Thursday, October 28, 2004


Back on Track

I've finally (with a few hiccups) got back into my full practice schedule, and I see how I've suffered. Never minding that the neighbors (who like the pipes) have commented that they don't hear me practice as much. Part of that was me playing in the park rather than at home, but part of that was indeed a decrease in my practice time over the last nine months, and the effects are striking. Other than my competition tunes, my "expression" has outstripped my "execution", and a lot of that is because my execution has suffered. In playing Tulloch Castle, I can't even execute the last triplet in every line, ABC-noted as (3f/d/b, with any accuracy. Sure, there's some hesitation because my brain wants to play something else, but still... So for the next year, while I resign myself to spend a second season in Grade IV (a no-brainer), I plan to do two things on pipes: steady my blowing, and master competition-style Strathspeys and Reels. On the first front, I find that I have it in me to do much better. While practicing with the manometer, I can blow steady to the tune of + - 1.6" of water (at an operating pressure of 29.5" or so), with only the occasional hiccup out of that range. But when I turn away for a moment, it goes to pot. So for the six months, every practice I do on the big pipes must be while attached to the manometer. The Strathspeys are improving steadily, and I hope that by April, I'll have a repertoire of 80 parts each worth of Strathspeys and Reels (up from 24/18 now).

I've also decided to go ahead and buy a set of pipes just for my A-chanter. Since these will mostly get played at bar gigs, when I need to play nice with fiddlers and wind players and the like, or in my own band, I want something sturdy, low-maintenance, and inexpensive. I've decided to go with the Dunbar Poly P1s (a mere $425 for just the sticks), make my own custom cane drone reeds, and use my Hamish Moore A=440Hz chanter. I don't know what kind of bag I'll use, but I'm considering the Bannatyne hybrid Hide/Synthetic (for $180), since that never needs to be seasoned and my instructor is very impressed with it. At the same time, until I can afford Julian Goodacre's reproduction of the 18th-century Piob Mhor (priced at around $4500), the Dunbars can stand in at reenactments. And once my Dunbars arrive and I've got them set up, I'll probably send my Krons back to the maker to have the drones rebored, and to repair some chips I've managed to put in the artificial ivory mounts, and possibly to replace the bass drone top, which has two unsightly chips in the wood. And once I'm in CAPD, I'll use their green bag cover and cords on my Krons, and will have my blue ones for my Dunbars.

On fiddle, I'm all about repertoire, and playing in the sessions at the Royal Mile on a regular basis. Since I'm going to have to spend another season seriously competing on pipes, I'll just plan to do the same on fiddle. I'm getting much more comfortable on the Highland- and Cape Breton-style reel accent patterns, and it's sounding a lot better and more effortless. A few more weeks looking at repertoire reels, and I think it'll be time to look at Strathspeys and slow airs again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Reel: The Doldrum

I haven't practicing nearly enough. Part of it is not being in a routine anymore, and I still haven't got back into it. If last night was any indication - 2 hours on pipes, 2.5 hours on fiddle, half an hour on flute - and I can keep it up, I'll be able to turn it around.

On Scottish fiddle, I'm still working on accenting patterns in Cape Breton and Highland reels. On Irish fiddle, I'm working on alternate bowing patterns in jigs, like slurring the last eighth note in a beat into the first eighth note of the next, twice in a row, at discretion - something similar to what I can do in Scottish Hornpipes. I'm also learning delayed taps, which Philippe calls "double grace notes". I guess from a piper's perspective, the melody note just is, it isn't a grace note as such. So a doubling, to me, is 2 grace notes, not 3. And a delayed tap on fiddle is just one grace note, just taking place in the melody note, rather than in front of it.

On pipes, I'm working on my pointing, in the context of Strathspeys. It's an interesting issue. Say a lightly-pointed pair of notes is ideally split 78-22, a medium 86-14, and a heavy 94-06. But say a newbie (like me) can't cleanly articulate 94-06, or jumps off it too early, playing only 88-12. If I do that, then my medium beats and heavy beats aren't different enough. So if to compensate, I chamge my medium beats to 83-17, then the whole tune comes off as not nearly pointed enough. So I'm concentrating on being able to play 94-06. (Numbers hypothetical. Though I think it would be interesting to measure... maybe with a MIDI output from my Deger). I also want to start on some more Piobaireachds, like Lament for Mary MacLeod, soon.

