Thursday, December 30, 2010

SO YOU WANT TO LEARN THE BAGPIPES!


SO YOU WANT TO LEARN THE BAGPIPES!
Brett Tidswell – National Principal of Piping


For those who have an interest and want to learn the bagpipes, there are a few things that you should know. The first is that is a difficult instrument to play and you should not proceed without a good teacher. On average a student will receive one half hour lesson a week, which may increase to a full hour after some time.

What will I need?

You will need a practice chanter and a tutor book to start. This is not overly expensive, probably around $100 - $150 for a suitable instrument for a beginner. Your teacher can probably advise you where to purchase a reasonable instrument at a good price. The practice chanter is a quiet instrument similar to a recorder on which pipers learn new material.



What is the process?


The learning process usually starts with a series of musical exercises. The scale, various embellishments, and then some small tunes thrown in along the way. Initially you will run out of material after a few minutes practice, but you should play the routine you are taught several times a day. After your practice session, put the chanter down and pick it up again later and go over it again. As you progress your practice schedule will increase. Probably 30-45 minutes a day for a learner with some tunes to work on is adequate. You should not worry if you miss a day’s practice, but ensure that you do not do it frequently. The purpose of practice is to develop muscle memory, correct technique and to memorise and remember the material. Later, on the bagpipe you will need to work on blowing technique and stamina as well. As with any musical instrument, practice and playing the instrument regularly are a part of life.

When do I play a bagpipe?

After playing several tunes at a reasonable standard it will be time to progress to the bagpipe. The time this takes will vary from person to person. Some organisations provide a bagpipe for learner pipers; most ask that you purchase your own. A suitable learner’s instrument can range from about $1,500 second hand upwards. There will be maintenance items and other small expenses along the way. Ask your tutor about the requirements for a bagpipe. Do not just go and buy something, there are some traps for the unwary. Lots of Pakistani made instruments are misrepresented on the internet and many people sell second hand instruments that they know little about.


How important are lessons?

Regular lessons are very important. To miss a couple of weeks dramatically sets back the progress of a learner piper. To miss lessons frequently is very disruptive and can significantly impede your progress. This is a musical instrument. To learn is sometimes a chore, but to play is fun and that should be the goal. Some parents seem to look at piping lessons like school and think students should have a break for school holidays. This is not the case. Piping should be looked at as one of the fun/physical activities that is used as a break from school work etc.


How do I join a band?


Some bands run classes for learners and there will be a direct path to follow to become a band member. There will be specific tunes to learn so that you know the band repertoire and some bands have a juvenile band or a development group that feeds into a higher level band. Some students learn from a private tutor and they will be able to give you advice on joining a band. It should be remembered that when you join a band, it is as much your band as anyone else’s. You should therefore help to assist the band in fundraising, group activities etc. This ensures the future of the band and helps to repay the more senior members for the time they put in to assist you or your child that is learning.


What about solo competitions, certificates and seminars?

Once proficient with a few tunes on the bagpipe, you will have the possibility of entering competitions as a soloist. Competition forms a significant part of the piping lifestyle. It is a good way to monitor your own standard and to gain some feedback. Another useful tool is to complete examinations through the local Piping Associations. Seminars are often run by the local Associations and are a great way to gain additional knowledge, alternate view points and meet some of the local identities.


What is so good about learning to play the bagpipe?

Aside from the pleasure of performing and enjoying music, the opportunities open to pipers are numerous. There are a number of organisations that offer full-time employment to pipers. There are numerous opportunities to compete locally, interstate and overseas. Festivals are run in most countries around the world as well as Tattoos and other events of significance. The friendships made last a lifetime.

The discipline, teamwork and skills learnt will flow on to all parts of the student’s life. What is most important however are the challenges and enjoyment obtained and sometimes the privilege to be a part of something very special.


There is more information to be seen at the school of piping website and “The Complete Pipers Handbook” is the ultimate guide for getting started on the bagpipe and as a useful resource for teachers. It is available here: http://www.schoolofpiping.com/handbook.html


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your Band Internet Policy


I am aware of a number of pipe bands that have instigated an Internet Policy.
This tries to ensure that members are aware that they are in the spotlight when posting on various sites, including facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites.

These sites are so transparent that there are some concerns regarding pipe bands that try to attract children as learners where members post photographs and comments that may be seen as inappropriate to parents wanting to get their children involved in bands.

There is also the concern that bands representing various organisations and sponsors may be painted in a bad light by members posting without considering the full ramification of their public posts.

Personally I have always lived by the rule that I will not post anything on the net that I wouldn't write in a letter, or post anything I wouldn't want any person to read.

I am sure there are many thoughts and policies on this topic?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Constructing a Contest Medley


Constructing a medley has become an art form well beyond the selection of a few good tunes.

Key changes, length, where to place new compositions, release and tension, harmonies and many more considerations are required and in fact looked for by judges particularly in the sphere of ensemble.

A full article on the subject can now be found at the School of Piping website

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Most amazing Bagpipe ever!


In collaboration with Mark Saul, I have just put up an article on the School of Piping website about John Center Bagpipe Maker. In it are photographs Mark supplied of the most amazing bagpipe I have ever seen. A true museum piece.

The full article can be seen here: http://www.schoolofpiping.com/articles.html

I hope you all enjoy it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NSW Seminar and State Solo Championships



It was with great pleasure that I was able to accept the recent invitation of the APBA (NSW Branch) and hold a seminar about bagpipe maintenance and sound and the 13th Nov 2010 and adjudicate at the State Solo Championships the following day.
The seminar was held at the Matisse/Derivan’s premises which was kindly loaned to the Association by Steven Patterson. The seminar was well attended and we covered many topics ranging from basic maintenance checks through to advanced tone enhancing techniques and products. Much of the material covered can found in “The Complete Pipers Handbook” and at the website at www.schoolofpiping.com. I hope there will be a chance to follow this up with a more practical seminar in the not too distant future. It seems that the seminar was well received.

The NSW state solo championships were held in the pristine grounds of Scots College on the shores of the Sydney Harbour. This is a great venue and the branch is very lucky to have access each year at no cost. This is obviously a great contribution by Scots College to the piping fraternity in that state. The venue had 10 marquees set up with an event in each. They also used the auditorium for some of the more senior events and a veranda for the Piobaireachd events.

I was thrilled to see three heats for the elementary finals. Each heat contained approximately 12 – 15 young pipers. I must say in some of the lower events many pipers let themselves down with poor performances of tunes that were too difficult, or missing repeated parts etc. The level of playing was very good overall with some very solid performances by some of the early stage pipers. It is always refreshing to see youngsters being well taught.

There were good numbers in each grade and I managed to adjudicate the elementary Marches, the elementary Air (final), Sub-Intermediate Strathspey and Reel, Intermediate Hornpipe and Jig and the Open Strathspey and Reel.

