Thursday, October 24, 2013


A musing on starting - and sticking to - routines

Well, the first hiccups have come around, and I've dropped the ball on the new regiment. This is one of those things that has been a recurring theme in my music career for the last several years. Things have come up, on weekends and on weekdays in my personal life, that have made it hard to stick to the regimen.

I find that I'm most likely to do my full practice under several conditions:
1) I've had an uneventful day at work, and get home at the standard time,
2) I immediately begin practicing, un-interrupted by things outside my routine,
3) I practice in one solid block
4) Nothing delays or stresses me during the day.

It amazes me how necessary these conditions are, and how fragile my regimen is. For example, I normally work a 6:00-2:00 schedule - a benefit of being mostly self-directed - and have a short commute. If I get home and immediately begin practicing, I'm on the ball from 2:30 to 5:30, when my wife and housemate begin arriving home, and then have only an hour and a half to do after dinner to get my full time in. If I'm delayed by an hour, there's a 50/50 chance I'll bail on the whole day's practice. If I'm delayed 2 hours, the chance that I'll practice at all drops to 25%, and if I haven't begun practicing by dinner, I will almost certainly get no practice in that day. Weekends are similar. If I'm not practicing before lunch, I will not practice at all on a Saturday or Sunday. Days with long gigs, jams, or workshops of course, will sap my ability to do practice on my remaining instruments. Lessons, taught or received, don't generally impact me, as long as other interruptions to the day are minimized.

If I come home with a sinus headache, done. If I sit down and play more than 30 minutes of Minecraft, done. If I have to deal with stressful personal situation, done. If someone is in the living room while I'm trying to start the first half of my practice, done. If someone bails on their duty to make dinner, and it shifts to me, done.

There's some psychological research that suggests that one's self-motivation is finite, and when one spends it in one area, one loses it in others. I think there may be some merit to that.

This is why routine is so important, I think. One doesn't need as much motivation to do what one simply does at that hour to do it, compared to when it's not part of a routine. And a routine must be strictly adhered to for some time, perhaps 6 weeks it seems, before it becomes routine.

Unfortunately, I'm having difficulty with a friend who's in trouble right now, I'm heading out of town for a wedding gig this weekend, and when I come back, my mother and her husband will be visiting for a week and a half. Getting anything in will take all my strength.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Staying the Course, and Reenacting News

So it's been about two weeks since I got back into the full swing of things, and I've been pretty good about it. Not quite 100% compliance, but close!

Tonight I return to CAPD for not only early practice (which I've intermittently made for the last two years), but for the warm-up portion of late practice for the first time since I took a leave of absence from the band.

I'd like to elaborate on my previous post's comments regarding my activity in the Appins, and reenacting in general, in the last couple of years. I've refined my impression of the clan piper of the 18th century over the last few years - in addition to my period Highland pipes, fiddle, German flute, recorder, fife, and pochette, I can now turn out with a small wire-strung harp (which there's documentary evidence that it was still played in the 18th century, by a gentleman amateur), a stock-and-horn, and a set of reel-pipes. I recently purchased the stock-and-horn (stoc) from a maker, and it looks great, fitting in with the pewter-and-horn mounted aesthetic of my Highland pipes. Unfortunately the high g is very sharp, so I'll probably have that fixed by a friendly pipe maker. The reel pipes are the copy of a mid-18th century set in sycamore, brass, and ivory that EJ Jones made me I've discussed previously, though he recently added the ivory ferrule to the chanter stock and drone stock to complete the look. The small harp is the Ardival Kilcoy clàrsach, currently undecorated, that I'm learning from Cynthia on. Sadly, the pegbox of my pochette has a crack in it, preventing me from tuning the low strings, so I'll have to take that in to be repaired.