This weekend would be my last competition of the year, though I think I've decided to skip it and just practice over the weekend. My next competition possibly won't be until the Houston Highland Games, and the 2005 US National Fiddle Championship. I'd really like to place in Nationals this year, though I doubt I'll be able to. But it's worth working for. I probably won't even send in a regrade form for pipes. Grade III will have to wait until 2006 for me. But if I bust my butt, I might be able to only spend one year there before moving up.

I have a low-end tenor banjo coming in soon. That should be fun to play with.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


The Best-laid Plans

It looks like this weekend's competitions are going to be a wash - thanks to my automotive troubles, it doesn't look like I'll even be able to get to the games on time to compete in them, never mind the fact that my practice schedule has taken a major hit over the last week or so thanks to the stress and chores of dealing with a wrecked car. But I've got one more contest this year - Richmond - and then a break.

Getting into Gr III on pipes is highly unlikely, and I doubt I'll even submit a regrade request application. I don't want to compete next year like I have this, but I may have to, if I want to go up next year. I will go to Nationals next year on fiddle, and need to work up a new competition set for next year.

On the lesson front, we looked at a modern round syncopated hornpipe in my pipe lesson for band. In Irish fiddle, it's more bowing patterns in jigs, and practicing rolls. On Scottish fiddle, we're continuing to look at accent patterns in Cape Breton and Highland tunes, how to recognize them, and how to play them and not sound like I'm "working" at it. The >--> -->- pattern seems to be implicit in even the oldest Highland tunes we have, such as those from the Patrick McDonald collection, suggesting that the pattern is predates the settlement of Cape Breton island, and secondarily, suggests the antiquity of step dance (for which the pattern is optimized). I'm really enjoying this detailed look at reels, since they're such a huge part of the performance repertoire, and my playing of them's been limited by the tools in my toolbox.

Friday, October 01, 2004


Assembly Line Tunes

Having given up (for now) on memorizing lots of tunes for session play, I've decided to broaden my repertoire of Scottish fiddling another way: by racing through the tune books as fast as I can, not memorizing tunes, but reading them to the point where I can play them at tempo, which I then do twice through, and then move on to the next tune. What this is doing is not broadening my personal repertoire, but broadening my appreciation for the depth of the repertoire, to get at least the diversity of tunes into my head. I should be through all the Fiddle Club books by the end of the year at this rate, and then I'll start looking at other collections, like Gow's or Fraser's. I think this is a very profitable exercise, because I'll get at least basic familiarity with a lot of music, I'll get a "feel" for the repertoire, and I'll vastly improve my sight-reading skills. At the same time, it's forcing me, at least for the slower tunes, to come up with ornamentation and expression on the fly. I hope to soon be able to extend that to Strathspeys, and then Jigs and Reels.

At the same time, Elke and I are looking at reels in the Cape Breton style, and applying the accenting patterns from them to a hypothetical primordial Highland style from which the Cape Breton style derived (and specialized). It's very interesting, and I think I'm becoming more comfortable with complex accent patterns as I do this.

I start back up on Irish fiddle this evening as well; I'd taken 2 months off to deal with competition season, and it's time to get back to it. So it's back to jigs, and short and long rolls.

On the pipes, I'm looking at Strathspeys and Reels again, though I'd like to take some time off to learn Lament for Mary McLeod too (a strikingly beautiful piobaireachd). I think I'm doing well, but I tend to "get lost" in a tune, forgetting when and where to add my pointing in places.

On flute, which I'd put down for a long time, I've got myself into the habit of just doing scales. Start with C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab; then G, D, A, E, B. This has been going so well, helping my embrochure immensely, getting me used to the keywork for all notes not in the keys of D or G, and giving me an exercise that will keep me up on flute without a lot of time devoted to it. I won't ever be a flautist, as in a session player, but I should be competant enough to learn a specific tune for a specific set and play it well.

I also ordered a cheap tenor banjo, which will finger the same as my mandolin, though with more of a stretch because of the scale length; I do practice the latter a little bit to keep my picking hand in practice, especially helped by some of Anders' tips (and the teensy but great pick he gave me).

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