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