Monday, August 25, 2008

Another Thank you note.

This was for a funeral I piped at of a neighbor and friend. He was a leader in my Church and always very kind to me. He passed away from cancer and left a wonderful family behind. I had sent a note to his wife offering to play if the family was interested. I got a phone call from her the next day asking me to play at the gravesite. I readily agreed.

My wife suggested I blur the names on these for privacy. I agree.

Uncle Kay's Funeral

This was my first funeral. It was back in April.

I'd always wanted to pipe at a funeral, but I would have preferred someone I wasn't as close to. I admired my Uncle Kay for many reasons, so it was a special honor to be invited by my Aunt to play at his funeral.

I piped the casket to the hearse from the Chapel; then from the hearse to the graveside; and finally at the end of the graveside service.

Even though I've played Amazing Grace many times, I actually choked up a bit and struggled a bit to get through it.

Here is the program from the funeral.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Percentage of Pipers in each Grade

Thought this might be interesting.I wanted to find out what percentage of pipers there are out there in the various grades, so I did some research on the matter in the Western United States Pipe Band association and came up with the followin based on pipers competing in various events in WUSPBA in 2007.
The average percentage of pipers at a WUSPBA competition in 2007 was as follows:

Professional - 1.44%
Grade I - 4.16%
Grade II - 9.37%
Grade III - 27.61%
Grade IV - 57.41%

I didn't compete this year solo, but I'm anxious to get back into it. I'll see how next year goes for me and then I'd like to move up to grade III. I'd like to be a grade II piper eventually and I don't think that is beyond my reach even at my age.

Thank you notes

Here are a couple of thank you notes from people I have done some piping for recently.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jackson Hole Highland Games

This was the last band competition event of the season. I was kind of looking forward to it, but then found out we wouldn't have enough pipers there to compete for placement. Since I haven't been competing solo this year, it seemed like a wasted trip especially considering the price of gas.
The band was paying for our rooms, and had already reserved a room for my son and I, so I felt I should go in spite of the expense.

My son has not been very excited about playing in band events lately and I think that is largely due to the shift in the importance of a social life as he enters adolescence. He wants to hang out with youth his own age and not the young adults and older adults that make up the band. I can't say I blame him, but at the same time I think that if he quits the band he'll quit drumming so I've been pushing him a bit to stick with it. He's a good kid and has been willing to go along even if it is reluctantly.

We got up to Jackson fairly late and went straight to bed. The next morning I got up and went down to get some of the free breakfast leaving Teagan in bed. He came down a few minutes later. We met up with some of the other band members and found out that the band would not be doing the morning massed band event at the town square (I was looking forward to doing that as well, so I was a bit disappointed). Teagan was happy because he got to sleep in a bit longer.

Around 10 am we went down to the fair grounds where the games were at. I got tuned up a bit for the noon massed bands and then we went a looked around. We ran into Jesse Fry. She was a young drummer for the band when Teagan started and they were good friends. I think he was very happy to see her there and it made his day when she came over and gave him a hug.

We hung around the fair grounds most of the day and played in our two performances which I thought went fairly well.

For the closing massed bands I played the bass drum. I thought I'd give it a try and so the bass drummer, Sandy (who also is a piper) piped for the massed bands.

We left soon after the games were over and had a non-eventful drive home. Teagan told me that he had fun on the trip and for me that was exactly what I needed to hear.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blogs, blogs, blogs ...

So that catches me up on all my forum posts now. I didn't include all of my forum posts because some of them weren't very informational or interesting. The ones I did post on my blog give a better idea of many of my sentiments about playing the bagpipes and being a piper.

I will continue to update my blog from time to time with things I find interesting and perhaps even a controversy or two as they may arise in my mind.

The truth of the matter is this blog will probably be more for my personal enjoyment more than anything else and I'm happy with that.

Pipe Band Forum 6/9/08

Using Bagpipe Software

I use Bagpipe Player and love it. I convert every piece of sheet music I get from the band into it. I can then save the tune as a midi file and convert it to mp3 so I can put it on my mp3 player and get familiar with the tune. It's also nice to be able to download tunes from websites that provided .bww formated music and be able to play it and print it. I've found some very good - and freely available - tunes that I might not have otherwise found.

Bagpipe Player is free, but you'll find that there is a lot of controversy over it. In fact you can't even mention it on some forums. I emailed the two parties involved and got a very terse response from one of them (I won't say which), but it made me feel much better about using it without feeling like I was an accomplice to theft. I was perfectly willing to pay for a good piece of software, but found there was no need.

There are still strong opinions out there, but I'm satisfied with my conclusions on the matter.

Pipe Band Forum 3/31/08

Why play?

Competition is key to me as motivation to get better. I was encouraged to compete and have done well at it. I compete to improve and as a piper it is much easier to set a goal for competition than for entertainment.

That said. I love to play my pipes for people - it is much more rewarding than a medal and if I were more self motivated I'd probably give up competitions.

Pipe Band Forum 2-29-08

Making Practice Chanter Reeds

Yogurt containers have worked the best for me although you do have to be picky about the type of plastic they use. Yoplait has been the best, but it was a while ago since I made any and can't vouch for which is best now. I did try 2L bottle plastic and as has been mentioned it doesn't work well.

