Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 Seaside Highland Games, Ventura, California

California has a wealth of pipers and bands to choose from, a competition schedule that runs 12 months a year, and a wealth of pipers and bands to compete with, along with a wealth of everything else (except actual money). For these reasons, California bands are very good bands full of tiptop pipers and drummers.
Despite these odds, last year the Salt Lake Scots scraped up enough money to send the band to Ventura to compete against these bands. As you might expect, we did not place. Or even show.
What we DID do was take the score sheets back to Utah and study them and apply them to our playing. We listened to top bands like SFU (Simon Fraser University), and we got people like Bob Worrall in to tell us how we could improve. We worked those sets ad nauseatum. The better pipers were aching for a chance to play the harder, Grade III, tunes that they used to play to warm up in Grade III practice. We scraped up some more money and went back to Ventura this year.
Pretty much the same bands were competing this year as competed last year, the best being UCR (University of California Riverside), the LA Scots, and Westminster, but also including our brother band, White Peaks from down Payson way. It was nice to have familiar White Peaks faces around corners and in hallways.
Saturday was the Timed Medley competition. This is a selection of tunes that have to contain certain types of tunes (march-strathspey-reel-slow aire-jig), and the whole set has to last a certain amount of time: not too short, not too long. If you get nervous and play the set too fast, you are under time and get disqualified. If you get nervous and play the set too slow, you go over time and get disqualified.
Our tendency is to play faster and faster, like a locomotive with no brakes heading downhill towards the washed-out bridge.
About an hour before our turn, we played bits of tunes and strike-ins and did some last minute tuning. The PM listened to who made the stupid mistakes still, and at T-minus-20 minutes he called a break and spoke to those people. The only comment directed towards me was, "How're ya feelin'?" I raised a thumb in response. When we circled back up again, we were 3 pipers shorter. We tried the Achilles tunes again and they were perfect.
Marching up to the line always strikes me the same way walking up to the guillotine struck the French nobility. If I allow, I can get lead butterflies in my stomach and overcooked noodle arms and legs. I tell myself that I've played this set well a million times before. I also tell myself that I am not that other person, the person who collapses under pressure, who can't do anything well, who gives up at the least friction. I used to be that person. I used to psyche myself out of doing things well.
Sometimes I still am that person, but I don't have to be. I can choose to be the piper whose brain doesn't have to remember the tune because my fingers remember it perfectly. I can choose to be the piper who focuses on the tiny errors from last time and corrects them as I play this time. I can choose to be the piper for whom the world outside the circle DOES NOT EXIST! No judges, no audience, and above all, no snarling Other-Band pipers praying I'll do something wrong. There's just me and some friends playing the set perfectly the first time through for practice like we've done a million times before. There's just the tunes in my head, the tapping foot, the beating drums, and the moving fingers. Nothing scary in that.
Next thing I knew, the set was over.
We circled up just out of range of the audience and discussed what went wrong. Well, something happened at the beginning of the slow aire, perhaps a timing issue, but we corrected it and went on. Nobody could think of much else. Everybody kicked back until Massed Bands at 5:00, when all 200 pipers and nearly as many drummers got together to wait for extended lengths of time to learn who'd won Saturday's competition.
I wasn't hoping for much. I had heard the other bands and they were all excellent. If we were really lucky, we might get 3rd. But they called out third place and it wasn't us. I gave up hope. Second place was announced. OK, OK, I thought, let's just get this over with so I can go back to the hotel and go to bed. First place.

Salt Lake Scots!!!

Oh! My! Gosh!

It was not a dream because the rest of the Scots cheered. We really did get first place for the Timed Medley (the more difficult of the two sets we performed). We beat out all the bands that beat us out last year! I didn't care what happened after that: my summer was made.
Sunday we competed with our Quick March Medley, a collection of 4 marches of various kinds. We've been playing this set for at least 6 years. I don't know about the rest of them, but I can play it in my sleep, and often do.
Nobody was cut at the last minute. We marched up to the line with the same leaden butterflies hovering threateningly over my head. I used them to keep me focused on how the tunes were supposed to be played. I used my fingers to remember the notes. Before I knew it, the set was over and we had marched out. Again we circled up, but all that was mentioned was a wrong note or possibly two, nothing significant. Again we broke until Massed Bands, which again involved interminable standing around and waiting. And again, we didn't get third. Or second.

First Place: Salt Lake Scots!

