In the performance bubble…

I can’t figure out if the recent glut of bookings I’ve been experiencing is a temporary thing, or if I should expect to be this busy going forward. (Not that I’m complaining, you understand!)

I do rather think it has something to do with my new connection to the Heathen Highlanders. As dubious as their name suggests they might be, they seem to carry a certain weight amongst funeral directors around here. Prior to joining the Heathens, I had not had a private paying gig in about 3 months. Since my first performance with them on St Patrick’s Day I have played 4 funerals, 3 other paying gigs and a couple of just-for-funs. That’s averaging one every three days! It’s really good to feel so involved with the local piping scene. My band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band, is well connected – but in a particular way. The Heathens fill in some of the piping gaps for me! (They’re not bad people, either.)

A Pastoral Moment

Last night I played for a outdoor wedding at a beautiful and secluded ranch in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. I was asked to play for about a half hour prior to the service, while the guests were arriving.

About half-way through this, the wedding organizer came up to me and asked if I could hear the bull in the next field. Sure enough, after each set of tunes there was a distinctive bellow coming from the field behind the trees. I asked if she thought the bull was happy, or unhappy with the piping. She said she couldn’t tell.

There is a piobaireachd tune called “The Red Speckled Bull”. I decided to play the ground of the tune just for the bull and see if he liked it. When I finished, I listened. Total silence. I wasn’t sure if this signaled approval or not, and I was getting ready to play another tune – this one about a cow – when the wedding party arrived and I had to switch to more traditional tunes. So I still don’t know if the bull was happy with my choice of tune, but I’ll bet not many pipers get to play that tune in the presence its namesake.

A Wedding First…

I played for a wedding this past Saturday. It was a very pleasant experience all round. The weather has finally cooled a little, and on Saturday it was in the mid 80s Fahrenheit, with a gentle breeze. The wedding was in the couple’s back garden at the foot of some mountains in northern Utah. After the ceremony I was asked to pipe for the guests for about half an hour, so I stood under an apricot tree and played.

About five minutes into my set, the groom emerged from the house with a small silver dish. It turned out to be a quaich, a two-handled drinking vessel. The quaich is filled with scotch whisky and it is customary to offer the quaich to the piper. The piper is supposed to drink the contents in one draught and then turn the quaich over and kiss the bottom.

Fortunately for me, I know about this custom and knew what to do. Fortunately for the groom, he had hired one of the few non-Mormon pipers around here to play for him. Since members of the Mormon church eschew alcohol, his offer could not have been accepted by most. I drank the whisky (it was an excellent single malt, by the way) and finished my set.

Maybe it was the scotch, or just the glorious day, but I thought I sounded pretty good last Saturday.

An unusual performance

A couple of nights ago I played an interesting gig. I was contacted by a man who wanted to surprise his wife with some piping on their 15th wedding anniversary. We made the arrangements and I showed up at the appointed hour, expecting to find a party in full swing and a crowd of people waiting hear me play.

I was surprised to discover that there was no party as such. My audience consisted of just the man, his wife and their two daughters. They appeared to have just finished dinner, and were sitting in their living room waiting for the performance to begin.

Now, I’m used to playing in front of big crowds, but this was the first time I’d ever played for such a small group. I quickly re-tooled the performance I was planning to give, and the gig became a musical lecture on bagpipes, piping, and Scottish history. The family listened attentively while I introduced tunes, played on the Great Highland Bagpipes and Scottish Smallpipes, and demonstrated how the instruments worked. They seemed really happy with the performance. I even played part of a piobaireachd, Scarce of Fishing, since I never pass up an opportunity to expose the public to ceol mor! They really enjoyed it and said they could hear how different it was from the other pipe music I played for them.

I left thinking what a nice gift the husband had given his wife and family. I could handle a few more gigs like that!

March Drive-by

It’s been a while since I wrote. A two-week visit from my parents (from England) has given us plenty to do. Now we’re getting back into our routines. Here is a drive-by of my piping March:

My old band performs with Rod Stewart

The Celtic Spirit Pipe Band, of Buffalo, NY got a cool gig at the beginning of the month. Apparently, when Rod Stewart comes to town, he likes to have a local pipe band open his concerts. This time it was my old band that got the nod. According to my ex-Pipe Major, Joe Baschnagel, it was a great evening. Playing in front of 20,000 people an a circular stage is not to be missed!

A few days later Celtic Spirit headlined another concert with a popular Buffalo Irish Step dance company, Rince Na Tiarna. In a curious confluence, I learned a couple of days ago that the concert was arranged and promoted by a former colleague of my wife. More evidence of the smalltown-ness of Buffalo, I suppose.

I finally attend a meeting of the Utah Piobaireachd Society

It took me three missed meetings, but I finally got there. A great evening of Ceol Mor, although I was puzzled it was attended only by members of my band. Turns out the other two bands locally have their practice on the UPS meeting night. I will have to see if we can change the night, so the others can be there.

I play a funeral in a very old cemetery

I got a call to play a funeral in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. It’s a beautiful location, with a lot of historically significant people buried there, including Brigham Young, who is kind of a popular guy around here.

On to April…

Neighborhood Watch

A neighbor of ours stopped by a few days ago to give my kids some halloween candy. She said, “we haven’t heard you practicing lately”.

Ouch. It’s true, I haven’t had the big pipes out in our little circle for a while. Despite the overwhelmingly positive response I usually get, I still feel reticent about playing. For all the people who say they like it, I can’t help thinking “is there someone indoors cursing me and wishing I would stop?”

Well, I didn’t want to disappoint our neighbor (especially after her gift to the children) so the following day I stepped out into the circle and played for about 15 minutes. As luck would have it, the neighbor arrived home just as I started playing – with maybe a dozen assorted children and grandchildren. They all stood around until I was done, and applauded. A couple of other families showed their faces and cheered too.

I guess I shouldn’t be so concerned. I have to figure that if the ones that like it are so vocal, anyone who didn’t would also speak up.

They’ll be hearing less of me soon anyway. Winter is approaching in Utah and the daytime temperatures are unlikely to exceed 50 degrees from now on. (Then 40 and then 30!) If I go outside to play, no one else will be out there and I won’t be able to take it for more than a few minutes at a time. Time to learn some slow tunes. I’ll try out the grounds of some piobaireachds for them. Then see if they still want me to play.