I have used the gibson reed as my pattern. Besides the plastic (don't use a flat piece of plastic - it has to have a curve to it), you'll also need a staple (the metal tube the blades are bound to), crazy glue (or something similar), dental floss and/or waxed hemp, teflon tape and an emery board/sandpaper.

For the staple I would simply reuse the staple from your old reed, but you can purchase metal tubing from a hobby shop (I've even used aluminum tubing). Cut the tubing to the appropriate length and then flatten one end of it slightly to an oval shape opening - if you flatten it too much you can use a stylus to push it back out. Cut the blades from the plastic and using a small dab of crazy glue attach the blades to the staple (just enough glue to hold the blades in place). I use the old reed as a guide for how far up on the blades the staple should be.

I then start low on the staple and wrap dental floss up the staple towards and then over the blades about a third of the way up and I wrap it fairly tight. I then go over this wrap with a good wrap of teflon tape and finally wrap the bottom with waxed hemp or dental floss to get a good fit in the chanter. When you try it out it is going to sound aweful. You'll have to do a lot of sanding and maybe even some minor trimming to get it to sound decent. If some notes come into tune and others don't continue to experiment with the sanding and 9 times out of 10 you can get it to work for you. My reeds have generally lasted as long as a purchased one has, but for the price of a purchased one the only reason to make your own is to get some "Reed Making 101" experience.

Pipe Band Forums 2/27/08

Fun Tunes

I like Farewell to Nigg as well, but after playing it for the past year it's lost a bit of its initial appeal with me.

I really enjoy 6/8 tunes and one of my favorites is Donald MacLean of Lewis. Hot Punch is a fun little two part tune I like to play and another that I really like is Farewell to the Creeks.

Heights of Dargai and Battle of the Somme are both 9/8s and have a strong dot-cut feel to them. The band is currently playing them as a set and they sound really good together. It's a fun set I like to play for my own enjoyment.

A couple of 2/4s that I enjoy playing on my own are The Sweet Maid of Glendaruel and Teribus. They go good together as a set and I played them together last week at my nieces wedding after an intro of Highland Cathedral.

For a more somber mood I like Fair Maid of Barra, Lochaber No More, and a tune I wrote called An Abhainn Chaillte (The Lost River). It's in Composer's Corner on this forum.

Donald MacLean of Lewis - Donald MacLeod
Hot Punch - most often listed as Traditional
Farewell to the Creeks - P/M J. Robertson
Heights of Dargai - J. Wallace
Battle of the Somme - Pipe Major William Laurie
Sweet Maid of Glendaruel - most often listed as Traditional
Teribus - most often listed as Traditional
Lochaber No More - Thomas Connellan

Pipe Band Forum 2/15/08

My Pipe Case

I have the bag-piper case and really like it. The only flaw was that one of the handles lost it's stitching within a week after I got it. The rest of the straps, zippers and rings have held up fine and I secured the broken handle with a strong safety pin. I have the strap set so I can throw it over my shoulder which frees me up to carry a drum case if my son or wife need help.

I carry all kinds of junk in there besides my pipes and whenever someone in the band needs something I always seem to have it.

I've flown to Hawaii, Ontario (twice) and Boston with my pipes and never had a problem. I always tell the security people that what they are about to see on the x-ray is a set of bagpipes and they've never stopped me to check them.

Pipe Band Forum 2/5/08

Piping an expensive hobby?

Concidering that 98% of pipers classify this as a hobby, I don't see the need to charge big bucks!

Amen to that! It is an expensive hobby, but do you have to buy a new kilt every time you have a gig?

Expensive compared to what?

Chess, checkers, watching TV, collecting bottle caps, counting bricks in the cell block, reading and writing posts on forums on the internet ... that type of thing. To be honest with you for the money I've invested in piping so far I could have outfitted myself with some top of the line hockey gear and covered my adult hockey league dues for many years to come.

For what I paid for my bagpipes alone I could have purchased a very good ski combo and had money left over; and if I add in the cost of pipe lessons, competition fees and travel, I could easily cover my ski passes each year as well. And I consider skiing an expensive hobby.

I suppose once you reach a level of piping where you don't take lessons anymore; you have purchased pipes, case, clothing, etc. and can in fact start charging for your performances and instruction it's not only not expensive, but you can make money at it.

$700 ripoff - case in point!

Pipe Band Forum - 1/24/08

Piping for Weddings

I had my first experience piping for a wedding last month. (I actually posted a thread for tips) It was my sister's wedding in London, Ontario. Nice place and I got a chance to visit Scots Highland Services - great shop and good people.

My sister wanted to be piped down the aisle. She had a chamber group playing for the processional before her, but she wanted me to pipe for her, so I did. There wasn't much room at the front of the hall, so I piped from a doorway.I saw the video afterwards, and thought it was actually quite nice.

I've seen several video clips (youtube) of pipers leading the bride and escort down the aisle and as long as the music was an appropriate slow march I thought it came off quite dignified, but I can see where there might be issues.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pipe Band Forum 1-22-08

Reading Sheet Music

Reading the music is invaluable if you want to keep learning new tunes.

I have sheet music to almost 200 tunes and like to challenge myself by just pulling out a tune and playing through it. If I hit on a tune I like, I mark it to add to my repertoire. It's a fun exercise and I've found tunes I really enjoy playing that I wouldn't have come across any other way.

There are tons of new tunes posted all the time on the internet by their composers for downloading. Check out this site for example - click here. Reading sheet music opens up a lot of possibilities.

