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!

The Overachieving Highlanders…

That is my fictitious name for a new pipe band, formed by Roddy MacLeod, M.B.E., Principal of the National Piping Center.

In my previous post I wrote about Roddy’s new piobaireachd website. Well, apparently it’s not enough to be organizing that and running the Piping Centre. He has gathered a group of world-class solo pipers to populate a new band, with the goal of playing at the World Pipe Band Championships.

The pipe corps, as announced so far, claims a total of 14 Highland Society of London Gold Medals and reads like a Who’s Who of current piping.

Aside from being really, really exciting to hear an all-star band of this calibre play, it also muddies the waters of the FMM/SFU/Shotts cartel at the top of the pipe band world.

This should be fun..

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!

If it goes past your knees, it’s just a skirt

I watched Ace of Cakes last night on the Food Network. This is a great show, about a funky cake-making company, Charm City Cakes,with a cool owner, Duff Goldman.

Last night Duff was commissioned to make a Scottish-themed cake, so he chose a Highland Cow. The cake looked like a million dollars (probably was) and, to add to the atmosphere, Duff had a piper come to the bakery to play for the staff. (He hired Ian Coletti, of the City of Washington Pipe Band – Ian acquitted himself very well, and even offered a positive opinion on the cake!)

Then Duff kilted up for the remainder of the day and delivered the cake bekilt. I have to say, having watched the show, that the kilt Duff hired for the occasion was probably designed for a taller person. From the moment I started watching the show, I thought Duff would be a prime candidate for a Utilikilt. He sometimes wears a black chef jacket and a Utilikilt would look excellent with it.

If he does go for the Utilikilt, Duff should measure himself carefully. Remember, if it goes past your knees, it’s just a skirt

Wetootwaag’s Wild World

Interesting and consistently-maintained piping blogs seem to be hard to find, but here’s a cool one:

Wetootwaag’s Podcast of Bagpipe Power:When It’s about Bagpipes and Scotch, everyone wins

Actually, this is a podcast – Wetootwaag has a blog too, with possibly the strangest name ever.

In any case, Wetootwaag appears to be Jeremy Kingsbury from Bemidji, MN. Among his interests, he lists bagpipes, single malt scotch and the Ojibwe language. I can’t tell if he is Ojibwe or just a speaker, but either way his blend of interests certainly interested me. I listened to his latest podast, which includes a smallpipes version of Eye of the Tiger, and read his blog which features a scary story about the perils of over-imbibing. It’s all good stuff.

So, Wetootwaag, welcome to my Blogroll, where, appropriately, you join a pirate from Sault Ste. Marie who plays the theme from Star Wars on pipes. Perhaps you guys could meet at Grand Portage and play movie tunes across the border.

I am Old

Last night I went to a performance of How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying) at a nearby high school, Bingham High. Considering the age of the cast and crew, it was amazingly good.

In the lobby I bumped into one of my fellow band members in the Wasatch and District Pipeband. Turns out he is a student at Bingham High. I guess I knew he was still in school, but it’s still a shock to encounter someone I think of as a piping peer in a high school. What’s going on? I’m young too, right? Nope. I’m more than twice his age.

This morning I listened to this week’s edition of the BBC Radio Scotland show Pipeline. The featured guest this week was Callum Beaumont from Bo’ness. He is 17 (seventeen) and won the Silver Medal at Oban this year. He’s the same age as the highschoolers I was watching last night, and who are in my band.

I’m not going to beat myself up over this, but they are young and I am old.

Pirates and Punk

OK, so I’ve been thinking of cool tunes to add to my Drive-by piping repertoire. Seems like people always smile when you play a tune they don’t expect to hear on the pipes.

The Pirate of Sainte Mary’s is a piper who busks, and he plays a version of the Star Wars theme. Sounds like it’s a hit with his audience.

I’d like to work up some punk standards on the pipes.

My tiny list so far:

I Fought the Law – The Clash

Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones (honestly, with three notes you can probably make anything by The Ramones work on pipes)

It’s early days yet – any suggestions? I’ll update the list soon….