Friday, July 31, 2009

On, Pipes!

Last night . . .

It's very exciting!

Last night . . .

I don't know why I'm feeling so accomplished! I didn't do all the practicing of fingering, grace notes, doublings, "triplings", and all those tunes. But still . . .

Last night, Small Son got his own set of (rental) pipes!

Sean (and Dennis) got them all put together and showed him how to work them. He huffed and he puffed, and he huffed and he puffed, and he finally blew one squawk out of them. Then, Sean showed him how to pack them in the rolling bag case (provided) and we got a soda to celebrate. He's been counselled to practice 5 minutes a day, and advised that it's going to be frustrating at first.

As Marjie would say, "Boy, Howdy!"

Learning how to simultaneously blow and squeeze and finger the tune . . . and march . . . is about the most frustrating thing I have ever done. Right now he doesn't have to march, of course, and all his drones are plugged off to make it as easy as possible. He's gonna need a LOT of encouragement.

In our last group lesson of the season, we went over individually what progress we had made during the year. My report is as follows:

- I got rid of the highhand-low A squeak
- opened up my doublings
- improved my blowing
- greatly improved my confidence in performing and competing
[- got a first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth (so far) in competitions
- played my first solo with the band]

(The last two are probably due to the first four, so I don't know if they count, but they are the most exciting of the lot.)

But not as exciting as seeing Small Son standing there with his own set of pipes on his shoulder, huffing and puffing away!


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tuning and Blowing

Here's how tuning the band goes:

First the chanters:

All the pipers stand in a circle with about 3 feet between each. Jason walks around and individually has us play a scale along with him, listening to see if we are in tune with him or not. Usually, after the scale, much adjusting of reeds or moving of tape happens to make all the chanters in tune with him.

After everybody is basically tuned, we start a set with drones tapped off. Sean or Tyler is assigned to tap to keep us in time, and Jason walks around and listens to each chanter against a background of all the other chanters.

Then the drones:

Once the chanters are in tune, we start another set with drones on and Jason goes around again, sometimes with Sean or Tyler's assistance, and tunes everybody's drones. Usually, he makes one more circuit to hear how everything sounds together. And then we are tuned.

For the moment.

Last night I tuned my drones rather hurridly, and gave a half turn to my reed to bring the higher notes into tune. As I played my march for warm up, I realized I would not make it through even 15 minutes of practice without a major accident. I had to run to the 7-11 and take care of that. I showed up back at practice as everybody was in Chanters Step I. There was much moving of tape and adjusting of reeds taking place with everybody until Jason got to Sean, who had evidently spent a lot of time getting all his notes just exactly right, because he required no adjustments whatsoever. (Or else he practiced a lot, which will keep your pipes in tune, too.) I was envious that Sean was so good at tuning (or practicing) and I was not. A couple more people got their reeds adjusted, and then it was my turn.

Just for a little variety, instead of starting from low G and going up, Jason started from high A and went down. I obediently mimicked the notes he played. Instead of taking out my chanter and adjusting tape or reed, he just . . . walked away! How cool is that?

I was definitely having trouble staying awake, and my fingers weren't taking up the memory slack, so I made quite a few slips. Ugh.

After about 90 minutes of practicing, including marching into the circle, we had the opportunity to have our bags tested for leaks. I took all the drones and chanter off, stripped off the bag cover and plugged all holes. When blown up, the bag did not lose air at all, not even slow aire (sorry, I had to). It was pronounced sound.

NOTE TO SELF: check all my hemping: reeds, all drone joints, chanter and blowpipe. They all need to be tight so that no air is leaking out of wrong places, making the chanter difficult to play because there isn't enough air left to play the tune.

NOTE TO SELF: also remember to dampen the sponge inside the moisture control system.

As the bag was being examined, Jason commented that he noticed my blowing was much more steady when he was tuning drones. Since I fixed the squeaking problem, I've been working on making my blowing more steady. It seems like I am making progress. Yeah! Jack asked me how I had done it. I didn't have much advice to give him, except to concentrate on blowing and keeping the bag inflated and hard throughout the tune.