I was most impressed with the performances of Aaron O’Neill in Intermediate and Robert Gibb in Open. Both played at a very high level.
A most enjoyable weekend and I must thank the NSW branch and especially my hosts Sam and Liz Young for a wonderful weekend.

Brett Tidswell
National Principal of Piping



AUDIO LESSONS AVAILABLE HERE

Monday, November 8, 2010

Musical Perception!

What do we miss?

PERCEPTION

This was sent to me today and I just had to share it.....




THE SITUATION
In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.



After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

Another 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

A further 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

In the end:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?


One possible conclusion reached from this experiment was this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . ..

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?



www.schoolofpiping.com

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blowing a Bagpipe



Having assisted several pipers lately it appears to be a common thread that poorly controlled blowing technique is severely hampering the production of tone produced by many pipers.
There are several issues to look at when attempting to produce a good, steady, tuned sound from a bagpipe.

1. An airtight instrument. Both bag and ALL joints.
2. Well set up bagpipe and reeds that do not use too much air.
3. Correct blowing and arm co-ordination.
4. Blowing correct tone.

Check Instrument
The bagpipe should be airtight. Cork all stocks, insert a blow stick and blow up the bag. The valve should be working correctly and the bag should stay up very tight. Try to twist the stocks in the bag. They should be tied in firmly. This applies to all types of bags.
Next step is to check that all joints are tight and none leak. This will affect steadiness if they leak at the stocks, but will also affect the instrument if the drone slides are loose and wobble.
Lately I have been seeing all sorts of gadgets and gizmos in the bags. Moisture control systems and drones valves are fine, but I fail to see how they can be left in an instrument if they affect steady blowing, or tone. I have seen a few instruments with all the gadgets lately that were simply unplayable.

Check the reeds
Reeds should all be efficient, meaning they should not use too much air. Drones should be set so that they cut out if overblown, but produce a free pleasant tone. Double toning at the strike in should cease before the chanter sounds. When testing drone reeds they should be under blown to ensure a double tone does not come back easily whilst playing.
Chanter reeds should be free and as easy to blow as stability will allow. It should not be a huge physical effort to blow a bagpipe. A well rehearsed piper should find their instrument refined and reasonable easy to blow. As a rule, it should be no effort to play for an hour or so.


Blowing a chanter

The next stage is to insert a chanter with the drones in the stocks but corked. The chanter should be blown so that with even pressure up the scale all notes sound true. Blow high A. Now think pressure. There should always be pressure from your arm on the bag and never any wild variations.
Fully inflate the bag until it can take no more air, too many pipers play with a semi filled bag which allows for a lot of arm movement. The pressure of the air now within the bag must now be maintained. Very gently squeeze with your left arm SLIGHTLY BEFORE taking a breath. The pressure in the bag should remain constant. Blow more air into the bag but DO NOT slacken off your arm. Allow the air you blow in to push your arm. Once again when the bag is fully inflated gently squeeze with your left arm and repeat the process. Too many pipers pump their bag. Blowing into the bag does not equal the same pressure from start to finish. Whilst taking a breath the amount of pressure on the bag increases until you start blowing again. The pressure applied by your arm should then decrease evenly until your breath reaches its maximum pressure.
High A should produce an even tuneful sounding note that does not vary. When you get proficient at this, other notes and then a tune can follow. Slow tunes with long sustained notes are best for this purpose.



Blowing drones

Another exercise is to cork your chanter stock and tune your drones together. Listen to them as you blow and practise the same technique. They should feel nice to blow, sound steady and even and produce a pleasant full tone. If they vary a lot, you should go back to the previous steps.

Blowing the entire instrument
The next step is to add a chanter. If an experienced piper, you can play all drones. If not add them one at a time. The same technique should now be practised with the entire instrument to consider.
Listen to the tone the chanter produces against the drones. Every note should sound true and steady.
1. Do not get into the habit of blowing harder for top and notes and the easing
off for the bottom hand notes.
2. Do not take too long a breath.
3. Do not blow harder for difficult or fast tunes and softer for slow or easy tunes.
4. Do not under blow your chanter so that high A is indistinguishable as a note, or your pipes choke.
5. Do not over blow so that high A screams and your chanter squeals.
6. Play long slow tunes and listen to the drones against your chanter and practice holding long stable notes.
7. Piobaireachd is excellent for this.
8. A water meter or tuner can help when trying to visualise what is at fault when steadiness cannot be achieved.



Always aim to blow correct tone
This starts on the practice chanter long before you pick up a set of pipes. Low A and High A should be an octave apart. After a short time you should begin to realise whether the notes on your practice chanter are in tune or not. Learning to tune your practice chanter and blow that tone consistently at an early stage will help you when moving up to the pipes. Every time you play your pipes you should attempt to tune them to the best of your ability. Test you blowing technique during the tuning procedure, and then listen to your sound 100% of the time when playing. Listen for steadiness of drone sound, the sound of the chanter against the drones and eventually the sound of your chanter against those of the rest of the band.
Ensure that you are match fit and able to perform on the full instrument with comfort for the required time frames.
Many pipers blow differently when tuning to one note as compared to playing a tune. Many also blow differently for various tune types. It is important to be able to separate blowing pressure and technique from actually playing. Listen to your instrument at all times, and with practice your ability to produce a steady and pleasant tone will increase and in turn so will your enjoyment and that of your listening audience.

There is a lot more of this article and other information to be found in Brett Tidswell’s book, “The Complete Pipers Handbook”. This is the most comprehensive guide to setting up and playing the bagpipe that has ever been written. It is available here: http://www.schoolofpiping.com/handbook.html

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Psychology of Performing





THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PERFORMING
By P/M Brett Tidswell


INTRODUCTION

Piping, Drumming or playing in a Pipe Band has long been dominated by competition. Actually performing in the presence of an informed audience also forms a large part of what we do. There are equally the same pressures on the performer when playing in front of one’s peers as there is in competing. Many players fail to perform at their peak in front of an audience due to the distractions around them or those created in their own mind. Many performances also fall down when preparation is lacking. The most confident of performers will not play at their best on a poorly maintained instrument, or when their performance is inadequately prepared and rehearsed. On the other hand a well rehearsed performance on an immaculate instrument can crumble, due to the performer being nervous or inexperienced. Let's take a brief look at some of the basics of putting together a performance both physically and mentally.

PRESENTATION

The goal is obviously to present yourself in a confident manner. Start by looking smart and gaining the attention of the audience and the judges. You should look professional, your uniform should be immaculate, you are groomed appropriately, and you have good bearing. If you look good, you feel good about your appearance. Everything about you says that you know what you are doing. You look and feel confident. A good start.

INSTRUMENT

Well before the event; look at the maintenance of your instrument. It should look clean and well set up. Your instrument should be able to sound great for the length of the performance and you should practice under similar conditions to the performance (There is no point in having an instrument that goes great in a small heated room at home, but stops when you get into a cold hall). If you have an instrument that is well set up, feels comfortable to play and sounds good your performance will be a lot better than one where you are worrying about unsteady drones, a squealing chanter, or a rattling snare.

