Sunday, September 30, 2007

After about 10 hours of sleep, I feel much better, but all that sleeping and church took up my whole day, very little time for practicing, and what there was of it was PC only.

Three months ago, when I went for my yearly physical, my doctor Sarah brought up the subject of weight loss. I need to lose about 30 pounds to get back to my high-school weight of about 4 children and 30 years ago. She asked me what I was doing as far as exercise. As I cast frantically around in my mind for what I could possibly call "exercise" in my current life, piping practice and the showers I have to take afterward to wash off the sweat occurred to me, so I mentioned I piped. "Good," she said. "Practice every day."Also, no more peanut M&M's. No more soda pop. One percent or skim milk, my favorite drink. Walk the dogs. And pipe every day.

How many of your doctors have encouraged you in your practicing? Mine is a great lady.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I am suffering from sleep deprivation. Five hours of sleep a night followed by 10-hour-per-day shifts at work, followed by all the usual family and household stuff and practicing . . .It's not working. I'm in my own personal fog, populated by favorite characters from books I have read and am reading, and famous pipers. It's nice, but Reality is looking at me with a puzzled expression. It won't be long before It gets out a label and slaps it on my back where I can't pull it off.

On the other hand, I went up 1000 feet in altitude yesterday while daughter #3 was at her hippotherapy and put in a good half an hour on pipes. Great for endurance. I hope. My new reed is finally getting broken in, so it's now a little easier to play.
Group Lesson last night. Only Garth, Pete and Drew were present. Because I was the only female there, we got sidetracked rather frequently into the realms of karate and wrestling and high school needling. Despite all that, we did get pipes out and NO CHANTER TUNING WAS REQUIRED!!! This is a first! Not just for me, but everybody - or should I say Nobody -- needed their chanters tuned. Drones was a different story. Garth had a lot of teflon tape on his drones, and Jason being the perfectionist that he annoyingly is, had to change it all to hemp. After that, drones were tuned in a very short time. We had trouble with the second part of Brown Haired Maiden still, but the first part, even on pipes, was pretty good. We had trouble with the whole jig - some of us rushing. I'm not sure if I was guilty, but towards the end of the lesson, I had to go, BAD! It's pretty hard to use your diaphragm with so much enthusiasm and still keep that bladder sealed. So I probably was rushing to get done so I could use the restroom.

I also have to work on my E doublings, especially from F.

Jason again complimented me that when he tells me I need to fix something, I come back the next week with it fixed. My personal, unvoiced opinion is that I am a sloppy piper and don't fix it unless it absolutely HAS to be fixed, even if it is pointed out to me with a rubber mallet. But as long as he has a good opinion of me and I don't have to know anything about wrestling, I'm happy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Did you ever start reading a book and when you had to stop, you take on the attitude and situation of the main character?

Yesterday before I practiced, I was reading the part of Blue Sword (R.McKinley) where Hari is training for the laprun trials and keeps succeeding . . . beyond her expectations, anyway. When I put down my ragged book and picked up those pipes, I could do no wrong. Everything I did exceeded my expectations. I practiced until I got blisters on my lip. I worked on everything but Green Hills/Battle's O'er, Smith's Set, and All the Bluebonnets. Today I need to tackle Bluebonnets FIRST when I am fresh, instead of at the end when I'm tired. It's just too hard.

Let's face it: my life revolves around whatever book I am reading.

I need to read a book about a piper who . . . Haven't been able to find one. [sigh]
P.S. I highly recommend Robin McKinley's books. Check her website at and her blogsite at

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I don't know how anybody else does it, but I can never find the time or place to practice when I am traveling. Even PC! Of course, when I travel, it's with my husband who doesn't like to rent a car, and he mostly doesn't like to take public transportation, either, so we walk. And walk. And walk. We walked upwards of 7 miles in the last 2 days! My legs ACHE!! My PC stayed in my bag the whole time. I took it out once to look longingly at it, but had to rush off again. Lots of people have those electronic thingies that you use earphones with and nobody hears you but you. But they're kind of expensive. For me.

