In my last post (months ago… yikes!) I promised that I might be posting on a more regular basis. Looks like I’ve let that go. Now that I’ve gotten settled into my new area a bit, I’m starting to get back into the piping mindset, and since I’m thinking pipes more often, maybe I’ll post more often. I promise nothing, but keep an eye on this blog just in case. Anyway, coming up is an event that all pipers should know about.
The internet can be the piper’s best friend, especially for those of us who are somewhat isolated from the piping world at large. I do my best to try to follow the results from big events in Scotland and my friends on the east coast, and without the internet it simply wouldn’t be possible for me. But with the internet, I can follow the news of the piping world at pipes|drums, listen to recorded performances on Pipeline, and even watch the World Pipe Band Championship live.
This year, there’s another premier piping event the world will be able to watch live: The Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship on Saturday October 27, 2012. The Glenfiddich is generally considered to be the world championship of solo pipers, and the ten competitors are invited based on the results from major contests through the previous 12 months. This year’s listincludes some of the familiar names like Roddy MacLeod, Jack Lee, Murray Henderson, Stuart Liddell, Willie MacCallum, and Gordon Walker, as well as some newcomers, like Callum Beaumont, who won the Northern Meeting Clasp this year in his first appearance in the event.
Coverage is available through the National Piping Centre’s website, and will begin at 10 a.m. local time, continuing through the end of the piobaireachd and MSR competitions. Be sure to tune in if you can.
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!
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
Over the past few months our competitive season came to an end in the eastern US. Everyone seems to deal with the time off a bit differently, and after you’ve been piping for a while you develop your own way of handling it.
I find the off season to be a good chance to go over the pipes and check for maintenance issues. Last weekend I rehemped all of the tuning pins, checked the hemp on the stocks, checked the bag for leaks, and that kind of thing.
I’ve also been trying to play once or twice a week to keep myself in something resembling piping shape. I didn’t do that last year, and when the band started up on pipes again it took me a good few months to get to where I had been. I’ve decided I don’t want to do that this year, so I’ve been playing to avoid that. Not seriously practicing, but playing tunes I enjoy just to keep both myself and the pipes functioning.
I’ve also been looking at new music, both for the band and myself. Band practices lately have been pretty enjoyable. We have an all-new medley for 2012, and we’re working together as a band to get harmonies and breaks arranged. It’s fun to sit around the table and throw out some ideas, then run through them to see if they work. The tunes were selected by the pipe major, but the final arrangement has been very much a joint effort.
So how do you spend your off season? What do you do to prepare for next year? Any other wisdom or tips for other pipers?
I recently posted about breaking down during a solo competition, and this post is related to that. My advice is that no, you shouldn’t break down in a competition if you can help it. There’s always something to be gained by finishing your tune, even if it isn’t a prize.
But what about when that breakdown comes from outside the player? Earlier this week I was reading rules for the gold and silver medal piping competitions at Winter Storm, which in my mind is the premier competition in North America. Each of the rules pages has this in it:
The Judges are empowered to stop any Competitor while playing if, in their opinion, the play is such to bar him/her from any chance of winning a prize.
First, keep in mind that these competitions are limited to open or professional grade players, who will have a lot of competition experience. Judges’ comments, for them, aren’t as important as they would be to a new competitor. These folks are more focused on prizes, and going off a tune or losing a drone is likely to take one out the running entirely.
Even so, I can’t imagine any judge hopping up from behind the table and chasing a competitor off the stage. Maybe it’s just that I’d never do that if I were a judge, and I can’t picture any of the numerous judges I know doing that either.
I’ve never seen that rule listed for another piping competition at any level, but I also have to admit that I haven’t really looked. Do the Gold Medal contests in Scotland have that clause in their rules? I don’t know. If you’ve ever come across something like that, or seen it in action, please let me know.
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.
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.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I spend a fair amount of time on the boards as a solo competitor. Solo competitions are something I really enjoy, and I plan to continue them for the foreseeable future.
Over the years, I’ve heard stories of things that happen to people while they’re competing. In almost all cases, they all the result of members of general public who don’t understand how piping contests work. They’re so excited to see someone playing pipes that they don’t notice the person sitting at the table writing on a clipboard. I’ve heard of people who pose with competing pipers for a photo, or try to talk to the player or the judge.
