Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Miracle Cure!

I play a hard reed in my pipe chanter.  I mean REALLY hard.

I've always played a hard reed, mainly because I over-blow easier reeds.  I've been given easier reeds, but they've been taken away again almost immediately--because my over-blowing makes the chanter squeak or come in early on strike-ins.  For these things, I get The Look, and the reed is retracted.

Lately, however, about 90 minutes into band practice (with the first 30 minutes being tuning and other general catching up with people), I'm beat. I can't focus. My hands shake. I don't care what we play, I just want to be done.  This doesn't speak well to the quality of my playing.

Competitions are even worse, because tuning lasts for hours. In addition, there are massed bands and opening and closing ceremonies, and sometimes solo competition, if you've signed up for those.

Important, days-long gigs like the Sheep Dog Trials or Memorial Day Solo Piping at cemeteries require daily ice on the lip and then lots of rest.

You might say this doesn't make piping seem like a lot of fun, and you would be correct.

But last week at band practice, my lovely, clear-sounding (hard) reed from March 2015 was declared to be trash. (?!)  We are moving from Warnock to Apps reeds, and there just wasn't a nice-sounding (hard) Apps reed in the collection, so Pipey gave me a medium reed.

I worked very hard to under-blow (is that a word?) during practice. I was especially careful on strike-ins, making sure my chanter didn't come in early.  One time when I was gabbing with another band member, I missed the call to strike in, so I hurried and struck a half-filled bag . . . . and I got no early chanter!  I had NO idea!  I thought you were supposed to always fill your bag up completely (like an NFL in-play football) and then strike in.  But with an easier reed, apparently the full bag is not necessary!  So I made it through practice with the medium reed, and I sneaked out quickly so Pipey wouldn't think about it and take away my reed.

Two days later, our Labor Day gig at the Sheep Dog Trials began.  We take turns playing in small groups.

Triona McMaster, Jason Allred, Chris Johnson
(Photo courtesy of another band member, I'm not sure whom.)
We cover all four days of the holiday, from 11:00 to 15:00, plus we play for the closing ceremony.  I played three hours on Friday, three hours on Saturday, and two hours in small groups on Monday, plus tuning and warm-up for the closing, and then the closing. I'd say four hours on Monday.  In past years, after only Friday, I would have a swollen lip and be exhausted.  This year, however . . . .

No after-effects.  None.      Nilch.      Nada.       Zipp.

At least it smells better than the enclosed cattle truck
from last year!
Crated up and ready to be hauled to the top of the mountain for the march down.
Photo courtesy of Jason Killpack (left front)

I was fine.  I could have played another two hours!  Seriously!  I had been cured of the piping "lung cancer" from which I had suffered for 10 years, all in a minute.  It was a miracle!

After Saturday, it was the same.  This reed is so easy, and . . . dare I say? . . . comfortable, that piping was actually FUN!  And I made very few errors, even on the most complicated pieces.

Apparently, this type of thing happens quite often in piping.  If your bag is leaking air from a tiny hole in the bag, or there is a tiny gap in the stock closures, or you have one strand of hemp too few on a drone reed, you will feel like you're at death's door.  A new bag, a little Rescue Tape under the circle clamps on the stocks, a few rounds of hemp on the reeds, and you will feel reborn.  I just never thought I would ever learn to play an easier reed.

I feel so great about this reed, that I am going to dig out my 2/4 march (I can't even remember what it's called, it's been so long!) and get it ready for Moab games in November.

Cedar Springs burning
I live!

Oh yeah:   the mountain caught fire while we were waiting to do the closing ceremony


Friday, June 12, 2015

How Long to Make a Drummer?

And now, the promised Drummer entry.

Between the first Friday in December (Festival of Trees) and the first Wednesday after New Year's Day, the band has its Winter Break.

After January 7's practice session, Pipey dropped a bombshell.  Our Lead Tap (that's 'Chief Drummer Dude' to you non-piping-or-drumming people) had decided he had enough writing and re-writing all our music, dealing with delinquent or AWOL drummers, and teaching.  He decided he would go to a band where he could just be a drummer, and bring down his blood pressure.  So he left the band.  Many of the drummers left with him. And our Treasurer, Pete, retired from piping.

The thing about pipe band competition is that you have to have a minimum of 6 pipers, 1 bass drummer, 2 tenors and 2 snares (I'm guessing on the snare and tenor numbers, but it's 1 or 2 each) to compete.  I'm sure about the bass number, because one year I played bass drum all summer because we lost our bass drummer and needed one to compete.  I played bass drum in college marching band, so I knew the basics.

For our 2015 New Year's Band Resolution, we had 1 bass-in-training, 1 tenor, and no snares.

And 18 pipers.

In fact, we had one new piper: Chris, from another band.  I don't remember exactly why he came over to the Salt Lake Scots, but he volunteered to help tune right away, so we accepted him immediately.

But what to do about drummers. . . or lack thereof?  If it takes seven years to make a piper, how many years does it take to make a drummer?

We decided to call 2015 Rebuild Year, and find out.

We dropped back to Grade IV. We cancelled all competitions and parades. We cancelled our St. Paddy's Day concert.  We stayed with our Memorial Day commitment--solo piping at two different cemeteries--because it doesn't require a lot of drummers.  And we decided to see how the year went before we made a decision about the Sheep Dog Trials over Labor Day weekend, and Moab Games in November.

