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.