It was nice of them to say anything.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Band Plans for the Future

There's nothing like working hard outside in 101F heat.

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful practice.

Tuning went fairly quickly and easily, everyone pre-tuning themselves so they were close to start off with.

Pete brought the DVDs of the March concert and distributed them to those who were willing to pay. I got one to send to Nancy in Burnsville to represent us at the Folks In The Boat gathering this weekend.

We ran through both sets a couple of times, especially working on the reel, Brown-Haired Maid, in the timed medley.

After about 90 minutes when he was sure we had really worked and were drenched in sweat, Jason had us put pipes and drums away and he went over the score sheets from the Payson games. He was pleased with how we had done, over all.

Then he said he was glad we had combined the Grades III and IV, that it was a good move, and that he wanted to keep this group together. He said he was planning to play us as a Grade IV again next year, but that if we kept placing first, WUSPBA would probably put pressure on us to compete as a Grade III band. He said the Seaside/Ventura games would be our test, as a lot of VERY good Grade IV bands compete there. If we do well there, we really ARE good.

It feels very good to be part of a good band/team.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Grade III Stuff

At the weekly group lesson, we were given the components of the Grade III MSR (March/Strasthspey/Reel) to learn. The march is Borthwick of Borthwick (sometimes I wonder at Their choices for tune names), the Strasthspey is Colin Something and the Reel is Colonel Somebody.

I've got the general idea for the march. The S and R need a little assistance, mainly because I have never heard them played.

I added a big flat net pocket to the inside of my pipe bag for flat things: flag, letters, tuner, etc. Had to do it by hand because the bag wouldn't fit under the presser foot on my sewing machine. So I sewed it while watching Miss Marple last night on Mystery Theatre.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Payson, Utah (yes, another) Highland Games

I've got Good News, A Little Better news, and Not-So-Good news. Which do you want first?

Not-so-good? OK. Here it is:

My march, Lady Lever Park, with which I took first two weeks ago in Billings, netted me zip. I was going to play it slower, according to recommendations, but for some reason I rushed into it, thought I had to finish it at the speed I started, and . . . left out lots of the little black notes with many tails. [sigh] This judge, an elderly gentleman with an neatly trimmed white moustache, gave me the same advice the last judge gave me, only in a much sterner tone of voice (as if he knew I'd already been told this): SLOW DOWN. I tried to pay very close attention, but I was pretty mad at myself for messing this one up.

The next news is A Little Better. Are you ready for somewhat cheerful news? (No doubt.)

I played my slow aire, Loch Rannoch, flawlessly (except for blowing), got lovely comments: very musical, good job. Stuff like that. The 'very musical' is something I was striving for, it being rather difficult to put expression into a piece when it is played at constant volume and on an instrument which can't pause in the middle of a tune without having to start over.

OK, so don't correct the grammar of that last sentence, because I know it's wrong in there somewhere; I just can't put my finger on the dangling participle. Or whatever.

So I got 5th out of 17 on my slow air! That will give me an additional 14 points, giving me a total of 35. Too bad the first and third I got at Yellowstone won't count, as they are under the auspices of Some Canadian Pipe Band Association, not WUSPBA (Western United States Pipe Band Association). So I will work on my march, slowing it down, giving each of the little notes with lots of flags his or her own place in the sun/tune.

Now the Really Good News: The results of the Band Competition.

Quick March Medley: 1st Place: Salt Lake Scots!

Timed Medleyl: 1st Place: Salt Lake Scots!

Pretty Cool Happenings:

While we were tuning up for the 2nd competition, a stiff wind came out of the north and tore millions of little helicopters off the trees and blew them directly south. It was an amazing and glorious sight!

I finally got a really cool Payson Scottish Games t-shirt.

I got another henna design of celtic knotwork and haven't gone swimming to bleach it out yet.

