Friday, August 20, 2004


Attack of the Practice Prosthetics!

I'm at the stage where practicing my instruments isn't enough. I need to attach gizmos and widgets to practice now!

On the pipes, the single biggest thing holding me back from achieving the vaunted "next level" (grade 3?) is the steadiness of my blowing. So I bought a water manometer, and have begun to practice using it to steady my pressure. At first, I was all over the map: 30" of water plus or minus 6". But within a single practice session, I was able - for most of the time, to get it down to plus or minus 2". Eventually, I added the drones, so I could better add the auditory aspect to my "biofeedback". I suspect that I will be practicing with the manometer for at least a half hour a day from now on. The downside of it is that it does not permit all three drones to sound, so my air loss rate is not completely realistic. Perhaps I'll devise an extra stock for the bag, hidden by the bag cover, just for connecting the manometer tube.

For you science types, that means that the activation pressure of my reed is approximately 55 Torr, or 7.5% of atmospheric pressure. At some point, when I have more control, I want to study where the cut-off pressures of various notes are, and how they vary in pitch near those cut-offs.

Now to the fiddle. While preparing for the fiddle club performance at the Virginia Scottish Games, I wondered if it would be possible for me to fiddle fully strapped into my smallpipe bellows. If I could, it would be easy, not only for that performance, but all gigs where I might play both instruments, to switch between the two in the middle of a set. I discovered that not only could I do it - though with some difficulty - but that the smallpipe bellows significantly constrained my elbow, so that I was forced to bow almost entirely from the wrist. I could still use the elbow and shoulder for major movements, but it was laborious to do so, and my natural tendency was to use the wrist more than I ever have before. Considering that one of the big weaknesses of my bowing is - and always has been, even in my classical violin days - my inclination to bow from the elbow, this could prove a huge help in retraining myself to use the wrist and fingers for most bow motion. So now I spend most of my fiddle practice strapped into the smallpipes bellows.

Though, all in all, it is a little odd to play either instrument hooked up and strapped in.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


I'm taking the band in strange new directions... burp

It occurs to me that if I'm ever going to play piobaireachd, competantly, not only to win at lower levels of competition, but to perform it, I have to start listening now. Despite the differing schools, I need to get it in my head before I can really play it with feeling and, more importantly, understanding.

So I've bought several CDs of ceol mor, including the first in the Nicol/Brown series, and have created a special playlist on my iPod, so I can listen to just piobaireachd.

And you know what? The stuff is starting to grow on me. I'm sure my pipe instructor will quip, "I'm sorry to hear that", but it is beautiful in its own way - if very alien. But knowing Lament for the Old Sword, and listening for similarities in the tunes, I feel like I'm beginning to see how it all fits together.

On another note, I've decided to take a month off from Irish fiddle lessons. This competition and travel schedule - not to mention everything else going on at home - is murder, and I'm just not getting the practice in. Hopefully my teacher will take me back!

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


The Case of the Vanishing Reed

I "volunteered" to play my pipes at a wedding this last Friday, as a surprise to the groom, and so - all suited up in my new Prince Charlie jacket & plaid - I set out to play...

...only to discover that my chanter reed had vanished into thin air! At first, I thought it had fallen into the bag, and I tried to shake it out, but nothing fell out. Then I thought it might have fallen onto the ground when I pulled the chanter out of the stock, but it was nowhere to be found. Then I felt every square inch of the bag, and it was still not there. Then I searched the ground again (with several people helping), then the bag again. Still missing. I had left my band chanter at home, trying to save a little space in my bag for my dirk and sgian dubh.

I played the pipes Thursday night, and did not take out the chanter between the last time I played it and when I packed up my pipes to fly out to the wedding. And though I was mortified that I had to cancel my surprise gift because of a stupid technical issue (something that wouldn't reflect well on me as a piper, had this been a real gig), but I'm even more frustrated and confused, because I have no explanation as to where it went.

That evening, the parents of the friend with whom I was staying thought of a local piper, who generously gave me a box of six reeds, so at least I was able to play for friends that night. But I am still flabbergasted by the incident. On the other hand, In addition to the two reeds my instructor has subsequently set me up with, I now have 5 spares (one of the reeds in the box was an Uilleann pipe reed, now in a happy home in my Uilleann practice chanter), though I still should run through them and determine their suitability in my chanter.

A big lesson learned, all in all. Always have a spare reed, and it doesn't hurt to have a spare chanter with a spare broken-in reed already in it.

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