Tuesday, July 22, 2008
<--- The great John Wilson's MacDougalls
There is nothing more discouraging than a bagpipe that is hard to play. Here is the great secret... your pipe can be easy to blow and still produce a wonderful sound! The first place to start is the bag. Make sure you have a set of stock corks and check the bag for air-tightness regularly. Next, make sure that your stocks are properly hemped. If the entire drone is turning when you are tuning, your stocks are not properly hemped and you may be losing a significant amount of air!
Next, make sure you have a good air valve and a blowpipe that is not to restrictive. I recommend an Airstream for the maximum air flow. Many pipes come standard with a blowpipe that is not suitable, I learned this the hard way.
Next, make sure that your drone reeds are not too open. You should be able to shut off the reeds simply by increasing the pressure on the bag. If you cannot, your reeds may be taking too much air, making your pipes very difficult to blow steadily.
Lastly, there is no reason to play a chanter reed that is too hard. Purchase your reeds through a reputable dealer and pay the extra price to ensure that you are purchasing a reed that will play and not expensive firewood.
Don't be afraid to have an experienced player look your pipes over and help you get them set up properly, most players are very willing to help. Good luck and happy piping!
Monday, July 21, 2008
Without a doubt, one of the greatest dividends that piping has paid in my life is an abundance of friends, a whole lot of fun, and more than a few adventures.
The piping community is very close knit and I have had the pleasure of traveling abroad many times with bands and groups of solo pipers to various games and competitions.
Each trip comes with its own tale to tale, but perhaps one of the craziest for me came in September of 1999 when me and my good friend and fellow competitor Ian Crane visited the Estes Park highland games in Colorado.
The trip started out great. We were two young, poor kids so I begged my parents to let us take the family minivan. After some convincing my mom agreed. The trip continued without any problems until we started ascending the mountains going towards Estes Park. We noticed that the gears were slipping and as we continued up the mountain we realized that the transmission was going. There was not a lot that we could do at that point but coast down into the town.
We made it into our parking space at the highland games and had to spend the night in the cold van. In the morning we tried to back up only to realize that reverse was gone... Well, at this point, we weren't really smart enough to panic, so we just had a good day at the games and we both took 2nd place in our respective grades that day. As I recall Ian wasn't happy at all... "2nd place is the 1st place loser" is what he used to say. Maybe that's where I got some of my perfectionism... For me, 2nd place was good considering my hands were so cold I could hardly feel the chanter!
Anyway... after the games were over we were back to facing reality... we had no way to get home and very little money. Somehow we managed to flirt with the hotel receptionist so she gave us a huge discount a room. Now that we had a place to stay all we needed was food. As all recall all we ate for about 3 days was 7-layer burritos from Taco Bell.
A while later we get the news that my mom is coming to rescue us driving our old family motor home and pulling a tow trailer. When she finally arrives that is when the fun really begins. The motor home kept stalling as we drove over the peak (refer to the above photo). To make matters worse, construction had the road closed down to one lane, so we were blocking the traffic and making a lot of people very angry.
When we finally got started down the mountain the brakes started over heating and the petal was all the way to the floor and we weren't stopping! I thought that was going to be the end right there, but we somehow managed to survive to pipe another day. I just feel bad for my mom because as we very slowly drove home pulling her crippled van me and Ian played "guess that bagpipe tune" for about 10 hours! Its a wonder my mom didn't throw us both out of the motor home. That's true love right there...
Fortunately I did live to pipe another day!
If you have a crazy piping story please tell me about it in the comments section.