Salt Lake Highland Games – WDPB Grade 4 Inaugural!

Yesterday was the Salt Lake Highland Games, organized by the Utah Scottish Association – it’s the biggest highland games in Utah. It was also the first time out for the brand new Wasatch and District Grade 4 band, and we turned in a very creditable performance – 4th place! We are currently in the midst of the wettest spell I’ve encountered since moving here 3 1/2 years ago, so weather was always likely to be a contributing factor to the games this year. It turned out to be quite a feature!

Solo Piping

The morning started out dry(ish), but very overcast for solos. I felt really good in the piobaireachd. The humidity and cool air helped my pipes, and I played a tune I was happy with. I came in fourth, which was a little lower than I thought the performance merited, and I’m usually pretty modest about these things. I suppose the judge (and fellow Finn) John Partanen, must have spotted a few note errors of which I was unaware, and weighed them more heavily against me than the tenor of the conversation after my performance suggested at the time.

As we chatted after I finished playing, he complimented my pipe and my performance. He did mention that my dropping 2 notes from the ground was a version not officially approved by the Piobaireachd Society. [This despite the fact that the past president of the Society plays that tune (Lament for Captain MacDougall) sans the extra notes!] It’s possible he decided to push his point home by dropping me down the placings for that reason. If so, I suppose I should be flattered that he decided to get that tough with me! I was wearing my Piobaireachd Society tie, so perhaps he held me to the stricter (some might say irrational) standard that I’ve supposedly embraced by joining! In any case, I had as much fun playing that tune as I’ve ever had, so I wasn’t at all unhappy with my numeric placing!

I added marching this year to my 2/4 March (optional in Grade 4, but required if I move up a Grade next year). This is trickier than it ought to be. Despite marching in countless parades, the back and forth marching required in a competition 2/4 March feels very awkward to me. I will try to get more comfortable with it as the season progresses.

My slow march had a few note errors that I don’t usually make – I play the tune all the time at funerals. Perhaps it’s time to replace it for competitions. I forgot to bring the music with me, which is customary for more obscure tunes. The judge said he thought he knew it. I told him I thought it might be on one of Gordon Walker’s CDs in the “World’s Greatest Pipers” series. The judge offered to give Gordon a call, and get him on the line while I played.

Band Competition

After lunch, it was time to get ready for the inaugural public performance of the Wasatch and District Grade 4 band! We formed the band during the 2008 season, but were not quite ready to perform last year. This year we are now up to about 10 pipers, 3 snares, 2 tenors and a bass. We have a nice, straightforward Quick March Medley and it was time to compete. We were drawn first to play in the competition, which seemed a bit daunting at first, but turned out to be a big plus later! I thought we played really well. It was a little ragged as we marched into the competition circle, but we soon settled down and played a steady set right to the end. We had a clean strike-in and a clean cut-off, which always leaves a good impression. We stuck around after our set to listen to the next band play, but the gathering black clouds suggested we ought to take cover. We retired to our band tent just in time for a monstrous rainstorm to hit. We hung on to the tents to prevent them from blowing away (a couple did) and watched the other bands, who had drawn later playing times, tune up and march off into the downpour.

When it was all over, we discovered we had taken fourth place – a very creditable performance, considering we were an unknown quantity even to ourselves. We missed third by just one point and discovered later that our lower piping score was due to one of our pipers starting out playing the wrong tune! He was very contrite, and promised not to do it again!

The sun was back by the time of the closing ceremonies to cap off a wonderful day’s piping. Next highland games – the Payson Scottish Festival in a month’s time.

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!

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.

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.

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.