PREPARATION

Before attending your competition or performance, have a good idea what you are going to play, and have the pieces thoroughly memorised. Be well rehearsed and have the stamina to perform at your peak. If you can only just get through an MSR before your lips start to go, your shoulder feels like it is coming out of its socket or you feel like dropping your drum, you are hardly going to play at your best. When rehearsing, play more than you have to in the actual performance. Play your March twice, Strathspey twice into the Reel twice. For an half hour recital, tune up and practice for an hour. If you can't do it, you either have to look at your instrument set up, or improve your stamina. You will be a more confident performer if you know that you can do a lot more than required of you whilst actually performing. Play in the jacket you are going to use, there is no point rehearsing in a t-shirt, then putting on a jacket that causes your bag to slip, or catches your sticks. If you are playing well, you will be comfortable during the performance. So your instrument is going well and you look and feel good. Something is still missing?


EXPERIENCE

You haven't competed for two years, or played in public since the beer tent session after that Pipe Band competition last year and you are now starting the ground of your least favourite Piobaireachd in front of an audience and a judge you have never seen before. You have done all the preparation above, but so has the guy after you who has been competing all season, has been given his favourite tune and played in front of the same judge at last week’s contest. There is no substitute for experience. It is a lot easier if you feel comfortable about performing and can lean back and enjoy what you are doing and really put some music into your performance.

Those who are experienced at performing at numerous venues, in front of different audiences obviously feel more comfortable in a new place than someone who plays just as frequently, but only at one venue.

VISUALISATION

There is no substitute for experience, but there are ways to make the psychological aspect of an unfamiliar place or experience a little easier. Gold Medallist Donald Bain once told me that he imagined he was competing at Inverness whenever he practised (Complete with audience and judges)." I always seemed to play well there" he said. Well, is it a wonder, in his own mind he probably played there hundreds of times. Even if you take a look at the area where you are performing before you tune up, you will at least become more familiar with this environment, and then you can imagine playing in it when running through your tunes.

Some performers lie in bed imagining the venue, running through the performance perfectly in their mind, in a completely relaxed environment. This has to be backed up by some ability to actually do what you imagine, but does help to associate being relaxed with the actual performance and helps solidify what you are trying to achieve in your own mind.


GETTING SET TO PERFORM

You are all dressed up. You have your instrument tuned to perfection. You have fully planned and rehearsed your performance and your knees are shaking, you are sweating and your heart is pounding at a hundred miles an hour. You are not going to play well, you feel tight in the chest and hands and want to run through the nearest exit. What do you do?

Imagine a number between 0 and 10 where you perform at your best. 0 is asleep and 10 is blind panic. Performing music needs an element of calmness and relaxation. You may select for example a four, whereas a 100m sprinter may select nine or ten. Now imagine what number represents how you currently feel. It might be eight for example. Well picture the eight in your own mind changing to a seven, then slowly to a six and so on until it gets to four. Your breathing slows, your heart rate slows, your mind is on the numbers and you feel ready to go on!

There are a number of breathing exercises that can help. Breathing out lowers your heart rate. Try taking a deep breath counting to three as you breathe in, then breathe out to the count of six and totally empty your lungs.

Remember that being calm and the effects of adrenaline are not opposites. Adrenaline gives you the energy to perform and can be harnessed to improve your performance.
A few positive last minute suggestions, nice and relaxed and hopefully a great performance will follow.

CONCLUSION

These are just a few points that I believe go to making up a solid, confident performance. The simple little psychological games that help you get your mind ready need to be practised and get better with time. Constant reinforcement of positive suggestions and frequent visualisation is required. You cannot make yourself play better than you are capable of, neither can you make up for lack of preparation. Know you can do a great performance by practising until you get it right and then use the above suggestions to ensure that you don't spoil your own good work.

No-one else makes the mistakes for you, no-one else loses concentration for you and no-one else causes your hands to clamp up and go tight. Remember you are totally in control of how well you are going to perform, and I hope the above suggestions help to bring out the best in your playing, when it is needed!

The full article can be found in “The Complete Pipers Handbook” available from www.schoolofpiping.com where numerous similar articles are also located.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thoughts on Chanters



Let me first start by saying that this is an observation and based on my experience and is no way a dig at anyone or any brands or bands.

I play a wooden chanter in solos. Wouldn't dream of playing plastic. It has a warm tone, good harmonics and a quality of sound that (in my opinion) plastic can't beat. I play more than one chanter by the way. I have compared plastic chanters and haven't changed. The chanters I play are very stable and I do not believe there is any added stability from plastic.

When we first started the City of Adelaide Pipe Band, we purchased plastic chanters. More for cost reasons than anything else. We then changed after a few years due to reed availability more than a chanter issue and really got a very similar sound despite reed and chanter changes. We later purchased wood chanters and the quality of sound and depth of harmonics changed noticeably. The overall character of the sound did not change dramatically. But this was the biggest sound difference we have ever had.

The question is, how much better would some of the worlds best bands be if they changed from plastic to wood chanters? I do not quite understand why some don't. I can't see that it is a cost issue. Maybe it is what they are used to? Is the chanter sound that SLOT or SFU get (as an example) that much better in tonal quality, or does an organ like drone sound (using FMM as an example) offset or enhance the tonal quality of the chanters.

On a good day there is little seperating these bands in terms of sound quality. in fact on any given day any one of the top 6, or even an outsider may have the "sound of the day".

Maybe I am just a wooden chanter snob and hear what I want to hear or am I not alone in my thoughts?

For more articles go to www.schoolofpiping.com

Thursday, October 14, 2010

VALE RON GALLACHER


Last week I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ron Gallacher. Ron had been National Principal of the Australian Pipe Band College some years before me, and was very helpful to me in my early years in this position. As Pipe Major of the very successful Hawthorn City Pipe Band he was someone I always looked up to and respected. In recent years he had been very ill, and despite living in different cities I looked forward to a chat on the phone and always enjoyed catching up with him at Victorian Contests. It was great to see him at the Victorian Pipe Band Championships this year at Haylebury College and have a bit of a chat between judging bands.

Ron's time was always given generously and he tutored the Melbourne Ladies Pipe Band for some 40 years, the Geelong Ladies and more recently the Geelong RSL Pipe Band.

I true bagpipe scholar and a gentleman of the highest order. His funeral today was more like a friendly get together than a sad event, which I am sure he would have appreciated. He will be sadly missed, but not forgotten.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free Bagpipe Music Book


I have prepared a free booklet of some simple pipe tunes that appeared on my "Scotland the Brave" album.

This is a free download from the School of Piping site http://www.schoolofpiping.com/lessons.html

I have also prepared a series of 11 audio lessons that accompany the book and are now available from here http://www.reverbnation.com/store/store/artist_1015869?item_type=music

I hope you find them enjoyable and beneficial.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Improving Your Piping


Not wanting to over simplify, but I think there is a formula, and it has to be put into practice.