Band practice was last night. At 10:30 AM I was 7 miles away from the Long Beach, CA airport. Our flight left at 11:35. As per above, we were without car or roller-blades or skateboards or ANYTHING wheelie. The bus wasn't there, either. So I called RoseE and had her report my non-appearance at band. This she duly did. As soon as I pressed the "end" button, the bus came 'round the corner and we got on. We arrived at the closest stop to the airport 15 minutes before they would close the flight (not the door, just the paperwork of the flight). As soon as we had gotten into the airport parking lot, I gave the bags to my husband and ran for the ticket counter. I got there 2 minutes before the closure!! Just like in the movies!

And I made it to practice anyway. The only person who knew what was going on was Erin McM. To everybody else, it was just another day of band practice.

We worked on the MSR and we didn't do too well. Sean tried to find good things, but he was hard pressed sometimes. 'Course, I didn't practice much at all. But I noticed some other people making lots more mistakes than me, so I felt OK. And at the end, after PC practice on the MSR, while I was writing down what to work on in my Disney Princess notebook that I scrounged from somebody's 2nd grade backpack, Sean said, "Scar! Sande! You two are really doing well!" I love it when I get compliments!!I think I work harder at finding time and place to practice than I actually work on practicing.

I think if I practice every day, I will really improve! Woo-HOOO!!

Things I need to work on:
Green Hills/Battle's O'er
The start of the Smith's set
First part of the jig

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday was my weekly group lesson.

We started out on pipes, contrary to our usual practice routine. Tuning took surprisingly no time at all. I guess we have been practicing, and keeping in tune, because we all sounded very good, said Jason. We went through Brown Haired Maiden (the second part) and Farewell to the Tay (the first part), and everybody seemed to do well. There was some rushing during those parts, and I admit that some of it was me. We played for 40 minutes or so and my back was beginning to ache again. Then we went over those parts on PC's for the last 15 minutes and Teancum came in to get me and that was it.

Friday, my 3rd day of working with 5 hours sleep each day, and the kids got off school early and Todd wanted to do stuff so we went shopping and to DI and I stayed awake but only just. When we got back home at 1830, I went to bed and slept for 4 hours. No practicing. Couldn't stay awake. Too many people to anger.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I practiced.

Those two little words mean a lot. (**whining alert!**My back went out Tuesday so any movement hurts. Including piping. (**martyr alert!**) But I practiced anyway. And my friend came. But I practiced anyway. I got in about 35 minutes yesterday in the back yard, including work on the reel and jig and Heights, and a one time run-through of the whole MSR. A couple of little girls over the back yard fence kept up a running conversation while I was doing this. Now my lip hurts in addition to my back. Lovely.

I forgot to mention that on Sunday Keith W stopped me in the hall at chuch and said that my piping at the church picnic in August had really touched him. He said he was Scottish on both sides and had always wanted to learn pipes but never had the time or money. He's still thinking about doing it. He shared some piping stories.

Speaking of piping stories, I wanted to include a couple that were key in my learning to play pipes. These both happened in college.

First, when I was a senior art student at RMC, the Art Professor took us all up to his cabin outside Billings for an afternoon picnic in very early spring of 1981. It was chilly and foggy and most everybody stayed in the cabin. But we discovered somehow, I forgot how, that our dearly beloved professor, OB1 (or possibly his son, James), played pipes, so we convinced him to play them. He went outside, of course, cuz the cabin was full of people and rather small, and started in. After one tune, everybody went back inside. Except me. I sat on a rock in the fog on the side of a mountain and listened while he played tune after tune. Until he got too cold and requested we go back inside. Sitting there in the chill and the fog on the steep side of the mountain with the skirl of the pipes, I could imagine being almost anywhere or any time: Scotland or Ireland during an uprising, perhaps, that I was a rebel making a difference to my people. It was magical.