And because we'd won both days' competition, we got the aggregate trophy, too! Said aggregate trophy is a traveling plastic cup on a stick on a plinth, rather beat up from all the traveling it has done over the years. It's not shiny. It's not engraved with our band or anything. But. We get to keep it for a year because We Were the Best! The moment in time shines bright enough for 10 trophies!
We packed up and went home. Dennis was even nice to me and gave me a ride back to the hotel to wait for my Dear Family.
I'm still have difficulty believing. We swept the Seaside Games!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Funny Lesson

Once upon a time, work days and lesson or band days were all different days. Once.
Then I got a promotion to Crew Support LEAD (acting lead--until Erin S. gets back from maternity leave on or about the end of August) where I have weekends off, but work evenings Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Makes it very hard to go to band practice and lessons.

But, by the skin of my teeth, I was able to get time off this evening's lesson. This involved dashing madly from Work to the Celtic Center, checking that Small Son was on his way from home, and ducking into the group room. There was actually quite a crowd there: Sande, Trevor, Kevin, John and I.

It appears there is an easier version of our jig, Piper's Wedding, that Jason invented just for the band because we weren't getting the strikes in the ending of each part. So we went over that, no problem. Well, OK, some tuning problems with certain people's chanter, but we won't mention any names. It sure sounds better now, though. Then the banter started.

I think that Jason gets a little burnt out, teaching lesson after lesson with no break inbetween. So habitually in our lesson, the last of the day, we spend an amount of time on banter. This can include subjects ranging from piping to wrestling to movies to parents . . . well, anything really.
Tonight's banter began with a discussion of the judges' comments on our performance at Payson Highland Games last weekend. I'm sorry, but I don't remember all the comments word for word, but I do remember that a lot of fun was made about people marching . . . Kevin was the butt of several jokes, due to his inability to step in time to the music. He took it in good stride, though . . . . heheheheh!
Jason recalled a newspaper photo he'd seen of the band from the Fourth of July. We were not in step. It seems that when we botched Green Hills at the Park City Fourth of July Parade, and Jason stopped us mid-tune and restarted us, we restarted the tune as we stepped out on our right foot instead of the left as we should have. Some people skipped to get back in step, and some people did not. Apparently some enterprising photographer took a picture of us at that moment in time. Our Chief Drummer Dude, BJ, must have noticed that we were not all in step, from his vantage point on the last row, because after the tune was finished and we had marched a few steps in (relative) silence, he called out, "Left! Left! Left, right, left!"

Then Jason hatched an hilarious plan (if he remembers). Next band practice, once we get tuned and warmed up and are collected with the drummers, Jason will call out a tune--say Green Hills--and the pipers will strike up and play, by prior agreement, say, Scotland The Brave, while the drummers start drumming Green Hills. A lot of laughing and not a lot of chantering was happening as we imagined BJ's face as he attempts to figure out what is going on.
I would LOVE to see that.

Well, we finally got down to business, and ran through Josh's Monstrosity Part 3. It went well. Some more banter. Then Jason called out Part 4. I was playing Part 4. But everybody else was playing . . . I don't know WHAT they were all playing. We stopped. I verified that we WERE playing Part 4. Right? Yes, Part 4. We started again, and again random parts of the tune were played simultaneously. Again we stopped, laughed about it, and then Jason said, oh my gosh he was playing Part 2! We all laughed and laughed. We must have all been very tired to have laughed so much about such a silly thing.

When pipes were got out, I was . . . nearly in tune already! Yessssssssss! We tried Piper's Wedding again and it went much better. BJ came in with his drum pad. I was so tempted to laugh again, thinking about band practice, but I did not. He wanted to try his drumming accompaniment to the new version of Piper's Wedding. Jason also wanted to try the new harmony to be played at the simplified place to see how it would all sound. Five melody pipers against one harmony piper and one drum pad was not giving BJ a very good idea of the final sound, so I was asked to play melody while Jason played harmony and BJ drummed on his pad. It sounded very cool. Much cooler than I would have expected.
I was proud to have been chosen to play in a trio.

Then I ran back to work, where I still am, until 0400 Friday morning. Still trying to get time off for band practice. Still unsure how exactly that is done.

I'd hate to miss that prank, though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The A Team

Band last night was uneventful. We mostly played the sets through beautifully the first time. The talk of the circle was that apparently Jason had got a cell phone. Mr. Anti-Technology. Somebody quipped: Next thing you know he'll be sending out his own emails. (Ian sends out all the emails: 'Jason says this, Jason says that'.)