1. The most important thing is a good sounding instrument. You can improve your playing by 100%, but play on a bad instrument and it still sounds bad! Get someone with an instrument you like the sound of to look at your bagpipes, make sure they are always clean and maintained in tip top condition and spend some money on reeds, a chanter, whatever is required. You can get away with a lot if you have a nice sounding pipe. There are a lot of tips in The Complete Pipers Handbook.

2. The next step is to establish a system of scalic exercises. Repeated to build strength of technique and stamina. Incorporate this into a solid and regular practice regime. Exercises, tune break-up (with a lot of attention to detail), playing on bagpipes. An article with examples is provided here.

3. Lessons concentrating on musicality are a great idea. Try to fix the technical issues before the lessons so you can concentrate on things you need to learn, not covering what you can fix yourself. many provide Skype lessons and face to face lessons, so there is now no excuse for not being able to locate a high quality tutor. Downloadable lessons are available at the school of piping website.



4. Play bagpipes like you are performing. Establish tuning times, how long it takes to settle the instrument and then play your contest pieces like you are performing. This will train your mind and teach you what you need to know about preparing your instrument.

I hope this helps a little toward steering those who have expressed a resolution regarding improvement. I am sure there are others with some good tips to share?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts on Drone Reeds


Over the years we would have trialled and tested nearly every drone reed on the market. There are a number of reviews posted on the School of Piping site, but it should be made clear there are a lot that have not reviewed. We will not, at this stage post reviews on products that simply do not work. (Some products we have not tested recently and to be fair to the makers we also will not post reviews on old products).

There have been a number of reeds that have been absolutely appalling. They either use so much air that they are unplayable (one set had tape stuck under the blades to keep them vibrating and used so much air that when they were set as efficiently as possible I still could not play the pipes for any length of time), or they just will not go. Some sets are impossible to balance and some are pitched badly or have aweful tone.

I think that there are so many of us willing to try whatever reeds are on the market that there are good sales even if your product is complete rubbish. There are always a number of people willing to jump on that type of cash cow. If they were not making drone reeds, they would probably be selling diet pills! One of the reviewers spoke to a reed maker who does not play the pipes. When asked if any quality players had tested his reeds before he put them on the market he said he didn't know any! I found this extraodinary particularly when his product was found the be seriously flawed and was not on the market for any more than a few months.

The other issue is the variance in bagpipes. Not every reed goes well in every bagpipe. You will see a few reed makers make reeds specifically modified for Naill bagpipes as an example, which are quite a flat pitched drone. Some other bagpipes are just difficult to reed and set up. Some are old and warped, cracked or just have bad bore designs.

I think many pipers have forgotten (or have never known) what drones with cane reeds sounded like. There are an infinite number of variances on how a cane reed could be set up, but if well set they had a "oneness", that most synthetic reeds are unable to replicate. They also had the ability to follow the chanter and if well balanced would tend to change in unison. I have heard a few lately that have been set up to be buzzy and sound like a synthetic reed (yes, that is possible).

Few synthetic reeds follow the chanter. Some are now so stable that they are producing a consistent pitch and have to be tuned to match a chanter that rises and drops in pitch with playing and temperature fluctuations. Some chanter reeds are more stable that others in this regard as well.

When testing reeds we look at ease of set up. Ease of balance and quality of tone and harmonics. We look at the ability to follow the chanter, by playing, putting the pipes down for a number of minutes and then playing again until they return to the point where they are again in tune with the chanter. We also comment on "oneness", where the drones sound like an overall umbrella of sound, not three individual drones. This is a quality that must be experienced to be understood. You can have three drones playing in unison, perferctly tuned, but you do not feel they are in sympathy and producing one overall sound. Volume is measured on a decibel meter.

We are not trying to say that one set of reeds is better than another in our reviews. Many pipers will prefer one reed over another depending on their taste in sound, much the same as the variances between quality players using cane reeds or different sets of drones. We do want to highlight what the differences are and how the reeds perform. They are also testing in a variety of bagpipes. We hope that this will give pipers a choice as to what sound they prefer and how they should expect a reed to perform. If we have to fiddle with a reed too much to get it to play well, then obviously it is not a good reed for an inexperienced piper.

We also try to test reeds in a variety of temperatures, as we have found some that do not perform in extreme heat. Obviously due to our location we are limited with testing in really cold dry conditions, however it does get cold here in winter to the point where it is uncomfotable to play and we trust that will suffice.

If the reed is receptive to variation in set up, we will make comment on our finding regarding any modification we have adopted. We often try different bridles, and a number of makers have adopted our recommendations over the years. Often getting the sound or result you want is a matter of experiment and trial and error.

Drone reed reviews can be found at the School of Piping website.

Monday, September 20, 2010


SO YOU WANT TO LEARN THE BAGPIPES!

For those who have an interest and want to learn the bagpipes, there are a few things that you should know. The first is that is a difficult instrument to play and you should not proceed without a good teacher. On average a student will receive one half hour lesson a week, which may increase to a full hour after some time.

What will I need?
You will need a practice chanter and a tutor book to start. This is not overly expensive, probably around $100- $150 for a suitable instrument for a beginner. Your teacher can probably advise you where to purchase a reasonable instrument at a good price. The practice chanter is a quiet instrument similar to a recorder on which pipers learn new material.

What is the process?

The learning process usually starts with a series of musical exercises. The scale, moving on to various embellishments and then, probably some small tunes thrown in along the way. Initially you will run out of material after a few minutes practice, but you should play the routine you are taught several times. Put the chanter down and pick it up and go over it again at a later time. As you progress your practice schedule will increase. Probably 30-45 minutes a day for a learner on some tunes is adequate. You should not worry if you miss a day’s practice, but ensure that you do not do it frequently. The purpose of practice is to develop muscle memory, correct technique and to memorise and remember the material. Later, on the bagpipe you will need to work on blowing technique and stamina as well. As with any musical instrument, practice and playing the instrument regularly are a part of life.

When do I play a bagpipe?
After playing several tunes at a reasonable standard it will be time to progress to the bagpipe. The time this takes will vary from person to person. Some organisations provide a bagpipe for learner pipers; others ask that you purchase your own. A suitable learner’s instrument can range from about $1,500 second hand upwards. There will be maintenance items and other small expenses along the way. Ask your tutor about the requirements for a bagpipe. Do not just go and buy something, there are some traps for the unwary. Lots of Pakistani made instruments are misrepresented on the internet and many people sell second hand instruments they know little about.

How important are lessons?
Regular lessons are very important. To miss a couple of weeks dramatically sets back the progress of a learner piper. To miss lessons frequently is very disruptive and can significantly impede progress. This is a musical instrument. To learn is sometimes a chore, but to play is fun and that should be the goal. Some parents seem to look at piping lessons like school and think students should have a break for school holidays. This is not the case. Piping should be looked at as one of the fun/physical activities that is used as a break from school work etc.