There is another topic going about Online Tutoring which was a big help for me on my one of my solo pieces. I was getting all the notes right but the interpretion was messed up.

I kept getting the same comments from judges about my piece, but I wasn't quite understanding what they were getting at, and they don't have a lot of time to explain. After getting help online, the light went on in my head and I finally got it. I would never have figured it out from the sheet music.

When I present a new tune to my classes, I don't want to listen to the publishers recording first. I want to study the piece without any interference from someone elses interpretation. I will sit at my desk and conduct the piece to myself as well as "attempt" to sing the meldoy. I'll go to the piano and play some parts, again deciding how I want to present this piece. Once I have decided how I want it, I may listen to the recording and any other recording I can find to see how different directors interpret the tune. As the conductor I want the music to reflect my interpretation of the piece.
This doesn't work so well in competition because the judge wants to hear it the way they feel it should be played.

I've mentioned before the struggle I had this past year with a piece called Lochaber No More. It's a beautiful piece and I wanted to learn it the first time I heard it.

After getting the same comments about phrasing from two different judges I figured that it was definately my problem and I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong. I downloaded the tune from six different musicians (most of them solo pipers, but not all) on itunes and listened intently to each piece performed by different pipers. Each had subtle differences, but from what I could tell, the phrasing was just as I was playing it.

I finally turned to an online tutor who prepared a lesson for me on the piece based on the setting I sent him and give me some pointers. I really liked what he prepared for me and have done well with it, but it is quite different than the way the music is written, the way it is played by the soloists I have recordings of and the way I was playing it.

Thus my conclusion. When you play a piece for competition your interpretation doesn't amount to a hill of beans. The judge wants it phrased a particular way and it had better be that way or you'll not be successful.
interpret it.

... No matter what, when I perform, I want the performance to represent me and not someone else's performance. Although, they may have some influence on my interpretaion of my performance. ...
Thanks Bill - always nice to get the opinion of someone with more experience. The audience I play to most of the time is myself and that is who I try to please.

I do, however, value the opinion of judges and appreciate their comments whether I place or not. Since I am relatively new to piping, I take the judges comments seriously and try to use their critique to improve whether it be technique or expression. When I get a comment on expression from two different judges and the comments are nearly identical then I figure I'm not getting it right and I'll research it to try and correct the problem.

To be honest with you I still enjoy my interpretation of the piece better because I think Lochaber No More needs to have a sorrowful feel to it; which seems to be the way it is played on the recordings I have. Probably not a good choice for a slow march competition piece.

Pipe Band Forum 1-10-08

Drinking and Piping

Interesting thread. I posted a thread a while back about piping for a wedding. Most of the responses included something about alcohol.

I'm not a drinker, but I have nothing against those who do as long as they act responsibly.

Here in Utah most of the bands have a lot of Mormons in them so there is generally not a lot of drinking. Contrary to popular thought however, Utah is not a dry State and anyone who wants to can get alcohol here.

As far as the association of alcohol and bagpipe players, I don't think it is that much different than a lot of groups, clubs, teams, associations, etc. Most fraternal organizations have a lot of drinking - some even have their own bars. I play hockey and even here in Utah there is a lot of booze in the locker rooms of the adult teams.

I would guess that for a lot of folks drinking is just part of the social scene and some think that a party without booze is just a meeting. I would disagree, but hey what would I know ... my favorite drink is choclate milk made at Reed's Dairy in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Believe it or not it has potatoes in it!

Pipe Band Forum 1-4-08

Pipe Band Website

This is a touchy subject for me, so this is a bit long.

When I joined the band I'm in they didn't have a website. They had one at some point in time, but after some changes in the band I guess no one kept it up and it went down. They still had the domain name, but it was actually registered to someone who was no longer in the band.

I offered to help out - the band manager said that would be great, but didn't give me any direction. I created a website and showed it to the band manager. He loved it and said he would help me with content. I told him he would need to get the domain name transfered back to the band so we could use it. Nothing happened. I went ahead and purchased a new domain name using .org instead of .com, I paid for a hosting service and put the site up.

I got lots of positive comments and the band committee started having me put tunes and scores on the site in a members only section. I kept asking for content such as band history, roster, etc. Never got any help. I winged it and did the best I could with what I had.

I'm like most of you, I hate websites that are out of date and not maintained. I didn't want that with this site. I wanted people to visit regularly and find something new each time. I had video and audio clips of the band. I had news stories and current photographs of performances that were updated regularly. Sheet music and drum scores were available for band members to download including mpg files of the tunes and scores that could be loaded onto an ipod.

I continued to get positive comments from band members and the band manager mentioned it often at practices.

The band was trying to decide if it was a good idea to split the grade III and grade IV bands up for practice. I thought that was a good poll question so I posted a poll on the website in the members only section. Almost immediately an email was sent out to the entire band stating that the poll was not authorized. True - actually nothing on the site was authorized; and if they had sent me an email I would have pulled it immediately and had no problem with it - it just pissed me off a bit that the email was sent to the entire band. I closed the poll.

I had paid (out of my own pocket) for the domain name and the hosting services, plus all the time I'd put into it. I asked the band manager what he wanted - do I get input from the committee on what goes on the website or not. Again, no response.

Bear in mind that by then the site was on most search engines and was referenced on several other piping sites (including WUSPBA and this forum) as a link to the band. Band members were also accessing the site to get band information and it also had a page where persons interested in hiring the band could get booking information. It was a well maintained site.

