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.

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.

They shall not grow old

Today is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in the UK. I don’t recall what other countries call it, but I believe the observance is nearly worldwide.

This morning I will march in a parade in my band’s hometown of Bountiful. I think I have inherited my grandfather’s attachment to this observance. At least as it is marked in Europe, although military people are much in evidence, the day is not a celebration of the military, but rather a day to remember the awful cost of war. The military is rightfully included because they were the instruments of a war that killed millions in Europe – mostly needlessly. But that seems to be the case with war most of the time.

The observance (I hesitate to call it a holiday) got started after the Great War, or World War I. I have a connection to this because my crazy great great uncle – R.A. Scott Macfie – joined the Liverpool Scottish Regiment and went to fight in the trenches. He kept meticulous diaries of the horrors he saw and many of them are now permanently housed in the Imperial War Museum in London. In that war many pipers in the highland regiments of the British Army died marching, unarmed, towards German lines. They would strike up a tune and set off. Most were shot in less than a minute.

Years later my grandfather joined the British Navy to fight Hitler’s Germany. My grandfather was always very serious about Remembrance Day. I think he was right. War is serious business. It kills people, and leaves non-fighters bereaved. On Remembrance Day we should remember those who died, and promise ourselves that we will learn the lessons of the wars already fought.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the Sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon
For the Fallen (1914)

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…

Peter and the Piper

Last night my family and I went to give some support to our local democratic senatorial candidate, Pete Ashdown. This week he is organizing a series of “honk and waves” at busy intersections in Salt Lake.

At last night’s honk and wave, it being Halloween, he suggested people come in costume. I figured if I was going to dress up, I could put on my kilt and bring my pipes to entertain the wavers and the honkers. In this Drive-by piping I would let others do the driving.

It was cold.

Actually, it was quite interesting. I figure if I’m going to make a go of piping for money, I need to be able to play outside and in all weather. The pipes stayed pretty much in tune, as long as I kept playing. I noticed the pitch sagged if I took a break between tunes of more than a couple of minutes. I also discovered that my birl finger went completely numb, as did my left thumb. Still, I was able to hit the main melody notes, and doublings, throws and grips seemed mostly unaffected.

Finally, I dicovered that playing the pipes blocks out the sound of car horns. Although Pete Ashdown and the wavers kept waving, I could no longer hear the honks they were responding to. That piece of information is probably not a big concern at funerals, but you never know.

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.

Salt Lake Scots outdoor concert

Last week I saw one of the Salt Lake area bands, the Salt Lake Scots, play an open-air concert. The venue was Liberty Park in Salt Lake City – the park hosts a weekly concert series for musics and dance of the world during the summer.

Anyway, the Scots had to go on with only 6 pipers – the stage is so small their numbers were restricted. Despite this they seemed to settle into playing with a small group very well. The first couple of sets were a little ragged here and there but they soon found their groove, and the playing was excellent after that. I spoke to Jason Killpack (the Scots’ P/M) after the show and he pointed out a couple of times where they had made mistakes but I had thought they were intentional tune modifications. I guess they play confidently even when they go wrong!

The show was hosted competently and entertainingly by Drum Major (and piper) Jack Marinello, who always makes the Scots interesting to listen to. For me the highlight was, as always, their competition MSR. They have an excellent march (Bonnie Dunoon) which you don’t hear much, and a very tuneful Strathspey (The Caledonian Canal) and Reel (Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree). It’s a nice set all round.

The band stayed afterwards for a meet and greet with interested audience members. It was a very pleasant evening and the Salt Lake Scots have once again represented piping with pride and excellence. Nice work guys.