How do I join a band?
Some bands run classes for learners and there will be a direct path to follow to become a band member. There will be specific tunes to learn so that you know the band repertoire and some bands have a juvenile band or a development group that feeds into a higher level band. Some students learn from a private tutor and they will be able to give advice on joining a band. It should be remembered that when you join a band, it is as much your band as anyone else’s. You should therefore help to assist the band in fundraising, group activities etc. This ensures the future of the band and helps to repay the more senior members for the time they put in to
assist you or your child that is learning.

What about solo competitions, certificates and seminars?
Once proficient with a few tunes on the bagpipe, you will have the possibility of entering competitions as a soloist. Competition forms a significant part of the piping lifestyle. It is a good way to monitor your own standard and to gain some feedback. Another useful tool is to complete examinations through the local Associations. Seminars are often run by the local Associations and are a great way to gain additional knowledge, alternate view points and meet some of the local identities.

What is so good about learning to play the bagpipe?
Aside from the pleasure of performing and enjoying music, the opportunities open to pipers are numerous. There are a number of organisations that offer full-time employment to pipers. There are numerous opportunities to compete locally, interstate and overseas. Festivals are run in most countries around the world as well as tattoos and other events of significance. The friendships made last a lifetime. The discipline, teamwork and skills learnt will flow on to all parts of the student’s life. What is most important however are the challenges and enjoyment obtained and sometimes the privilege to be a part of something very special.

There is more information to be seen at the school of piping website and “The Complete Pipers Handbook” is the ultimate guide for getting started on the bagpipe and as a useful resource for teachers. It is available here: schoolofpiping.com

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tune selection for lower grade pipe bands.

This is an interview that was conducted by Alvin Chung of the Hong Kong Pipers Society with Brett Tidswell. I thought it may be of interest.


Q: What general guidelines should band leaders follow, when it comes to setting up a band repertoire? (especially for learner or lower grade bands in Asia)

A: I have always been of the philosophy that music selected should teach the band something. Look at the basic idioms of piping and ensure that they are encompassed by tunes that will teach the band how to play these types of tunes well. They obviously have to be musical and entertaining, but there should be some sense of direction and a teaching plan behind the music selected at a lower level.

Q: Apart from marches, which most uniformed or youth groups in Asia tend to play for parades, what other sort of things should learner bands here be playing?

A: I think all bands should play a good selection of march tunes of various time signatures, but also basic strathspeys, reels, airs and maybe even some simple jigs and hornpipes. The suggestions that I made above apply here.

Q: When it comes to setting up medleys for lower grade bands in particular, what should leaders pay attention to?

A: I think with medleys lower grade bands need to be careful not to over reach and play music that cannot be controlled by the band. I think musical tunes, within the bands playing capacity, but still giving the members a challenge are important. Good key and idiom changes between tunes makes for a more interesting medley. Music may need to be re-arranged or modified to suit the band's capability.

Q: “A band can only be as strong as its weakest player”
But playing easy tunes all the time may just bore seasoned players to death. How do we find a middle ground?

A: This is always a difficult problem, but can be addressed by having a tiered structure of music, where the upper echelon are learning some additional more challenging sets. The weaker players however should always be put slightly above their comfort level, so that they have to work and improve.

Q: “Picking tunes a level higher than what my band is will drive players to progress faster”?
Is that wisdom or rubbish? What are the pros and cons?

A: I think this is often a bad plan. Usually it just results in band playing technically inaccurately and out of control and serves only to have band members practising a lot of mistakes. Tune selection has to be challenging but also realistic. I rarely see it succeed and result in improvement.

Q: Could you name a few underrated tunes, which an average band in Asia should seek out and explore?

A: I am a big fan of some of the old favourites. Played well tunes like Cabar Feidh, Earl of Mansfield, Brown Haired Maiden etc. can be a delight to listen to. You should always mix it up with some more contemporary pieces to make for a varied and entertaining repertoire.

Q: Any concluding remarks? Any further questions relevant to the topic but not covered here?

A: I think the main point is to have a plan of attack, a purpose for the music and a direction in which to take the band. I hear far too many badly played "itchy fingers" and simialr tunes. Keep the repertoire simple, challenging but realistic. Aim to keep the playing technically accurate, with correct phrasing and expression and at a level that the band can control. I think this makes for better music, a greater chance of improvement and ultimately more enjoyment for the performer and listening audience.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

PLAYING IN A PIPE BAND


Having played in Pipe Bands for over 34 years, with almost 20 of those as a Pipe Major, it strikes me that there is a very different art form to playing in a band, than being in a role that involves conducting and driving a performance.

Instrument.


Having recently played in a pipers role, it was essential that I attended practice with a bagpipe set up as the band wanted and in perfect condition. Why should the Pipe major spend time working with my instrument when obviously there are more pressing issues. Before each practice my instrument was given a short blow just to ensure it was sounding at its best and steady.

Personal practice.

Working on the tunes at home is important to ensure that band practice becomes a musical rehearsal and not a private lesson for one or two individuals. I do not know of any musicians who do not do private practice and still adequately perform at rehearsals.

Focusing.

When the band is playing, spending your time watching the Pipe Major (who is conducting the band) is essential. Instead of just standing and playing the tunes, it is important to watch the Pipe Major's hands and try to play as closely as possible to his style and example. This way you improve at a rehearsal without someone having to intervene.

Intonation.

Next it is important to use your ears. Listen to the sound of your instrument and compare it to the sound of the band overall and also to the musicians on each side of you. You need to blend as closely as possible with both. If there is an issue around you, it will be your experience and listening to the overall sound that will guide you and ensure that you contribute to the sound and not detract from it.

Be an anchor.

You must also contribute to the musical performance. watching the Pipe Major will help, but there are times when bands increase tempo and rush to the ends of parts or tunes. The experienced player will not be dragged along, but will hold back, still ensuring that they do not stand out as an individual in the performance.

Attacks and finishes.

Attacks and finished are all important. These are learnt through drilling and discipline. You should practice them and try to improve them every time they are undertaken. Good instrument maintenance, knowledge and understanding help tremendously.

Attend regularly.

Without all members present practices are difficult. It is not just you that is practicing, but the whole team that is learning to perform together. You would be surprised how ineffective a practice is in reality with one or two players missing.

Contribute.

Most bands struggle to raise money and attract new members. You should realise as a member of a band it is you that "owns" the band and as such you can contribute to recruiting, fundraising and the overall impression the band leaves on outsiders.

Enjoy the privilege.

playing in a band is a privilege. The senior members of bands put in huge efforts and sacrifice a lot to make the bands a success. Ensure that you contribute and you will enjoy your involvement and success of the band.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Upcoming Piping Events - Adelaide

The R U Brown Piobaireachd Society is holding its Silver Chanter Competition on 5th Nov 2010 at the Blair Athol Uniting Church.

