Monday, November 21, 2011

The Real Issue

A couple of Wednesdays after Ventura, and maybe a week after the Yelling Band Practice, my new-normal Wednesday left me feeling . . . ew. Not horrible, gut-wrenching, vomiting sick, but washed out in several waters and left on a rock to dry. I decided I didn't have the stomach to go through another Yelling session. So I called the pipe major and said I wouldn't be at practice as I didn't feel well.
He said, "OK, and I was going to tell the pipe corp. A lot of bands have been having issues with those reeds we're using. Issues with staying in tune and stuff. It's not just us. I've got some new ones on order. They should be here next week."
Uh . . . . .what? You mean it wasn't Operator Error like you've been saying (loudly) (and angrily)for the past 3 weeks? It was the REEDS?!!?
He sort of apologized for the yelling. Sort of. I let him off the hook, saying 'How was he to know', etc, etc.
But seriously. We went from really good players to horrible in a matter of days and he thought it was US?
The following week's practice was approaching normal. We were in the Dance Studio of the high school, as every place else was full (I felt like Mary and Joseph. And 12 shepherds, and 3 wise men, and a bunch of sad cows, and six little drummer boys.) Tuning went surprisingly quickly. We did well on our sets. I played the new tune, Athol and Breadalbane--all four parts--pretty well for a first time. The atmosphere inside the circle was light and almost-but-not-quite happy. I could tell there were still some pipers who just couldn't quite believe it was all over.
We'll see what happens after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ventura 2011

It has certainly been a long time since I've posted, and I apologize. I have no excuse.

It has been a little over a week since the band got back from the Seaside Highland Games in Ventura, California. If you remember from last year, we took first in both events--even over Pasadena and University of California Riverside! Life was sweet.

This year I got us great deals on our airline tickets: $185 round trip per person! Band Manager Ian got a much better deal on our hotel, albeit it was a lower calibre hotel than last year. So we saved a lot of money. Bass Drummer and former Pipe Major Dennis took whatever luggage we wanted in the van to California so we wouldn't have to check it. Everybody arrived on time for the flight. Life was looking very good.

Last year, if you remember, our high-altitude acclimatized pipes and lungs had an easy time of it with blowing and tuning. It seems like we tuned once, and were in tune the rest of the day.

This year, we couldn't stay in tune for 5 minutes at a stretch. The issue could possibly have been related to the cooler weather (62F) on Saturday (8 October 2011). Or it could possibly have been our older, rather used chanter reeds. Or it could have been some other issue of which we wot not. We had definitely been improving over the year. We knew the tunes backwards in our sleep. We tuned and tuned and tuned and tuned. Whatever the reason, we sounded like a first year pipe band on Saturday. Nobody was in tune with anybody else. It was downright embarrassing!

We took 4th out of 5 bands.

Sunday, it was 10 degrees warmer (73F), and everybody tuned themselves frantically as soon as we arrived at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Pipe Major Jason fine-tuned us in the shade of the nearest Quonset hut, and everybody was spot on . . . until we circled up in the sun. He accused us of blowing harder in the circle than we had in the shade. Blowing harder will make your chanter sound sharper. Blowing less will flatten the sound. I could understand if he was only accusing ME of that, because I used to blow rather irregularly. But EVERYBODY in the circle? I don't think so. As Charles Dickens said, we ". . . tuned like 50 stomach aches!", yet 20 minutes before we were to go on, we were still having tuning issues, as well as timing issues and wrong notes. People were definitely getting flustered.

At that point, I had been fine-tuned about 20 times that day, accused of blowing inconsistently, then tuned some more. I had had enough. I was tired of being tuned, of being frowned upon, of playing that same tune again . . . I decided to take myself out of the equation, to reduce the amount of tuning work for the PM, and to make sure I was (or was not) part of the problem. I walked out of the circle.

Instead, I walked around to the competition circle and filmed the band as they marched in and played the set.

They did sound fairly well tuned (although they hadn't immediately after I had left), but there were still timing issues and wrong notes, and I could have told you exactly who was guilty of those, but I won't. So I don't think I was the problem. I am going to try to attach a bit of the video. I can't send all of it as it is too long.

