Dae you hae a guid Scots tongue in yer heid?

If you understood that, and if you answered in the affirmative, then “The Scots Leid Associe wants ye tae uise it!”

To clarify, my brother sent me a CD of pipe music and he had to order it from the Scots Language Society, or Scots Leid Associe. The society exists to promote the use of the Scots (not gaelic) language. To my ears, it sounds like the old people I heard when I lived in Bo’ness and Falkirk in West Lothian, although, according to those people, they were speaking a specifically local dialect peculiar to their own town. I remember two of my friends (both in their 40s) who had lived their whole lives in Bo’ness having a conversation in front of me using all the dialect words they could think of. It was largely incomprehensible.

My brother said that when he ordered the CD, he spoke to John Law, who edits the official Scots Language magazine. He was “a friendly guy, but hard to understand”. Perhaps I will call him sometime. The CD is tremendous – Andrew Wright playing piobaireachd, including two tunes that I hope to be able to play soon: Hail to my Country, and The Lament for Captain MacDougall. My old band, The Celtic Spirit Pipe Band used to play the first variation from Hail to my Country, and it’s good to hear the whole tune being played. Check out my old band playing and then take a look at the Scots Language Society’s CD offerings. They have stuff you won’t find anywhere else.

Some help from the past

It was my birthday yesterday. My wife gave me a present that is older than I am.

It is a little book by Seumas MacNeill called “Piobaireachd – Classical Music of the Highland Bagpipe”, and was written in 1964 as a companion to a BBC radio series. I curled up in a chair and read most of it last night. MacNeill explains the form of Piobaireachd comprehensively, but succinctly, and with a dry wit that makes the book fun to read. The book is also infused with MacNeill’s obvious enthusiasm for the music.

It is interesting to read what is also a snapshot of the state of piobaireachd some 40 years ago. Seumas MacNeill died in 1996, but I’m fairly certain he would have been happy with the way things are working out. Even here in Utah we now have an incipient piobaireachd organization – The Utah Piobaireachd Society – and, judging by the scope of discussions on the Bob Dunsire Forums, the future is healthy for the form.

This book is going to be very helpful to me. I thank my wife, and I thank Seumas.

New tunes

Yesterday (Thursday) was band practice night. For the first time this Fall we had pipes out. Up to now all rehearsals have been on practice chanter. As I listen to myself, I am amazed at how far I have come in the last year. With a collection of challenging tunes I am being stretched and I am enjoying it!

The weeks of playing the tunes slowly are beginning to pay off. I breezed through our opening quick march, did reasonably well in the jigs and made a OK showing in the strathspeys. The reels were a bit too much for me, but I was happy to make it as far as I did. Standing in the circle and playing the tunes with the band was wonderful. I feel like a real piper.

Onwards and upwards…

Piobaireachd and Mandelbrot

We visted some friends yesterday. They showed us a math movie about fractals and the Mandelbrot Set. Sounds dull, but these things are actually very beautiful.

One of the talking heads interviewed defined a fractal as a form, which no matter how many times it was magnified, always contained a further level of fine detail. Furthermore, the details look rather similar, but not necessarily identical at any level of magnification. The classic example of this is called the Mandelbrot Set, which looks rather like a bug, but on further magnification reveals startlingly beautiful detail.

The mathemusician in me immediately thought of piobaireachd. A simple tune, but the further you play, the more complex it becomes. Of course, the tunes end and fractals never do, but I like how formulaic and yet random both are. I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this. I think I will post on the piping boards and report back.

Energy Drinks and Possible Endorsements

My wife and I are both fond of energy drinks. My choice is Sobe’s No Fear, while she always drinks Red Bull.

The manufacturers of energy drinks go out of their way to brand their products as alternative – their drinks are different and therefore enjoyed by unusual people during edgy pursuits. If you think sliding down a mountain blindfolded on a sofa is a cool way to spend your afternoon (you were asleep all morning) then you might enjoy…

This gets me thinking. Angus MacColl just won the Glenfiddich Championship playing The Red Speckled Bull. Isn’t this a perfect opportunity for Red Bull energy drinks to come in with sponsorship for the coming solo piping season? In fact, The Red Speckled Bull is one of the list of set tunes for next year, so even more people are going to hear it played. One of the stories behind the tune is that of a mad farmer wrestling a bull with his bare hands. What could be more extreme? Can you imagine the shaky home movie of this posted on the Red Bull website? For goodness sakes, they already have a music academy, with a contributor called Greg Wilson. Second to Angus MacColl at the Glenfiddich last weekend wasGreg Wilson the piper. The two Gregs could get together and make an electronica version of the tune.

Step up Red Bull. Become the official sponsor of the 2007 Piobaireachd Society Senior Tunes. Blue and silver bag covers for all competitors.

Slow Down

Slow Down!

This has been the cry of our in-house band instructor the last few weeks. As we have started back in with regular band practice for the Fall, my band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band has been getting back to basics.

This is great for me, because, as a new member, I never really got to grips with all the tunes in the band’s competition medley last season. I managed to get the three tunes of the march medley memorized and halfway decent, but the eight tunes of the main medley proved too much in addition to everything else in my busy schedule.

So, we are playing through all eight tunes at considerably reduced tempi, in some cases at half-speed. The goal is to get the band to focus on technique (opening up doublings, placing gracenotes at the correct point of the beat, etc.) but for me it also gives me a gentle introduction to a competition set that I would never have dreamed of being able to play a year ago.

They’re good tunes too. Our opener – Coppermill – is wonderful swinging 2/4 marchlet and it just gets better from there.

The next challenge is to become so good at playing these tunes I get a regular spot on the competition roster. With over 20 active pipers, not everybody can play in competition. Still, all this technique work should help with solo skills too. Competing or not, I’m having a blast.

I am a Macfie

When I play solo I wear the Macfie tartan. I am a Macfie.

Although I inherited my Finnish surname from my father’s family, my mother’s family is all scottish and the Macfies of Colonsay were her father’s ancestors.

The Macfies (or MacPhies and other variant spellings) lived on the Island of Colonsay until the early 17th century. After they were ejected from the island (following dark deeds and collusion with the pro-English King of Scotland by a so-called friend of the clan) the clan dispersed all over Scotland and many emigrated. There are now Macfies all over the World.

So now I am on a mission to find Macfie tunes and connections in piping. There is a piobaireachd called The Rout of the Macphees. I have a recording of Donald MacLeod playing it on the practice chanter. There is a 6/8 march called Donald Macphee’s March. Donald Macphee himself (prominent piper – mid 19th century) compiled a collection of tunes. Not sure if any are actually written by him.

So, the search goes on. If any Macfies out there read this and can help – Hello, and let me know!

My Theme Tune – Part 1

OK, everybody. Now I have the music to I Am Proud to Play a Pipe. Step 1 Complete.

Next I have to listen to it a lot – I have Bagpipe Player software to help me with that.

And I have to try out some of these strange cadences and grace notes. At the outset it almost seems as though I will need a different mindset and even a different pair of hands to play piobaireachd. The whole thing is so different from light music. I will tap the talent from the Piobaireachd list on the Bob Dunsire forums.

More anon….

Piobaireachd – get it while it’s hot.

Any serious Ceol Mor fans should check out the BBC Radio Scotland Pipeline show for this week while they still can. It features Murray Henderson playing “Lament for the Harp Tree” at the Northern Meeting. This tune may not be the longest, but it has to be a contender. I timed it at 25 minutes and change. Anyway length apart, it’s a very beautiful tune, and Murray’s bagpipe stayed in great condition throughout.

You have until a week from tomorrow to listen. Then the BBC switches to the next edition of the show.