Tonight was group lesson, but it was only Trevor and John and me. We PC'd through Josh's Monstrosity and Captain Colin Campbell. Then we did some tuning and repairing of tape and drones and tried Josh's on pipes from memory.
Last week, if you recall--if I even told you--I totally messed up this tune trying it on pipes. The really tricky parts of this tune is that it switches time signatures about 12 times over the length of the tune, and some rather awkward strikes. During this last week, on a couple of the cooler days, I practiced it on pipes and it got . . .mmm . . . a little better. So tonight I got through parts I and II no problem. Playing part III by itself was also no problem. It was when we tried I, II and III in sequence that I fell apart. Just couldn't get the bridge from II to III. All the parts start on E, and I couldn't remember if part III went up from E or down from E. I guessed 'up' and guessed wrong. That's what I'll be working on this week: I, II, III in sequence.
After the lesson Jason brought up Small Son's frustration with his strike-ins, so I went over the situation and what I suspected the problem was. I had explained all this to Sean just before the lesson and he had given me a new reed for SS to try. (I was going to give him my other Kinnaird tenor drone reed, but I couldn't find it when I got home.) We discussed the bag and the drone and chanter reeds, and some possibly solutions. All three of us are hopefull that SS's problem can be solved.
Then I gathered my courage and asked a question that I have been wondering about for awhile. I asked for brutal honesty in the answer. I sat down in preparation. The question was: am I a dependable piper. That is to say, I can be counted on to show up for practices and gigs on time, and to play the tunes well.
There was no hesitation in the answer: Yes. Absolutely. It has been quite a while that Jason has considered me to be one of the pipers he wants to have present at a gig or performance; the 'A' Team, if you want to call it that. I have improved greatly over the last 6 months, and as soon as I learn Josh's, I can participate in some small group medleys. My tone is good. Fingering, focus . . . I can't remember what all else he said, but it was all good. Much more than I expected.

I have achieved a lofty goal. I am content.

I had a gatorade and a salted nut roll to celebrate.

P.S. Jason actually got an iPhone. He made a recording of the group playing Josh's on it.
You heard it here first.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Fourth of July . . . and the Third . . .

This year, due to certain cutbacks in our sponsors' budgets, we did two parades again, but the Sandy one was the evening of the third and it was a mild day, and the Park City Parade was on the fourth in the morning, and it was milder.

No heat stroke happened.

Still not a good experience.

3 July 2010 1700h Tune-up
1800h Step-off

We all started tuning ourselves since Jason hadn't arrived within 5 minutes of the assigned tune-up time of 1700h. I think he was 15 minutes late or something. We had some tuning issues, myself included, but we got them worked out just minutes before step-off. I say "we", but you know I mean "PM". Aaron and Ian helped. Being late seems to make Jason angry. But he wasn't too late so he wasn't too angry. We still joked around, in between focusing. The parade went very well. My whole family, including some Extendeds, were there, too. It was nice to have somebody personal to play for.

Halfway through the parade, BJ who was calling out the sets, lost his voice. It was so funny to hear his voice cracking from the last row, jumping up the octave as if he was 14.

About 3/4 of the way around, I was about spent. Even skipped the last half of the Mill set. Just couldn't do it. Then a little kid started throwing pop-rocks at our feet and I threatened him with beheading if he did it again. He was instantly cowed. I, on the other hand, felt MUCH better, and was able to finish the parade with energy.
No sore lip, either.

Park City
04 July 2010 1000h Tune-up
1100h Step-off
The band had been assigned the #15 slot, per our request to be as far forward as possible, and had been advised to arrive at 0915h. This arrival time was scoffed at by all; we did not want to stand around for 2 hours tuning and wearing out our lips. But shortly after I got there (1010h), a parade lady wearing Not Much At All told us they had moved us up to #4 so we could pace the parade at 4 mph. After delivering this tidbit, she dashed away in her halter dress and high-heeled sandals. Sandy and I started warming up; presently Jack found us. Nick arrived and started the tuning process, but he couldn't get my chanter to tune correctly, no matter what he did. I suspect, looking back, this was because I had dampened my sponge* the day before (per instructions) in preparation for a hot day and then it wasn't--this day either. If my (and possibly other people's) sponge is damp on a chilly day, the chanter won't stay tuned. More and more people arrived and got busy tuning.

Time passed.

The more time passed, the more people looked stressed and anxious, peering down the hill periodically. We all knew that the later Jason was, the more angry he was. Not necessarily at us, just at the situation in general. This was the latest he had ever been. Traffic jams and blocked streets exploded all around us.

At about 1035h when everybody (except me) was pretty much as tuned as Nick and Tyler could get them, he appeared.