The hosting contract renewed in October last year and I asked the band manager what I should do. He said they were going to get someone else to do the website. I transfered the domain name I had registered to the band (no charge) and since October our band has no website - what a shame!

In the mean time, most of the other bands here have fairly good websites. Lots of good information and fun to visit. Wish we were one of them.

My opinion is that websites should be important to a band. It gives them an identity on the web and a place for people to learn more about them. One of my favorite things to do is check out band's websites. I also like the websites of individual pipers and some day when I have something interesting to produce I'll put up my own.

If the time ever comes to transfer bands I'm going to find one that wants to kept their members and the public informed about them. I'll be looking for a good website.

Would I have decided differently had info on that band been readily available? No, as my choice of bands involved more than driving distance to practice, but at least they'd have given due consideration.
I agree that just having a website shouldn't be the main criteria for choosing a band. While my previous posting may have made our band sound like a terrible place to be, it actually has a lot of positive things about it. There are certainly the usual politics, but it could be a lot worse ... I've heard stories.

Anyway, all this got me thinking that I might start my own website again (non band). I just registered a domain name and I think I'll start to work on it.

I wasn't as upset about the money as I was about the time and effort I put into it and the lack of any appreciation from the leadership. I kept up the site for as long as I did because of band members like scarhand who liked it and said so.

Pipe Band Forum - 12-12-07

The Cost of Bagpipes

I bought my pipes from a local pipe maker. Cost was about $2,300. Anyone hear of SD Sterling bagpipes? Didn't think so. They're nice pipes; they look good and sound good - I almost always get compliments from judges on the full sound; so I'm not disappointed; but ... $$$$$$$

Another piper in our band bought some McCallums and they were about half as much. They sound good and look good. So, what did I really get for twice the price?

Mine were turned by hand, but I doubt that makes much difference except that it takes more time and requires more skill. Hand turning could just as easily turn out a bad set of pipes as a good set - human error. This pipe maker has now gone to CNC probably for consistency and efficiency.

I doubt that the vast majority of people are going to spend more than a couple of grand on an instrument of any kind unless they can justify the cost somehow (ie a professional musician). I certainly stretched the limit with what I spent and even then I broke into a cold sweat when I handed over the cash.

Pipe Band Forums 12-10-07

Small Pipes

I have some Walsh small pipes (see Rogues Gallery - playing for my grand daughters). I do play it with the drones in occasionally, but for the most part I use them as a practice goose with a stopper in the drone stock.

I use it as an intermediary step as well, but you can't go away from practicing with the GHB pipes. I learned from sad experience that it is not a replacement for the big pipes.

I went away from practicing with the big pipes because the small pipes are much more family friendly when playing indoors. I practiced a lot, but when I went back to playing the big pipes (after a couple of weeks) I had a tough time blowing steady and my stamina had dropped a bit.

Small pipes are great for working out the fingering on tricky pieces and practicing sets repeatedly, but if you ignore the big brother he won't cooperate with you when you go back to him.

Of course, let's not forget that the small pipes are an instrument in and of themselves and are fun to perform with; they are not just a practice tool for the GHB.


... I wouldn't say that they improve your piping though. ... The harmonics of them can make it sound like you're playing well, but in actual fact you aren't, and if you played the same on the Highland Pipes you'd be caught out!
I'm not sure I agree 100% with the above quote. I agree that trying to use the small pipes as an exclusive means of practicing for the GHB is foolish, but I don't agree that using the small pipes won't improve your piping. There are a lot of ways using small pipes can improve your piping just as chanter practice and electronic chanters can help. There are certainly limitations, but they do help.

I also don't agree with the idea that the harmonics cover poor playing. The same could be said of the GHB, but once you know how they are supposed to sound and hear them in the hands of a musician, you can certainly tell the difference in either instrument.

I think that because the small pipes require less effort to play, you can probably play tunes more easily on them than the GHB just as learning tunes is easier on the PC, but I think poor playing comes out in both.

Pipe Band Forum 11-14-07

Solo Competition Preparation

I usually get there early enough to play a bit and tune up. I try to tune myself as best I can and I'm getting pretty good at it now. I get a final tuning by the PM or PS before I go over to the judging area. I was warned against watching the competition, but to be honest I enjoy it. So I like to watch especially if I'm one of the first of the group. I'll stick around and watch the others perform.

I never play my pipes close to pipers who are playing for the judge - I think it is inconsiderate and I've seen some annoyed looks from judges when a piper strikes up in the vacinity while he/she is judging. I generally trust the final tuning done by the PM or PS, but pipers are allowed five minutes to make final adjustments, so if you need to strike up and check before you begin that's the time to do it.

I've placed several times including first place twice in the two years I've been competing in grade 4 and I've totally bombed several times (although I've always finished the performance). Having been at both ends of the spectrum and realizing that the judges are there to critique (not critisize) and encourage, I've become more comfortable with solos to the point where I'm really not too nervous anymore. The result is that my pre-performance rituals are much more relaxed now.