I redid the front piece of my waistcoat a couple years back, making it longer in front, and doing the pockets right the first time, and it looks much better! I also finally got a nice sporran, from Circle of Gentlemen, though it's not the hinged cantle variety I had originally ordered from the Mad Piper before he canceled that part of my order. Speaking of which, The Mad Piper (after a series of setbacks on his part) finally got me the basket hilt sword I ordered years ago, and it's gorgeous. It may be the last sword he ever makes, and I plan to cherish it. In addition, I have a nice backup basket-hilt broadsword from Paul Chen, and the turceil Kevin Riley fashioned for me from an old basket and the blade from a Windlass "pirate cutlass". I've now retired the gigantically oversized Discriminating General basket hilt, though I am keeping the blade and scabbard in hopes of having a Medieval Scottish hilt and pommel made for it eventually.

I finally bought the jacket I'd been borrowing from Gerry Orvis all these years, but it's still a jacket designed to be worn with trews, and it's a bit heavy, so I  bought a second one from him, that comes with matching trews. So now, in addition to the great kilt outfit, I could do a trews outfit, either with a matching suit, or a contrasting (as was commonly seen). I do need to make a couple new pair of hose, and will likely soon order some new shirts from Druid's Oak, but I'd say my overall '45 Jacobite kit is complete. Here are several pictures of the trews and jacket, in a color scheme I call "Highland Hideous".

I've also been slowly putting together a 16th century Gael impression as well. I've almost finished the lèine, having only the hems and some decorative contrasting silk thread to put in. I was all set to start the inar when I realized I had the wrong sort of fabric for it - a thick felted wool instead of a twill. I may keep the felted wool to make a green version of the slashed-sleeve jacket in Waitt's portrait of the Piper to the Laird of Grant, to give me a 1715 outfit (otherwise, most of my 1745 kit works equally well for the previous generation).

Hopefully, I'll have pictures of the new outfits soon (my wife has a lovely new SLR to try out!), but here's the link to the video of me demonstrating the stock-and-horn I made:

In addition to instruments and clothing, last year we did a lot of foodstuff impression at the Central Virginia Scottish Games (which the Appins are not likely to attend this year, because too many of us are not available). To this end, I took a plain willow bodhran and burned holes in the skin with a hot nail to make a grain tray. We turned out with the grain tray, unhulled and hulled oats, kale, neeps, potatoes, salmon, and little bit of haggis, and the foodstuff display was very popular. I also purchased a quern from Depeeka, and when it arrives, I'll be modifying it with some extra grooves to improve its accuracy and function.

So, fun stuff.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Catching up

It's been a long hiatus for me from serious professional development on the pipes, something like six or more years, and something similar on fiddle, any number of fits and starts attempting to get started again. But I've started taking clàrsach lessons with Cynthia Cathcart, and have resumed pipe lessons with John Sprague, so it's time to get serious. So here are some updates of what I'm doing on several musical fronts.

Practice Block 1 (Atherton pipes, will move to Kron pipes once they're fixed): City of Alexandria Pipes & Drums' music, and the EUSPBA massed band tunes. I'm in the process of returning to the pipe band, after over 2 years hiatus. Once I've memorized the CAPD repertoire, I'll play some of practice block 3 tunes here as well.

Practice Block 2 (practice chanter, will move to Atherton pipes once the Krons are back): Competition music. I've got one competition MSR for Grade 3 I'm knocking the dust off of (Charles Edward Hope Vere/Susan MacLeod/Colonel MacLeod), and am adding second set (24th Guards Brigade at Anzio/Blackley of Hillsdale/The Clucking Hen?). Both may get used for the Tailors at some point. I'm also learning a couple of hornpipes (The Man from Skye and Bobby Cuthbertson), and am knocking the dust off some jigs (Brae Riach, Turf Lodge, Paddy's Leather Britches) for a future H/J set.

Practice Block 3 (border and/or small pipes): I'm going through some books of pipe tunes for Highland Dance (starting with tunes from A High Cut Above), and also some very old collections of ceòl beag, like the Donald MacDonald's 1828 collection and Gunn's 1848 collection.

Practice Block 4 (18th Century reproduction Kilberry pipes): I'm going through the piobaireachds I've learned to re-memorize them, and expect to start focusing on a few for competition, and sometimes stuff for the Devil's Tailors.

