Saturday, September 19, 2009

... The Bear Minimum

I have just come out of the Alaskan tundra from one of those life experiences ... a week in tents fly fishing for rainbow trout, coho salmon and dodging the Coastal Brown Bear (the Grizzly when found inland). It was a week of seclusion - no lights visible N-S-E-W in any direction and only my 4 partners to converse with. Needless to say, much was revealed through thought and imagery! But, like all temporary diversions, it is back to Reality 101 this week as I set up my lesson plans for the Fall piping students at the Corner. This year, I will insist that all students from beginner to competitive level, from enthusiast to contest driven, will have several learning tools in common. For sure, each will attempt to develop rhythmic technique through a series of hand crafted control drills and exercises found in my lessons of previous years. Without these dexterity skills, a piper cannot make the musical grade. Furthermore, all students will start their initial piobaireachd or continue their study, based on tunes chosen for strong melodic and structural content. The music of by-gone years is very much at the fore for the current piping student to appreciate that a composition has a floor plan and it is this layout that permits an ease of memorization. All in all, there are minimum skills that all students must bring to the table. With proper guidance, perspective pipers will develop technically with a musical appreciation and understanding of what lies in the written score. This, of course, is what all great musicians deliver to their audience... the bear essentials!

Friday, August 28, 2009

... Over the Rainbows

There comes a time each year where you just have to shut down and get away from it all - a renewal for better things to come. Right?... Of course I am right! For me, puttting a 9 wt. fly rod in my hand and dropping me in the middle of nowhere for a few days allows my body and mind to meld with nature - enables a cleansing of whatever residual trash exists from the previous few months and opens the doors for a fresh, positive attitude the rest of the year. Everyone can prosper from a break from their busy summer pursuits - and for me, teaching schools, judging, highland games and far too much travel! It is always uplifting to get past the World's in August - marvel at the Gold Medal results for Oban and Inverness - congratulate all my friends for their summer successes and then just disappear! This year, I have talked my piper brother (photo inset) into flying to Anchorage, Alaska with me. There, we will be joined by two other pipers from Juneau and a retired music teacher from Washington State. The last you will see of us for 8 days will be the Continental lounge at the airport. We are heading west - a small plane to Illiamna and then a Beaver the rest of the way to Talarik Creek - imagine west of Anchorage and all you see on the map is wilderness and Russia! So, for a week there will be nothing except bears, moose, trophy sized rainbow trout and us. Does it get any better ?... so long piping! See you in October.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

... In My Rear View Mirror

The World Championships is over for another year so it only remains to sit back and reflect upon my impressions for the extended week in Glasgow. Certainly the Grade 1 arena itself, the primary purpose of any trip, takes the featured spot. However, ranking a close second are all the events of Piping Live and the Todd's Bar. I MC'd the Drumming event and kicked off Drumming for Drinks. It is the latter that leaves a lasting impression - Top Secret, the Basil, Switzerland based drum corps performed live - I mean really live, right in front of us. Thanks have to go to Jim Kilpatrick for making this possible. Roddy MacDonald kicked off his new book with a launch at the Piping Centre... the Perth and North Berwick Highland Games provided a great backdrop for meeting friends from everywhere. Normally I would be judging and miss this opportunity, so in a back-handed way, perhaps I should thank the powers to be for this year's suspension from the judging panel. The photo here depicts a rare opportunity where Bob Worrall and myself had the chance to dine with our South African friends on the Monday nite prior to the championships. I judged two solo events - the piping quartettes and the piping idol contest...both very relaxing and less formal that some. If anything, the qualifier for the Grade 1 was a big disappointment. First of all, the first 6 bands or so were at an extreme disadavantage - not only playing early in the morning, but also in a terrible downpour. This resulted in several subpar performances - none as major as the 78th Fraser Highlanders - perennial finals' competitor. There were few outstanding performances from the qualifiers' section, which was confirmed by the results of the afternoon final. The top 6 or 7 bands are light-years ahead of the rest of the field. So in hindsite, hats off to SFU, FMM, SLOT and Strathclyde Police - especially Strathclyde whose performance under the dark cloud of departmental politics was even more rewarding.... next year is only 51 weeks away...I am booked already.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The World's : a Pre-Qualified Stage

It's August once again and us faithful pilgrims make our way to Glasgow Green, the World's and a week of Piping Live. Some of us have been making this trek for more years than we care to remember - how long is a lifetime? 1966 was my initiation - way back when jetplanes were not the medium of travel... we travelled in a turbo-prop - yes a propeller plane - 14 hours each way! Regardless of the time or money spent, this was the beginning of a lifelong love affair - a passion that burns as strong today as ever. But the scene has changed... Piping Live makes it a weekly event with superb entertainment condensed into a short few days. The actual World's Championship is almost anticlimatic... big ticket prices for grandstand seating... over-priced merchandise... inclement weather often... Glasgow Green service amenities like the food concessions and beer tent that need some dire upgrading... and a Grade One Championship that is predictable and even biased in favor of the pre-qualified bands. Here are the facts: The qualifying system which is made up of predominantly non UK based bands will DQ 10 of 15 bands from having two plays in the final. Yet the league table pre-qualifiers are all UK based - 6 of 12 to be exact... the very bands that spend the most and travel the farthest have the least chance of making it through to the final. To make matters worse, the qualifying event starts at 9 am - a time when it is almost impossible to avoid moisture concerns. Any fortunate band to make it to the final is faced with the unenviable task of three plays on the day - a hurculean effort is needed. The odds-on favorite must be one of the 6 pre-qualified UK bands. Fact - The World's Pipe Band Champion has never come from the qualifying event. Fact - The World's Pipe Band Champion has never come from outside the top 3 in the league table or the international pre-qualifiers! Fact - the Championship needs all the bands to make it a complete day's event. It is the 15 bands that attempt to qualify that are the heart and soul of the WPBC. Let's give them more of a stage! I will certainly be watching from the stands and by August 15, drop my bets at Ladbrokes or Thomas Hill; risking becoming the Pete Rose of the pipe band world! Who knows? Longshots anyone?....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Glad Mikey said it!

