The summer just flew by…

It’s hard to believe it’s almost October. The last time I wrote anything here it was just after the Salt Lake Highland Games, and our new Wasatch and District baby – the Grade 4 Band – had just had its first competition. Well, it was indeed a busy summer. Here’s the synopsis:

June was wet. It rained prolifically on the Salt Lake Games. The following weekend I marched for the first time playing bagpipes in the Utah Gay Pride Parade. It rained cats and dogs at that parade, too! The organizers of Utah Pride had never had bagpipers and I always thought that the parade could use some (couldn’t all parades?) I put the word out but, this being Utah, most pipers were reticent about attaching themselves to anything having to do with gay rights. Still, one other piper (who is out and open about it) joined me. We played for the interfaith church service, the march from the church to a rally at the Salt Lake federal building and then the following morning for the parade itself. The parade was intense; despite the rain, the crowds turned out in huge numbers and it was like marching through a tunnel of people. Afterwards we got a lot of very positive comments – we will surely be doing it again next year, and perhaps we can gather more pipers and some drummers. I think when pipers realize the sky won’t split open and strike them down, or that they won’t be “turned gay” by marching in a Pride Parade, they’ll begin to warm to the idea! I liked the peculiar irony of marching that Saturday morning in the Eagle Mountain parade (possibly Utah’s most conservative town) and then driving straight to play for the pride events that afternoon.

In July, the Wasatch and District Grade 4 band had its second competition. We took second place! We knew we had improved, but this was still a surprise to us. You can see our performance here: At the end of July we traveled to the Enumclaw games near Seattle. Up there we compete against the overachieving canadian bands, so we couldn’t repeat our second place! Still, it was a good experience. Also during July (on the 4th, actually) I marched in a parade in the morning and then drove 4 hours to central Utah to play for a funeral. That was a long day!

In August, the World Pipe Band Championships take place in Glasgow. Two of my band members joined the Grade 1 band Triumph Street this year and went over to Scotland to compete. What made the competition even more compelling was the live feed provided by the BBC this year. I got up super early (2am) to watch the qualifying rounds and then the finals. A fellow Utah piper (John Miner) did the same and we compared notes by Facebook chat as the competition progressed. Triumph Street qualified for the afternoon finals and it was very exciting to see my friends Justin and Ross broadcast on worldwide TV as they played a wonderful couple of sets with their new band. They’re back now, and ready to help Wasatch and District again during the off-season.

September has been a quieter month. My band traveled to a Highland Games in Colorado at Estes Park as the duty band. I wasn’t able to attend but it was a very successful trip and the band got a lot of praise for its professionalism. I started a new full time job in late August, so my mid-weekly piping gigs are now a thing of the past. At our band AGM we confirmed that we plan to travel to Scotland ourselves (to compete at the Worlds) in 2011, so exciting times are ahead.

Next week we begin rehearsing our new music for 2010. Our Grade 4 band will add a Timed Medley this coming year, and it’s going to be good! I’ll update you all as we get to grips with it!

Happy piping new year!

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.)

I Look to the Heathens – is this a Sign?

Just what the Salt Lake area needs as an antidote to missionary-attire pipe bands – a group of heathens playing pipes!

I’ve been aware of the existence of the Heathen Highlanders for a few years now – I saw them billed on an Irish Dance concert poster in 2006, and I always thought I should consider joining them. I never did a thing about it but, as Colby and Justin (a couple of my good piping friends) jumped in and seemed to do OK, I decided now was the time.

It turns out they are a trusting bunch. They have accepted me as a member without actually having heard me play! I have no doubt I can play the tunes and join the flow of their particular brand of piping, but they don’t know that, and they’ve booked me to play with them on live TV next Wednesday morning. They (or we) will be playing for a local TV station’s St. Patrick’s Day morning show, live from Piper Down, an Irish pub in Salt Lake. I’ve played in an English pub, but never an Irish one, so this should be interesting.

I have also never played a St.Patrick’s Day show. My old band came up with the “50 degree” rule; they would not play if the temperature was lower. The sole purpose of this rule was not to spare the pipers’ fingers, rather it was to provide an institutional reason NOT to play the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Buffalo, New York. Since the temperature rarely exceeds freezing in mid-March in Buffalo, the band was guaranteed never to have to play. Several years of having beer cans thrown at them by drunken Buffalonians had proved to be the tipping point in this case.

Well, this gig will be indoors, and we shall see if a party in Salt Lake City is any less drunken in this epicenter of institutionalized abstention from alcohol. I’ve played for prominent members of the LDS Church. With this new move in my piping, I will have covered the range from sublime to ridiculous. You decide which is which!

I abandon my pipes…temporarily

Last night my band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band played its annual fund-raising concert.

Our usual MC, Jeff Mann, was unable to be present, since he had to travel to California for meetings connected with ANAPBA (the Alliance of North American Pipe Bands Associations), of which he is currently Chair. Someone in the band (don’t remember who) suggested I replace Jeff. I’m assuming this is because of my affable manner and cool British accent, not because I’m the most dispensable piper in the band.

Anyway, the evening seemed to go pretty well and, although I felt fairly wooden in places, people said nice things about my hosting abilities after it was all over.

The sound of the final tune had barely died away when some members of the band rushed, Le Mans-style, to their vehicles to begin the overnight drive to Pleasanton, California. (The band is competing in the final Highland Games of the season this weekend in this suburb of San Francisco.)

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.

A Busy Weekend

It was Memorial Day in the United States yesterday and my band was busy!

We had three cemetery performances and four of our band members played with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for their weekly TV show “Music and the Spoken Word”.

The other bands along the Wasatch Front were busy too. Here is a nice multimedia presentation from the website of a local paper, The Salt Lake Tribune, featuring Jason Killpack, the PM of the Salt Lake Scots.

In addition, several Utah pipers, including some from my band were competing at a Highland Games in Costa Mesa, California. I haven’t heard all the results yet, but it sounds like they all did well.