I have witnessed people walk between the piper and the judge, games staff try to move the table or canopy while the competitor is playing, and a sheep dog run through the middle of band’s competition circle. In one of my own competitions, a games volunteer drove a golf cart up and parked it at one end of my marching area, and the driver then tried to engage the judge in conversation. He looked insulted when the judge yelled at him to go away.
This weekend I came face to face with a photographer while I was competing. The tent was near the entrance to the grounds, maybe 50 feet off the path coming in from the parking lot. The guy was walking in as I started my hornpipe and jig, and I saw his face change when he realized “Hey, there’s someone playing bagpipes!” He walked over and took some photos of me while standing in various places: behind the judge, next to the judge, in front of the table, and between me and the judge. I did a nifty sidestep move to maintain eye contact with the judge.
I did make a mistake in my tune (it was the jig by that time), but it wasn’t because of the photographer. It was far more likely that because I hadn’t played that particular tune for a month. (Why would I be playing a tune in competition that I hadn’t played for a month? I said that I enjoy competing, not that I was always smart about it.)
I’ve been looking for any of the photos, but haven’t managed to find them. I don’t know what paper or organization the guy worked for, but if you happen to see a photo of a very cold-looking piper who looks like me and is wearing a raincape, please let me know.
Like them or hate them, band competitions are a fact of existence for most serious bands. It’s pretty much the only opportunity a band will have to play for an experienced and appreciative audience, and it’s a way for bands to be able to compare themselves to other bands.
Human nature has shown that pretty much any activity we engage in will become competitive at some point; it seems to strike an evolutionary need of ours to compare ourselves to other people who do the same activity. So in the piping and pipe band world, at least the part of it that I see on a regular basis, competitions are a big part of life.
I contend that pipe band competitions don’t do a very good job of determining which band is best. Here in the eastern US, almost every competition I attend with my band is a single event, so the bands have just one run to attempt to demonstrate their superiority. There’s not a lot that can be learned from a band in those few minutes, and the single event doesn’t determine which band is better, or even which band is better on that particular day, but rather which band had a better run in those five minutes in the circle.
I propose that the EUSPBA expand their band competitions to include all events for each band grade. Two contests would be a much better indicator of which is the best band on the day.
All the pipe band organizations in the world have determined that bands should be able to play a medley and MSR in order to be considered a grade 1, 2, or 3 band. Why not make them demonstrate that they can do both on the same day?
I’m thinking about golf tournaments here, where the winner is determined by the aggregate results of four rounds of golf over the course of four days. In order to win, a golfer must put together four strong rounds of golf, and at the same time making a few bad shots doesn’t necessarily take a golfer out of contention.
It’s still really hard to determine which band is best after only a few minutes of playing, but having the bands play twice in a day would be a better indicator than a single performance.
I understand that there are logistical challenges that may from essentially doubling the length of the band contest, and those must be addressed. That’s the topic for another post, so stay tuned to figure out how I solve that problem.
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.
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.
The next installment in our Piobaireachd Wednesday series comes from Marty McKeon, of Lancaster, PA. Marty is a friend of mine, and I invited him to think about recording a tune for us. He’s playing Lament for Donald of Lagaan.
The Lament for Donald of Lagaan is my submission. My name is Marty McKeon and I am a Grade IV piper within EUSPA. Like Nate, Piobaireachd is my passion. I’ve been learning this tune for several years and it continues to keep my interest. I find my self continually learning about ways to improve this tune which is likely why I still enjoy playing it. From what I’ve been told, it is one of the greats. There is no better time than the present so I made this recording in my basement, July 7th 2011. Thank you Nate for being an advocate for all players.
My pleasure Marty; thanks for sharing a tune with us!
To submit a recording to be featured on Piobaireachd Wednesday, please email me at email@example.com.
This past weekend I played my first solo competition of the season, and the results indicated the amount of practice that I’ve been able to do over the last few weeks, i.e., not enough. It was a small contest with only one other competitor in grade 1, and I finished 2nd in all three events.
I wasn’t expecting prizes going into the competition, so I was focused on playing well. In addition, fully half of my tunes ones I had never played in competition until Saturday; two of them were tunes I’ve learned since January and the other was one I had submitted before but hadn’t been picked.
Of those tunes, only the MSR contained tunes I’ve played before in competition. The hornpipe and piobaireachd were new tunes that I’ve learned since January, and the jig was one I had submitted a few times last year but was never picked.