The other time was when I was an Art Ed/French Ed student at the U of M, about 1986. It was a 5 mile bike ride from my husband's parent's home where we lived to the U, and we were both students and had a baby daughter, so we biked to save bus fare. We also both worked at the U. One day as I was biking to work, I heard a piper. He was in a kilt, probably going to or from a gig, playing as he went. I stopped and got off my bike to listen, and as he played, I found myself following him along the street, like a rat in Hamlin town! He played tune after tune, glancing back a time or two to see if I was still there, and once he even winked at me! I was late for work that day.

To this day, I prefer a lone piper in the fog to a band on a sunny day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

This weekend was pretty much a failure as far as practicing goes. Finding time to practice -- on pipes -- when everybody is home and doing something that requires listening, is a lost cause, I'm thinking. I'm going to have to look for other locations to practice pipes when people are home: backyard or the Teensy Airfield are options.

Saturday and Sunday I got no pipe practice in at all. I did get a little PC practice, mostly on Brown Haired Maid, which Teancum has memorized. I can start in with the first 3-5 notes, and he can hum the rest of the tune. Monday was no better as I thought I would be gone all Tuesday and got all my housework done (with RoseE's help) on Monday, leaving time for NOTHING else.

Tuesday I got in about 20 minutes on pipes, mostly the drone tuning, MSR and Heights of Dargai. Then I got physically sick due to playing with a back that I'd thrown out on Monday doing Something Stupid.

Band Practice was Tuesday night, and I seriously debated whether to go or not. I finally decided to at least try, and was rewarded. Everybody was playing beautifully -- well, mostly beautifully -- on all the parade sets. It hurt to play, but I kept at it until I couldn't stand it any more, at which time luckily Pipey switched to PC's and when we went through Brown Haired Maid individually, I got lots of compliments on the first part. Still having trouble on the second part, skipping the note right before the birl.

What I Did Good:
First part of Brown Haired Maid
Heights of Dargai
Farewell to Nigg
I went to practice anyway

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yesterday I spent most of my practice time running down to the center to pick up my music. I managed to run through the MSR (translation: March-Strathspey-Reel, a set of tunes required for some competitions, in our case including also 3 other tunes, a jig, a slow air, and another march) one time before I had to get dinner.

The Reel: Brown Haired Maiden (theme song for brunettes everywhere) I definitely need to work more on the descending runs in this tune, as I keep speeding those parts of the tune up.

The Jig: Farewell to the Tay. Gotta work more on pipes on this one, and loosen up my deathgrip on the chanter so I can get the next note fast enough.

Marches: Corriechoillie's Welcome to the Northern Meeting and Teribus. Both doing well.

Slow Air: Summertime, Summertime. Easy and I've known it for quite some time, so it's doing fine, too.

Strasthspey: Mac n' Irish. Still trying to hold the first note of every bar longer. Other tunes that need work before tryouts:

All the Bluebonnets Are Over the Border
Green Hills/Battle's O'er
Heights of Dargai

Five hours sleep per night is NOT enough.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Last night was my group lesson, including instructor (and pipe major ) Jason (the bald guy at right) and co-students Sande, Pete, Lee, Drew, and Garth. The funnest part about lessons and band practice is the socializing with other band members. Sande is the only other female piper in the Grade IV (the not-so-hot piping division) band besides me and is a fire . . . person. Lee is a beginner older than me, and likes to tease people. He's fun to banter with and he's a Presbyterian pastor. Dave, in band, started about the same time as I did, is about my age, and is a good friend. He's a claims adjuster. Drew is a funny kid about 14. Pete is a very kind person and can do a great Scots accent. He's also about my same age. I'm not going to tell you if they are short or tall; everybody is short to me.

We worked on practice chanters (hereafter referred to as PC's which are plastic tubes with holes for your fingers that match bagpipe chanter holes and one to blow in and one for the sound to come out of)

and then on pipes. My pipe chanter reed was a hand-me-over from Lee, who was sure it was possessed and never wanted to see it again. Bagpipe music involes only 9 notes, no flats or sharps or octaves. All my 9 notes were fine last night except high A which was flat, such that I had to blow harder to make it true. Jason got frustrated with my sliding up to high A, and gave me a new reed which is as near to perfect as an imperfect thing such as a chanter reed can be.

