The NHL and the LDS Church will help me ring in the New Year

I join interesting pipe bands.

Because I am a member of a band with close connections to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church, to those of you unfamiliar with Utah culture), I will be ringing in the New Year tonight at the former Hotel Utah, now known as the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. This is part of an evening of entertainment provided by the LDS church in downtown Salt Lake City.

Although I am not a church member, I reap the benefits of church association with this band. This past Veterans’ Day we played with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at a televised broadcast of its weekly show “Music and the Spoken Word”. The gig tonight takes place in the opulent surroundings of the former hotel’s palatial lobby. There is a huge atrium with a four-sided balcony. It’s going to be packed, and should be a great gig.

As fun as the action in Utah will be, it is eclipsed by the gig my old band, the Celtic Spirit Pipe Band of Buffalo, New York will be playing tomorrow. They have been asked to play the teams onto the ice at the NHL Winter Classic, an outdoor hockey game to be played in front of 70,000+ people at the Buffalo Bills’ stadium. The game is to be broadcast by NBC and will be watched by millions. The weather is forecast to be around freezing with 10-20 mph winds and perhaps some light snow. The band will have to march onto the ice wearing little chains over their shoes.

Good luck to you all in Buffalo – I wish I could hop a flight after the Utah gig and join you tomorrow!

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Salt Lake Scots’ New Website

The Salt Lake Scots (Salt Lake Valley’s pipe band) have a new website up. At least I think it’s fairly new. I used to check periodically, but their site always said it was under construction. Well, there’s a website there now, and it looks pretty good.

The band has chosen its custom tartan as the background, and while there are a few pages that are incomplete, most are up. I like that there are individual pictures of the band. This will save me from embarrassment in the summer when I meet members of the Scots, and have to remember their names!

On the subject of local band websites, my own band has a new picture on its front page. The picture chosen for our upcoming concert is of an ornate castle by a loch in Scotland. The White Peaks Centennial Pipe Band, out of Payson, also has a new rather spiffy image on its front page, and I think the Galloway Highlanders, from Clearfield, have updated their website also.

Spring has sprung, and websites are blooming all over. Good luck for the coming season of competition everbody.

Piper to the Stars

I was watching South Park last night. (lately, South Park functions as my bedtime story.) In the episode I was watching, the boys try to prevent Ike (Kyle’s little brother) from being circumcised. At one point, owing to a misunderstanding, the family gathers for Ike’s funeral, believing him to be dead (he’s actually in Nebraska). Imagine my surprise, when a piper shows up, playing Hava Nagila.

A little research revealed that the piping for this scene was supplied by Eric Rigler, “the most recorded bagpiper of all time”. Turns out Eric is the piper you hear in the movies Braveheart, Titanic and a number of other well-known soundtracks. Based on what I have read about Eric, it seems that he has made himself the go-to piper in Hollywood circles. He started out on the Great Highland Bagpipes, but now plays a bunch of other pipes and also the penny whistle. He also has a celtic fusion band called Bad Haggis, which is very successful. To quote the “All About Mormons” episode of South Park, “smart smart smart smart smart”.

This segues somewhat obliquely to me pointing out that my own band contains pipers to the stars – Mormon stars, that is. My Pipe Major and his brother feature on the soundtrack to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints-produced movie Joseph Smith:Prophet of the Restoration. Well, it’s a start.

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.

Peter and the Piper

Last night my family and I went to give some support to our local democratic senatorial candidate, Pete Ashdown. This week he is organizing a series of “honk and waves” at busy intersections in Salt Lake.

At last night’s honk and wave, it being Halloween, he suggested people come in costume. I figured if I was going to dress up, I could put on my kilt and bring my pipes to entertain the wavers and the honkers. In this Drive-by piping I would let others do the driving.

It was cold.

Actually, it was quite interesting. I figure if I’m going to make a go of piping for money, I need to be able to play outside and in all weather. The pipes stayed pretty much in tune, as long as I kept playing. I noticed the pitch sagged if I took a break between tunes of more than a couple of minutes. I also discovered that my birl finger went completely numb, as did my left thumb. Still, I was able to hit the main melody notes, and doublings, throws and grips seemed mostly unaffected.

Finally, I dicovered that playing the pipes blocks out the sound of car horns. Although Pete Ashdown and the wavers kept waving, I could no longer hear the honks they were responding to. That piece of information is probably not a big concern at funerals, but you never know.

Out in the woods

I played for private woodland ceremony over the weekend. It was not a paid gig – I was invited to go and delighted to do it.

Piping is generally an outdoor activity, but usually it takes place in highly controlled environments – highland games, weddings, funerals, parades. Twice now in the past few months I have played out in the woods and it was completely different experience. Back in the summer I played in the woods next to a hotel where I was staying. No audience (at first) except for trees and crickets. It was peaceful and beautiful. I could just feel my playing, knowing no-one else could (at first). The trees seemed to wrap around me. I stared at them in detail while I played and just lost myself.

This past weekend, I was out in the woods again, in a heavily wooded valley near Salt Lake City. Rich fall colors, crisp air, mountains rising around me. Once again, peaceful and beautiful, but this time with an audience. For that reason it was a little less reflective than the previous experience, but still a wonderful time.

I have a recording of Barnaby Brown playing piobaireachd in a cave above the ocean on the Isle of Skye. He climbed in on his own with his pipes and recording equipment. You can hear the waves crashing throughout the recording.

Playing in nature is a totally different feeling. Audience or not, it’s worth experiencing if you’re a piper.