Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend is over ... I'm exhausted!

I'm glad it's over, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

The Redwood Road Cemetery has food and drinks available in their chapel and it's a nice place to take a break, so it gives you a chance to recover between sets.

The band had a gig there on Sunday and I was scheduled to play my solo just before they performed. I showed up and did a quick tune up; then started my solo set. I got through the first piece (Fair Maid of Bara) when Tyler came out and told me to come in a tune with the rest of the group. He told me he really liked the tune I was playing and complimented me on how good it sounded - I was pleased with the compliment.

As the band tuned up, the PM asked if anyone wanted to play a solo during the performance. No volunteers. As we got the pipes tuned and played through a few sets, he asked again about a soloist. Grant was standing next to me and said I should do it. The PM looked at me and said that he thought the tune I was playing when I first got there sounded good if I wanted to play it. I admit I was a bit shocked to be asked, but I decided I wouldn't pass on the opportunity. Then I found out that there would be television cameras there from two stations. DEEP BREATH!! REEELAXXxxx ...

We marched out and played a couple of sets then the PM gave me the nod and Jack announced that I would be playing a solo. I stepped out and struck up - good so far. I hit my E well and went into the first doubling a bit awkwardly. I think this caused me to squeeze the bag a bit hard and my tenor drone shut off. If you've ever had that happen in front of an audience it sounds like you just went from a full pipe sound to playing the piccolo. I figured, "Oh well, I've blown it but there is nothing I can do except play the tune the best I can." And I played on.

I was happy with the tune, but unhappy that my drone popped off. I thought to myself, "Well, at least I got a chance to solo. Probably will never happen again after that."

The next day I got up early and had to be to the cemetery at 8:00am. I put in my two hours at Redwood and then headed up to Mountain View for another band performance. When I got up to Mountain View I pulled my chanter out and checked the reed. It had been giving me some trouble that morning - sure enough, it had a big chip out of the corner - aaaaaaahhh! I figured I was done for now!

I pulled out my reed case and looked to see what I had. I found a new reed and blew into it. It was hard as H E double hockey sticks. I found that if I chew the sound box on the reed a bit (I know ... big no no) it will weaken the reed a bit and make it easier. I tried that and voila - a really nice crow to the reed. I popped it into the chanter and it sounded pretty good.

When I joined up with the rest of the band, I confessed the problem to the PM. He tried my chanter out and found that the F was really flat. He messed with it a bit couldn't get it to work. I was about to tell him to not worry and I'd just sit out, but he said he thought a rubber band would help and we went to his car to get one. Sure enough it worked beautifully. We were pressed for time and I knew he was under some stress, but he remained very calm and friendly. I was very impressed with that.

We got back to the band and tuned a bit more. I was slightly flat, but made a quick adjustment on my own and I was locked in. We marched into the performance area playing a set and then went through some of the regular tunes. Without warning, the PM looked over at me and asked if I would play my solo. "No way!", I thought, "He's really giving me a second chance!" I knew my tuning was locked in, so I jumped at the chance to make up my mistake.

My strike in was a bit off; with the new reed I got a small squawk - but that was it. The drones were tight and full, the chanter was in tune from top to bottom and locked into the drones. No fingering mistakes. Embellishments were distinct and even. It sounded good to me. I couldn't have been happier with it. Jack said it was my competition piece when he introduced me. It really wasn't, but maybe it should be.

Anyway, it was all good.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend has begun.

The band makes a ton of money on Memorial Day Weekend.

We have an annual gig with a company that owns several mortuaries and cemeteries (not sure what the difference is). They pay the band beaucoup bucks to have solo pipers playing practically all day long at three of their cemeteries. Then on Sunday and Monday morning the band has a full performance at all three cemeteries.

Last year I signed up for two hours of piping; one on Sunday and the other on Monday morning. This year - in the spirit of being a good band member, I signed up for six hours; three today (exhausting), one on Sunday and two on Monday morning (I'll miss one of the full band performances).

My wife is in Texas and so it's just me and my son at home. We have been moving him from one room to another and worked on that all morning - it was kinda like moving a whole house full of stuff; man he's got a lot of junk. Anyway, I worked on that all morning and we hauled a truck load of items off to the thrift store. We did some more work and then I headed off to put in my three hours piping.