I don't really know what to say about the next half hour. To say the least, it was very stressful. I kept hookah-ing my pipes to keep them warm (did I mention it was chilly?), and got light-headed and had to lean on Jack's shoulder, with Karen and Sandy and BJ clustered around offering first aid and support if necessary, until I could see again. Jason's hands shook as he tuned, and he didn't say much except to demand who had accepted that we be moved to #4, or to tell somebody their D was flat. Waves of anger and frustration radiated off him. Corresponding waves of stress radiated off the rest of us. There were no smiles, no jokes.
The electric cart lady buzzed down at 1105h to nag us: we were supposed to already be up at the top of the hill, the parade was starting! More arguing ensued--not worth repeating--and we silently strode up the hill.

Floats were indeed moving out, and the USAF did its flyover as we circled up again at the top of the hill and got drones one more time. The block that we formed . . . um . . . four pipers in each of the first two rows, and me alone in the last row. I didn't say a thing, even though usually with 9 pipers, we have 2 rows of 4 and Jason as Odd Piper Out, directing on the right. Half the time I shared my row with Dennis on bass drum.

If Pete had been there to bet on which tune we started with, he would have won again this year. We did the Mill Set, Minstrel Boy/Wearin' O' the Green, Green Hills/Battle's O'er, Highland Cathedral, and Scotland the Brave Twice Through over and over down the parade route.
Just after the jog, we got to Green Hills. BJ called it out, and we struck up. But for the life of me I could not remember how it started, even though I had just played it perfectly 10 minutes before. Seems I wasn't the only one. After two measures of Something Terrible, something happened that almost never happens: we were cut off in mid-performance! With flames shooting out of his nose and ears, Jason started us again, in front of the whole parade.

It was embarassing.

At parade's end, according to custom, we circled up and reviewed how it all went. There was no excuse for that Green Hills start, we were curtly told. Some other errors were pointed out to us, PM handshakes all around (which I nearly missed because I was trying to get my tuner back from Nick at the same time) and we were dismissed. I did not stick around to see the rest of the parade, as I had to be in church in an hour to conduct Relief Society, with my mother-in-law in attendance. I skeedaddled.

*Inside the bag is a moisture control system with 4 chambers. Three of the chambers have kitty litter to absorb moisture; the fourth has a sea sponge that can be dampened to add moisture.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Carrying the Wrong Tune

Last week practice, as per usual, people were facing walls and trees, warming and tuning their pipes. Me, too. I ran through my march and slow aire, then the circle was called. PM went around fine-tuning. As he tuned the person next to me, he commented on my playing during the warm-up: What was that you were playing? It sounded . . . nice.

What was wrong with me? Playing nice? We like variety, but puh-lease!

Then Saturday the band had a gig for the Tooele (that's Two-ILL-ah) Arts Fair, west of Salt Lake about 45 minutes. Warm up and tune up happened, and as we only had an hour, we verbally planned out the program we would play, to see who would do what. PM asked if anybody had solos they could be called on to do. I volunteered my slow aire, but doubted I would be called.

We marched around the fair on the grass and nobody fell into any holes or got strangled on wires, oddly enough. We circled up in front of the beer tent where it was cool and shady and a ready-to-welcome-anybody crowd was assembled, glasses in hand. The two competition sets were run through (I even played the timed medley--including the jig--and did well), the 9/8s, a few small groups, then PM turned to me and asked if I would play my solo. I stepped forward and struck in and played.

But . . . hey! There's no birl in my slow aire! It's sounded like it went with the rest of the tune, but didn't sound like My Slow Aire. I carried on, because what else could I do with everybody standing around watching? Got to the end of the first part, and . . . no second part came to mind. My fingers also failed me and did not automatically start the second part. Mentally I knew it started with E or something, but . . . . nothing was there. So at the end of the 'first part', I cut off. Shrugged. Puzzled.

The point of having people play solos is to give the other pipers a break, so the longer the tune is that you play, the longer the break is that the others have. That goal was not achieved with the (short) (VERY short) tune that came out of my chanter. My slow aire can be as long as 4 minutes if you stretch it out. If I had played it.

After about an hour of puzzling, I figured out that I had played Cearcl a Couinn (spelled wrong even in Gaelic), a (short) . . . (VERY short) slow aire we were going to put into the Grade IV medley. I learned it, and then it didn't get put in. There it still was, lying dormant, waiting to embarass me. I'm sure even now, 5 days later, it still stops periodically and falls over laughing just to remember the time it knocked me off my High Horse.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pied Piper of . . . Cows?

You never know when the most commonplace things will go wonky on you.

