Tuesday, June 14, 2016


When I was a child, I was a member of that large group of people who were not popular, not good at sports or theatre, and were basically shy.  I could not imagine what it would be like to walk down the halls of school and have everyone know my name, have people greet me on every hand.  In fact, if it had happened, I wouldn't have known how to react.  Maybe I would have run away screaming.

It's hard to remain shy when you play the pipes.  Practicing at 110 decibels does not allow one to remain anonymous.  You are forced to learn how to accept praise and congratulations and/or criticizm and complaints.  In fact, I would hazard a guess that the fastest way out of anonymity is taking up the pipes.  If only somebody had told me this in high school.

I made sure my Small Son knew.  He's very popular.

Only today, I had to take my turn at standing and introducing myself to a room full of people at work, which is about as far away from piping as you can get.  After I sat down, the moderator said, "Oh yeah, and Rose plays the bagpipes, too!"

They always find out.

Pipe bands compete at events called highland games.  There are band competitions, piping competitions, drumming competitions, athletic events such as caber toss or throw the bale of hay over the wire, and Celtic dancing competitions, all in one event  The first time I attended as a competitor, I was allowed to butt to the front of any line because "I have to compete in a few minutes. . ." This came in most handy at the restroom, and was a big surprise to me, but because of the extensive amount of tuning pipers have to do (1.25 hours per set, so about 5 hours per weekend), we have very little time for things like eating and drinking and going to the restroom, or checking out the jewelry or swords from the vendors.  People want to hear us play, so they let us butt in.

I also noticed that little kids would run up and ask for our autographs, adults would stop us to ask questions, and all ages would pose for a photograph with me and their family member in it.  People that I recognized from church, school, or work waved and smiled, instead of pretending not to hear or see me.  Never mind that I couldn't play as well as most of the other pipers for a long time; if I wore the costume, I must be good.

I had become a jock.

Over the years, I developed a better-than-thou attitude towards everybody else at the games, because they obviously had not put in the time and effort (and money) to become a piper, so they were not as amazing. as I was.  ha HA!

Then I started paying attention to the body language of the drummers, dancers and athletes, and I noticed that they were all acting like they were awesome, too.

It's not that I'm a jock among plebes; it's a whole festival of jocks.

Dinner tonight:  humble pie.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Reeds, Reels, and Leaks

Our Pipey is a fickle reed guy.  He likes a new brand of reed every time.   I'm never sure why he likes any certain brand, but the last brand was dismissed because they blew out--that is to say, the reed material wore out so that you lost that beautiful tone--too soon.

This time, he likes Shepherd Reeds.

Last practice 'most everybody got a new Shepherd reed.  They sounded beautiful, weren't too hard to play right out of the box, and didn't require much tweaking to sound beautiful at our high and dry altitude.  But I was given a hard reed.

"But I'm an old lady," I whined.  "I can't play hard reeds any more."

"You don't blow like an old lady," Pipey said.

I guess that was a compliment.

The reed really isn't too hard to play, but it is harder than my previous reed.  So to make sure the deck was stacked in my favor, I checked my bag for leaks when I got home.

Wah!   All along the tape at the bottom of the bag, tiny bubbles were popping out, and where the chanter joins to the bag, it was something out of Yellowstone Park!  You might think, as I did, that those tiny bubbles wouldn't make piping much more difficult than it normally is, but we would both be wrong.

I spent the week searching for a tube of Aqua Seal, and ended up with its equivalent: Amazing Goop (according to Dive Utah, who uses it on scuba wetsuits). (Hey!  I don't name these things,  I just report on 'em.) A line of rubber cement-like stuff along both sides of the tape, and a glop on the hole at the top of the chanter, and . . .  I left my bag blown up on the kitchen table, because you are supposed to let the glue cure for 24 hours, and I thought the rubber cement smell would make breakfast taste that much better.  When I got up in the morning, it still had a goodly quantity of air in it.  Good sign.  The glue was still flexible, but I haven't tried playing them yet.  Pipey told me to be careful the first time I played 'em after sealing the holes, because they will be a lot easier.  It will be a shock. 

I hope so.

The other thing that happened was that Not-So-Small Son didn't go to his lesson on Tuesday.  This isn't anything unusual.  He has as busy a schedule as any 17-year-old. Tuesday he had a staff meeting for his summer job, so I decided to take his lesson slot for him.  I needed help on the reel. One of the reels. 

I haven't had a piping lesson in about 5 years, so it felt kinda awkward being in that 'piping student' situation again, especially since I'm a long-standing band member and am supposed to know how to play by now.  But last practice Pipey said to let him know if any of us needed help with the new-ish tunes. 

I showed up. 

We chatted, warmed up on practice chanters a bit, then started on the reel from our timed medley, which is . . . I can't remember what it's called.  Anyhow, as I played the tune perfectly, I realized it was the OTHER reel--the one from our MSR--which reel is called The Ale is Dear.  Oh, yeah.   Dear Ale.  Embarrassing!  So we worked on the second part of that reel on practice chanters, and found some places where I was playing things wrong due to mis-fingering (is that a word?) and insecurity (I'm still 16 years old in my head. . . no self-confidence). Then we got out the pipes and worked on the same things. . .

I know you are falling asleep right now, so I'll get to the point. 

Pipey said I played much better than the last time I was his student, and much better than he expected me to play.



I guess that was a compliment.  Anyway, I took it as one, and felt much better about myself as a piper than the minute before.  I was sure I had been flat-lining for the past 5 years.  Evidently, happily, I was not.

Hopefully I can remember the parts we worked on for tonight's practice, because I haven't had a chance to work on them at home at all.

I'll let you know.

The next reeds will be the ones with the blue hemp. I wonder if the hemp color makes a difference in the tone.