Pipe Band Forum 11-12-07

Online Lessons (my thoughts)

I quit taking private lessons because of the expense and I didn't really feel that the instructor was doing much to help me. I'd come in for a lesson and he'd say, "Okay, what do you want to play for me today?" I'd play and he'd say - you missed this, or didn't open that up, or you didn't keep the tempo here, blah blah blah. Then he'd say, "Now what do you want to play?" and it would be on to the next piece. There were no or very few suggestions for exercises to help with certain problems, just "you need to work on that". With the cost of lessons going up so much each year I finally called it quits.

I have been getting helpful tips at band practice, but I still felt I needed something else.

I had gotten several comments from judges on my slow march which were very similar. I obviously had a problem with the phrasing but my instructor wasn't much help. Three different judges made the comment that I needed to emphasis the "question/answer" feel. I didn't get it and my instructor couldn't explain it in a fashion I could understand.

I came across Jori Chisholm's site ( and decided to pay the $20 for a custom tune lesson - he didn't have the tune available in the ready made tune lessons he has on his site.

I contacted him by email and provided the sheet music I was using. I explained the problem and the judging comments. He was very responsive and created a custom lesson the same day. He did a great job explaining the phrasing problem I was having with the tune and got me on the right track to correcting it. It was like having the light turned on - I got it and the tune sounds so much better using his suggestions.

I discussed doing an online lesson with him before next season to go over my competition pieces and get his input. He was very willing and as far as I'm concerned, reasonable on his charges. My favorite thing about it is that I have access to a top piper whenever I need the assistance; it's awesome!

I'm all for online lessons.

Very good points regarding beginning pipers. I would have been totally lost without personal instruction. In fact, I'm not sure I'd have done very well in group lessons to start (that's just me).

Another benefit of face to face lessons is the encouragement a new piper can get when first getting on the pipes. This was the "baptism by fire" for me and was the low point in my piping. I was so discouraged I almost quit several times, but I had to go play in front of someone each week and so I kept trying until I could actually get music out of it.

I almost hate to say this because I know there are strong opinions regarding competition, but I would say that once you have reached the level where you are ready to compete - even if you don't compete - you could probably benefit from online lessons.

Pipe Band Forum 10-3-07

An Abhainn Chaillte - The Lost River

This is a tune I wrote as a tribute to my brother who passed away in a kayak accident this last year. He was a real adventurer and tried everything. For several years he was a Yukon smoke jumper and helped to start a smoke jumping service in British Columbia. He loved to rock climb, kayak, bike and backpack. He worked for the Victoria Fire Department and was a good man. Everyone loved him.

I want to thank Carrie for helping me with the translation of the title of this tune to Scottish Gaelic.

I've attached a recording I made on the chanter and the sheet music in a zip file. I did my best on the recording, but there is a minor flub or two and I rushed it a bit in places (hey, I'm just a lowly grade 4 piper). Still, okay all in all. Hope you like the tune.

Sorry, I couldn't add the zip file, but it can be retrieved from the forum post at:

Copy and paste this into your browser address window.

Pipe Band Forum 9/23/07

Piping Exams

There was some discussion on another thread about keeping certain skills alive in the piping community. I just read through the syllabi of the exams and it seems to me that many of the skills of bagpipe maintenance, theory, playing, etc are required by these exams. Seems like a great way to standardize the skills required to be a knowledgeable piper. Wish I had an instructor who would teach me these things.

Is there any possibility of you getting one?

1. Go to a week long seasonal school and learn for your level there and sit the exam while there? Then work all year for the next level? I know someone who does this.
2. Combine your annual holiday, if you have one, with spending a few days at one of the piping places which offer top level instruction, have an intensive few days of lessons, and sit the exam there?
That's a good question. I think there are knowledgeable individuals in this area, but I think the route I would probably take is your first or second suggestions.

I could combine some travel with some education.

Pipe Band Forum 9/16/07

Synthetics in Piping

I've given my thoughts on plastic before and they haven't been too popular, but I'm not ignorant of what is happening in piping, just as it is in other areas of music and art. (You don't see a lot of hide drum heads anymore.)

I didn't start piping at a time when hide bags and cane reeds were the only things available and I'll be the first to admit that I don't know as much as I probably should about maintenance. My instructor and the band don't spend much time on it. What I have learned I've learned on line for the most part.

I've enjoyed the discussions about drone valves, hide bags, cane reeds, canister systems, polypenco, carbon fiber and such. It has made me think about where things are going.

For example, electronic chanters are getting so advanced now that it won't be long before bags and drones won't be necessary to get a bagpipe sound good enough for recording. In fact synthesizers have already made it so that you need little more than a key board to play all kinds of instruments even in a live performance.

I attended a concert a few months ago where Dean Martin's son did a tribute show of Dean's old hits. He had three guys playing for him and it sounded like a full orchestra; brass, woodwinds, percussion, etc. It was amazing.

So where do you draw the line? Anything synthetic is not allowed or at least frowned on? Do you draw the line at electronics (probably a reasonable place to say no)? What about something that is an assistance device (drone valves, canister system, synthetic drones)? How would you define an assistance device?

I can certainly understand where there is a need to keep from losing the art and skills of piping. I guess they (the essential skills) really need to be defined so they can be preserved. You need to separate nostalgia from necessity?

Pipe Band Forum 9/12/07

Getting into a Band

I have been involved with youth for many years. I've been a Scout Master three times (a total of about 10 years) and with my own five kids I've coached everything from baseball to hockey. Most of my kids are adults now, but I have a 12 year old son (the drummer) and he loves hockey, so I've been coaching his teams for the past four years. With three grandkids getting older I'd like to continue to be involved in their activities.

