Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Looking at the state of the world

 Taking a long look at the state of the world..... (sigh)

We can do better than this, but it's going to take everyone pulling together instead of pulling apart. There is always hope, even in the dark times.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Water Manometer and the Bagpipes

I built a water manometer a while back thanks to instructions from Doctor John. I'm lucky to know Doctor John as we both play in the Fountain Trust Pipe Band. I'm still just playing with them at practices and for parade gigs while I learn the contest repertoire and improve my piping skills to the level the band needs for the contest circle.

The water manometer is useful to provide a visual representation of the air pressure in the bag for what we call "steady blowing". Ideally the water level in the manometer won't bounce up and down too much while playing the pipes, but even world class professionals will have some subtle variation. At this point I'm just happy if the water doesn't shoot out the top of the contraption between breaths.

I'm finding that there are two phases (all Arm or Arm+Diaphragm) during four steps of blowing the pipes:
  1. Transition from Arm to Arm+Diaphragm
  2. Blowing in
  3. Transition from Arm+Diaphragm to Arm
  4. Inhaling
The biggest waver in air pressure for me is in the two transitions, I don't transition smoothly yet. I was able to place the upper and lower measures (two loops of red rope) on the manometer to roughly bound the high pressure peak and low pressure valley. I'm happy that the peak and valley are only two and a half inches apart during the transitions. Between transitions I only waver about one inch and I'm pretty happy with that as a starting point as that indicates that I have a reasonably steady arm.

On a related note, I've started to hear the tuning of individual notes on the chanter against the drones. I can't yet tell by ear if the chanter note is sharp or flat relative to the drones, but I can hear when that note is off pitch. This is something that I learned about at Davidson Scottish Arts Academy earlier this year; when tuning I should be aiming to tune the instrument to itself. When tuning, listen to the chanter notes against the drones and adjust as needed. I'm a slow learner, so I needed to learn what to listen for first, then it took me time to recognize what I was hearing was what I was listening for.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Musing about Reeds

This will probably be a live post that changes and updates as I learn more. For now I'll save links here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Pre-season Piping Plans

I just had a good lesson with my piping instructor, Angus Martin, and we've concocted a plan for my pre-season piping activities. We'll mix in new tunes for the 2017 season proper, but keep last season's tunes ready to go as well.

The first event up will be the Lexington regional qualifier for the Terry McHugh Memorial Solo Piping Contest. Since I'm still working on my new 2/4 march I will be polishing Prince Charles Welcome to Lochaber for the Lexington regional on February 25th.

Angus and I are planning on getting a taste of the EUSPBA at the Cincinnati Piping & Drumming Solo Competition & Workshop on April 8th. This contest opens some more opportunities for me and I'm looking forward to playing some new tunes. For the 2/4 march I'm preparing Captain Norman Orr Ewing and hope to have it ready to go by April 8th.

They're also offering piobaireachd, however EUSPBA rules have Grade 4 piobaireachd play the entire tune while the MWPBA only has Grade 4 pipers play the Urlar and 1st Variation. I don't have the entirety of The Company's Lament nor Lament for the Rowan Tree prepared yet, so no piobaireachd for me.

They are offering, a micro-mini S/R (strathspey, reel) and that is interesting. When Angus and I looked over this he determined that two of the tunes that Fountain Trust Pipe Band is playing will fit the bill (and I need to learn them anyway). So I'm focusing specifically on Aspen Bank and Malts on the Optics for the micro-mini S/R. I'm calling it a micro-mini because they only want 2-parted tunes, normally a S/R or MSR (march, strathspey, reel) is composed of 4-part tunes. A mini-MSR is a 4-part march and 2-part strathspey and reel.

Friday, February 3, 2017


Chicago Games
Tunes, we call them tunes. Sometimes it sounds like it is pronounced "choons", but tunes they are. A bagpiper without tunes is a sad creature indeed, forlornly thumbing through the Green Book looking for something exciting to get the fingers dancing and the pipes skirling.

A wise piping teacher once said (last week when he set my ass straight) that breadth of tune knowledge is far more valuable than knowing a few tunes backward and forward. I need to learn more tunes, of different idioms (marches, slow airs, hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, reels, and piobaireachd), to become a better piper. I'll create three lists of tunes here: those I know and can play well, those I can play passably while hiding in a band, those that I'm working on, those I want to learn (yes, that's four lists, counting can be difficult at times).

Tunes I know and play well (well for ME at my level as opposed to objectively good):
  • Scots Wha' Hae
  • Amazing Grace
  • I See Mull
  • Skye Boat Song
  • Green Hills of Tyrol
  • Brown Haired Maiden
  • Mhairi's Wedding
  • Prince Charles Welcome to Lochaber
  • The Company's Lament (Urlar and 1st Variation)
  • Will Ye No Come Back Again

Davidson Scottish Arts Academy
Tunes I can play while hiding in a band:
  • Going Home
  • Wings
  • Rowan Tree
  • Bonnie Galloway
  • Scotland the Brave
  • Bide Awa (Johnnie Scobie)
  • When the Battle's O'er
  • Balmoral
  • Murdo's Wedding

Tunes I am working on:
  • Captain Norman Orr Ewing
  • Spogan
  • The Judge's Dilemma
  • Black Stream
  • O'er the Bows to Ballindalloch
  • Aspen Bank
  • Malts on the Optics
  • The Stone Frigate
  • Donald MacLean's Farewell to Oban
  • Dorrator Bridge
  • Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree
  • Dr. Ross' 50th Welcome to the Argyllshire Gathering
  • Castle Dangerous
  • The Company's Lament (remaining Variations)
  • Lament for the Rowan Tree
  • Jean Mauchline
  • Oft in a Stilly Night
  • Rocking the Baby
  • Loudon's Bonnie Woods and Braes
  • Gravel Road
  • High Road to Gairloch
  • Wearing of the Green
  • Minstrel Boy
  • Boys of County Cork

Three seasons of solo competition
Tunes I want to learn:
  • Mist Covered Mountains
  • My Home
  • Flower of Scotland
  • Flowers of the Forest
  • Captain Colin Campbell
  • Sleepy Maggie
  • Piper's Wedding
  • The Lochaber Gathering
  • Lochaber No More
  • The Thief of Lochaber
  • Dumbarton's Drums
  • The Mason's Apron
  • Lament for the Children
  • Afternoon at the Green Monster
  • The Rose of Kelvingrove
  • Farewell to the Creeks
  • Steam Train to Mallaig
  • Battle of the Somme
  • Heights of Dargai
  • Hector the Hero
  • Highland Cathedral 
  • The Gael
  • The Dark Isle