I am reading blogs much more while I am on the road teaching this summer. For one, it keeps me in touch with my own reality. Michael Grey touched a superb point on pipe bands and you-tube recordings - well worth the read at ... thanks Mike.... the critique aisles are full of those who slag the judges or the bands for what is perceived as a bad call or performance.... I received this from one of my closest friends after the World's qualifier last year. In his opinion, my result was totally out in left field. In hindsight, that is exactly where he sat with his new mp3 recorder - left field. I was perched in right field as my fellow adjudicators had control of the rest of the playing area. Needless to say, I missed some negative stuff over on the other side and had a band higher than I would have, if I had been placed with my compatriot. But, judging is a team sport and it was covered in the summary consensus. The band in question did not qualify for the final. Does that make me a bad judge? Does that say that from some vantage point the band didn't play well.... well, sideline adjudicators off you-tube and contest mp3 recordings, just sit back and reconsider ill-advised suggestions that can color and harm future endeavors... thanks Mike for giving me an opening!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Complex Music

I have had a strange hiatus from this blog...more to do with unusual off shore distractions rather than any other circumstances! But it was good to get back on the scene at the Georgetown Games on the weekend where I had the opportunity to judge the Grade 1 medley contest. I was reminded immediately of my last post here, months ago... shortly after the Obama inauguration... Simple Music from Complex Musicians... yes, I thought, that is a great theme.... and it applies today as well as then. Band medley composition is clever today - themes are integrated - melodic lines are for the entertainment of the audience - rhythms are established that get the feet tapping - tones and harmonic blends are designed to cleverly overlay a pleasing touch to your auditory senses - midsections enhance your visual! All this was present in varying degrees from the four Grade 1 bands that competed. The responsiblity of the adjudicator is vastly different than that of the audience. For one, the audience is allowed the freedom of expression and can show emotion through a performance whereas the adjudicator must harbour those feelings inside, preferring a stone cold outward appearance. But keep one thing in mind, a band performance also stirs our inner feelings as well and we score accordingly. Such was the case this past Saturday. I was reminded of the downfall of competition - one winner only. Needless to say, we were all winners having heard the best performances of the day. Thanks - SL,78th Frasers, Toronto Police, Peel Police and the 78th Highlanders, The Citadel. And thanks also to the other grades that I heard - Grades 2 and 4 with Hamilton Police prevailing in both... an excellent start to the outdoor games season.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Simple Music from Complex Musicians


Itzhak Perlman

and Yo Yo Mah

played for Barack Obama's inaugeration last week, they left a fabulous momento for all aspiring musicians. I was reminded how important it was when a friend's daughter, who happens to play the cello, was over the moon with the fact that they played "her" song. Well, her song just happened to be Simple Gifts, a tune played on many instruments including the pipes. I got to thinking - if the greatest musicians on the face of this planet dare to play the easiest of tunes and more importantly, put so much feeling and enthusiasm into their performance, in front of an audience of a billion, there has to be an obvious message there. Did lightning strike? This thunderbolt revelation is certainly appropriate for all musicians, not just the young and beginner. Music comes in simple forms... it is appreciated for what it is... the player who constantly has to bash through the heaviest of tune or most obscure melodic form just doesn't get it. Music is brain food... emotion seizing... I don't want to work hard for my music...

Thankyou Yo Yo and Itzhak.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's Miller Time

..... and from my old friend (as in for many years friend, but no way my age friend!), Duncan Bell from the famous Bell Clan, Parlin NJ......

hey flash.........went on you tube.. usually looking for porn (only kidding) ....guitar players.. was going to show my eldest boy a black brother named Tony McAllapin...... hot player....... a video of the clan from the early 80's came up with the stuff because i spelled the cats name wrong.......... it just says clan macfarlane pipe band...someone said in small print ...from the early 80's.... all the chaps were slim.....LOL anyway ,it is an MSR event....... don't know the venue....... the spry chap on tenor........slings his drum down low.......wears his watch face to the inside of his wrist...has his cap on slightly cocked per old school.......a real cool cat!!!!!!!!! this guy is the real deal holyfield!!!!
Why is this man NOT giving talks at ensemble seminars!!!!!!!!!!!! or just plain tenor seminars!!!!!!!!!!! this guy has got the diggety doubt!!!! at times during donald cameron he has a right hand double tap... real slight cool time and on the beat... high swings...hanging quality air as the skateboard kids say.... up high come down hard only to just tap the drum tastefully and in time... this guy is doing stuff that they do now..ONLY IT PREDATES TYLER FRY ..ET ALL... By 20 YEARS!!!!!... cannot determine if heard or not.,... video is old.. anyway......this freekin guy has got style..... verve and panache...... adds to the music...swings like a real pro dag gamit!!!!! i have got to meet this man........THATS a real tenor drummer... music and substance!!!! i am serious... what a find... thank you for letting me rant........ cheers.... Duncan
The man - Andy Miller!

Chapter 3 -  Brasil Caledonia The new generation of players that was under training was still not ready when the band started to compete...