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.