Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Piping update: my GDE sucks

My pipe teacher has taken me off strathspeys for the time being to back up and work on my grace note chops. Apparently I'm not lifting my fingers enough for my grace notes, and (counter-intuitively), my d-grace notes are too big. This is especially evident in my strathspey triplets, especially the low-hand triplets that use the GDE pattern of gracing.

So he's sent me off to learn some jigs that use the GDE - Banjo Breakdown, Paddy's Leather Breeches, The Piper's Bonnet, Jig of Slurs.

My biggest single problem in my execution, it appears, is that I clench the chanter too tightly. Many of my other execution issues either stem from or are exacerbated by this. So while practicing my jigs, I'll be trying to keep as loose a grip on the chanter as I can.

Still #2 in the EUSPBA overall (but tied now), down to tied for #4 in piobaireachd.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


A Fiddle Flop

Jan Tappan has judged me on fiddle three times: at the May 2004 nationals, at the May 2005 nationals, and this last weekend at Grandfather Mountain. When I got up to get my score sheet from her, she said reassuringly, "You get better every time I hear you".

But I just can't see it. Maybe I am getting better in my contests, but in low-stress situations, like in front of an audience, I'm getting so much better so much faster, all I can see is the gap between my "best" performance and my typical competition performance growing. It's really frustrating me, and has sucked the fun out of the fiddle contests.

Part of it is my set. The tunes I have picked are so "ambitious" (a synonym for "hard") that the least bit of stress really mucks me up. I plan to compete on them once more, and then switch to something more comfortable. I chose hard tunes as an experiment, to "stretch" myself. And I'm just not feeling the desired effect.

On the pipes, the 2/4 march contest went well. My pipes were cold, so my D and E were flat, and I made some tiny flubs in the 3rd part, but the judge was sufficiently impressed with my overall playing and the sound of my pipes to give me 4th out of 18. The piobaireachd contest went well from a playing standpoint: the judge only had praise for my playing and expression and musicality. But he hated my pipes, and I came in third from last. The word on the street is that this judge has a huge bias against seeing soles on chanters, and immediately hears only bad things of pipes so equipped. One competitor told me last year that, after a similar experience, he played for this judge with the same chanter, but the sole replaced by a wooden cap (to hide the threads), and the judge only had good things to say. This, to me, is irrational - to let appearance so strongly influence one's sense of sound. I am glad I played so well, but I feel like if that were the case, I deserved to place - and that the presence of a sole on my teacher's chanter is a poor excuse to deny me this.

The jams and ceilidhs in the evenings at the Mountain were fun, and I seem to have an increasing corps of fans there (and a few people on whose nerves my constant practicing around the campsite gets. Oops!). I finally got to see Off Kilter. Jiggernaut was there, and I had fun saying hello to Matthew et. al.

All in all, a decent weekend, despite a few disappointments.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Grandfather Mountain delayed

Well, looks like Tropical Storm (now depression) Claire has delayed my weekend plans. I'd expected to head out to Grandfather Mountain this morning at around 3 AM, get there by 10:30 AM, and have the rest of the day to have fun. But the National Weather Service predicted 24 hours of nonstop rain starting sometime yesterday, not clearing up until very early tomorrow morning. So I'll leave tomorrow morning early instead, drive through the storm (which is headed for DC, albeit weakened), and get there in time for opening ceremonies. I hope the friends I'll be camping with aren't too worried about me! Bill and Brenda were expecting me this afternoon, and Michelle thought I might try to come up yesterday evening! I'm sure I'll get the obligatory "where the hell were you?", to which I will reply, "Someplace dry".

I'm still totally unready for the fiddle competition. My intonation (especially on the air) is sounding very good, but I'm still not up to snuff. Lots of practice the next three nights, I guess. The pipes are good, I guess.

I did get my new hide bag up and running for my period pipes. The reed I'm using while I buy a new batch of MacShannons isn't too terribly bad. The intonation is fairly good (436 Hz), but I get some gurgle on the E. I may need to push it in more, and then tape the high hand. Or get better pressure control, as the E only goes wonky when I overpressure it a bit.

This weekend's concert w/ Julie Gorka at Potomac Overlook Regional Park went well. Not ever a big audience, but enough to justify it. Gerry Orvis from the Appins came out and watched too. Speaking of Gerry, he helped me make more belts (pistol, sporran, and waist) for my kit. Once Phil Cromwell makes my sporran cantle, I'll have a complete kit (w/ Gerry's borrowed Waistcoat & Jacket). Still need to get my own waistcoat & jacket from Kim, and buy a slightly more accurate bonnet, but I'm getting close. I also have some more work to do on my dirk handle (carving knotwork, for example), and longer term, replace the basket on my sword. But I'm looking very accurate now.

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