Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Above Grade Level

I had a very successful showing at the pipe competitions at the New Hampshire Highland Games this weekend. The morning was fairly cold - the 40s - and damp. My first contest was the piobaireachd; the judge had no comments on my playing (which I thought was quite good), but hated the sound of my (teacher's) chanter. The B, C, D, and E were flat she said. She strongly recommended I get someone to tune it up before my next event. But I immediately knew the problem, took the chanter out of the stock, wiped away the cold condensation and aired out the reed for a bit. I ended up taking 6th out of 12. My next contest was about 7 minutes later: the 2/4. I sounded brilliantly at first, but my middle tenor went slightly out of tune in the 3rd part. A few crushed tachums, but all in all a very good show. Angi noticed that the judge would smile and nod while I played, and so I knew I'd done well. Ended up taking a 2nd of 12 and my first AGL (Above Grade Level) of my career. There was an hour between these events and the slow air. I played the slow air competently, and took 2nd. Immediately after, I played the 6/8, and took a 1st.

Depending on how many competitors scratched, I got around 40 points, and this might be enough to have propelled me into 1st in the EUSPBA GrIVSr standings, if only temporarily. The goal is to place in all remaining contests, and then immediately apply for an upgrade (which the AGL will help greatly with).

The fiddle contest went well, but I didn't place. This year, I agree with the judge's rankings - the Boston (and Rochester!) contingents were so incredibly strong, I didn't have a chance. I did notice that almost everyone who beats me these days in fiddle plays semi-professionally. I guess that means I need a lot more stage experience, so that my best performance and my nervous performance aren't so disparate.

I got some stage experience this weekend too. The local music legend had me take the last 30 minutes of his set at The Common Man up in Holderness (or is that Ashland? I'll ask Angi), and though I wasn't 100% happy with my showing, apparently it was well received by the crowd. I also performed for my hosts on Saturday, as usual, and for guests in one of my hosts' cottages on Sunday night.

In other news, I got a pair of Sweetheart wooden whistles, in D (blackwood with a G# key) and C. These whistles sound awesome, and are easy to blow. I will probably start spending more time on whistle again now.

Friday, September 23, 2005


President's Cup - my biggest gig yet!

Yesterday, the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums played for the opening ceremony for the PGA President's Cup golf tournament.

I arrived at the band's meeting point in Manassas, VA (the western suburbs of DC) at 6:50 AM, 10 minutes before our bus was to depart for the golf course. I threw on my kilt and shirt, tossed the rest of my uniform and my pipes into a bag, and we headed over, and I finished getting dressed in the bus. At this point, we were missing two drummers (including the drum sgt.) and a piper. We arrived, and they had set up a breakfast area for the various bands in the golf cart garage. During breakfast, the two missing drummers arrived, and we walked through our drill a couple of times, and then did a lot of waiting around, and finally about 9:30 we went off to a secluded area near one of the club houses, and we warmed up. We lined up behind former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton, who both turned around and waved to us, and waited to go up.

I just missed being in the picture, I'm a couple feet to the left of the Dick Hunter, who can barely be seen in the uppermost left corner.

They had the fife and drum band play while Dateline NBC's Stone Phillips introduced of all the PGA mucky-mucks and the team captains from previous years, and the like.

Then, at 10:14, Bush and Clinton, honorary chairs of the tournament, stepped off toward the stage, and a few seconds later, we did, struck in when they were a few feet ahead of us, followed by the golfers. We played our 3/4 set, Green Hills of Tyrol/Castle Dangerous. We formed up in front of the stage, continued to play for a few more minutes, cut off, stood at attention through about 8 national anthems, then stepped off to a tap and marched away, the fife & drum corps following behind us.

Apparently this was all broadcast on TNT, and I'm going to be trying to track down a tape.

When we were in front of the stage, we were just a few feet from the golfers' wives, who were in the front row of the VIP seats. Not only were they all dressed the same (black shirts & slacks, gold sweater tied around their necks, black straw brim hat, sunglasses), but they all looked the same, with few exceptions. All beautiful, blonde (or dyed that way!), long straight hair, same basic facial features. It was like they'd come from a cloning factory.

We retired to our staging area until the opening ceremonies ended, and all the bands loaded back up on busses and headed back to our rendezvous points. When we got out, we discovered that some news and camera people had flown out from mainland China to do a documentary on the descendants of this one Chinese emigre, and our tenor drummer, Conrad Wong, was one of the descendants. So they asked us to perform a set for them, which we happily did. So not only did I make it on national TV, I will be on Chinese state TV as well!

About half the band headed to a gigantic lunch at a Chinese restaurant near my house afterwards, where the proprietor apparently recognized us from the TNT broadcast!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Catching Up 2

The trip up to MA to visit Anders and Kim was musically fruitful. Anders and I got a lot of arranging done. Kim was very excited about some new songs I suggested for her (and one she picked for herself), so we got started on some of them, and she was sounding great, and was making progress on bodhran too!

Since then, Kim has indicated a reluctance to be in the band for now, but I'm hoping I'll eventually be able to convince her to stay. She'd be an incredibly valuable asset, and I think the issues that concern her can be easily accommodated with a little work on my part.

Ligonier went reasonably well. I took a 3rd in the fiddle contest w/ a pretty respectable performance. The pipe contests were complicated by the fact that I had accidentally registered for Junior! I managed to find judges that let me switch contests, and though I didn't place in the 2/4 because I was stressed out over the mistake and clenched too hard, I took a very close 4th in the full score piobaireachd. The judge actually wrote 3rd, but scratched it out. I'm guessing the two tiny chokes were what cost me.

Fiddle lessons are up and going again. Elke and I are going to work on backing, harmonies, variations, and improvisations this year, and she's got me doing circle of fifths. The keys of B, F#, and C# are not my friends. But it'll be a very valuable exercise for my intonation and comfort level with arpeggios/chords for every major key.

The New Hampshire Games are this weekend; that should be a lot of fun.

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