Monday, November 29, 2004


The Incompatibility of Practice and Home Improvement

I learned this weekend, the hard way, that it is impossible to practice after spending all day nailing down hardwood floor. Ouch! There was a point where I couldn't even hold up my violin, I was so tired...

Monday, November 15, 2004


Easy as Soapy Water and Elbow Grease

The Bannatyne bag arrived, as expected, and I found it extremely easy to install the stocks. The blowpipe stock took two tries to get it at the right angle (so the blowpipe doesn't fly out of reach if it ever leaves my mouth). It was easy as lubricating the holes in the bag with soapy water and pushing the stocks in from the inside (which was reachable through the zipper). I then had to grease the zipper, and clamp the chanter stock on with an O-ring on the inside and a hose clamp on the outside (a bit unsightly, but it'll do for now). The water trap took a bit longer, as I had to hemp up its fittting to the inside of the blowpipe. But in less than 30 minutes, I was up and running.

I also like the medium size; it's a little more managable than my old bag, which was large.


The Tune That Came Out

I was invited down to a party

And brought my old bagpipes by chance
They asked me to sing, but I said, "Ah, no,
I'll play you a bit of a dance."
So I picked up my pipes, and started to play
But someone was foolin' about
They poked a big hole in the bag o' me pipes
And that was the tune that came out

After a year and a half of faithful service, my Gannaway cowhide bag finally gave out. I discovered a 3/4" tear in the bag right below the blowpipe stock Thursday night. Naturally, this rendered the instrument unplayable. I immediately ordered 2 Bannatyne hide/gortex hybrid bags (one for my Krons, one for the Dunbar I'll eventually get), and hopefully they'll arrive today, and I can tie the thing in tomorrow. So I haven't got much piping in this last week.

I did have a lot of fun at a slow Irish session on Saturday night. Elise Kress, a flute instructor and friend of Philippe Varlet's, held a slow session for her flute students, and contacted some of Philippe's students to get a few fiddlers in the group. The tunes she teaches are almost the same as those Philippe does, and most of her students are still playing mostly jigs and polkas, so I knew almost all of the tunes we played. It looks like it's going to be a semi-regular event, and Elise wants to hold monthly repertoire workshops as well. I did notice that I find it harder to learn tunes from listening to a flute than from a fiddle. It may be that I'm not just listening to match pitch, but timbre as well. Another skill to work on.

The fiddle club meeting gave us some nice Strathspey/Reel sets. My sight-reading-on-the-spot skills are definitely improving, but odd keys and lots of string changes still throw me. There were a lot of new faces at fiddle club, including one we recruited from the Irish session the night before. By spring, once I've finished up remodelling the upstairs of my house, I should be sticking around for the potluck session afterwards.

All this means no slacking off on practice during the week! If I'm going to be out at sessions and workshops every other weekend (or more), I can't rely on weekends to get caught up on my missed practice time anymore.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Sessions, Reeds, and Banjos

I really rather enjoyed my first session in many months, at the Royal Mile pub on Sunday. It was also the first time I was anything close to an equal participant. There were four of use there, and though we were pretty rough around the edges, I'm sure we'll begin to click in the months to come. I got to bring out some of the new tunes I've been learning: Geordie MacLeish, Pretty Pegg, St. Kilda Wedding, along with Miss Drummond of Perth, but unfortunately, those tunes weren't as widely known as I thought they might be. And some of the tunes I ought to have memorized by now, The Tongadale Reel, Frank's Reel, Calliope House, Da Full Rigged Ship, Da New Rigged Ship, I either didn't remember, or foundered on. I also got in trouble with Devil in the Kitchen, which I should know like the back of my hand by now; I kept stumbling over the tune, and wanted to play it way too fast. Finally, when I got home, I realized why - my brain kept wanting to switch into Lochiel's Rant, which I've also been practicing this last week a lot. Still, it was a good start, and I have to force myself to become a regular there.

The new reel-articulation tools Elke has taught me have helped my playing in another way: I am memorizing reels faster. A lot of reels were simply inscrutable to me, when all I knew to do with them was to swing, back-beat them, or play 3-in-a-bow. Now they just click more easily in my brain. This week, more reels to learn.

In Irish fiddle, it's all jigs still. My rolls are getting a lot better, and soon Philippe will have me transitioning into hornpipes.

The pipes more or less took a week off, partly because last week was insane, and partly because I'm breaking in a new reed for my band chanter, and the first couple of nights with it, it was hard to play for more than 15 minutes at a shot without risking a double hernia. I've got it a little easier now, and so I'll be moving back onto my solo stuff as well.

Last night I got in my tenor banjo from Lark in the Morning. Once again, their bargain instrument lives up to its reputation. It's a fine sounding instrument, though the strings are still stabilizing, and looks quite nice as well. I did have to gouge slot in the nut for the G-string a bit, and am learning that, especially on the first few frets, I have to apply a very gentle touch. If I press on the string too hard, that changes the tension a lot, and (for example) the 2nd fret goes almost a half-step sharp. To get the string to stop on the fret in the correct intonation, I barely even have to touch it. So aside from getting used to the finger stretch, and learning to use just the absolute tip of my pick, I should be able to transition into adding this instrument to my lineup very quickly.

Monday, November 01, 2004


New Tools are Like New Toys

I am really enjoying experimenting with accenting patterns with Scottish reels. It really livens them up in a way that playing them just with swing & upbeat accents, or with the 3-in-a-bow pattern, or just straight, doesn't. The danger is, at least for a while, I will use my new tool exclusively, and not mix it up. But I'm sure that's only temporary. But certain of my reels are sounding a lot better, a lot like I've heard real Scottish fiddlers play them, and that's awfully exciting.

What this technique definitely requires is strong wrist muscles with a lot of endurance. I practiced fiddle for 4 hours on Sunday, an hour at a time, and by the end of the day, I couldn't pulse the bow anymore; I was just worn out.

The Irish tunes are coming along well, and the flute embrochure is definitely improving.

I've managed to practice the pipes enough to rehydrate my bag, but that won't keep up as the weather cools and the air gets drier. I think I'm going to have to keep my instrument in a closed case, with the chanters out of the bag w/ reed protectors, to keep the proper level of moisture. We'll see. I'll be paying closer attention to bag moisture issues from now on. I'm looking forward to when I send the drones off to be rebored. That will be a perfect opportunity to rehemp everything, which desperately needs doing. Along with that, the strathspey- and reel-playing is coming along incrementally. New reeds came in for band, but I wasn't at practice, and so I won't get my reed until tomorrow - meaning Thursday will be a tough night.

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