After practice, Jason said I was doing well, and then said he noticed whenever he pointed out something I was doing wrong in piping, the next week it was fixed, pretty much. I almost cried! Jason doesn't give compliments very often; he usually just gets frustrated and angry when things are going wrong. It's amazing how much a compliment can buoy you up. So I'm hoping with this journal to increase the number of days I practice on pipes (did you know that if you practice on pipes every day, they stay in better tune?) and chart my improvement and/or ups and downs.

I just realized I left my music at the center. . .
I've been learning to play pipes for 3 years.

It all started in May of 2004, when I was 44. People give you a lot of guff for trying to learn something difficult when you are "older", but my view is, if I start now, I won' t have to start when I'm 3 years older. I can't learn any YOUNGER, can I?

I've always loved the sound of pipes, but never even conceived of me, myself, learning until I saw a practice chanter on sale from a mail order catalog. I could teach myself!! Unfortunately, I couldn't get all the notes to play. So I looked up bagpipe instructors in the yellow pages. I started lessons, and practiced and practiced and practiced . . . I got some rental pipes about November 2004, and started practicing with the Salt Lake Scots along about February 2005. I got voted into the band in November 2005, one of the more exciting days of my life.

I purchased my own pipes in October of 2006 from McCallum Bagpipes.

I had been taking private lessons until I proudly showed my new pipes to my instructor, who is also a bagpipe maker. He hit the roof. Although there was no written agreement, he had assumed that I would buy pipes from him, and he berated me in no uncertain terms for how wrongly I had treated him and how terrible the pipes were that I had bought. That conversation in itself nearly ended my piping career.

But the good people at and commiserated and talked me through it and I'm still at it, but now doing group lessons with a different instructor. I had a little trouble with those new pipes at first. But since I'd had that big rift with my instructor, I could hardly go to him and say that something was wrong and would he help me fix it. I was on my own.

First of all, the blowpipe McCallum sent with the pipes ended in

a little round mouthpiece which many people can play, and which I tried to work with, but just could not keep my lips locked around. I finally got a different blowpipe with a flat mouthpiece and a rubber grippy thing which works much better. The other problem was that the bag was HUGE. I'd played 2 different bags, one synthetic and one a hide bag and had gotten both of them to work for me, but this one just wouldn't allow me to shut the drones off neatly at the end of a tune in a consistent manner, something pipe majors are pretty anal about. New bags are expensive, and I may not have any Scot blood in me, but I save a penny whenever I can. So instead I got valves to fit in the end of my drones, which shut the drones off sooner, and I solved that problem. . . and for a small fraction of the cost. I can now play all the way through several tunes in a row, I get most of the notes right, and can stop on a dime. But I have a long way to go to be good - or until the pipe majors do not get frustrated with me every time I play.

Now that they are working well, and I'm working fair, I've given my pipes a name. Not something every piper does, but I tend to name just about anything. So, let me introduce my set of pipes: Duncan Angus McLeod (in moments of extreme frustration referred to as DAM!!) but usually called Angus. Why Duncan Angus McLeod? you may ask. I'll tell you: Duncan after a character in the TV series "Monarch of the Glen" who is a little spacey and runs around in a kilt and stompers and is still pretty much a kid at heart like me; Angus because I like that name, and McLeod after the county we used to live in in Minnesota.
My brother and I gave a concert this summer for my Danish grandfather, who had already died by this time, and my Irish grandmother who heard the concert. We gave this concert up at a log cabin that we all spent summers in in western Montana. Here we are.

Grama really liked our version of Danny Boy, and she sang along with us. My own dear mother, who doesn't like either bagpipes or Amazing Grace, was impressed with our duet of that tune, with harmony. We did good.