Monday, April 2, 2012

Let the 2012 Competition Season Begin!

Wow, it's been a long time since my last post!  Well, as the sun comes out, pipers are beginning to emerge from their basements after a long winter of practice.  The 2012 season is under way.

Last week I traveled to Phoenix with the Wasatch & District Pipe Band where the grade 3 and 4 bands enjoyed a weekend filled with fun and good music.  The grade 3 won both the medley and the MSR and a special congratulations are in order for the grade 4 band which won its first contest ever by winning both the times medley and the march medley.  Mini band competitions were also offered and WDPB grade 3 and 4 bands took first and second respectively.  Soloists also represented the band very well, particularly in piobaireachd, taking first prize in each grade.

Next up at the end of April is Sacramento.  The competition is going to really stiff, so it’s back to work for now.  I’m resolving this year to update the blog more frequently, so check in often for the latest updates.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scotland 2011


Some time has passed since my last post and the piping season has come to an end. During the last few weeks I’ve had a chance to catch my breath and collect my thoughts on what was truly an epic summer that I will never forget.


This August I was able to fulfill a dream I’ve had for many years when I traveled to Scotland with the Wasatch & District Pipe Band to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships. To say that this experience was fulfilling would be a huge understatement. Making the pilgrimage to Scotland for the first time and sharing that opportunity with an incredible group of friends and musicians was one the most satisfying and memorable experiences I’ve had as a piper. Great sacrifices, both of time and money were made by so many people to make this trip happen.

For myself, simply crossing the big pond for the first time was a surreal experience. Although I had prepared myself somewhat to be let down after having spent so many years constructing a slightly romantic vision of Scotland in my head, I must say that I was not disappointed in the least. I loved seeing, touching, and feeling the rich history and heritage which is so interwoven into the fabric of the country. Although somewhat cliché, I felt very much at home during my short stay in Scotland. It was as if my connection to the culture and the people which had developed over the years through my love of its music made my being there seem very natural. My only regret was not being able to stay longer and experience more of what Scotland had to offer and being able to share the experience with Trisha. I can’t wait to return next time with my family!

From a piping standpoint, this trip was the culmination of years of hard work, musical progression, and perseverance. After countless hours practicing, rehearsing, and preparing, the payoff was very fulfilling. Stepping off the line at the worlds was something that I’ll never forget. The band rose to the occasion and played extremely well.

Earlier in the week, our band had the tremendous honor and privilege to share the stage with the then current world champions, the Saint Lawrence O’Toole Pipe Band and the six time world champions Simon Fraser University Pipe Band in front of a huge and appreciative crowd at the Pipes for Peace Concert in Glasgow. Not only did the band play very respectably, but we got several good reviews from highly respected figures in the piping world, in particular, praising our band’s interpretation of the piobaireachd, Mackintosh’s Lament. Not too shabby for a band from Utah!

Another highlight for me during my stay in Scotland was being able to rub shoulders with and listen to some of the best pipers in the world every day. During the entire week, the Piping Live international festival featured competitions, recitals, and countless other events that allowed each participant to immerse themselves deeply in the best piping the world has to offer. Among the highlights for me was a recital given by Gordon Walker at the College of Piping. To hear Gordon playing “Lament for the Children” was a real treat I will never forget. I was also able to attend the Silver Cap Competition featuring Willie McCallum, Gordon Walker, Stuart Liddell, Angus McColl, Jamie Troy, and Alex Gandy. World class solo piping at its best!

Although the solo piping was outstanding, the week was truly a celebration of the pipe band. In addition to hearing SFU and SLOT at the Pipes for Peace Concert, many other grade one bands performed throughout the week and opened their rehearsals to the public. One of the highlights for me was being able to attend a FMM practice the day before the worlds, which they ended up winning! Wasatch & District Pipe Band was lined up directly behind FMM during the announcement that they had won the worlds. That was another cool moment that will stick with me for a long time. These grade one bands truly are inspirational to listen too. I can’t think of another musical hobby where the average player has so many opportunities to rub shoulders with the best in the world. It really is such a small world wide community that we are lucky enough to be part of.

I addition to the piping, we managed to fill the entire week with a lot of travel and sightseeing as well. It truly was an epic trip that I will always look back on as one of the highlights of my life. I wish to thank all the members of the band for their friendship and camaraderie, without which, this entire experience would not have been nearly as fulfilling. The band really has become almost a second family to me.

