Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sheepdog Trials 2009

I love the Sheepdog Trials.

I think I said this last year. There are dogs, wool, sheep, and a motley collection of other animals, and piping, and it's mostly not full band so the atmosphere is laid back.

This year was no exception.

On Friday I showed up late and Sean and Pete were all tuned up and piping away, with Erin on snare. Sean's girlfriend Jen, and Pete's wife Trenda, were roaming around looking at things and came and joined us during breaks. A good time was had by all. I piped 3 hours and my lip was only a smidgin swollen.

Saturday's schedule had me down for 3 hours. I was first on the scene. Jack and Dan showed up nearly half an hour later, along with Jessi on snare. Erin got caught in traffic and was very late. It was chilly, but Jack and I managed to get us all tuned sufficiently well so that we didn't "skirl". It was definitely a fall day, with overcast skies and a bit of a breeze, but the mountain shortly woke up to the fact that it was only 5 September and life could still be warm and buzzy, and so it was, with the buzzy bit supplied by a miriad of grasshoppers. This put our drones out of tune terribly.

Jack and I managed to get our drones and chanters pretty much in sync, but no matter what we did to Dan's, he sounded terrible. We messed around with tape and reeds and hemp for an hour, neither one of us sure of what to do, Erin and Jessi standing patiently by, but ended up with only frustration and discord. We gained a deeper appreciation of Jason, Sean and Tyler who do this all the time.

Grant showed up, undid what we had just done to Dan's pipes, and we achieved a modicum of harmony until Dan left a few minutes later. Grant, Erin, Jessi and I played til 1300 when I was supposed to be off, but that would have left Grant a solo piper with TWO drummers, so I stayed the additional hour (for a total of 4).

The other problem Saturday was that none of us original three were really experienced in pipe-majoring. We asked Erin to do it, and she tried for one tune, but with that heavy snare on her knee, keeping time with her foot was a superhuman effort. We couldn't see her foot, anyway. So I suggested each of us pipers take it in turn to pipe-major. It really wouldn't matter if we made any mistakes. Who would know except us? What happens at the Sheepdog Trials, stays at the Sheepdog Trials. Right? The motion was seconded and passed, and we spent our 4 hours gaining a deeper appreciation for Jason, Sean and Tyler who do this all the time.

My lip was a teensy bit more swollen, but not enough to whine about--or even mention.

Monday . . . have you ever heard of the Miner's Day Parade? I hadn't, and I was raised in a mining town! Park City has a Miner's Day parade on Labor Day, and we marched in it. It was pretty much like the Fourth of July parade, except that Red-haired Daughter and Small Son held a banner for a bunch of kilted crazy people, men and women and . . . um. . . Well, anyway, they were relatively well-mannered. The band played tunes, and I only really messed up when Jason, behind whom I was marching, called out Minstrel Boy and I and Dan and Karen started Green Hills.

When playing, it makes things go much smoother if you can focus on one stationary thing. Watching the people go by or what's happening outside the circle just makes you forget where you (read: me) are in the tune or set and mess up. When marching in a block down the street, there really is only one stationary thing, and that is the bum of the person right ahead of you. I was marching and focusing and playing really well, when I realized what I was focusing on: Jason's . . . um. . . kilt. I mentally squawked and focused on his feet instead, which helped me keep time, were more appropriate, but were not necessarily stationary.

And I promptly played the wrong tune, see above. You just can't win.

Then came the fun part, where HH and the kids and I did lunch things: waiting in lines for ice cream and gas, etc.

In fact, it was mostly waiting for the rest of the day.

We were required by the Sheepdog people to arrive at the chalet at 1400. I was late, getting there about 1410. I caught a gleam of reflected light moving toward the door, and guessed it was Jason or Jack, BJ being in California. It was Jason, the sunlight glinting off his bald head, Brenda at his side. We finally located them in the basement of the chalet, masquerading during the week as a kindergarten. The rest of the band trickled in by ones and twos, sunburned and laughing, some smelling of wet dog. We warmed up and tuned up and were ready to go at 1500, at which point Ian got a call from the Radio Guy who said they had more dogs to run, it'd be another hour. We got a 30 minute rest time, during which Small Son and I watched the Spash dogs jump into the water, and we scouted out the road down to the rest of the trials. At 1600, the call came in that there were still two dogs to run, so it would be another 30-60 minutes. We tuned and warmed some more; I got a new reed, and got my new reed adjusted. At 1700, the word was that the last dog had been running for 24 minutes, and that as soon as the trucks arrived, we should load up and go. Ten tense minutes passed before the radio crackled into life again, and we moved out.

The pickup truck beds had been ameliorated by little chairs from the kindergarten room, or in my case, a cooler. Jack sat on one tailgate. As we moved around corners and up hills, the chairs moved treacherously from side to side and front to back. I was sure we were all going to sweep Jack off the tailgate and land in a pile of broken drones and broken bones (broken drones being the more disastrous: broken bones heal). But we didn't. We arrived at a windswept hilltop wherein ensued a series of game plans that lasted at most 3.27 minutes.

We had three routes to choose from: a) a long paved road to the left, b) a middle length sidewalk, looking kinda ratty as it turned the corner, and c) an area of cut weeds that swept away down the hill to our right. Jason vetoed the cut grass out of hand: the drummers would not be able to see to pick their way around holes, bumps, etc. Jack ran down and checked out the sidewalk, and said it looked the clear as far as he could tell. Finally we got the signal to go. We struck up and started down this 20% grade and took the middle sidewalk. When we got to the curve and turned, our way was suddenly blocked by bushes and weeds. What to do? We were in the middle of a set!! The fence to our right was broken, so we turned and marched through it and the weeds and the burrs and the holes and the sheep poo and the ditches and the hills, curved around the line of colored flags which put us directly into a flock of sheep, with some dogs keeping them in line. The sheep weren't too happy about 10 pipers suddenly walking into their peaceful meadow playing like 40 elephants. Neither were the dogs, but they had their job to do, and they did it, keeping the sheep right in our way.

After that it was easy. Third and second place went to a fellow from South Africa, one for one dog and one for the other. First place went to a chap from Scotland, luckily, because we were supposed to play a national anthem, and we don't even know the Star Spangled Banner--if it can even be played on pipes--to say nothing of the South African anthem!

But Scotland the Brave we know! We played it for the gentleman and his dog, turned up the hill and onto the bridge where we tootled a couple of sets and called it a very long day.

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