On the way down the mountain from our campsite at Maple Lake, we saw a female turkey and 3 turkey.

People kept coming up to me and giving me hugs all day: my VT companion's friend who is in the Wallace clan but whose name I can't remember was my fan club all day and gushed and gushed. A co-worker, Gladys, and her family each came up individually. Somebody else but I can't remember who.

Jason congratulated me--out of the blue--on my first place at Billings.

All in all, it was a very good day.

Friday, July 10, 2009


It's bad when you give a stray dog a name. Very bad. But she has become 'Shiloh' and she follows Small Son around and sleeps on his bed. Even when he is not home, she sleeps on his bed.

Yesterday as we were getting ready to go on this camping trip, Shiloh escaped out the garage door and went galavanting around the neighborhood. SS tried everything to get her to come back, but she would not come when called. I'm sure we are using the wrong name. I didn't have time to go chasing her all over, so I headed for the car. Poor boy, he was in tears that she had left, even though he KNEW she would be going to the Humane Society eventually.

A few minutes later, she trotted back into the yard and into the still open door. "If nobody claims her, can we have her back?" he wanted to know. I explained that we can only have 2 dogs and 2 cats, and Shiloh would put us over that limit.

All of our animals have been strays. (Well, not the fish. It's kinda hard to be a stray fish and survive very long on the streets. Something about 'the air we breathe', and 'the bottom of the food chain'.) That's why my neighbor called me about this dog in the first place: I'm known to be a soft touch when it comes to strays.

SS was ecstatic when she came back.

This is not going to be fun when I take her to the Pound.*

*I should note that we have made every effort to find her rightful owner. All she has is a rabies tag, and the vet has been contacted (numerous times) but said that on the day she got her tag, several other dogs got their rabies shots, too, and somebody messed up entering the info into the computer later in the day, so the phone number they have is incorrect. After almost a week of "research", they said: take her to the Pound, the owner will likely look for her there.

The Moral of This Story: Make sure your pets have ID tags AND are microchipped, if you ever want to see them again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Yellowstone Results Are In!

Remember those lucky pennies Cuin let me hold during my march competition?

Well, listen to this:

For my slow aire, I got comments of

"Nice fingering technique, Blowing unsteady, Chanter not 100% with drones", and "consider a smaller bag to help w/blowing", and 3rd place!

Never got higher than 4th before.

For my (much harder) march, the judge put:

"Pipes: nice.

Pt 1: D-throw & D-strikes need more clarity and more low G!
Nice tuorluoath.
Pt 2: Run a little sticky (D-E-F-High A). Nice ending phrase
Pt 3: Watch G-G note between E & F
Pt 4: Nice.

Slow down tempo to achieve more clarity in doublings. Well played and very musical."



A) the lucky pennies worked,
B) I'm better than I thought I was, or
C) The other competitors were just starting out piping and were really not good.

Or D) All of the above.

You decide.

For myself, I'm hoping B is true.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth of July 2009

This year, instead of marching in the Centerville parade, rushing to Park City to march in their parade, and then taking a few hours off, to then report to the Sandy parade start for their killer, heated evening parade--I say, instead of all that, we only marched in the Park City parade. Downhill all the way, overcast, enthusiastic crowds, Air Force fly-over.

I tuned before I left home and dampened my sponge, and so required very little tuning at the parade start. Yeah, me!

I was on the left outside, last row. I had Karen to my right, Grant in front of me. I couldn't see Jason at all to see cut-off signals, he being on the front row right side, but I'm pretty sure of the tunes by now that I did OK anyway.

Pete wanted to bet me that we would start with the Mill Set. I didn't take the bet, and good thing, too, because that's what we started with. How did he know?