My experience with Scouting was the most difficult as far as having to be careful what was said and done. Because of the exposure I have turned down the latest request to be Scout Master again. I told them I will continue to be involved as a parent, but beyond that I'll not take on the responsibility.

It's too bad, but I've seen too many good men lose their sterling reputations because of unfounded accusastions by some brat who has no concept of the consequenses of making them.

Back to the topic, I've not been involved long enough to judge between band discipline now and what it was a few decades ago, but I'm happy to be piping and have a band that I can be involved in.

A couple things were mentioned that I thought I'd add about our band(s) (We have a grade IV and a grade III band).

The band has a quasi affiliation (not a sponsorship) with a business called the Celtic Center. It is a store (pipe and drum equipment and instruments and related items) and a music school (bagpipes and other pipes, tin whistle, fiddle, and various drums). The relationship is so close that I'm not aware of any band members who at one time or another haven't taken lessons there.

Pipes are not provided by the band, but can be rented or purchased through the Celtic Center. Our former PM (retired to the bass drum) is the owner of the Celtic Center and a pipe maker; a very good one - I have a set of his pipes and love 'em - BUT ... they are quite expensive and beware of buying some other make of pipe because you'll hear about it - Scarhand can vouch for this.

Lessons are not free and are getting quite expensive. I had to quit lessons this year because it cost too much with my son and wife both involved now.

Anyway, there are issues now and again as I'm sure there are with most bands, but I have found the responses very interesting so far. I hope more will tell us about their bands.

Pipe Band Forum 9-12-07

The Problem with being involved with Youth

I have been involved with youth for many years. I've been a Scout Master three times (a total of about 10 years) and with my own five kids I've coached everything from baseball to hockey. Most of my kids are adults now, but I have a 12 year old son (the drummer) and he loves hockey, so I've been coaching his teams for the past four years. With three grandkids getting older I'd like to continue to be involved in their activities.

My experience with Scouting was the most difficult as far as having to be careful what was said and done. Because of the exposure I have turned down the latest request to be Scout Master again. I told them I will continue to be involved as a parent, but beyond that I'll not take on the responsibility.

It's too bad, but I've seen too many good men lose their sterling reputations because of unfounded accusastions by some brat who has no concept of the consequenses of making them.

Back to the topic, I've not been involved long enough to judge between band discipline now and what it was a few decades ago, but I'm happy to be piping and have a band that I can be involved in.

Pipe Band Forum - 7/27/07

Piping for a Drummer

I play pipes for my son's solos (see our family photo in the rogues gallery). Since we submit our registration at the same time we inevitably get scheduled in the same time slot (has happened at our last four competitions). The judges have always been good about resuffling us, but sometimes it means he has to wait for me.

As far as finding pipers for drummers, our pipe sergent has come up with what I think is a good idea. He is going to post the tunes that drummers need pipers for and ask for volunteers. If no one volunteers the civilian way then he will volunteer them the military way.

I can understand pipers being apprehensive about playing for drummers. I was scared to death to pipe for my son. I didn't mind screwing up my own solo, but I dreaded the idea of messing up my son's chances.

I've since had several experiences which have made me much more relaxed about playing for him, but I think a lot of pipers worry about hurting a fellow band member's chances - and you don't know if playing badly could hurt your relationship with that person. What if they blame you for not playing well?

Bagpipe Band Forum - 7/27/07

The Power of Focus (my comments)

I really like Stormy's response. Practice, practice, practice. But I still find if my mind wanders I can mess up a tune I can usually play well. Maybe as I get a few more years under my belt I can relax a bit more.

When I practice I try to concentrate on technique, timing and tone. I try to pick out "landmark" notes in a tune that are keys to how well I'm keeping the beat and timing the phrases. When I play that tune I'm focused on hitting those landmarks just right.

When I compete solo I also like to focus on the judge's foot. I want to see it start to tap out the beat and keep it going. I'm still listening to my playing, but the foot keeps me from being distracted.

When I compete with the band I'm focused on the PM's foot or the bass drum beat if I can't see the PM. Same thing, I hear the tune, but I'm focused on the foot.

With performances I still try to find someone in the audience to focus on; usually someone who is tapping or moving to the music.

Parades are a bit harder to stay focused, but I usually concentrate on whoever is marching in front of me.

Bagpipe Band Forum - 7/23/07

Drone Valves (my comments)

I started with a hide bag setup and cut offs were a piece of cake. It was a borrowed set of pipes and leaked like crazy, so I was in heaven when I got my own pipes. It took some getting used to the Ross zipper bag with cannister, but once I reached a comfort level I was good to go. I was using ezeedrone reeds and had no problems with cutoffs.

Some members of our band switched to kinnard reeds and I liked the sound so I bought some and after a bit of tweeking was getting the sound I wanted. Problem was that my cutoffs went down the tubes. I felt like I was having to start my blowdown way early and it was causing my drones to waiver at the end. I really struggled to get a clean cut and keep my drones steady.

I wasn't the only one in the band having the problem, but that was no excuse so I finally purchased some hyland drone valves. They went in super easy and not only were my cutoffs clean but my strike ins were right on too. To me it was like discovering the miracle cure to cancer! I was very happy with them.