This last week I went to a reunion of my husband's family. It was held in a beautiful lodge just outside Yellowstone Park, in a cabiny area surrounded by pastureland and a barbed-wire fence. I was asked to bring my pipes as we were also celebrating my parents-in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary, along with a couple of birthdays. After the first day--our Day in the Park where it snowed all day--the weather was beautiful, so I took my pipes for a little walk to a remote-er part of the area to get a bit of practice in.

I found a wooded corner of the area. Across the barbed-wire fence was a typically huge pasture with about 200 head of black cows scattered over it, about 4 cows per acre, standing around individually chewing their cud, as cows are wont to do. I'm no expert on cow breeds. All I can tell you is that they were pitch black and rather large. Cows are pretty commonplace in Idaho, and I am not generally afraid of them. They don't DO anything. So I paid them no attention and got down to work

As per instructions, I plugged my drones and started getting my chanter in tune, with the tuner balanced on a dead log. Naturally this dead log had me facing away from the pasture. As I ran through an practice tune, in some distant part of my mind were the bird songs, the wind, the sunshine, the gentle lowing of the cows . . . It was a really beautiful day. Perfect for sending some slow aires or marches winging over the countryside.

As the tune came to an end, I noticed that the general tone of cow noise had gone from Calm to Anxious and Upset. Slowly, I turned around.

Making a bee-line (if the cows will pardon the expression) towards me at a trot were about two-thirds of the cows in that pasture! They were all maw-ing anxiously, twitching their ears and stomping and staring at me as if I had done something terribly wrong--broken the Cattle Code, perhaps, or pretended to be Chased By Wolves or something. They lined up in a Black Cow Mass about 20 feet away, but kept inching forward.

I suddenly realized that the only thing separating me from their hundreds of sharp hooves and horns were 4 tiny strands of wire.

More cows continued to arrive, nudging the previous ones forward.

I slowly picked up my pipe case and started moving away from them. No fast moves. You never know what a herd of Emotionally Unbalanced Cows will do. I achieved the dirt road and stood staring at them. What the heck had I done? Was the farmer/rancher also a piper from the Henry's Fork Pipe Band who used his piping to call them in to dinner? Were they looking for hay, and were they now Upset that I Hadn't Given Them Any?

Now that almost 100 yards separated us and an unused cabin porch was handy, I was a bit braver. "What is your problem?" I asked, rather loudly.

In answer, they turned tail and galloped straight away. I would almost say 'stampeded'.

I wonder what frame of mind they were in when they went in for dinner that night. Did I play the Visiting Uncle and get them All Riled Up before bed?

You never can tell with cows.

You never can tell with piping.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2010 Salt Lake Highland Games

It was pretty much a no-show for the Salt Lake Scots this year.

Friday night our Chief Drummer Dude, BJ, found out his little 2-year-old nephew was seriously mauled by a police dog the father had adopted. The little guy was in surgery to save his life. BJ was too upset to do anything besides pace the hospital waiting room and worry. Understandable.

Next in line for the lead drumming job is Erin, who seemed to have a lot of extraneous responsibilities during these Games, and was not dressed in her kilt. She said she just could not do the complicated rythms that a lead drummer would be required to do, and to do it for a competition was unthinkable. She declined. So we withdrew from the competition. Which was really too bad because some people were only going to compete with the band, and some people gave up a lot of stuff to compete, and even the Bishop and his family came out to hear us play.

The Salt Lake Scots were sparse on the ground. And what was there was Grade IV.
Aaron was not there because he had a family reunion.
Tyler was not there because he was vomiting blood in the hospital.
Ben was there but did not compete because he had just had his gall bladder removed and was hissing through the incisions when he piped.
Andrew was not there, but I don't know why.
Karen was not there because she had to attend a wedding that a family member had discourteously scheduled for the same day as the Games.
Dave was not there . . . probably a hockey conflict.

So instead of competing, we had band practice.

The other information is about solo competitions. It was not raining when I competed in the Grade IV Slow March and 2/4 March competitions (over 40s). I got what I usually get in the Slow March: 4th (or 5th if Dave is competing). Lee, who is a very spitty piper, spit on the judge and got first. Pete took first in the 2/4 march (without spitting). I GOT THIRD! That means I got a medal. My first.

I think I'll wear it for the rest of my life.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Laid-Back Lesson

We never got around to piping at the group lesson last night. Which is OK by me, as my lip is still sore from Memorial Day weekend.