Lastly, after returning home from Scotland, the band turned right around and headed to Pleasanton to complete the season on a high note. Scotland will always be seen as the focal point of the season, but the entire year has been full of memorable and rewarding experiences. The band continues to charge forward and is making great musical strides. Although the season is just concluding, I am already excited with anticipation for next season!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Thanksgiving Point 2011

This past weekend was the annual Utah Scottish Society Highland Games at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Ut.  The entire weekend was extremely enjoyable with perfect weather.  The Wasatch & District Pipe Band was the duty band again this year.  We took part in the tattoo Friday night as well as several concert type showcases on Saturday.  There were more bands attending this year than I can remember in recent years, which was fantastic and a great sign for local piping.  The grade 4 contest was very strong with a high standard of playing.  Congratulations to the Salt Lake Scots for winning the timed and march medleys.  Unfortunately, no other grade 3 bands were in attendance, but the band still performed both the MSR and Medley for critique only.  We felt that both runs were an improvement over Costa Mesa just a couple weeks earlier.  Hopefully we can continue our progression all the way to Scotland!  Stay tuned for updates.   

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Costa Mesa 2011



This past weekend was the Costa Mesa highland games in southern California for the Wasatch and District pipe band.  A little California sun, good friends, and good music always equals good times for everyone!

The band played pretty well overall and had some great results, but we also realize that we still have a lot of work to do.    Now that we’ve passed Memorial Day, summer is officially here.  The band turns its attention to local shows and competitions, all the while preparing with great focus for the world championships this August in Scotland!  The band has been working very hard and we are all very excited about the progress we’ve made so far this year.  Check back in for updates!   


Friday, April 8, 2011

De-Mystifying Bagpipe Setup and Maintenance



I recently had the opportunity of acquiring “The Bagpipe Instruction Manual “ by Brett Tisdswell. Not to be confused with the more comprehensive “Complete Piper’s Handbook”, this smaller, 32 page, manual was designed to provide as much useful information on bagpipe setup and maintenance as possible into a small, portable, booklet that can be thrown into the pipe case and reviewed at a moment’s notice.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a complete nut when it comes to bagpipe maintenance. I have always felt that there is a special relationship and connection between the piper and his/her instrument. The time and energy one invests in learning and caring for the pipe will be returned many times in the form of a pipe that sounds great and is reliable and dependable every time. I have long been a fan of Brett’s schoolofpiping.com site and have found it a great resource for anyone who is interested in bagpipe care and maintenance.

I was actually very surprised with how much information Brett was able to cram into so few pages. Although similar in appearance to the old classic “Piper’s Handbook” by Pipe Major John MacLellan, I found the “Bagpipe Instruction Manual” to cover more topics and to be much more in depth. There is no time spent covering history or other topics. The book is 100% focused on providing clear and helpful information. It also contains many helpful photos, including detailed instructions on tying hemp bridles for cane reeds, diagrams of how to alter chanter reeds, and many others.

I think this book will become required reading for all of my students. The bagpipe can be an intimidating beast for a new player. This book provides a clear list of all the “must haves” for your pipe box, instructions on drone cords, bags, bag covers, valves, moisture control, reed basics, and many other topics. All very helpful for the novice player. Having said this, the book also contains enough valuable information to make it very much worthwhile to the intermediate to advanced players. The largest portion of the book is dedicated solely to reed trouble shooting and manipulation, both for drones and chanter. Pretty much every possible problem is addressed, and simple, helpful solutions are provided for each. It certainly goes well beyond the basics and is probably the best I’ve seen in the form of a small, comprehensive maintenance and setup guide. Certainly a worthwhile resource to have available for any piper. There is also some mention of matters of refinement, pitch, tone, and tuning positions, but readers are referred to the “Complete Piper’s Handbook” for more in depth discussion on these issues.

I appreciate this book because it helps take a lot of the mystery and superstition out of bagpipe setup. Certainly some these techniques take time to master, but many other tips can be applied immediately and become a great help to the player. There is no reason in this day and age that pipers of any ability cannot have a well set up, reliable, and pleasant instrument to enjoy. For those looking for a compact, clear, and comprehensive guide to “de-mystifying” bagpipe setup and maintenance, or simply looking to learn a few new tricks to have a better sounding bagpipe, this book is a must for the pipe case.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Can competitive pipers actually ENJOY bagpipe music?