Over the next few weeks, Band Manager Ian got his wife to learn tenor drumming. Somebody else contacted Jessie and told her she could be Lead Tap (Chief Drummer Dudette?) if she would come back to practices, etc.  Chris J from the other band got HIS wife, CarrieAnn, to learn tenor.  And Jessie convinced her snare drumming friend, Chris H, to come back, as well.

By March, our in-training drummers were making good progress.  We played slow for them, so they would get the feel of playing with the rest of the band, and we showed them LOTS of appreciation!  None of this "us/them" stuff.  We treated everybody--piper or drummer--as a band member of equal importance to any other band member.  We needed them all!

We voted Chris J into the band as a piper, as well as Small Son Teancum, now 16.  We also welcomed Tom K, piper and Drum Major (that's the guy with the big stick who walks out in front of the band when it is marching someplace) into our ranks.  And Nick returned from his mission, rarin' to get back to piping.

And we worked on our competition sets.

In May, we took inventory.  How did the drummers feel with the competition sets?  How was the piping on those sets?  Should we try to compete in the Salt Lake Highland Games?  We let the in-training drummers make the decision, with no pressure or consequences.  They decided to give it a try.

So we did.

With only three weeks left before the Games, we really practiced!  We practiced piping and drumming and ensemble.  We practiced strike-ins and cut-offs. We practiced marching in and marching out and counter-marching.  We practiced wheels and stops and marching in place.  We practiced playing while nervous.

On the Day, there was a lot of scrambling for bits of uniform. Nerves were high. We warmed up some, but not too much, and hit the field.

We took 3rd  on the March Medley (At Long Last, Dawning of the Day, J. K. Cairns) after Wasatch & District and Utah Pipe Band Gr. IV.  We took 3rd also on the Timed Medley, after Utah Pipe Band Gr. IV and Wasatch & District Gr IV.  Our timed medley included Chatill Macruimmien, Braes of Mar, Tail Toddle, The Water is Wide, and Minnie Hynd.

Not too bad for a rebuild year.

To answer the question:  how long does it take to make a drummer?  Our answer:  6 months.

And our old Lead Tap?  He still has high blood pressure.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Scots on the Rocks: Moab 2014

I discovered recently that this blog has a second reader!  Welcome, Bruce!

For this 100% increase in readership, I have taken again to the keyboard to let you know about the Moab Highland Games, which happened in . . . you guessed it!  Moab, UT . . . last November.

If you have never been to Moab, you should remedy that immediately, as fall, winter, and spring are the best seasons to experience these most beautiful and fanciful of landscapes (the temps are moderate instead of hot, and there are no crowds).  I would also highly recommend dawn and dusk, because the contrasts of light and dark throughout the park are incredible!  Sunny days are awesome, too, because the red-orange rocks contrast so strongly against the deep blue sky (I'm all about contrasts!).

My husband and I had a nice drive down to Moab on Friday afternoon, mostly because he did all the driving, and I did all the sleeping.  The roads were good, as we are having THAT kind of winter this year. The band had booked us in a room together, which was nice for us, but awkward for Sande, who is my long-time hotel roommate on band trips.  However, she suffered with a room to herself and nobody snoring in the next bed, and we went to dinner with her and Rob a couple of times.

It's been three months, so I can no longer remember the hotel where we stayed, nor the location of the games.  I just know they were outside town about a mile or so, and there was lots of red rock, dotted with sage green vegetation here and there.  Which describes most of the state of Utah, so you'll never find it.  My anonymity is secure!

Four or five bands participated, including one from Denver whose oldest piper is approaching 70 (Keep On Pipin'!).  The days were topped with sun and blue skies over a floor of red rock. This was a two-day competition, so we had plenty of time to look around.  We are still struggling with some of our Grade III tunes, so we did OK, but not blazingly well. At the end of Saturday's competition, the band drove up into the park,  hiked up to an arch and goofed off.  We got some pics taken.  Here's one:

There were stunning landscapes everywhere! Take special note of the molten gold rocks, the red rocks, the blue, blue sky, and the band that is more a family than a musical group. (Photo by Ott)

Some more adventurous band members (whose names will not be mentioned) climbed up into the farther archer, faced down a several-hundred-foot drop, and gave us a tune.  Other band members stayed back and took pictures and were very afraid, not so much for the drop as for how many people would be able to hear the horrible piping from that precarious location.

We did take first place in one of the events, probably the timed medley, as the MSR (March-Strathspey-Reel) was the piece with which we were having the most trouble.  But I don't remember for sure.  It was three months ago.

Here's the trophy:

Pretty cool, huh?  Not your usual gold plastic goblet.

I have a T-shirt with this logo on it, too, but it got pushed to the back of my drawer and fell down underneath, so I won't be able to wear it again until I move the furniture. I have to do that.  The Games workers had kokopelli-themed shirts, as well, and I wish I had taken a pic of them, especially the peace-keeping force, and the first aid squad.  I will try to get pics and add them later.

Then, we got our picture taken as a winning band, and somebody played with the focus:
Very much red rock, blue sky, and sage green vegetation.

Take a good look at those drummers, for you won't see them again in this blog.  More on that in a later post.