The first hour was great. I have eleven tunes that I am playing. I timed each out last night and if I play them all through twice I'll have about forty minutes of piping.

After a break, I was back at it again. I could feel the burn towards the end of that set and wasn't anxious to get back out after my last break. But I did.

Whilst playing the last set, I had a young lady come up to me and request that I play Scotland the Brave. She said that she had just returned from a visit to Scotland and missed it. I obliged - twice through! She was very grateful and had a guy take her photo with me. I had several people thank me for playing and it seemed worth the effort. I'm pretty tired and glad I only signed up for one hour tomorrow.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Rush to judgement? Maybe

I read a response to a comment I made on another band member's blog and perhaps I made a rush to judgment in my last post. She recalls the PM saying that Dan and Karen MIGHT be cut which leaves the option open for them to play.

Regardless, I still feel that the pressure is on and there will be less and less tolerance of gafs and flubs. After all, how would it look if a band composed largely of grade III pipers didn't take first place in a grade IV competition?

I can't say I lay too much blame on the PM. After all, one week he was PM of a Grade III band and the next he's a Grade IV PM - that's tough.

Anyway, things are what they are. Some will rejoice and some will adjust. At least I couldn't be accused of being grumpy at band practice, in fact, I thought I was quite upbeat. Hopefully I'll have cause to continue to be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Has the culling begun?

Our first band practice with the group formerly known as the Grade III band went surprisingly well. The PM was in good humor which made the experience rather fun.

Still, I was a bit suspicious and was withholding my final judgement until I heard the whole thing out. I suspected that at some point during the practice a hint would be dropped that would suggest the culling of the herd would begin. I was wrong ... it wasn't a hint, it was actually said in a very straight forward manner, and in fact (at least from my perspective) the cuts have begun. Let me explain.

We have had two new pipers coming out to our Grade IV practices - Karen and Dan. I've been very impressed with both of them. They seem to be playing very well, so it was no surprise to me that they were voted into the band last night. However, there was a caveat to their entry into the band - they were cut from competition.

My feeling is that this was a bit unfair. Had the Grade III not lost their ability to compete, Karen and Dan would be welcome members of the Grade IV competition band and would have competed in June. NOW however, that has changed.

The PM made it quite clear that if a piper wasn't up to par (and that likely means playing to Grade III standards) they will be cut from competition as well.

Is this good? I really got into piping because I love the sound of the pipes and I love to play them and to draw out the emotion that they instill in me and others. I really never even considered competition as a part of that until I joined the band and found out that pipe bands and solo pipers actually compete. Now that seems to be the focus. I have to force myself to step back from time to time and remember that playing the bagpipes isn't a sport - it's an art.

Should Karen and Dan have been cut from competition? If they were good enough to compete in Grade IV before the big change then they are good enough to play with us now ... end of story.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Big shake up with the Salt Lake Scots Pipe Band

I broke my vow of not being a complainer at band practice this week.

We had a bit of a shake up when four drummers in the Grade III band quit. They all joined a band in California called the LA Scots Pipe Band. BJ Gunn - the drum sergeant and Teagan's instructor - had been playing with the LA band since this last fall and about a month ago (see my "Nerve Racking Experience" post) Mindy and I were told by Andrew Morrill that BJ would be leaving the SL Scots. Sure enough he did and he took three other drummers with him.

That devastated the Grade III drumline and so they had to choose to cancel their competition season or play with the Grade IV. Guess what they chose? Yup, they're going to be playing with us; or perhaps - and more likely - we'll be playing with them. Many are not very happy with what happened and there are hard feelings in the Grade III band. Should be interesting.

With seventeen pipers and a still very small drum line, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the competitive atmosphere increase at practice and the fun factor decline. After all, there will be no shortage of pipers if the PM decides he would rather win than have everyone participate. That would be a tragedy.

Anyway, I voiced my concern at practice, but alas, it will probably make little difference. Anyway, stay tuned because the drama is bound to continue.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Ever thought being a piper was too tough? Watch this...