I did hear some comments from various people about the affect the valves might have on sound quality, but at my last competition one judge said, "nice big pipe sound" and the other said, "pipes full and balanced". If the judges like the sound I'm not going to gripe about it.

The only down side I can see is that my shoulder and elbow aren't going to get as good a workout blowing down my bag. Darn!

I may upset some folks, but here's my two cents (I say that because it seems that if you've played pipes less than 20 years then that's about all your opinion is worth).

I'm going on five years now and I love the valves I put in my pipes about 6 months ago. Do I play better? Probably not. Am I a worse player because I use them? No, I'm consistently improving which is reflected in my score sheets. Are my strike ins and cut offs cleaner and more consistent? Yes, definately. Should I have to learn to strike in and cut off consistently without the valves before using them? Why should I? It makes no difference as to whether I'm a worse or better player with valves and I enjoy playing the pipes more.

Hmmm ... I play the pipes more because the valves make it easier and more playing makes me a better piper ... maybe valves are making me a better player.

I was going to say that I don't know what the fuss is all about, but I actually think I do. As technology makes piping easier and easier, at what point are you no longer "playing" the bagpipes? At some point I suppose someone will just turn on their pipes and listen to them and claim that they are a piper. I wonder where the line will be drawn ... another topic for another thread.

Relay for Life at Riverton Park 8/1/08

I was asked a couple of months ago if I would be willing to play my pipes at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life at Riverton Park. They wanted a piper for a Luminaria Ceremony which is the lighting of candles inside paper bags that are tributes to victims, survivors and those fighting cancer. I was honored by the invitation. I put together a couple of sets of slow marches and airs which I hoped would be appropriate.

They first presented a slide show of cancer victims and survivors as well as those still fighting the disease. It was a very moving media presentation. Then there were two testimonials about the relay and what it means following which I played a set of tunes - Farewell to Camraw, An Abhaine Chaillte and Flowers of the Forest. Only a very minor flub in Farewell to Camraw.

After that set there was a moment of silence and then an invitation to walk around a visit the luminaries. Unfortunately at this point there was a slight mix up in the program, but it was straightened out and I played my last set which I shortened up. It included the tunes Fair Maid of Barra, Lochaber No More, Danny Boy and Amazing Grace. It went well except for a slight mistake in Amazing Grace - can't believe I slipped up on that one. The mood of the ceremony was appropriate and I felt good about my performance.

I hope God will allow me to continue to serve others through my playing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pipe Band Forum - 7/6/07

A Family Band

My wife has now joined the band! We now have a snare drummer, tenor drummer and piper all in the family!These photos were taken by one of my daughters at the end of the Sandy and Park City, Utah parades.

My oldest daughter is taking bagpipe lessons, my oldest son is thinking about taking pipe lessons and my son in law is a drummer who says that he wants to play bass with the band when he gets back from his summer job in Ohio this fall. Oh, and my grandson has a set of toy pipes that he marches around with whenever he comes for a visit. LIFE JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER!!
Piping on Maui (Hawaii)

I spent last week in Maui, Hawaii with my wife and son and had a great time. With the band's first competitions coming up and having to miss a band practice I felt obligated to take along the pipes and get in some individual practice. I found an elementary school close to the condo and did most of my practicing there, but I did get down to the beach one night and played through a few sets and tunes. It was a great experience! Here's a photo my wife took.

By the way, on our last evening I was practicing up at the school when a car pulled up. The driver told me that I was welcome to come out and practice with the local pipe band. LOCAL pipe band!!? Was he kidding!? He said the band is the Maui Celtic Pipes and Drums. Unfortunately it was our last night, but he said anytime we visited Maui to be sure and look them up. I checked around on the internet and did find some information on the band here:

Anyway, it was a fun trip and if we ever get out there again, I think I'll look up the band and go to a practice.
Learning about the bagpipes

I think the weakness in my instruction was not being taught much about the instrument itself. By that I mean the care, tuning, maintenance, reeds, setup, etc. I was taught a lot about the music, but not as much about the instrument. I think it has been pointed out before on this forum that innovations in the instrument have made care and maintenance a less demanding part of being a piper. Perhaps for this reason instructors forget that students still need as much instruction on the instrument as they do on the music.Most of what I have learned about the bagpipes themselves has come from instructional video (Mcgillivray), the internet, and watching and asking questions of other pipers.
My bagpipe setup:

Chanter: McCallum chanter/Gael chanter (band)
Reeds: Magarity/Ross chanter reed; Kinnard Drone reeds
Bag: Ross Canister zip bag w/ tubes to drones and chanter (sponge in chanter chamber ... Utah - high and dry )
Pipes: SD Sterlings
Other: Hyland drone valves
Canadian Dishes (my comments)

Isn't Tourtiere more a french Canadian dish. I'm from Alberta and had never heard of it until I moved to Quebec City. It can be made a variety of ways with both wild and domestic meats and it is delicious. Sugar Pie is also a french Canadian desert that is great. Steer clear of blood pudding IMHO. I used to eat a lot of horse meat in Quebec - it was very good.I'm not really sure there is a "Canadian" dish, but they do have some great candy bars, cereals and snacks that are unique. Eatmore, coffee crisp, shreddies, smarties (not the rolled up sugar candy you get in the States, they are more like M&Ms but better), aero bars, crunchies, red river cereal, macintosh toffee, old dutch potatoe chips (they had flavors like salt and vinegar, dill pickle and bbq way before the US ever had them - in fact I've never seen ketchup flavor chips in the States) and the list goes on and on.
Bagpipe Controversies and new pipers (a comment)

I think that Pete's statement in the last sentence, covers it all, far too often you hear younger (and some older) Pipers argueing the toss with well known and experienced Pipers, only to find that they have been playing for all of five minutes, YET think they are experts.To be fair this is happening in all walks of life? it always reminds me of the old saying, A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS DANGEROUS

I agree to a point. I have only been playing for four years - that's not a long time by piping standards. It hasn't been that long since I was struggling with the same things that newer pipers are struggling with and yet I still have much to learn. That doesn't mean I can't have a valid opinion about certain things.