(In case you’re wondering, the tune were Tam Bain’s Lum, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee, and Old Wife of the Mill Dust, respectively).
It’s always good to learn new tunes, and rotating your competition music can only help you grow as a musician. As such, there’s always a time when you’ll be playing a tune in front of a judge for the first time. This leads to my question…
What goals do you hope to accomplish when you play a new tune in competition for the first time? Are you hoping to win? To get feedback from the judge? To not make note mistakes? To get the jitters out?
Here’s a nice piobaireachd performance to cheer up your Thursday: Roddy MacLeod winning the piobaireachd at the Glenfiddich in 2009, playing The Earl of Ross’ March. Roddy is one of the great piobaireachd players of the day, and this video is evidence of the master at work.
It’s well worth the 14 minutes if you like piobaireachd.
Anyone in the Boston area on the weekend of March 26 should make it a point to get out to Andover, MA for the second annual Back Bay Solo Piping Contest. My friend John Daggett started the event last year, and it turned out to be a really great way to start my competition season. I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to make it up this year, but I’ll do my best to get there.
He’s made some changes in the contest this year, including adding a professional competition. He told me he’s had several good players commit to attend, so it should make for a good day of piping.
John has again gone out of his way to line up some great prizes. The overall winners in the grade 1 and grade 2 contests will each walk away with a blackwood pipe chanter, and the grade 3 winner will have a very nice new practice chanter.
Check the link above for registration information; you have a week left to get your forms in. I hope I’ll see you there.
These are my two videos I sent in for the two grade 1 events, MSR and jig.
For the MSR, I had originally planned to play all new tunes, but they just weren’t ready. I ended up playing the march John MacDonald of Glencoe, strathspey Arniston Castle, and the reel Sandy Cameron. The reel was the only new tune I played, and perhaps I should stress that it’s new to me and is by no means a new tune to the world.
My choice of jig was complicated because it was required to play it twice through. I haven’t played any jig only competitions in grade 1, so I’m used to playing a hornpipe and jig, both once through. I ended up submitting Alan MacPherson of Mosspark, a jig that has done pretty well for me over the last few years.
The results of the contest will be announced probably in the next week or so, and I’ll be sure to pass those along.
I’ve just entered my first competition of the year, and it differs significantly from the usual format. Jori Chisholm of BagLessons.com has organized an online piping competition, where competitors submit video or audio recordings made during a specific period of time.
I’m excited to take part in this, and I’ll be sure to post my videos here when I have them made. Unfortunately I’m a bit late in getting this blog post up (today is the last day to register), but if you can make it I recommend you give it a try.
As an active bagpiper, I find it very easy to get wrapped up in the competition music. For one, it’s always in need of improvement (try listening to a recording of yourself playing if you don’t believe me), and for another competitions are one of the few chances I get to play for the critical ear of a distinguished piper. (more…)
I spent just over an hour this evening “attending” the town hall style meeting with Eastern United States Pipe Band Association president Eric MacNeill. The meeting was organized by Andrew Douglas from The Piper’s DoJo, and through the wonders of technology there were folks logged in from several locations throughout the EUSPBA, as well as Scotland and Costa Rica.
Somewhere between 40-50 people were actually attending, roughly the same attendance by the end of the Annual General Meeting held a few weeks back. Tonight’s meeting started with Andrew asking a few questions of Eric, and then they took questions from the audience. There were some really good questions.
My favorite part was that many of the people who chimed in with questions were not the same people who dominated the discussion time at the AGM, and they definitely represented more of the general membership of the association. It was really nice to hear some thoughts from some different folks, who are much more interested in the music than the politics.
I like the fact that in the few weeks that he’s been in office, Eric has already participated in something like this, taking questions from the membership at large, that his predecessor wouldn’t have done. I knew there was a reason I voted for him!
I hope this conversation between president and members will continue, and that it might lead to a more active (and happier) membership.
This Saturday, October 30, is the annual Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship at Blair Atholl castle. The event is a very prestigious one, and the winner is often considered to be the unofficial world champion of solo piping.
Fall means elections here in the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, and the ballots for new officers should have been received a few weeks ago. Be sure to take a hand in the organization and vote for the leading candidate.