Sande, and Robert P., patted me on the shoulder afterward. Tyler (one of the best pipers in the band) commended me for my actions, told me I was a team player, and that there had been other pipers that should have withdrawn but did not, that it was a far braver thing I had done to take myself out of the equation than to play on. PM Jason told me I was not kicked out of the band. So it was OK.

On the way home, Robert treated Sande, Michelle and I to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Long Beach someplace. It was very good. We discussed the whole thing, but could come to no definite conclusion.

As we arrived at the airport to fly home, we learned we had taken 3rd out of 5 on Sunday. Better, but not what we had hoped for.

We have yet to meet together as a band since the competition. That will be on Wednesday. I am very interested to hear what Jason will say about everything. I am very interested to know how tuning goes back in our dry high altitude. I am very interested to know if we will still get bumped up to Grade III as we were hoping. I am very interested to know what tunes we will be learning for our MSR (March/Strathspey/Reel) in preparation for our first Grade III competition--whenever that is.

It should be an interesting practice.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This is the part I hate the worst: waiting behind the curtain, listening to the hub-bub of the audience, and all of us waiting for the cue that starts the show.

I used to go all to pieces even thinking about a concert a week beforehand. I existed with a queasy stomach, jelly legs, and a cotton mouth. Warm-up the day of, lasting upwards of 3 hours, completely sapped my courage and strength. I used to do the concert on fear alone.

These days, I don't even have the concert at the back of my mind until the day before, other than scheduling it on my calendar. Warm-up and tune-up takes maybe 90 minutes, if that. I don't get nervous until we are lined up behind the curtain, with all the last minute mistakes and stage directions and Things I Must Remember Throughout This Concert And It Will Be Great-- up to and including the 3 Fs: Focus, watch the PM's Foot, and have Fun (which 3things sometimes cannot exist simultaneously)-- spinning around and around in my head. At this point, I have to really concentrate to force the Queasy Energy up out of my stomach, past my esophagus, and down my arms into my fingers, where it miraculously turns into muscle memory. Then my fingers play the concert, and I don't even have to think about the individual notes.

Then the curtain opens, the lights knife through the blackness, and we move out along its golden path into the Moment of the concert.

I'm sure that, for the audience, the time passes at the usual rate. For me, playing, it takes about 10 minutes per half, and then we are done: 7:30 to 9:00 in 20 minutes.

This year, tuning was minimal. Everybody must have done their Pipe Maintenance (checked for loose joints, replaced their chanter tape and tuned themselves up) beforehand, because Jason only tuned chanters once, and drones twice. The rest of the time we worked on staging, and ate. Dinner was provided by Dr. Rob.

Thanks for the sushi, Dr. Rob! Thanks for the cookies, Sister Shrum!

Thanks for the Pipe Maintenance, everybody!

I think I made about 4 mistakes during the concert when my focus slipped momentarily. Very slippery thing, Focus, especially when you are having a hard time keeping that Queasy Energy down in your fingers. But either Jason didn't notice, or he didn't mention it. I am grateful for either.

My husband, my brother and 75% of my children were in attendance, to say nothing of my friend-and-supervisor, Lori and her whole family. This is no excuse for being nervous.

But it all turned out well in the end. The audience was entertained, if not delighted. Lori was suitably impressed, and my brother was happy that I had known it was him yelling, "Wa-hoo" out of the darkness of the seats.

Resolved: to practice every day, either practice chanter, or pipes--or both--so that I will improve my playing and get that march memorized and perfected for the June competitions.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy Birthday to me.

I was born in a heat wave in the heart of summer.

My birthday was celebrated today.

Perhaps you noticed a discrepancy. Here's the story.

About a year ago somebody recommended to me that I should not put my actual birth date on Facebook to protect my identity. It sounded like a good idea to me, so I decided to change my date of birth. But what date to pick? I settled on the closest Leap Day to my actual date of birth: 29 Feb 1960, thinking it would only come up once every 4 years. I changed it, and completely forgot about it.

Life went on: Daughter #1 came home from South Korea. Daughter #2 got married. We won the Ventura games. Christmas happened. Small Son became a honest-to-goodness Scout.