I have a problem. I love the bagpipes and would like to think that I love good bagpipe music. Having been trained in the competitive tradition from the beginning, I find it very difficult not to be critical of even the best piping out there. I love to talk piping with my piping friends. A typical conversation might go along the lines of:

“Did you listen to (insert a top 3 band)’s medley at the worlds? Yeah, did you hear that under-blown B in the slow air? That was terrible! Yeah, and they just haven’t been bringing the sound the last couple of years, I mean, their chanters sound thin on the top hand and they aren’t getting the same blending with the drones as (insert other top 3 band). Their medley really lacks creativity and is very predictable.”

This is just a fabricated example, but is not too different from conversations I have all the time. The other day I was doing some soul searching, so to speak, about why I play the pipes. Are pipers really in love with the music, or are they just obsessed with getting better and succeeding at competition? When I listen to a good piping album I noticed that it is very difficult for me to listen without fingering along and analyzing every bit of technique or subconsciously thinking about how I would handle that technique if I were playing. At the same time I’m listening to the drones and chanter, the steadiness, the intonation, the blowing, etc., etc. When I get around to actually listening to the MUSIC, it’s really more of an analysis of phrasing, timing, etc. rather than enjoying the emotional experience of music.

I love bagpipe music, but how can I re-learn to actually listen to the MUSIC, rather than merely analyzing the conglomerate of elements that are going into the music. If I could keep the skill and knowledge I have now, but go back to the mind frame when I was a beginner and find that passion I used to have for the music I think this journey would be more fulfilling. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I’m obsessed with it, it’s just that I wish I could hear the MUSIC in the music again.

This is not a knock on competitive piping, it’s forever linked to piping tradition. I love competitive piping and get much fulfillment from it. It’s just that sometimes I feel like more of an athlete and not a musician.

Am I alone in feeling like this? Is it even possible to change this frame of mind? I want to listen without fingering along. I want to listen without thinking about technique. And it’s not just limited to listening. I want to re-learn how to play MUSIC, and not just play technique, tone, and phrasing. Can this be done? If so… how?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Little Piece of Piping Lore



As many of you know by now, I am fascinated with piping history. Here is an interesting little piece. The first picture is of competitors at the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban in 1950. The Skinny, young looking fellow third from the right is the legendary piper John D Burgess at 16 years of age. That year he won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting at Inverness on his first attempt, a feat that has gone down in piping lore and is unlikely to be repeated.

The second photo shows Burgess with his mentor and instructor, the great Willie Ross. Burgess and Ross went on a tour of America and Canada where they entertained North American audiences.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Piper's Persuasion

http://www.piperspersuasion.com/

Here is a fantastic site that I happened upon the other day. This is a gold mine of information in interview form from some of the worlds very best pipers. So far I've only had time to listen to the interview with Willie McCallum. Wille provided some great insights into practice methods and competition preparation as well as some very interesting details about his piping background.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How many can you name?


This is a great photo I came across of the 1986 glenfiddich competitors. You may recognize many familiar faces. How many can you name?

Monday, November 22, 2010

In the preparation lies the success...



Another great season of piping has come and gone and the winter season is upon us. For many pipers, the summer was full of long hours hard practicing and many weekends full of performances, parades, travel, and competitions.

Although very rewarding, it's easy to get burned out after such a taxing schedule. It is natural to let up on the playing for a bit after such a long season. Remember, however, that the offseason is the most important time of the year for a piper who wishes to progress. Use this time to reflect on your progression as a player and to set goals for the upcoming year. Don't let your pipe box collect dust. If you don't play your pipes regularly you will risk taking a step back. Instead, carry the momentum you have achieved forward into the new year.

Here are a couple suggestions for the off season:

Play your pipes as often as possible. The practice chanter has its place, but I don't recall the last time I performed with one. You worked hard over the summer to feel comfortable playing for long periods of time, that hard work can be lost in as little as two weeks without playing. Keep it up!

Go back to basics. Have any bits of technique been getting you down? Now is a great time to pull out "Rhythmic Fingerwork" and hammer out these bits so they don't get in the way of your music.

These investments now will pay great dividends next spring and summer. Keep up the good work!