I’ve been meaning to write this post since I got my EUSPBA ballot, but I’ve struggled to find the right words for it. It was stated much more succinctly than I could by Peter Armstrong in the Fall 2010 issue of The Voice. This is the closing paragraph from his article entitled “Breakfast With the Judges: A Missed Opportunity.”
When is an association not an association? When the membership does not participate and makes it merely a collection of people. My best memories of games are the friendships built with other band members and judges. That is what I enjoy most about piping– being with other “friends” who share the same passion. What is my point? This is our hobby– if you are passionate about it, take advantage of the opportunity others are working hard to provide you; workshops, and branch meetings. Make a point of meeting other people and give back to the association in a manner that helps it serve you better in the future.
The basic message: go do things!
There are a lot of neat events that are so very poorly attended. There are people (all volunteers, I might add) who work hard to bring opportunities for improvement and entertainment to the membership, and it would be really nice to see more involvement at these events.
This past weekend saw the last highland games and bagpipe band competition in the mid-Atlantic region for the year, and as much as I love actively competing, it’s nice to have a break. The band finished a month ago and we’ve been off since then, and now with the my last solo event over I’m getting ready for a little piping break.
I usually take the first few weeks of the off season to think about what tunes I’d like to learn for next year. I’m going to try to rotate out one of my competition tunes in each category, and learn a new one to replace it. As of now, my new tunes are projected to be:
- 2/4 March: Murdo MacLeod (replacing Mrs. John MacColl)
- Strathspey: Cabar Feidh (replacing Arniston Castle)
- Reel: Ca’ the Ewes (replacing Major Manson)
- Hornpipe: HMS Renown (replacing Train Journey North)
- Jig: Donald Cameron’s Powder Horn (replacing Alan MacPherson of Mosspark)
- 6/8 March: Dornach Highland Gathering (replacing Dundee City Police Pipers)
- Piobaireachd: Lament for the Only Son (replacing Massacre of Glencoe)
These are all in addition to a few new tunes for the band that were distributed earlier this week.
I also like to take some time to get my instrument together, adding hemp where necessary and doing a general maintenance update.
I’m also trying to expand my number private performances, which means I need to brush up on some smaller tunes to fill time.
So that’s what my offseason looks like. Do you have any plans for your piping over the next few months?
Regardless of how you feel about them, solo competitions are a fixture in the piping world, and if you’re serious about improving your piping they are something that must be undertaken. We can sit here and argue all day about liking or hating competition, but the fact is that playing for a trained ear is a great way to improve, and competitions give us that chance.
I’ve come to realize a few things about the tunes I’ve chosen for competitions, and I’ll share them with you now. (more…)
There are a lot of benefits to playing solo competitions, and after seven seasons of active competition I can attribute a lot of my improvement to competitions. Competitions have motivated me to practice, and knowing that I’ll be playing for a judge’s trained ear has made that practice more guided and thoughtful. My endurance has improved, my technique become more consistent, my ear become more critical toward my tuning and playing.
There’s also the constant battle against yourself and your nerves, and this still gives me a thrill. Do I have what it takes to get up in front of accomplished piper, push my nervousness away, then settle my pipes and play a good tune? That’s the question I answer every time I step in front of a judge; unfortunately the answer is not always “yes,” but that motivates me to work harder for the next time.
But there is a downside to focusing so much on solo competitions: repertoire. Knowing that my only performances in the next few months will be competitions encourages me to practice my competition repertoire, to the exclusion of the dozens of other tunes I’ve learned in my dozen years of piping. Since I’m never really satisfied with how I play my competition tunes, I don’t feel like I can move on to other stuff.
But one of the things that makes good pipers is knowing lots of tunes, and that doesn’t happen when you only play competition stuff. Every once in a while I’ll take off from my competition stuff to play older stuff. I’ll pick a category of tunes (like 2/4 march) and play every one of those tunes that I can think of. It’s a good memory challenge, but it’s fun to dust off old tunes. I’ve rediscovered quite a few favorites this way, and it makes me feel like I know more.
Andrew Douglas over at The Piper’s DoJo posted on this a while back, and he has a nice quote that’s worth some thought:
“The truth is, no tune will ever be perfect – that’s the name of the game; how close can you come?”
If you try to focus on one tune until it’s perfect, you’ll never play anything else. Revive some of those old tunes that you learned when you were first playing. It’s a trip down nostalgia lane, and it’s fun.