A further Contest will be held on 1st April 2011 at the same venue.

The R U Brown Piobaireachd Society will be holding its Gold Medal Competition at Scotch College Adelaide (Carruth Road Torrens Park)on the 8th May 2011. There are normally over 100 pipers competing in various events throughout the school. International and local judges will decide the winners of the events.

The night before will see a recital held in the School Chapel where pipers of International renown will perform. Seminars and lessons will be conducted in the week following the competition. Keep an eye on the society website for further information.

Accomodation for adjudicators is provided at the Regal Park Motor Inn, 44 Barton Terrace North Adelaide and a bus provides transport to the events. Competitors are free to take advantage of the bus if space is available.

Generous travel allowances are available for competitors in the senior events as well as prize money for winners. Details are on the website.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the events again next year.
For further piping information visit The School of Piping Website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

PIPING AT WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS


PIPING AT WEDDINGS AND FUNERALS - PM Brett Tidswell

There comes a time in every piper’s life when they will be asked to play at a wedding, funeral or even a formal party. There are many similarities between these performances, particularly with tuning.

The best advice I can give is to ensure that your bagpipe is going as well as possible and is played before you leave home. It is going to have to hold tune for some time and there are a few “tricks of the trade” to help.

Taking a booking
Usually someone will telephone or ask you personally if you will play at a wedding or party. Often a funeral director will call and ask if you are available to play at a funeral. You should get personal particulars, including a contact phone number (in case you need to call in the event of an emergency), the venue location, a date and time, details of the event and any special requests or requirements the client may have. There will usually be some tune requests or details of when you are required to play. Many ask for advice on what is commonly done. Remember to clearly establish a fee, any deposit required and where and when you wish to be paid. You may wish to get them to sign a contract. Write all details in a diary and do not forget about the event. These are major stepping stones in people lives that they will remember forever.

You do have a say in what you will do at the event! I remember many years ago being asked to play at an Italian wedding anniversary. The gentleman asked me if I could get him a drum majors staff so that he could walk in front of me with a glass of orange juice balanced on his head (no joke). I advised him I was a serious musician and would not be made fun of. He came to my house to run through the details of the event (highly unusual) and I had actually doubled the fee to discourage him. I ended up playing at the event and he was so happy he apologised for thinking I would accept his antics and later booked me to play at his daughter’s wedding and his wife’s birthday. They were the nicest people and I was looked after very well at every event. I could have turned up, had everyone laugh whist he was the centre of attention and gone home feeling like an idiot.

Presentation
It is important to be well presented at these types of functions. Generally pipers are paid, and therefore we should be as professional as possible in how we present ourselves and how we perform. You should wear appropriate uniform; I wear normal kilted day wear, including a jacket (no matter what the temperature) and always wear a hat. Glengarry or Balmoral are both suitable.

Properly press and polish your uniform as you want to look smart in appearance. I always wear a hat when I am performing. I consider my presence and appearance as part of the performance where appropriate. If I am positioned in a place where I appear as part of the ceremonial aesthetics, I will carry by bagpipe on my shoulder and wear my hat, whether in the church or not. If I am left to one side to wait to perform, I will lower my bagpipe and remove my hat if inside the church or chapel. I will also usually remove myself from view of the public (stand at the back of the church etc.)

Weddings
There are always variations to the standard format. Some churches have restrictions (such as no pipers inside the church itself), so you should ask that the format has been confirmed with the church. You should place this responsibility on the client, so that you do not become embroiled in their disappointment and negotiations. Some may ask that you attend a rehearsal; I would suggest you could charge at least 50% of the usual booking fee to do so. Some ask that you later play the bride and groom into the reception, again you could charge an additional fee as it is very time consuming and usually involves waiting for a few hours.
The usual format is this:
• Play outside the church as guests arrive. ( Light march sets are appropriate)
• And /or just play the bride from the car to the steps of the church. (A slower march or air is suitable)
• Play the bride down the aisle. (A slower march or air)
• Play whilst the register is being signed. (Many request Amazing Grace or similar, let them know you will play one or two sets as this process often takes a long time. It can get tedious as photos are taken. Do not position yourself too close as the photographer will want to be talking to the couple and giving directions).
• Play as guests leave the church. (faster light march sets, strathspeys and reels, jig sets etc. are appropriate, I would suggest 5-10 minutes maximum and position yourself away from the venue, where you can clearly be seen but not drown out everyone’s chit chat ).
Garden weddings follow a similar format. I try to position myself in a shady position, not too close to proceedings. I take into account the fact that I am background music at some points and a part of the proceedings at other stages, so I try to position myself where I think I will sound the best.

Funerals
When taking a booking ensure you know who you are talking to as they will be your liaison on the day. It may be a family member, so you will have to show appropriate sympathy and professionalism. It may be a funeral director in which case you can be more businesslike.
Again some will have firm ideas as to what they want, others may ask for guidance. There are many variations.
The usual format is this:
• Play the casket from the hearse into the chapel or play as the mourners and family arrive. (airs, hymns and slow tunes are appropriate)
• Play as the casket is lowered in the case of cremation. (Flowers of the Forest or Amazing Grace are often requested).
• Play the casket back to the hearse and then play at a graveside lowering in the event of a burial.
• Play as mourners leave. (Marches are appropriate, not too slow; this is when you perform for the “living”, after the funeral is over. Sometimes a family related Piobaireachd is requested.)

Preparing your bagpipe
With most of these types of performances tuning time is limited and tuning during the ceremony is inappropriate. You should therefore ensure that your instrument is well set up and will hold in tune.
Play for a short period before you leave to ensure that everything is working and well set. Put your bagpipe down for a few minutes and pick it back up and play to ensure that it does hold.
When you arrive at the venue select the areas where you will play. Tune up in a similar atmosphere. If you are playing inside and you cannot tune indoors, pick a shaded/ sheltered area where you can tune up outside. Do not over tune your bagpipe. If you are only playing for a register signing and as guests leave the church or for a funeral ceremony, you may only want to tune for a few minutes. If well set your pipes will hold in tune. If you tune for 30 or 40 minutes they will change whist you stand around waiting to play and will never settle during the short performances.
If you have to play outside, decide if you will play in the shade or in the sun. If there is no option and you have to play in full sunlight and it is warm, try to tune in the shade and then play in the sun for short periods to acclimatise the instrument to the heat.
In the event that something goes wrong, it is advisable to continue playing in a professional manner. Fiddling with an instrument is not a professional appearance. Taking a set of small corks is a great idea to deal with an unruly drone or a reed that falls into a bag etc.
Summary
Get full particulars of the event, people involved, contact details and firmly establish a fee and time for payment. Always be polite, but be aware that you can offer suggestions and advice.
Know your instrument and set it up well prior to the event.
At the event, present yourself smartly, and perform professionally and appropriate to the type of event. Carefully consider and plan your tuning options and present with a nice sounding instrument. Select appropriate positions in which to perform. Do not get too close to the audience or participants in the ceremony if you have an option.
Remember that you are at these events in a professional capacity, so always act professionally. For that reason I tend to avoid joining in with the festivities at parties and weddings. I may gratefully accept hospitality, but will not remain to socialise. You do not need to be stuffy or rude, but I usually leave promptly after performing. These things are always up to your discretion though.

