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.