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.

I abandon my pipes…temporarily

Last night my band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band played its annual fund-raising concert.

Our usual MC, Jeff Mann, was unable to be present, since he had to travel to California for meetings connected with ANAPBA (the Alliance of North American Pipe Bands Associations), of which he is currently Chair. Someone in the band (don’t remember who) suggested I replace Jeff. I’m assuming this is because of my affable manner and cool British accent, not because I’m the most dispensable piper in the band.

Anyway, the evening seemed to go pretty well and, although I felt fairly wooden in places, people said nice things about my hosting abilities after it was all over.

The sound of the final tune had barely died away when some members of the band rushed, Le Mans-style, to their vehicles to begin the overnight drive to Pleasanton, California. (The band is competing in the final Highland Games of the season this weekend in this suburb of San Francisco.)

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.

I test a new way to update this page

Rather an unusual post this time – I’m testing a new way to update this page.  Assuming that it works, you will be reading about the Enumclaw games last weekend.

My band traveled to Washington State (the Tacoma area) last weekend to compete against some big hitters in the piping neighborhood.  Although the competition took place in the U.S., it is administered by the BC association, so my band ended up competing against a bunch of aver-achieving Canadians.

Considering that, they did pretty well (6th out of 8) and plan to return next year, presumably with the newly-minted Grade 4 band in tow.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Payson Scottish Festival

Yesterday this fun and compact festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, and my band (the Wasatch and District Pipe Band) was there to help celebrate by winning the Grade 3 Timed Medley.

The Payson Games is always a really good day. The games are held in the city’s little park, which is old. This means that it is stuffed full of mature trees, so there is plentiful shade. There is a playground right in the center of the park, so the kids have a lot to do, all without leaving eyesight from the band area. The park is small enough that you can get all round it in just a few minutes, which make the logistics of getting bands and soloists to the performance a breeze. You may gather that I like the Payson Games!

That said, this year didn’t start out too well for me. I neglected to send in my solo application forms and missed the deadline. The organizer was very nice, but just couldn’t fit me in as a late entry. Still, when life (or your own carelessness) gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right? I decided to volunteer as a steward, since my only commitments during the day were to play in massed bands and the little parade-let up the main street outside the park in the morning. So, while the kids entertained themselves (and the dog) (and other band members’ children) I ran back and forth wrangling soloists and bands in the various competitions. I had a great time and got to talk to far more people than I usually do.

My sheep dog act turned out to be so efficient that the Slow March solo judge finished his competition early, giving time for a couple of us to play our piobaireachd tunes for critique for him. So, I did get to play after all. The Rout of the MacPhees got a second outing this year and I got some helpful advice from Bob Mason, the judge.

On the band side, the Wasatch and District Grade 3 band won their competition, and sounded very good doing so. The local Payson band (White Peaks Centennial Pipe Band) won both Grade 4 competitions and they really did sound good. Our new Grade 4 band will be competing for the first time next year and we clearly have our work cut out, if we are to put in a good showing next to White Peaks.

I had a great day. No sunburn this games, and the cherry on top was buying fresh cherries from a farm stand on the way home. Yum.

Salt Lake Highland Games

The Utah Scottish Association Highland Games took place yesterday and Friday.

I was competing solo, but have a year off from band competition as we get our new Grade 4 band established. This was a good thing, because it enabled me to focus on my solo stuff and I think it paid off. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I elected to play The Rout of the MacPhees for my Piobaireachd. We had a beautiful evening for it and I was quite happy with my performance. I took 4th place, and got some good comments from the judge, John Partanen. I think a few nerves may have crept in, but overall I can’t complain!

On Saturday, my pipes were sounding really good for the Slow March and 2/4 March. Amazingly (for me) I placed 3rd in my half of the draw in the 2/4 March. The organizers pulled the top 3 pipers from each half to play again and I finally finished in 4th place overall. I’m still trying to figure out what my surprise at this result shows: Am I a better piper than I thought? If so, why couldn’t I tell? I thought I did OK, but I could hear plenty of places for improvement. Or, maybe the explanation is that almost everybody else choked! Whatever is going on, I’m happy with how it turned out!

Not competing in the Band competition freed me up to do a couple of other things: talk to pipers from other bands, and listen to all the Grade 4 bands quite carefully. Next year, our fledgling Grade 4 band will be competing against these guys and it’s helpful to see where we should be aiming. The verdict: It’s going to be tough, but doable.

Next up, the Payson Games on July 12th and I get to do it all again! See you there.

No, It’s not April 1st!

When I read this article it had all the hallmarks of a classic April Fools joke, but no – it turns out that McCallum Bagpipes are supplying the Sultan of Oman’s Royal Guard with flexible blowsticks for their camel-mounted pipers!

The Sunday Post – “Bendy bagpipes for the Sultan’s bands”

Apparently it’s difficult to ride a camel and play the bagpipes at the same time – the ride is bumpy and teeth get knocked out. When McCallum Bagpipes’ Omani distributor passed the news of this problem to the good people at McCallum, the company responded with their characteristic ingenuity and now mounted pipers the world over can breathe a sigh of relief.

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.

Familiar Piobaireachd, less familiar version

If you like the tune “Too Long in this Condition” (and what’s not to like?) you should check out this week’s edition of Pipeline.

The tune is played by Pipe Major Roddy Weir (formerly of the Army School of Piping) but, unlike most performances I have heard recently, Roddy chooses to play the Binneas is Boreraig version. This version of the tune includes a variation not usually played. It falls between the ground and what is usually played as the first variation and takes the form of a kind of triplet variation. It’s interesting because it appears to interrupt what is usually the increasing level of complexity in a tune as the variations progress.

Justin, if you’re reading this, have a listen to the tune and tell me what you think.

I’m back…and I choose a tune from my previous two posts!

For reasons too numerous to mention I have not posted for nearly two months. I didn’t really notice the time passing (which is either good or bad), so now I ought to rectify the situation.

It seemed reasonable (after such a long break) to start back by referencing my previous two posts, and I can do so without artifice because I really have had to make a choice which involves them both. The 2008 competition season has arrived for this lowly piper and with it a choice of tunes in piobaireachd for the upcoming competitions. All winter I have been putting off the decision: should it be my eponymous web tune, “I Am Proud to Play a Pipe” or my family-connected tune “The Rout of The MacPhees”? Both tunes are on the Piobaireachd Society’s Silver Medal list for this year, both have reasonably straightforward grounds and 1st variations (that is all I have to play in my grade), and both have compelling reasons for me to choose them.

Well, the wait is over – I finally made my choice. I picked The Rout of the MacPhees. It comes up in the competition list a lot less frequently than I Am Proud to Play a Pipe and is perhaps a little less technical. And there is that wonderful family connection. Still, I’m going to have to work on my edres and D-throws, since the ground is stuffed full of them. I will also have to get inside the tune, since on the face of it, it is quite repetitive. That makes interpretation very important, or the tune will just end up being boring. My instructor (and soon-to-be belt winner) Justin Howland will help me with that, I have no doubt.

Well, I’m back. I’ll try not to be silent for quite as long this time.