Always think about how you present to the audience and the position in which you will play so as to ensure that everyone enjoys your performance.

The most comprehensive guide available today for the set up, maintenance, refinement and performing of the Bagpipe is “The Complete Pipers Handbook”. The book also covers how to properly wear and maintain a kilt and uniform. Sales of this publication help fund the freely available school of piping website. Copies can be purchased here: School of Piping

To hire a professional Piper in South Australia contact schoolofpiping@gmail.com

Amazing Grace - The myths dispelled!



Love it or hate it, the tune Amazing Grace has become synonymous with the Great Highland Bagpipe. It is requested almost every time a piper appears in the general public and therefore many serious pipers are not great fans of the tune. It is often stated that it is “not a Scottish tune”, or “it was originally a Gaelic air”, or it is an “African American spiritual”. Well, what is the truth and where did it come from?

WORDS
The words are obviously a Christian hymn and were penned by John Newton (1725–1807) and were published in 1779. As a young man, Newton was pressed into the Royal Navy and after his service eventually worked as a sailor aboard a slave trading vessel. During a ferocious storm he called out to God in fear and this marked his Christian conversion. Some years later he left the slave trade and began studying theology, eventually being ordained in the Church of England in 1764. The hymn was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day 1773. It imparts a message of forgiveness and redemption, no matter how great one’s sins. Not all of the current words are attributed to Newton as there are later additions.

MUSIC
In 1835 William Walker joined Newton’s hymn with the music we now recognise. The tune was known as “New Britain” and had been an amalgamation of two traditional folk tunes known as “Gallaher” and “St Mary”. It is speculated that these tunes were Scottish Folk ballads passed orally by the predominantly Scottish immigrants of Kentucky and Tennessee or folk songs developed in Virginia or South Carolina, from where Walker originally came.

POPULARITY
Issued to soldiers in two hymnals during the American Civil War the hymn became popular in a time dealing with so many tragic deaths. It also featured in an immensely popular anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The simple and moving words and attractive melody saw the hymn becoming a popular African American Spiritual.
In the 1960’s it was a commonly used hymn by the African American Civil Rights movement and also by the opposition groups to the Vietnam War.

BAGPIPES
In 1972 The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards recorded “Amazing Grace” combining both their Pipes and Drums and Military Band. The arrangement opened with a solo bagpipe which was joined by the Pipe Band and full Military Band. The track quickly rose to number one in the charts in the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Australia and by 1977 had sold seven million copies. It also reached as high as 11 on the US charts.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had only been formed in 1971 by the amalgamation of the 3rd Carabiniers and the Royal Scots Greys. Pipe major at the time of the recording was Sgt. A J Crease and the Bandmaster was WO1. C I Herbert. We have been unable to confirm the suggestion that Tony Crease was summoned to the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle and chastised for “demeaning the bagpipe” following release of the recording. We doubt this as the Director of Army Bagpipe Music at the time Capt. John MacLellan later published the score in one of his many books of tunes for the Highland Bagpipe.
It is without any doubt that this recording created the strong link that the Bagpipe now shares with the tune “Amazing Grace”. Many recordings (both good and bad) have been made since further cementing the relationship. A recent recording and new arrangement by soloist Brett Tidswell combined with backing by folk musician Marcus Holden can be found on the album “Scotland the Brave” and is only available here: School of Piping

Monday, September 6, 2010

After thoughts regarding the World Championships


WORLD PIPE BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS 2010

It has been a few of years since I had the opportunity to attend the World Championships and this year I was more than delighted to accept the opportunity to compete with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band at this prestigious event and of course some lead up competitions.
I arrived in mid-July and competed at the European Championships in Belfast. The band gained a respectable fourth place and seemed delighted with their third place in piping. The following weekend the band put in a strong performance at Bridge of Allan where we won all elements at the event, setting us up for a good run the following weekend at the “Worlds”.
The set up of “arena one” at the World Championship event has changed with a larger grand stand and the location near the grassed hill. This makes it easier for spectators to see the competing bands and also for fellow competitors to see the other bands without fighting the crowd. It was good to see spectators sitting on the hill enjoying the event from a distance but still being able to see and hear the bands. The large screen also makes it easier to get a close up view of the action. It is however one of the things as a competitor that I found I had to ignore. Not a hard job, but certainly something that competitors should be aware could easily distract their attention.
Overall as a competitor the event seemed to run very smoothly. The only distraction during our preparations for the event was one band blocking the entrance to fine tuning leaving our band to have to fight through the crowd in single file to get past. Not ideal at this crucial stage.
The weather was very nice, but the sun coming in and out seemed to affect the balance and sound of some of the bands. Obviously getting drones perfectly set and maintaining a balanced top hand are considerations in this type of weather.
I gained the impression leading up to the event that St Lawrence O’Toole was the popular favourite and they did not disappoint. They clearly were thrilled with the result as was the crowd. Terry Tully gave a touching and heartfelt speech. Some surprised this year in the results and an unfortunate mix up between third and fourth place. We gained a seventh place overall, which due to some small errors I did not think reflected the potential that the band could have achieved. A strong accurate sound, some talented young players and a lot of interest in the band bodes well for a strong future.
I do have one criticism of the events that I have attended that I personally think needs some review. I have heard numerous complaints from spectators and bands alike about the drawn out nature of the final ceremony. Playing in the centre bands is a hard chore after the day’s events and the long procession of bands marching past and being announced seems to have little favour with the audience. Whilst it is nice to acknowledge the bands it does seem very long winded. A small note is that some of the podium members need to be careful to sit appropriately in a kilt, especially when “regimentally” attired.
Having all bands move onto the arena together in an organised manner, play the salute; prize announcements and the winning band in each grade then being given the opportunity to march off individually in front of the audience and other bands could be the highlight of each event. This could dramatically reduce the length of the final ceremony and make it more spectator friendly.
There are moves afoot overseas to trial an open circle format. This makes the even a little more spectator friendly and also gives the opportunity for bands to present their performance to a fixed judging location. Surely preferable when considering balance, harmonies and other ensemble concerns. The contests in Brittany that I have seen have a significantly larger panel of adjudicators, seated in front of the bands. This gives a focal point for the performances and less chance of personal preferences and large discrepancies in placings interfering as significantly with the final results. We saw some significant variation in results at this championship, especially in the qualifying rounds meaning that only one adjudicator prevented some bands from progressing to the final round.
Congratulations are due to the organisers for the continuing improvement of the event which is obviously the world’s premier pipe band competition.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

WORLD PIPE BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS


Well today was a brilliant day on Glasgow Green. Sunny, lovely temperature, a great day to play pipes.