I have asked questions here and on other forums to try to learn and have found that even the "experts" often have different opinions. Here is a website that spells out some areas of differing opinions and controversies.

I respect the opinions of those who have more experience than I do. I try to research my questions as much as possible. Often it will change my pre-concieved ideas on things, but sometimes it will not depending on numerous factors, not the least of which is a feeling of mutual respect. I don't think anyone likes to have an opinion jammed down their throat regardless of the "expertise" of the person doing it.

Also, if there were no room for lively discussion, this forum would be a boring place indeed.
Band Rivalry in Utah (my comments)

Why is it this old garbage keeps coming up? This is over 10 years ago. I am involved in a number of bands in the area and absolutely no one talks about these issues anymore. Why? They don't care. For the most part we care about improving as soloists and bands.

I agree. I certainly wasn't around when it all happened and I don't really care either, but I've heard about it.

We recently had a clinic with all of the bands in the area, we all enjoyed each others company and no one talked about poaching or cheating or anything of the sort. We had fun. We didn't perpetuate the myth that people involved in pipe bands in Utah are a bunch of litigious nut bags.

Who said anything about litigation? I think the situation now is no worse than anywhere else and in fact probably a lot better.

I find it sad this goes on. Most of the people involved are not even playing in pipe bands now. It's ironic that many of the people discussing this now were not even involved in bands back then. Why does this need to be kept alive?

Good question. There are a few involved who are still playing, and perhaps it is only the ones who were around in our band who still harbor feelings about it. I'm glad to hear others have put it behind them. I wasn't involved in past conflicts and I'm not trying to perpetuate anything here, but I have a link at the bottom of this post which would indicated that not everyone in other bands in Utah feel the way you and I do.

I think the branch clinics have gone a long way to build relationships. I have only been able to attend one of them so far (there have only been two). I still stick to my statement about the tension - it certainly wasn't a general feeling, but I tried to strike up a conversation with one member of another band and he wouldn't give me the time of day (might have just been his personality). That wasn't the case with others however, and perhaps I should have clarified.

I'm also glad that there are people like you who are so involved with other bands and are so supportive and encouraging. You've certainly made my first experience with competition an enjoyable one and I will be always grateful.

By the way, I have made friends with several pipers and drummers in other bands at our branch clinics and at competitions. I'm very happy to see Utah bands progress and do well. In fact, just last night I was listening to a member of the Wasatch and District Pipe Band practicing with his rock band "The Happy Scotsmen". They have another piper in the band who wasn't at the practice session, but I loved it. My son was invited to sit down at the snare and he played part of the SL Scots drum salute for them. We all had a great time. They are going to be performing on Thursday and unfortunately I will be out of town or I would go and watch them.

As far as poaching? You can't poach someone who doesn't want to move on. If your band isn't meeting your needs, find one that fits.

Here's what I mean by poaching:"Judges, competitors and WUSPBA members shall not encourage any person toleave a WUSPBA-member band in which such person is a registered member." WUSPBA Code of ConductI apologize if I gave the impression that Utah is the hot bed of pipe band conflict. I don't think that is the case. On the other hand, not everything is all warm and fuzzy either. Here is a site with posts about our band which are not always kind, and some of these were posted within the last year:
On Changing Bands (my comments)

I need to emphasize that I am not considering leaving our band (don't want to start any rumors). I think our PM does a great job and for the most part egos don't get in the way of having fun. But being in a competition band does have it's stresses.I agree that your own enjoyment is important and being miserable with a band kind of defeats the purpose of playing doesn't it? Our area has had some very strong feelings between bands in the past. Some of it has had to do with disputes regarding cheating in competitions and some of it is due to allegations of poaching members. Things have gotten better in recent years, but you can still feel some tension between older band members when we get together for district events.
Tune Taken (my comments)

Point is Bill, it's been a time honoured tradition to share tunes, so why in the last 5 years has copyright among pipers become an issue? Even before the internet introduced easy sharing abilities, pipers still had hundreds of tunes in their possesion, where were the copyright Nazies then?If money is not an issue, then why are we groveling over the small chump change they call royalties? There's already too much pettiness in the world, i was hoping we were all above this!

I've composed a couple of tunes - nothing earth shaking (one is posted on this forum). I don't expect to make any money, but if people like the tunes then I would like to hear about it thus I put my name to them and simply ask that if a tune is distributed it have my name on it. That's it - it's ego.I was asked to play a tune as a lead in to a song on a CD by a local rock band. The tune I played was Farewell to Camraw by Robert Mathieson. I was able to contact him via email and asked permission to use the tune on the recording. He granted that permission no strings attached. I think most composers aren't looking to make money on their tunes, but they do want recognition for their creative effort.

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