We did the whole thing at a 4-mile-per-hour walk. Not too many breaks, really, so by the time the last quarter of the parade route came up, my lip was pretty much shot. At the turn in the middle from Main Street to Park Avenue, a motorcycle cop came up and told us to go faster, as the rest of the parade was waaaaay ahead of us. Jack tried politely to explain that we couldn't march any faster as it was a safety issue for the drummers (and for certain pipers, too, but we won't go into that). The cop wasn't getting it, so Jason started a set and then went up and had an in-your-face shouting match with the cop, the result of which was that the cop went away and left us alone and we finished the parade to mighty cheers at 4 miles-per-hour.

I thought there were going to be arrests. Yeah, Jason!

After some near misconnects, I met up with HH and the kids at Kimball Junction. They had gone to see the Provo parade and to see some of HH's friends from high school. We went to the Jordnelle reservoir and actually had a picnic! There were no single family picnic areas to be had, but there was one group picnic area that was reserved for 2-4 July that didn't look like it had been used since June. Remembering our Father's Day adventure, I wasn't real keen to try using this group spot, especially since it actually was reserved. But there was nothing else, and we'd already paid our fee, so we moved into the group area and cooked fast. Our excuse, should the group show up, was that we had started the coals for them, and could we please cook our 4 brats and 3 lampchops on their grill in return for this kindness? HH cooked fast, Small Son went fishing, Red-Haired Daughter watched the gulls, and no group showed up. We ate on the top of the green hill looking down on the blue water dotted with white boats, and under the blue sky dotted with white gulls. It made a lovely, peaceful picture.

We were given the care of a stray dog for the weekend, a stray dog who is afraid of fireworks. This is a fat beagle/chihuahua mix, not the cutest dog I've ever seen, but it has found hideyholes to sit and watch us go through daily life, and the other dogs tolerate her. Monday we will call the vet phone number on her rabies tag and get in contact with the owner. Hopefully she will be gone Monday. I've never met a dog I didn't like, but this one just doesn't grab me. I'm neutral. SS really likes her, though, and she follows him around.

In other piping news, SS has misplaced his chanter. We have looked everywhere (except where it is, of course) and still nothing. Couches, beds, bookcases, even pianos have been moved. Still no chanter.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yellowstone Highland Games 6/28/09

The Yellowstone Highland Games are held at the end of June, so I dragged my family and my nephew Cuin (same age as Small Son) and Cuin's possibly lucky steel pennies to Billings, Montana to compete. Their stipulation was that we see the Idaho Falls cousins, Yellowstone Park, Great Grama Olsen, Aunt Erin, and possibly Little Bighorn on the way.

In Idaho Falls, we caught a Chukkar's baseball game for which Other Nephew Taylor was calling the plays. Cuin, still holding his lucky pennies, caught a foul ball, confirming for him the power of the pennies.

You may or may not know that I spent several years in Billings, carving a new life for myself (my old life having recently fallen apart) at Rocky Mountain College (Go Bears!), and never once knew there was a pipe band there. I even had an indirect connection to said pipe band, and had no clue: my art professor's (I was an art major) son was pipe major of the Billings Caledonian Pipe Band when I lived there. Who knew? Not me.

A lot has changed since then: The campus has a fence around it in places, and lots more buildings. The rival educational institution down the road has changed it's name from Eastern Montana College to Montana State University Billings Campus. A lot has remained the same: the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office where I worked is still in the same place downtown, across the street from the the county jail. The Rimrocks still dominate the city, running right behind Rocky.

I had never been to the zoo where the games were held, not having had a car during my college years, so it was new to me, and may even have been new since I was there, I don't know. But it was a pleasant place, once you got through the construction on Shiloh Road and found it.

The competitions were held in a tree-enclosed grassy area just inside the gate. Just past (or into) the trees were a playground, the zoo itself to which we had access, the games' sporting events and an amphitheatre for the guest band. Peacocks and peahens roamed freely and added their eerily pipe-like calls to the general noise. We had sunny skies and a breeze to keep away the mosquitos. The vendors had their tents in a semi-circle just inside the trees, and the band tents were located on the opposite side of the circle from the entrance gate. There was only one piping/drumming tent, and it served for sign-in and judging for pipes and drums. One could even pick which tune they wanted to do first, and what time. The judge, Melissa, actually checked me in and arranged the times with me.

