on the east coast of the U.S.
Last year’s coverage included an excellent commentary on each band’s performance by Bob Worrall, a judge and instructor from Canada. According to an article on pipes|drums he’ll be doing the same thing this year, which I’m looking forward to hearing again.
This marks the third year the BBC has offered streaming coverage, and it’s been quite a hit in the piping community. Last year the BBC encouraged people to send photos of their Worlds parties, and some of them were featured on the BBC website. I’m planning to get together with a few folks from the band to watch the event in its entirety (yes, that means I will be up at 4 a.m. to watch every band).
What are your plans for watching the Worlds?
P.S.- If you’re not able to catch the event live (or even if you are), on-demand videos of every band will be available on the same website. Videos from last year are still up, with the commentary from Bob Worrall.
Or will soon, at least. The annual Pick the Six! contest at pipes|drums has opened, offering some nice prizes for those who most closely guess the finishing order of the top six bands at the World Pipe Band Championships on August 13.
The prizes this year include a set of RG Hardie bagpipes for the top finishing piper and a Premier snare drum for the highest drummer. On your entry, be sure to indicate whether you are a piper or a drummer so you don’t end up with an instrument that you don’t play.
It is a moot point though, because I’m going to win the pipes.
As I write this, I’m preparing for the second day at the Glengarry Highland Games, the site of the North American Pipe Band Championships. It’s a two day event, with amateur solo piping and drumming events taking place Friday and professional solos and bands on Saturday. I spent a good part of yesterday at the games, floating around and watching some of the solo competitions. I sat in on a few of the Gold Medal (Canada) performances, and it really scratched my piobaireachd itch.
I happened to hear a bandmate play in her grade 3 piobaireachd competition. It wasn’t a tune I was familiar with and it sounded pretty nice to me, but she said afterwards that the judge had chewed her out for the version of the tune she played. Her instructor had given her a setting different from the “accepted” one, and the judge didn’t like it. As a result, this very talented and promising young piper did not appear in the prize list.
I’m not pleased with the judge’s reaction in this case. In a lower grade contest such as this one, players are still new to piobaireachd and play tunes chosen by their instructors as taught by their instructors. This particular piper didn’t know one version from another and was just playing what she had been taught. The judge should take that into account and make his decision based on the performance itself. Regardless of what setting was played, how well was it played? That’s the only thing that should factor into the contest results.
What I’m most upset with here is the student’s instructor, who is teaching students her own particular setting of this tune. I’ve pondered the subject a bit since yesterday, and I think I’ve decided that you shouldn’t mess around with the old tunes. Stick to the authoritative sources. An orchestra performing a Beethoven or Mozart symphony wouldn’t dare change notes on the page. There is certainly room for interpretation (listen to the same piece of classical music performed by two different conductors and you’ll see what I mean), but that doesn’t involve changing what’s written.
As for piobaireachd, leave the old tunes untouched. Notes are notes, and the composer had a good idea of what he wanted when he assembled those tunes. Feel free to add your own interpretation, but do so within the notes that are written.
Our tune this week is a special one: MacLeod’s Controversy, played by John MacLellan in 1964.
Here is John MacLellan’s bio From Andrew Lenz’s list of Who’s Who in Bagpiping:
MacLellan, John A., Capt. (1921 – 1991) Scottish. World class piper and composer. A career soldier, initially with the Seaforths and later with the Queens Own Highlanders. At 19, was the youngest PM in the British Army. First piper ever to be commissioned as an officer. Won every major title including Gold medals at Oban and Inverness and the Clasp for Piobaireachd. From 1961-1974 was the Director of Army School of Bagpipe Music. Revised the book, Logan’s Compete Tutor for the Highland Bagpipe and published many collections of bagpipe music including Bagpipe Music for Dancing andCeol Beag agus Ceol Mor. Longtime member of the Piobaireachd Society and was Honorary Secretary of their Music Committee. For a number of years was in demand as a judge at the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting. Awarded MBE by the Queen for services to piping in the early 1960s. Ran summer schools for young pipers in North America. His son Colin was born in 1958.
The tune was sent to me by his son Colin, a distinguished piper himself, whom I met at a piping summer school a few years ago. Thanks for sending it in!
To submit a recording to be featured on Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.