Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Hopefully "cut off" means only the bagpipes, not our extremities...

The pipe band had a less than stellar showing at the American University gig. In the middle of the first set, the band cut off in a wave of uncertainty in the middle of the third tune. Two pipers didn't know the music, so they were blowing drones. We had been warned that the cutoff might come at any time, and I think someone between them must have mistaken the "stop marking time" signal for a cutoff. That created a block of 3 silent chanters, and the people surrounding them then panicked and stopped playing, and so on until only a couple, including the Pipe Major, were left. The Drum Major turned to us and shouted "What the fuck is wrong with you people"? (he couldn't be heard, but his lips could be read). And when we got back started again, we lost our place in the tune, because the last 4 bars of each part are the same. It was very embarrassing, and we were very chastened. The sin was that we didn't trust our playing. Watch the D/M. Watch the P/M. Follow the program. Don't second-guess yourself.

The second half of the program went well, though.

Last week's concert (with Chris) and fiddle club meeting and session both went well, but there was some concern about session etiquette from one of the players.

Other than that, things are plodding along.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Great Gig, Awesome Session

Rosemary and I played together for the first time in public on Saturday, in the third of my Potomac Overlook Park gigs. Rosemary insisted that she only play piano, because she's trying to get over her own fears of performance (since that's not her instrument; she may teach it, but she took it because conservatory required it, not out of any love). And she did great, and we sounded fantastic. A few weak spots here and there from both of us, which tells us what we need to work on.

We only got temporary audiences for most of it, but about 15 minutes before we were supposed to quit, we got about 15-20 people, including kids and their parents, to sit down in the grass in front of us and stay. They kept with us even after we were supposed to quit, so we ran another 20 minutes. The combination of my piping and fiddling I think really caught their attention. It was a lot fun. And the band earned a tip - $4. We'll frame one, and Rosemary and I will split a pint at Pat Troy's at happy hour with the rest!

The session at The Royal Mile was equally awesome. We had a lot of fiddlers show up, along with two guitarists, my smallpipes, and a Highland Piper from Holland shared a couple of tunes with us as well. When we were done and most of the sessioneers had left, Native American flute legend Ron Warren played a wonderful tune for us, with Chris accompanying on guitar. That was a real treat.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Competition Blues

I got clobbered in competition again. Fourth out of a field of five. Granted, I did have the nerves, but I think I acquitted myself well. The woman who took first is much as I was two and a half years ago: a skilled (if lapsed) violinist taking up Scottish fiddling after a long vacation from the instrument, playing a pretty basic repertoire.

After some frustration and soul-searching, I realized what was going on. My first year in competition was a bit of a fluke. I came in competing with the easiest tunes in the basic repertoire, because that's all I knew. There was a big buffer between the difficulty level of these tunes and my "best day" playing ability. Since then, my skills and repertoire have greatly expanded, and I've chosen tunes much closer to the edge of my "best day" ability, eliminating the buffer that allowed me to have nerves and a little mistake or two and still do very well. And I've been picking hard tunes mainly to show off to the other fiddlers. And they're duly impressed. I get great accolades from my fellow, but it doesn't translate into placing in the standings. Because a good judge judges on how you played, not factoring into account how hard the tune is. It's all about the performance you gave then and there.

Recognizing this, I have a three-pronged strategy to succeed in competition again:
1) Don't compete for a while. Every time I go through this, I give myself a complex over it. I get all wound up and nervous and stressed, and that hurts my performance. I need time to let those stresses dissipate.
2) Pick tunes to win, not to impress. I need to go back to the basic repertoire. Maybe work on variations if I need to spice it up a bit. Play in the "easy" keys for a while. I have other opportunities to show off the tough tunes.
3) What separates me from most competitive fiddlers (aside from newcomers riding the wave I've fallen off of) is that compared to them, I have very little - almost no - public performance experience. Public performance stresses are different from competition stresses, but having much more experience in the former can't help but improve one's poise in the latter. And this is the area I'm working on the hardest.

So it wasn't all bad. I really learned something about my playing.

The pipe band competed too; and took 3rd out of 5 bands. The judging was pretty scatter-shot. Maybe the judges didn't know what they were talking about - but more likely, they were listening for different things, and standing at different places around our circle. Listening to a recording of our performance, executionally, and with regard to drone tuning, we clobbered the winning band. Where we lost out was in the tuning and tone of our chanters - part of that are our reeds, and part of that is the playing schedule of some of our bandsmen. But if we can get those chanters sounding better, we will be glorious.

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