We started out working on the new 2/4, The Royal Scots, on chanters. Then we moved to Josh's Monstrosity. Then Jason replaced tape on everybody's chanters, during which time we started talking about the Games coming up, and Being Pipe Major and How Things Have Changed since Jason first took office. He told us the story about how tough it was for him at first, not only being a new pipe major, but having to take everybody to Canada to the Calgary(?) Games, and then 2 days before they departed, his wife left him. Funny stories about the Scotland trip and Canada and the Sheepdog Trials followed. A lot of good-natured heckling went on, with Lee bearing the brunt of most of it, John saying nothing at all but laughing along with the rest. Before we knew it, the hour was up.

This lesson had a very light-hearted feel to it, as opposed to a previous lesson where all we did was argue . . . and even fight. I hate fighting. John seems to be able to cause turmoil with the slightest word. He has that gift, I guess. I wonder if he has Asberger's Syndrome, because he doesn't seem to be able to read people's tones of voices and posture--to know when to back down. Or it could be that he's not out of high school yet, and hasn't Figured It All Out. His not talking last night contributed a lot toward the lighthearted tone. As did his talking on the Fighting night.

We were advised not to practice too much between now and the Games, so as not to wear ourselves and our reeds out. If we don't know our solos by now . . . it ain't gonna happen.

Well, folks, it'll be an experience and probably nothing else.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Whoever ordered the weather for this weekend should get a medal. It was not too hot, not too cold so piping wasn't uncomfortable one way or the other, no precipitation of any kind, overcast so we didn't get sunburns . . . in short, perfect.

On Sunday I had two hours at Redwood. I put flowers on my friend Wanda's grave and played Danny Boy for her a couple of times. I also put flowers and a flag on the grave of A2C Melbourne G Black, Korean War veteran who died in November 1980. Nobody from his family seems to live here, because his grave is always unadorned. Because he fought in Korea, where RoseE is, and because he is apparently abandoned, I adopted him. Every year I put something on his grave, and play him a tune or two. This year I played "Going Home" which seemed appropriate at the time. Dave asked me if I knew anything about him, but I've told you all I know. I wonder where I could find out more? Maybe I could get in touch with his family (if he has any left), or play a more appropriate tune. I still haven't learned the Air Force tune, but Taps would work for any military.

If you don't want to read a 'he said, she said' recounting, skip to the line of **** and there will be a quick summary and you'll be spared the details.

We had two performances on Monday, one at Redwood and one at Mountain View. As we were tuning up for our first gig, the PM asked if anybody had any solos they could do. Dave volunteered his" Loch Caber No More" (which sounds like "la caber no more", an ode to not throwing telephone poles around in the future) and I said I could play my slow air. This was received with a nod. My reed has been squeaking like a scared mouse, so I didn't think I would actually be taken up on my offer. But I put it out there anyway, to give the good players a break if they wanted.

Then I got a new reed, a much harder reed, but I'm a blowhard anyway, which you already know if you read this blog at all. This new reed doesn't squeak at all! I was very happy. The PM said he wanted to hear how my new reed sounded before having me play a solo for a performance. OK, that made perfect sense. I said I would try not to cry if I didn't get to do my solo (joking, of course. By this time I was pretty tired and my lip was swollen and my arm was sore, so not playing would be fine, too.) Solos by me in the past have not been the best experiences for anybody.

Dave got to do his solo for the performance at Redwood, and he did it beautifully. I did not play with the timed medley small group. The performance went very well, then we all skeedaddled up to Mountain View cemetery for the 2nd gig which we thought was going to be at noon. But it wasn't. It was at 12:30. We had looooots of tune-up time, and we had to wait for the cemetery personnel to move the chairs and music stands from the symphony band before us. We stood around and told jokes and played tunes totally inappropriate for Memorial Day in a cemetery. By the time we marched in, it was nearly 12:45. This performance went well, too. After about 4 numbers, Jason nodded to me and Jack announced me and my tune. (Fair Maid of Barra) I remembered it all, and did not mess up anything. Should have put longer pauses between the sections of the tune, but I'll work on that for competition. Afterwards the PM came up to tune one of my notes that had gone flat because the tape had slipped and I asked him if I had overblown the tune (my most recent issue; it makes all the notes sharp). He said that I had not; all my notes were flat.

I can't win for losing, I tell ya!
So, my solo at the second gig was nearly flawless, and I got lots of compliments.

I played my last half hour at 5pm. Nobody asked me to play Happy Birthday this year. Mostly it was Danny Boy. I don't mind.

Then the family went to the ball game and the home team probably lost. We had to leave early to get the kids to bed on time.

Today it is raining, and the ceiling is leaking again.

Friday, May 28, 2010

No New Reed

I did not get that promised new reed. Instead, surgery was performed on the old reed, which involved cutting about 1/8" off the corners, making it harder to play. It IS harder to play and doesn't squeak AS MUCH. I will have to play around with it, and continue to work on blowing less strongly.

