Tuesday, April 10, 2007


General Music Updates

My playing has become a bit sloppy. I have to work on my taorluaths a lot, and clean out some crossing noises. Other than that, my competition march is coming along. The strathspey is pretty good too - the main issue is to point the dot-flag pair before a triplet, so the flagged note is consistently smaller than the first two notes of the triplet to follow. And open up doublings that aren't triplets, close up the ones that are, and do it consistently. The reel is good, just weakened by crossing noises.

As I mentioned in the post below, I finally got my all-synthetic pipes' hemp joints replaced with cork, and set up. EJ Jones recommended the Shepherd SM90 reeds to get down to A=440. The bass drone still needed an extender to get this to work for the Tartan Day gig, so I tried an alternative - a tiny bit of Gorilla glue on the tongue added enough weight to get it down to 440 Hz without an extender. Might add just a touch more to get it to tune lower on the pin. I marked the positions the bridles and telescoping necks required for 440. Soon, I'll buy a MacLellan 467 Hz chanter, and then find where the drones need to be set to reach 467, mark those, so I can switch between the two in less than five minutes. Yesterday, I bought a little cylindrical women's gym bag to hold the disassembled pipes. I made it more manly by adding a shoulder strap and removing the purse-style handles. The make-up pouches were perfect for reed & accessory pouches. Probably still should get a hard box for the drone reeds, though.

EJ's dampened my expectations on when the border chanter will arrive, because he's incredibly busy (I understand that!). But I did get my smallpipe chanter in D back, and I'm looking forward to using it in songs - but it requires a higher playing pressure than the A-chanter, so I may have EJ make me a reed of that hardness for the A-chanter, so I can switch without retuning the drones.

It's been fun working with the drums, the tenors specifically, in band practice. It's definitely a new experience.


Elke has moved me from the study of the Northeast style to more intonation exercises. I'm hoping for a big payoff there. I'm still looking at the Hunter collection at home, as well my new scordatura competition set, which is the same MSR as I'll be piping with. Hmmm... maybe this should be opportunity to play a piobaireachd for a fiddle contest too.

I redid the mounts on my fiddles. I found a reference to and pictures of a historical baroque Scottish violin that has the same style of ebony fingerboard as my baroque violin, which eased my concern that my violin's fingerboard wasn't historical. The period violin had boxwood pegs and endpin, so I purchased those and had them put on my violin. I then bought a snakewood baroque tailpiece to replace my pseudo-baroque tail piece that uses a modern tailgut, and had that installed. I then moved the ebony tailpiece to my old student violin and got its pegs repaired. Both look a lot better, and the baroque violin is now really accurate to the period and region. For most uses, I bought a boxwood chinrest for the baroque violin, and a new ebony one for the modern violin. These new chinrests are centered on the tailpiece, rather than off to the left side, and are a lot comfortable while playing. The baroque violin's chinrest will, of course, be removed before I play a reenactment event.

My reenactor buddy Kevin Riley finished cutting down the baroque bow I was given, for use with the pochette. He did a great job, and it plays very well, despite being so short!

I've been doing a lot of gigs in addition to the big Tartan Day gig w/ The Devil's Tailors and with 50 Man Machine. Had a wedding and a country dance class; I've done my first two funerals, the first of which was a very celebratory affair (as the death was expected), the latter a very sad affair (as it was sudden). Coming up, I have more weddings, a memorial service at Arlington Cemetery, and I'm piping in the dancers to the Grand Ball at the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society Capitol Weekend. Also have some reenactment events coming up soon.

Chris and I are going to start trying to play together more regularly, in anticipation of playing more often. I'd love to get into some of the pubs in Old Town on a regular basis.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The Devil's Tailors - Our First Gig

The Devil's Tailors officially performed their first gig at the National Tartan Day celebration at Market Square in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, on April 7th, 2007 (a day after National Tartan Day proper. The line-up for this gig included myself, Chris Lindsay on guitar and bodhran, and a virtual Anders Johannson on guitar for Cairn o' Mount (courtesy of a 2005 recording, iTunes, and my Mac laptop).

Massive props to Chris, who worked sound all day and was spot on with Flower of Scotland, as well as my friend Anand Rao, who roadied most excellently for us, and my mother Nancy, who was Jane-on-the-spot with the hot drinks to keep us going. And, of course, to Chris' wife Christine, who let us borrow her husband all day despite having other plans.

It was a day of firsts for me. First frontman gig. First lead vocal gig. First entertainment chair gig. First stage manager gig. First time out for my PA. First time out for my new all-synthetic bagpipes.

The day was cold and blustery, with wind chills in the low 30s and wind speeds in the upper teens, but we made it through, and kept the entertainment coming and on time.

The reviews of our performance were pretty good - the main problems were with the sound setup. When I did Cairn o' Mount, we forgot to turn up the fiddle in the main relative to the vocals, and the recording of Anders' guitar in the monitor. And I found myself unable to do much at all with the pipes because of the cold (see below).

I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that I need 2 hours to set up, which will give me a 30 minute wind-down time and emergency buffer. I learned that my 2 x 400 Watt powered mixer wasn't nearly enough power to run two main speakers and two stage monitors - so I'll be buying a rack and a power amp. I learned that I can get all the band gear into my PT cruiser, if I have another car for instruments and bandmates. I learned the importance of rigorous, not rushed, sound checks. I learned that I can't stand in the cold for hours and expect my lip to hold on a blowpipe, or my fingers to be able to find the chanter holes (but the all-synthetic bagpipe performed admirably!). Looking at the picture, I realized that Chris must plug his guitar in (rather than use an instrument mic), and that we should be closer together on stage.

So despite the weather and the cancellations of other performers, and some technical problems, it all worked out great in the end.

Afterwards, we all went to O'Connell's a couple blocks away, where - once nice and warmed up - I entertained the crowds with fiddle, smallpipes, and Highland Pipes.

A hell of a day.

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