This morning I checked emails and was INUNDATED with birthday greetings from Facebook, from work, church, piping, family (?) . . . Then I remembered what I had done all those months ago.

But that wasn't the end of it.

When I got to work, my co-workers had decorated my desk with balloons, streamers, and Happy Birthday greetings. One brought me dinner from Cafe Rio. Another brought a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. Everybody who walked by wished me happy birthday.

What could I politely do? I thanked everybody and hoped they wouldn't ask questions, but of course this kind of story gets out. I was terribly embarrassed. Thankfully, everybody took it as a great joke, and passed around the cake. Other people chose fake birthdays, too. For this crowd, my official birthday is now 29 February.

The moral of this story is: be careful what you do. Even the littlest thing will come back to bite you.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Angus and Sterling

I showed up at practice late on Wednesday. It was a logistical escapade, multiplied by weather, divided by time available. It equaled disaster.

I actually don't remember what the original cause of the delay was, but it was snowing enough to indicate that the techies in charge of "snowing" on our play didn't quite have the technique down and were using up all the snow in the first 2 minutes of the scene. Then there was an explosion on a transformer in our neighborhood and the power went out. I phoned ahead to Erin to advise of my delay, then drove like a bat out of a snowstorm.

I arrived about 20 minutes late, threw my pipes together and . . . suddenly whatever I blew into the bag came right back out at me. Wah!!!! They weren't doing this Tuesday when I practiced! I searched in the bag and in the case and everywhere I could think of for the missing valve that would prevent the air from coming back out.
Checked with the Quartermaster, Dennis, to see if he could correct the problem, or just happened to have a spare valve lying around . . .

No dice. No valve.

So I sat there and played along on my practice chanter and talked to Aaron.
After practice I checked in with Dennis about getting a replacement valve from the Celtic Center the next day. He suggested I use one of the band sets of pipes that were just laying around, collecting dust. Sterling silver. Hmmm?

Well, when it came right down to it, the replacement valves he had wouldn't fit in my blowpipe, and there wasn't another blowpipe that would fit, either. So I accepted the sterling silver pipes.

They are very pretty. Sterling silver, as advertised. SLS engraved on the ferrules amidst the celtic knotwork. Brand new Ross bag. I swapped out my drone reeds and chanter reed . . . and drone valves ( I'm not supposed to have those because supposedly they make you sound terrible, but nobody has said anything so I just keep forgetting to say anything to anybody) and struck up. Very nice.

I am putting in more practice so I don't have early strike-ins at the beginning of tunes or trailing drones at the end. Hopefully I won't disgrace myself on Wednesday.

Since these silver pipes aren't actually MINE and I won't be keeping them, I have only given them a first name: Sterling.
Angus is grateful for the break, I can tell.
Meantime, I'll be ordering a new blowpipe for Angus ASAP.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Practice Makes Beautiful

Some days we can't carry a tune in a washtub.

Tonight, everybody who was there had practiced and was in top form. We sounded . . . . amazing!

I wish every practice could be like this. Practice would be more fun. We could just play tunes for fun, work on harmonies, stuff like that. Instead, mostly we have to go over and over and over some parts that people are just not taking the time to practice. It feels like beating a dead horse.

Not tonight. Tonight was a Pegasus night: our horse was alive and flying!

Saturday, January 29, 2011


We are back into band practice with a vengance.

The first couple of practices were exceptional. We all played like we had just gotten off the field at Ventura and had beaten them all!

Gradually, however, something happened. The notes were wrong. The timing was wrong. The emphasis was wrong. Something. I started second-guessing when playing tunes and sets I could--and do!--play in my sleep. It was a relief to play a new tune because we weren't expected to be so perfect.

Some faces are missing.
Aaron had oral surgery and is out for 6 months.
Dave is busy with hockey practice and coaching.
Grant was out of town.
Andrew had pneumonia. Twice.
Nick leaves at 8:00 now. Why is that? Too late to get to Young Men on time.
Tyler . . . . . just wasn't there.
Michelle has a class on Wednesdays.

Maybe because these people are gone, and some of the people that do come don't necessarily have time to practice . . . maybe that's why the quality of our practices is going down. I hope everybody else practices before Wednesday. I have been.