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.