Wednesday, June 23, 2010

... All Old Pipers Should Be Put Out To the Doubling Pasture


I received a very interesting email this week. The gist of the story centres around a 70 year old piper who wishes to compete - passionately rejects the aging process and wants to improve, which conflicts with his Pipe Major and instructor. Let the letter speak for itself!
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"You all heard him play and each of you encouraged him to insert embellishments into the music. To be fair, his piping judge at the last contest said the same thing. I need your wisdom here. He is 70 years old. He started when he was 65. He's also got pretty severe arthritis in both hands. I am afraid that moving his focus and energies to embellishments will hurt the good things he's currently doing with his music as well as his personal enjoyment. He's now come back wanting to relearn the tune with all the embellishments. I'm heartbroken. So here you have it. Is this "hobby" as it is in the hands of adult (and senior) learners, not valid without full embellishments? Do embellishments take priority over sound, phrasing, expression, and overall music? When is it appropriate for an old timer to simply play the melody with limited or no embellishments? Should he quit and take up whistling? Here is my thinking:
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1) He (and many others) will NEVER be able to play ANYTHING with full embellishments. His hands simply won't allow it without damaging phrasing, expression, sound or tempo.
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2) It is probably good for these people to practice embellishments (e.g. rhythmic fingerwork) even though they may never put them inside a tune effectively. Even if they never find their way into his music, the exercises themselves can't hurt.
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3) I think it's wrong for us (the piping world at large) to place this burden on someone who will never be able to effectively achieve that goal, given all circumstances under consideration.
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I'd like your thoughts."
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Well, after I hit the ceiling and responded, I thought it a situation that should be shared. I have arthritis. I collect Canada Pension (Social Security in the USA). Am I staring my eventual retirement home in a doubling, taroluath, birl, grip free pasture where all of us will reside in melodic bliss for the remaining years?... Good grief!