March Drive-by

It’s been a while since I wrote. A two-week visit from my parents (from England) has given us plenty to do. Now we’re getting back into our routines. Here is a drive-by of my piping March:

My old band performs with Rod Stewart

The Celtic Spirit Pipe Band, of Buffalo, NY got a cool gig at the beginning of the month. Apparently, when Rod Stewart comes to town, he likes to have a local pipe band open his concerts. This time it was my old band that got the nod. According to my ex-Pipe Major, Joe Baschnagel, it was a great evening. Playing in front of 20,000 people an a circular stage is not to be missed!

A few days later Celtic Spirit headlined another concert with a popular Buffalo Irish Step dance company, Rince Na Tiarna. In a curious confluence, I learned a couple of days ago that the concert was arranged and promoted by a former colleague of my wife. More evidence of the smalltown-ness of Buffalo, I suppose.

I finally attend a meeting of the Utah Piobaireachd Society

It took me three missed meetings, but I finally got there. A great evening of Ceol Mor, although I was puzzled it was attended only by members of my band. Turns out the other two bands locally have their practice on the UPS meeting night. I will have to see if we can change the night, so the others can be there.

I play a funeral in a very old cemetery

I got a call to play a funeral in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. It’s a beautiful location, with a lot of historically significant people buried there, including Brigham Young, who is kind of a popular guy around here.

On to April…

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

Orchestral Piping

The weekly BBC Radio Scotland piping show, Pipeline, was on hiatus this week. In its place was a live concert broadcast from the Celtic Connections Festival, a two-week festival of celtic music in Glasgow. The concert was titled Scotland’s Music Live, and featured various “celtic” performers, sometimes playing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

I paid particular attention to two works: Calgacus, by Eddie McGuire, and An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Both are scored for orchestra and Highland Bagpipes and the piping was supplied by Robert Wallace, of the College of Piping.

I had heard of the Orkney Wedding, but never heard the piece performed; Calgacus was completely new to me.

According to a review of the concert in The Scotsman newspaper, Robert Wallace suffered “a critical memory loss” during his part in the performance of An Orkney Wedding but, since I don’t know the music, I couldn’t tell – it sounded fine to me.

The Eddie McGuire work was inspired by the exploits of Calgacus, a kind of Caledonian Boudicca. Apparently he led the Scots in battle against Agricola and the Romans. The piping in this piece was interesting – it sounded a lot like piobaireachd, and I may have to canvass the folks on the piping boards to find out if the tune was written by McGuire, or if it is an existing tune.

In both cases, though, it was interesting to hear the bagpipes played in serious orchestral music. I will also check in with my father – Elis Pehkonen. He is a composer, and was a colleague of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies when they both taught music in my home town of Cirencester. He will probably have something interesting to say about An Orkney Wedding, and he may know Eddie McGuire. I’ll keep you posted.

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.

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.

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.

Out in the woods

I played for private woodland ceremony over the weekend. It was not a paid gig – I was invited to go and delighted to do it.

Piping is generally an outdoor activity, but usually it takes place in highly controlled environments – highland games, weddings, funerals, parades. Twice now in the past few months I have played out in the woods and it was completely different experience. Back in the summer I played in the woods next to a hotel where I was staying. No audience (at first) except for trees and crickets. It was peaceful and beautiful. I could just feel my playing, knowing no-one else could (at first). The trees seemed to wrap around me. I stared at them in detail while I played and just lost myself.

This past weekend, I was out in the woods again, in a heavily wooded valley near Salt Lake City. Rich fall colors, crisp air, mountains rising around me. Once again, peaceful and beautiful, but this time with an audience. For that reason it was a little less reflective than the previous experience, but still a wonderful time.

I have a recording of Barnaby Brown playing piobaireachd in a cave above the ocean on the Isle of Skye. He climbed in on his own with his pipes and recording equipment. You can hear the waves crashing throughout the recording.

Playing in nature is a totally different feeling. Audience or not, it’s worth experiencing if you’re a piper.

Senior Moment Upgrade and Junior Moment

Playing for the seniors went really well. I played three sets, took a break to take questions and then played a couple more sets – one on the smallpipes. I saw one guy step out of the room crying, which is normal for that kind of crowd. Older men particularly seem to get emotional at the sound of the pipes.

Later that evening, I was at a local park with the kids. I was still bekilt and my pipes were in the trunk. I figured I may as well take advantage of the situation, so I played the sun down for half an hour or so. A family stopped to listen. When I was done a small girl came up to me, pressed 20 cents into my hand and ran off.

Maybe I should check into busking licences.

Senior Moment

Tomorrow I am scheduled for a senior moment.

Back in July I was a prize in a drawing at a family reunion. Actually, my piping was the prize, but you get the idea.

So, the family member who won me (my piping) is redeeming her prize tomorrow. She coordinates a monthly activity for a group of seniors in her town and tomorrow they get to experience a Drive-by Piping. This will be a senior-speed Drive-by, so it will last a little longer than usual. I am to play, talk a little and then play again. It’s all part of a hectic day for me (four activities back to back).

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Happy New Year

My pipe band year is just ending.

My band, the Wasatch and District Pipe Band has wrapped up its season with very creditable placings in Grade 4 at the BIG games in Pleasanton, California. My old band, The Celtic Spirit Pipe Band of Western New York is finishing off a very successful summer at the Celtic Festival in Olcott, New York. My son brought in four red fall leaves from the garden yesterday morning.

This is the time of year when bands choose new tunes for next year, to work on all winter. I will soon be starting a regular lesson again, I’m playing two personal gigs in the next two weeks, and there is fledgling Piobaireachd Society starting here in Utah.

It’s an exciting time. Happy New Year.