In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am, in fact, English.
OK, I’m actually a strange mixture of English, Scottish and Finnish, but if you were to hear me talk there would be no hiding my Englishness.
As an Englishman playing the quintessentially Scottish instrument, here is what I have observed about the English.
They mostly do not like the pipes.
When I go home to visit, and I play the pipes, the response seems to vary from cool to rude. It’s true, there are a few who like it and even ask me to play more, but these are in the minority. (I’ll tell the story of my exploits in a little English pub soon.) By contrast, I have never received anything less than a totally enthusiastic response from audiences in the U.S. I have a theory about the reason for this.
A large number of the British immigrants to the U.S. were actually Scottish or Irish. They left, in part, because of the horrible treatment they recieved from their English overlords. (The English that emigrated may not have been that fond of their authority figures either.) So, those who left and crossed the Atlantic may well have held dear the very things that their former masters despised. It was part of defining their new identity.
OK, I’m done playing the armchair cultural historian. Anyone care to help me prove or disprove my theory?
The British army recently told its pipers to limit their practice sessions to 24 minutes a day, or 15 minutes indoors. According to a health study conducted by the Army Medical Directorate the volume of the pipes is beyond safe levels. Apparently the pipes have the same decibel level as a chainsaw.
Here is what one reader of the newspaper where this story was reported wrote to the editor:
SIR – I am not surprised to read that bagpipes and chainsaws have the same decibel rating. If we have a choice, may I opt for the latter?
More on this later….
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….
Adding to what I said earlier about my McCallums, I should tell you about the excellent service I received from the pipe maker.
I blow really wet – it’s kind of gross sometimes. Anyway, a few months back I noticed that the fake ivory end of my blowstick was loose where it screws onto the end of the blackwood. I checked closer and realized that the threaded blackwood area had cracked, from being wet and drying out so many times, I guess. I also had a loose ferrule on one of my drones after moving from New York to Utah, which I figured was also a drying-out issue due to humidity differences between the two places.
I called McCallum to ask their advice and Kenny McCallum (the owner and pipe maker) picked up. He was extremely friendly and helpful – turns out he used to live in California before moving to Scotland to start his business and he even played in Utah a few times. He even offered to replace my blowstick free of charge – despite the fact I didn’t buy the pipes directly from him and they were by then over two years old.
I ended up fixing the problems myself – hey, a real piper can do his own repairs, right? But this was just another reason to believe that this is a nice company to do business with.
Here’s what I’m wrestling with right now:
Piobaireachd – The Lament for Captain MacDougall
2/4 March – John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage
6/8 March – Pipe Major Donald MacLean of Lewis
2/4 Medley opener – Coppermill (it’s like a hornpipe and a 2/4 march really)
For the first time in its history, the TV cameras were at the World Pipe Band Championships this year.
The BBC sent a full outside broadcast unit to the event and will broadcast highlights sometime in September. Through the power of the internet we in the USA can watch at least some of the show. Check out a clip of the Field Marshal Montgomery’s winning medley performance: Click on WATCH ONLINE.
There are some good links on this page too.
Yet another person comes face to face with the Utilikilt and cannot understand it.
We went to check out a new fitness center yesterday. I was wearing my new Utilikilt. Mister oh-so-cocky membership salesman was curious:
What on earth is that you’re wearing?
It’s a Utilikilt
He was still unsure:
But what is it?
I explained, patiently. It’s an American take on the Scottish kilt.
Man, I’d get my ass kicked if I wore something like that.
My wife asked him if he was planning to kick my ass.
He assured me that he was not. I gave him a card, but we didn’t join the fitness center and I don’t expect to see him in a Utilikilt anytime soon.
I play a set of McCallum AB/2 Medallists. They came with Ezee-Drone reeds and I subsequently added a Ross canister bag. My band in Utah, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band, also uses McCallum chanters, so the nice thing is that I can play my pipes in the band with its own chanter.
I’ve had the pipes for nearly three years now and they are amazingly steady. Once tuned they play back in at band practice in about five minutes and the drones and chanter need almost no adjustment each time I take them out. Strike in is never a problem, cut-offs are easy, and the sound is sweet and precise.
The pipes easily handle the transition from the humid Eastern U.S or the English coast to the dry Mountain West. They adjust to altitude change (I’m at 4000 feet above sea level here) with no problems whatsoever.
I’ve listened to a lot of pipes since I bought mine, but never once have I regretted my choice, and if I ever have to buy a new set of pipes I’ll go straight to McCallum again.
They also have the coolest logo!
Well, the World Pipe Band Championships are over for another year.
Not surprisingly, the top three bands in Grade 1 were the same as in the previous three or four years – they just duke it out for who gets to place where. In the end Field Marshal Montgomery came out on top, displacing last year’s winners Shotts and Dykehead to third place. Simon Fraser University were second.
I have listened the first summary show of the championships on BBC Radio Scotland’s Pipeline show and am partway through the second week of coverage. The College of Piping Radio show on Radio Six International still awaits me as soon as I can sort out some computer issues. They have interviews with Richard Parkes (the Pipe Major of Field Marshal Montgomery) among others and that should be really interesting. I will be posting in more detail with my thoughts on the competition and the radio shows.
This year, however, I have access to more than just the radio shows. Nine members of my band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band, and their families were at the Championships on Glasgow Green. This Thursday evening I’ll be able to get firsthand accounts from people who were there. I’m looking forward to hearing all about their experience of the competition (and also their eventful airplane trip).
Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be able to make the trip over to Scotland myself.
I’m out of town this week with my family, so my kids can go to camp. We’re staying at a hotel that claims to be a resort. Glacial service and flies on the dining tables say otherwise, but that’s a whole different story.
I decided to practice a respectful distance away from the hotel buildings. This isn’t too hard as the hotel is way out in the country, on the side of one of the mountain ranges of northern Utah. I drove up to the water tank that supplies the hotel. It’s about a half mile away from the hotel and probably several hundred feet above it. I was confident I would not be heard from there. Yesterday I played for about an hour with only trees and crickets for company.
Today I took up my position as yesterday, but after a few minutes two of the maintenance guys showed up in a truck. Apparently they had to add some chemicals to the water. They were very happy that I was playing and told me to carry on. They left a few minutes later with big thumbs-up and waves. I carried on playing, but after a short while I heard the truck coming back. This time the front seat was stuffed with extra hotel staff – more waving and thumbs. It was a Drive-by listening.
I bumped into the maintenance guys again later. They asked why I had gone so far from the hotel to practice. I explained to them that I always try to be careful when piping in public – not everyone likes the pipes for some reason. They said to move closer and that if any of the guests complained they would “kick their butts”. Sadly we leave tomorrow, so I will never get the chance to see the promised butt-kicking. Shame – that would have added to the resort experience.