Friday, September 14, 2007

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.

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