I don't remember much else from the lesson because I was Exhausted and didn't take in much.

I do remember somebody bringing up the subject of Chia pets. I don't know if you recall these. They were (or are) little greenware ceramic pots in the shape of animals or people that have seeds embedded in them. When you water them faithfully, they sprout, giving the animal a green wooly coat, or the person a green afro. I suddenly imagined a Chia pot in the shape of Jason's (who is bald) head, which lead to a mental image of Our Pipe Major with a head of bushy green leaves. I don't think anybody else made the mental image jump, because I laughed hysterically all by myself. Perhaps they were just polite. Karen would have gotten it.

I received 4 or 5 "Are you losing it?" looks. I apologized, using my extreme fatigue as my excuse.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


. . . from playing the timed medley at Thanksgiving Point.

I didn't cry. It always amazes me when I can control my emotions.

Possibly this time it was because the Bad News was balanced with Good News: my reed appears to be collapsing, causing the Damned Squeaking I have been fighting for the last 2 months or more. So Thursday I get a new reed and hopefully the problem will be solved and I'll sound beautiful for my solos, and for the March Medley at Thanksgiving Point. Yay!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Circle Buddies

Your circle buddy is the person you tend to relate to in the circle during practice.

Sometimes you stand next to your circle buddy and comment on everybody else during practice. This causes you not to pay attention to the pipe major and you are always asking a non-buddy (not involved in you and your buddy conversing), "What are we playing?"
Sometimes you stand across from your buddy and you have secret hand signals--somewhat like the signals used between the catcher and the pitcher in a baseball game--with which you communicate. Ben and Grant, and Aaron and Nick tend to do this. I haven't figured out if their signals actually mean something, or are just used to attract the attention of the other band.

I have several circle buddies. Karen, when she is there. We miss a lot of instructions because we are chattering. When Karen is not there, I stand by or across from Sande. Sande and I have been roommates on several band trips, and we are in group lessons together, so we go way back. Sande doesn't talk much at practice, but she has a good sense of humor. If neither Sande nor Karen are there, I stand by Pete, Jack, or Aaron who are sympathetic but who also pay attention to pipe major instructions, so it's just somebody familiar to stand by. Pete and Jack have been kind to me from my Worst Piper days with the band when nobody else would talk to me; Aaron is entertaining because he makes funny comments. He also plays harmony for most tunes. This tells me when we are on the second time through a tune and getting ready to either end or switch to the next tune.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Paddy's Day 2010

17 March 2010

This was my first year doing extensive pub crawling. The first year I was a gig or so late due to either miscommunication, or forgetfulness on the part of my mother-in-law, I don't know which (and I don't want to know). I left after 1 or 2 pubs, too.

This year I was able to get to the Celtic Center for the tune-up (barely; had to pick up Red-Haired Daughter and take her home due to illness) and then proceded to do 10 pub stops. The bars were pretty empty for the first few hours of the afternoon (12:00 til about 3:00), but as afternoon turned into evening, and evening to night, they got fuller and fuller, until it was almost claustrophobic. We are used to having a big space to circle up in and play. There was no room for circles, or even ovals, in these pubs. We sort of squose in where we could, facing each other--sort of. We aren't even talking polygons, here. More like amoebas. As time wore on, the crowds got louder and more appreciative, too.

Ian overscheduled us, as he apparently has done in years past. At one point we had 30 minutes to do a 20 minute gig, drive 50 blocks and tune up again. Of course that set us up to be late for all subsequent gigs that evening. At one bar I saw Vickie Newton from work, and at another, Fair-Haired Daughter. I did the Amazing Grace solo at a bar called Gracie's and overblew it big-time. I felt terrible, and didn't volunteer for any other solos, though I think PM would have given me another chance if I had raised my hand. I don't think he really wanted me to. So I'll work on overblowing and volunteer another time.

Just as a side note . . . some of those bars were really creepy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

2010 Concert

13 March 2010

It started snowing late morning, pretty heavily, and while down in the lower elevations it stopped precitating, up on the benches it kept snowing until, oh, about 8:00 pm. The snow wasn't sticking to the roads, but visibility was reduced. I didn't have a very good feeling about our audience.

I failed to understand the fanaticism of our fanatics.

They filled 3 sections of the auditorium, despite the snow.

As for the concert itself, the video clips were better than our "Pipes of War" concert, and were shorter and more audible. Lots of different band members were in them, so it wasn't just Ian mumbling through the commentary. There were lots of the stories behind tunes, and clips from WWI (or perhaps WWI movies). There was gas and war sound effects.

