Friday, December 16, 2011

... RIP... The Gaelic College, St. Ann's, Nova Scotia

The Gaelic College, St. Ann's, Nova Scotia
The Gaelic College in St. Ann's has been the centre of Cape Breton teaching for almost 2/3 of a century. Some of the best pipers, drummers, fiddlers, dancers, Gaelic educators and more have taught students from far and wide. I spent many summers myself there as an instructor... many happy weeks each year soaking up the ambience of the Cape Breton culture. Piping flourished. It is not a stretch of the truth to say that almost every piper of note from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick most likely attended a session or two at the venerable institution. Enough said glorifying its past!

Highland Piping has just been removed from the curriculum to be replaced by Cape Breton (kitchenpiping) ! What next?

Thinking of its future as a bastion of piping excellence is more like preparing a eulogy for a close friend.  I have been following the thread in PipesDrums.com and I just shake my head. One responder was bold enough to infer Cape Breton piping as the only true form from centuries ago. He cites Barry Shears' book on the topic, which reads as a mythical fable for those who couldn't make it in the bigs! I have read the book with an open mind... and there began my problem...the author and his sources are totally polarized on this other (older) style of piping and imply heavily that competitive styles have all but completely divorced themselves from the tradition. There is no hint of a liberal opinion on all forms of piping. Hogwash!

Tradition or more aptly, living traditions evolve. There is a need for sound technical and rhythmic tuition in the present sense to effectively play styles like that found historically in Cape Breton. To stop one in favour of another is a huge regressive step.  The administrators of the College must be reminded that the Shears book is based on ill founded assumptions! Piobaireachd was the music of the Highland pipe at the time of the clearances in the 1700's when immigration started... there was also light music for the dancing.... competitive light music evolved after the fact. The short sighted College admin has chosen to single out only one branch of the great music at the exclusion of all others. If they were true to their mandate, it would be piobaireachd rather than kitchenpiping to survive these troubled times.

For Shame...  I fear they will live to regret it.

Before I close, have a look at Michael Grey's Blog on this site or found at Dunaber Music.

Mike is worthy of the following quote:


"There’s great glory and tradition and, dare I say, Gaelic-ness to today’s “competitive” bagpipe music. It’s a rich, lively tradition with huge vibrancy. It evolves. It moves forward. It influences, even CB fiddlers – whether they know it or not."


.... a full shillings worth, don't you think?


You might consider going to PipesDrums as well. Pay special attention to the comments of others.

Of note, I was asked to join the faculty for 2012. NOT! I am not qualified to teach Cape Breton piping, assuming it is defined as being aligned with the fiddle... nor are 99% of all the pipers in existence today. Unfortunately, to wish them well in this misguided adventure would imply there was a realistic opportunity for success. So let the College RIP.

Friday, October 21, 2011

... And You Only Use 9 Notes!

Pipe Major Roddy S. MacDonald


Creativity is a gift... and unfortunately or fortunately, perhaps, a gift for very few. Bruce Gandy, Michael Grey, Gordon Duncan... all names that bring to mind some great tunes over the years. Oh, there are dozens of participants in the composition game - perhaps one tune a year - maybe one tune in a lifetime that makes it to the mainstream. I would be such a player. Perhaps that is why it has been a passion of mine to discover new music; and in the process come to appreciate the nuances each composer brings to the table. Roddy S. MacDonald is a giant among current composers. He has published two books, the ClanRanald Collection with his father, Willie MacDonald (Benbecula) and his latest, released at the National Piping Centre during Piping Live, 2009 - the R.S. MacDonald Collection. Such great tunes (and names, BTW) -El Paco Grande, Good Drying (the title tune off his CD), The Last Tango in Harris, The Pivovar Express, and the list goes on. Buy the book...buy the CD...hours of enjoyment.

But this isn't why I am writing this piece...I just got sidetracked! His latest tune, Dalvey, is a classic! It is not the proverbial diamond in the rough, but a polished gemstone for anyone's up-taking.... written using the A arpeggio, but just skimming the octave briefly in the second and fourth parts, it tickles your harmonic fancy with an abundant use of the note D and very fiddle-like use of cuts and dots, what I might refer to as "3 note pulses"....


I hope you enjoy this tune.... Roddy has been gracious enough to grant copyright permission to the Corner for publishing here. I believe in copyright for composers. I purchase their books and CD's. I encourage you to do as well and in return, we all play our role in supporting a living tradition!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Music lessons — hard work, so make sure they're fun

When Fiona MacPherson’s two young sons told her they wanted to quit piping, she was upset. "I asked why, and they said it wasn't fun," she said. After speaking with her husband — who is a musician — they decided it was important not to force their kids into it.So, the boys quit.

But a week later, Angus, 12, and Calum, 11, said they had made a mistake."It turned out to be me," said Fiona. "I made it so regimented that it wasn't fun for them." She asked them to write letters explaining why they wanted to return to lessons and when they did, she allowed them to continue. "Once we all adjusted, it was good," she said, admitting she needed to change her tactics a little. And it worked out.

And they don't need much prodding to work on their craft anymore. They practice at least half an hour every day. "Angus wakes up and he walks around while playing his practice chanter in the morning", she said. Making piping fun is an important part of their success.

Most parents with kids in lessons know that practicing is the most difficult part of the process. Distraction is the biggest enemy when it comes to practice. There’s video games, the Internet, friends. There are too many distractions with instant gratification. So use incentives that will make even these distractions a compliment to their practice regimens.

Most of all, make it fun!

Monday, February 21, 2011

... The Truly Remarkable Might Not Be Pipers!

Every so often you meet some one that doesn't stand out in a crowd... is humble beyond words...yet has accomplished more in their lifetime than anyone you know. These people don't have to be involved in the same things as us! They don't need our obsessions. They have their own inner passions which see them through life! Such was DJ (Dorothy) Douglas of Madison, WI. Jake Watson, John Fisher, John Cairns and myself got to know her as the life partner of Rory Ward - a piping student every year at the Milwaukee school. Rory, in her own right, has lived a truly remarkable life and career - being a retired fire lieutenant in Madison Fire Department and also a highly trained psychologist! Here is DJ's life, captured on a PBS documentary recently:




Watch the full episode. See more In Wisconsin.



Friday, February 4, 2011

... Super Bowl Sunday


That's right...Super Bowl Sunday...will it be Big Ben and the Steelers or the Packers and Rogers the Rocket Arm? Can you imagine an event in the pipe band world with the same import as the Steelers vs. the Pack? We have it already.... Super Saturday. Mark it on your calendars - August 13, 2011 - coming to you from Glasgow Green and broadcast live by Bob Worrall. Now, what we lack in TV sponsorships, we can make up for in crowd appeal. Unlike the Super Bowl of football, the "pipe band super bowl" has never disappointed its fans with mediocrity or just plain bad play. The one thing about the pipe band fraternity - we can always praise a good performance - we are sufficiently negative to criticize a poor performance - we argue which band should be first - we know better than the "wise judges" on the field - we will always disagree with the final result - we replay the event over and over - and when it is all said and done, we come back year after year regardless of our favourite band. Nothing wishy-washy about us!... see you in Glasgow.