I was worried about tuning, since it isn't my strong point. But with some contortion, I got the drones in pretty well. Then the games arranger and current pipe major, Donell Small, showed up and offered to tune me. I immediately asked if he was going to tune me wrong to give preference to his own band. He and the people standing around all laughed, and he said 'no', and asked me what I was tuning at. I said 463.
"463? I'm tuning at 475!" says he, shocked.
Light bulb.

"I have a Gale chanter, which is lower than, say, McCallum chanters, so it will tune lower." I said.
"O. K. We'll use your tuner, then."

He said I was very close on everything, so that was good, and also offered their band tent to stash my stuff.

I was scheduled to play my slow aire at 9:15, so I kept the pipes warm by playing this and that at the playground, stopping to talk to Small Son and to find somebody's blackberry and turn it in. I did OK on Loch Rannoch, except for a squeak at the beginning. Melissa, the judge, said I need to work on blowing (everybody says that, so it must be true) and she recommended I get a smaller bag. She said my fingering was crisp and perfect. She was very kind.
My march was scheduled for 9:45, but they were backlogged by then, so I waited until nearly 10. Nephew Cuin approached me and said, "You want to carry my lucky pennies for good luck in your competition?" I was touched. Cuin is one of those bulldozer kids: pushing through life grabbing whatever he can, and speaking and laughing very loudly. I accepted, and slid the pennies into my vest pocket. Then I was up.

I did pretty well on the march, Lady Lever Park. At the end of my performance, people standing around the vendor circle gave me a round of applause. !? I still the blowing issues I had not been able to fix in the last 45 minutes, but Melissa said she wouldn't lecture me on that again. She also mentioned that I was playing the march so quickly I was not able to get the D throws done very clearly. She recommended I slow it down and work on playing the low G on every D throw.
As soon as I was done consulting with the judge, Cuin approached me again and asked me excitedly if I'd won. I had to explain that everybody else had to play their tune first, and then the judge had to decide who won. As of this writing, I still do not know how--or if--I placed.

We stopped by the Little Bighorn and saw the layout of the battle sometimes known as the Battle of Greasy Grass or Custer's Last Stand, although we learned he was probably lying down so as not to be visible to the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors creeping up the hill. While we were listening to the park ranger explain what happened, another member of the group asked how many of the enemy there were. The poor ranger, surrounded by both Cowboys and Indians, diplomatically tried (unsuccessfully) to find out who the questioner meant by "the enemy", but the questioner just wasn't getting it that, depending on your background, "the enemy" could mean either the cavalry or the tribe. Obviously, this guy was a Cowboy, and a narrow-minded one at that. I could hear other people besides me hissing at him. The ranger gave out some numbers, which were something like 3 against 1000, and moved on to something else.

We stopped in Whitehall, Montana to visit my sister (Aunt Erin) and her fiance and long-time family friend, Tim, and their extensive collection of mosquitos, cats and dogs.
Here's Red-Haired Daughter and the cats, Monkey and Pepper. I played for them early Sunday morning, and for all the neighbors whom Tim called to advise of the concert.

Note the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains in the background. The mosquitos don't show up, but they are there.
We visited Grama Olsen in Butte, but I forgot to take pictures and I'm kicking myself for that now. We wanted to take her out to lunch and/or to church, but she didn't feel up to it. At 95, she has a right to be tired! She seemed pretty lonely and was delighted to see the kids. I got about 20 hugs from her, and 5 kisses, which is a lot, even from her! I was sorry to have to leave her.

The trip back to Salt Lake was uneventful. We listened to the whole unabridged recording of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which kept everybody entertained. We are now prepared to watch the movie when it comes out on the 17th, and criticize the producer for parts that he left out.
I'll post again when (if) I get the results from the competition, and whether or not the pennies are really lucky.