This was Karen, Dan and Kevin's first concert. Dan didn't seem nervous, but he never does. Kevin was nervous and was dancing around next to me. I tried to tease him a little to get him to relax, but he was having none of it, so I left him alone with his nerves. Karen had Lungs of Fire, residue of bronchitis. We were lucky she was there at all, and she played here and there, and otherwise was a placeholder, which was fine. I had prayed for her immune system, and she says it worked because her mom, who had the same illness, can still barely breathe whereas Karen herself can play tunes on the pipes. Personally, I think she set herself up for a miracle by being a piper in the first place and developing good, strong lungs, but I'm perfectly willing to admit Divine Intervention on her behalf in this.

For our before-concert meal, Robert (the surgeon) brought sushi and wraps and vegetable trays . . . and cookies and pizza. He's looking after our health. I got a kick out of his license plate: CUTNSEW. He said he doesn't mind if people think he is a quilter.

The funniest incident of the concert was the beginning. There was supposed to be a video clip and smoke, then Jason was supposed to coming walking down the aisle from the back of the auditorium playing a tune. At the stage, he was to turn around and we were all going to start the 9/8's. Unfortunately (for him), he started before the video, got to the stage and THEN the video started. We could hear the stage people muttering, "He just started! Didn't tell anybody!" I guess he could have walked backstage and played the 9/8's with us when the curtain came up, but instead he walked back to the back of the auditorium, and after the clip was over, did his whole tune again. We were backstage in the pitch dark trying not to breathe the "smoke" and sniggering at his blaring mistake. During the intermission tune-up, Tyler said, "Why is it that when Jason screws up, everybody is nice to him, but when we screw up . . . " He never got any farther. Any comment about what happens to 'us' was interrupted by a laugh and a fake karate kick to the head.

All reports--even from experienced pipers--said that we played together, and our sound was clean and bright. It didn't sound like that to me. I know for a fact that I messed up the jig, Piper's Wedding. Maybe that was the only thing.

The treasurer's report said we took in almost $5000, more than any other concert during his (Pete's) tenure as treasurer. For a snowy day--for any day--, that was excellent!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Anticipating St. Paddy's Day

The band usually schedules gigs at bars, etc, during the afternoon and evening of St. Paddy's Day. The first year I was actually in the band, I showed up late for the 2nd gig and had to get tuned up while everybody else was already playing, for which I got scolded. Since then I haven't played the gigs.

This year I'm working early enough that I could possibly do them. I traded hours and got some PTO so as not to kill myself. When I suggested to the PM that I could help out at the gigs, he said, "Thanks. That'd be great." So I get to do gigs. I'll be working in my kilt so I can jump in the car after work (I am now getting off at 1030, tune up at the Celtic Center at 1100) and drive over there.

It's not exactly like being invited to play. But it's not a polite decline, either. It was an enthusiastic thanks. That's very uplifting.

Concert this Saturday. I should practice. A little every day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Playing for a Family Member's Funeral

I did it. I wasn't sure if I could, but I did.

My dear Grama died after 96 years of chuckling at life. This was 0805 on 2/5/10, in Butte, Montana.

We immediately made plans to drive up there. My dear, sweet husband had taken us all up there the week before so I could see her before she passed through the veil. I got to hold her hand, and she held mine back. Aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews and nieces were all there. Even Mom!. We were out and about a lot, to exercise the kids, but we kept coming back to Grama and holding her hand. I kissed her good-bye before we left. Then a week later, the call came.

My cousin Rosemary asked Piper Pat and I to play for the services, so on Sunday we met in the Finlen Hotel ballroom, with the sun warming the golden flowers on the carpet. We got pretty much tuned to each other, and to the scale as it is known in general. Several sets were planned out, and we chose the best among them. At the vigil Monday night we played Danny Boy (for Grama, born in Ireland) and Nu Farmer Skoven Trindt on Lendt (or something . . .for my Danish Grampa). At the funeral on Tuesday morning, we played the casket out to the hearse. Since we both know Highland Cathedral, we played that over and over. Had to fight a church lady so she would let us out of the door, us thinking that that whole cavalcade was on our backs. But when we passed the hearse and turned around, they were still only halfway down the ramp. So we sstood out ttthere in ttthe frrreezing coldddd and playedddd the ttttune a ccccouple mmmmore ttttimes . . . and then we were done. No graveside services, as the body is going to be cremated.

I managed not to cry. I focused on playing and marching so much that I thought I was going to burn a hole in . . . whatever I was focusing on.

I also managed not to light anything on fire.