Practice Block 1 (Dahlia 5-string): I'm going through the DunGreen collection, paying special attention to Cape Breton ornamentation on both left hand and bow. It's a slow slog, because I'm learning a lot of new techniques and am trying to play the tunes as written, and memorize more than a few of them as I go.

Practice Block 2 (High-bass tuned fiddle): I'm working on some competition tunes, mainly the same set I'm doing as an MSR on pipes (Charles Edward Hope Vere/Susan MacLeod/Colonel MacLeod) and am working on adapting piobaireachd ornamentation to the fiddle (mostly focusing on the Leumluath/Taorluath - and related ornaments like the hiodro, hodro, and edre, and the Crunluath).

Practice Block 3 (Dahlia 5-string): Devil's Tailors stuff. I'm especially going to be working on the tunes I normally play on pipes, because I may have to record those parts.

Practice Block 4 (Mahr Baroque): I hope to start spending time with the Gow Repositories and other 18th century collections if I get around to adding more fiddle practice time.

I'm slowly advancing to moving fingers around the harp. I've learned Tha Oighre Og Air Fear Dhungallain and am working on An Ossianic Air using the Ap Huw figures, which involve a very mobile treble hand. I'm also going through Cynthia's book, and a little past half-way through it (Begone from my Window is a current favorite), and am reaching the point where fingers are no longer fixed there as well.

I slipped backwards a bit in Gaelic, and am trying to find time to get back into it seriously. As far as singing goes, I've added a few good tunes to my repertoire. Right now, I'm working on "A Neighbor's Farewell to his Friends", the oldest known version of "The Parting Glass", and "Tha Tigh'n Fodham Eiridh", a 1715 Jacobite song that was the pattern for the Victorian song "Sound the Pibroch".

I spent the last long calibration effort at work practicing my Cape Breton steps. I've got most of the Reel and Jig steps at least nominally learned, and hope to have them under my feet by spring, so I can show off my moves when Clandestine plays the Duck for St. Pat's!

As I mention above, I'm working to get back into the band. It's a hard slog learning the new tunes - they just don't want to stick. It didn't help that for a long time I didn't have any pipes in Bb. My Kron pipes have been out for repair (cracked tenor bottom, cracked mount, broken mouthpiece, and chipped projecting mounts) coming up on 2 years, and though I bought an additional set from Dave Atherton, the outer tenor bottom of the new set developed a crack, and I was unable to play those for a while as Dave repaired them. Now I have the Athertons up and running again, and the Krons are expected back any day now, and I should be back in by the new year.

The Devil's Tailors:
We had a great year with Chelle Fulk, and after she went back to Keltish full time, we had another great year with Susan MacIntosh-Worrell, but are now without a dedicated fiddler (and Rosemary's still in college in Scotland!). Nonetheless, we're finally pressing ahead with recording our first album in November/December, have a few likely gigs in the new year, and will start performing more heavily after we bring in a new fiddler.

Fiddle Club:
I'm still on the board, and am still the Highland Games Coordinator, though I'm looking to push much of the responsibilities for the latter on others, especially the finding of sponsorships for the bands. My big project with Fiddle Club is to convert the previous years' music to Adobe Indesign, so they can be saved as PDFs and viewed online.

The Stewarts of Appin Regiment of Foot:
I'm still doing my 1745 piper impression, and have a few new skills and toys I'm bringing to events. I'm singing Gaelic and playing harp, and I now have a stock-and-horn to demonstrate. Sadly, my pochette has a damaged pegbox, and will need to be repaired! I've also added some food items to the impression, having converted a bodhran into a grain sieve, and have a quern on order from Deepeka, along with bags of hulled and unhulled oats and barley.

Music Websites:
The website is due for a total rewrite. I devised some technical improvements to its format when I did my wedding website, and will implement them soon. I plan to make it less about the hardware, less geeky, and more professional. The Devil's Tailors and Fiddle Club websites will also see some minor updates soon, especially the latter as I get the music online.

So this is the schedule I've set for myself. Will I stick to it? I hope so! And hopefully I'll post again before too long!

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