Strathclyde Police were on just before St Lawrence O'Toole in both events. We had a few minor errors, but a good sound and some class playing. I think the band was disappointed that we did not play as well as we could have. Overall I think a credible performance and a great job by everyone in the band. A class outfit indeed! Don Bradford does a magnificent job as Pipe Major and Eric Ward's drum corps is an absolute delight to play along with. It is such an honour to play in a band with such history and tradition. 20 World Championship wins in total as both the Glasgow Police and later the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band.

St Lawrence O'Toole were sounding really good and very tight with their playing. A popular win and I think many were moved by Terry Tully collecting the prize. Well deserved!!!!

I heard Boghall and Bathgate in the tuning park and they sounded very refined with their usual magnificent drum corps. I also heard Shotts and Dykehead and thought they sounded the best I have heard them this season. Unfortunately it is impossible to hear everyone when you are playing.

Results in Grade 1 were:

1st St Lawrence O'Toole
2nd Field Marshall Montgomery
3rd Boghall and Bathgate
4th Simon Fraser University
5th Shotts and Dykehead
6th Scottish Power
7th Strathclyde Police

The performances can be heard here at the BBC.

Congratulations to all of the winning bands. A great day indeed!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SLOT PIPE BAND CONCERT


Well done to SLOT Pipe Band, who in their 100th anniversary year put on a great concert at the Glasgow Concert Hall. Packed to the rafters the crowd really responded to the band and their support groups.

The purity and clarity of sound was very impressive. At the end of the concert the band played "Dawning of the Day" as an encore and then marched into the audience to play their last set among the crowd. The unity of sound was outstanding. The pipes held very well, and were best in the second half.

Great to see some old faces and catch up with a few friends.

Earlier in the day we went to the Pipe Idol competition to see Alex Gandy play. Was great to see him get through to the final. Steven Lieske who also plays in the Strathclyde Police Band with me, came through as well. We will try to support them all at Friday's final. It should be a good event.

Had the opportunity to tour R G Hardie's bagpipe making factory and saw McCallum's last week. Both very impressive. Hardie are putting out a bagpipe value pack that will include the Complete Pipers Handbook upon request.

Don Bradford and Terry Tully both released new books this week. No doubt both will be well recieved. I had the opportunity to assist in proofing Don's book when I first arrived in Glasgow and must say that it is very inpressive.

The practices are now getting serious and their are bands all over town rehearsing. Just two more for us until the World Pipe Band Championships. Will be a great weekend.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Strathclyde wins at Bridge of Allan 2010


Sunday 8 August 2010 saw the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band attend the Bridge of Allan Highland Gathering. A lovely setting. The band played Donald Cameron, Cameronian Rant and Mrs MacPherson to gain first overall with a first in both piping and drumming. A very strong performance from the band which is improving every day. Pipes were great straight out of the box with very little having to be adjusted. Beautiful conditions prevailed all day.

A lot of interest show in The Complete Pipers Handbook, as a guide for pipers of every level to get the very best out of their instrument.

Here is some footage from You Tube of the band leading the march off.

1st Strathclyde Police
2nd Fife Constabulary
3rd Inverary
4th Cantebury Caledonian

A full week of practice and next week the band will be competing at the World Championships. A great day that I wouldn't have missed for quids!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS BELFAST 2010



The Strathclyde Police Band left Friday morning for Belfast and we had a quick afternoon practice in Belfast. The day of the contest saw a little rain and the band ended up tuning for a very short period indeed. The pipes were pretty tidy straight out of the box.

Great to see some footage from the tune up park on You Tube already. We were third equal in piping with a fourth overall. A great weekend. Looking forwadr now to Bridge of Allan next weekend.

1st St Lawrence O'Toole
2nd Field Marshall Montgomery
3rd Boghall and Bathgate
4th Strathclyde Police
5th Scottish Power
6th Shotts and Dykehead

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Strathclyde Police Pipe Band


I arrived in Scotland after 32 hours of travelling last Tuesday and was at the Strathclyde Police band practice about 5 hours later. After two practices last week and being issued with a set of McCallum bagpipes (complete with sheepskin bag) I finally got to spend some one on one time with the Pipe Major on the weekend. Played at practice with the full band last night and pipes were singing. Will have to go in early tonight to get issued with uniform etc.

We have practice every night this week in the lead up to the European Championships on Saturday. The band is quite confident that we will do well.

I have been to the College of Piping and spoke to Rab Wallace about their new exam syllabus. Will get a chance to go over it in more detail shortly no doubt. Today I went to see James C Begg bagpipes who will be stocking my book and Pipe Dreams, the makers of Ezeedrone and Ezee PC reeds. Amazing workshop, very automated and clinical, not a speck of dust to be seen! Everyone seems blown away by the handbook and website. I am amazed the book seems to be selling so well as I am yet to see it displayed on a shelf anywhere, quite dissapointing.

So far there is quite a lot of interest here in the new CD and many good comments on the quality. A few shops want to stock it, but sales at this stage at least will remain with the SoP website only.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How to make your bagpipe fit


The most popular technical article on the School of Piping website is the "Making your Bagpipe fit" article. It is good to see so many people realising the importance of this issue. Improved playing, posture and less chance of strain or injury arise from making an instrument fit you properly. The artcile can be seen here: articles

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recording project





For the past several months I have been involved in a recording project for the School of Piping site. It was my intention to at some stage produce a number of recordings and as it turns out two CDs have now been completed.

The first recording is a very traditional piping CD with a ground and two full (but short) Piobaireachd being played. Other competition style sets and some lighter sets complete the recording. These are all new recordings.

The second CD is a recording of all basic piping idioms. Common tunes learnt by and often requested of pipers. Over the years I found very little reference material that I was happy with on solo bagpipe for some of the common piping tunes, so I have been preparing these types of recordings for our band learner’s classes for years and decided this time to go a step further and offer them to a wider audience. Often requested tunes like Mull of Kintyre, Amazing Grace and Flower of Scotland have been included, but have backing tracks provided by Marcus Holden of the band, Fiddlers Feast to create a little more variety and wider appeal. As well as a tool for learner pipers, this album will hopefully appeal to the lover of the “auld favourites”. If there is enough interest I will produce other volumes in the future.

A great time was had and it was an interesting exercise indeed. Being involved in the back stage mixing and production is always an experience, and it is always a surprise to see how others interpret the sound of your instrument.

The next project is an all Piobaireachd CD. That will have to wait until after the worlds, as I will be over having a tune with the Strathclyde Police this year. I hope to catch up with a few of my friends while I am there.

All CDs will only be available from the School of Piping website.

Brett Tidswell

Improve your piping

Not wanting to over simplify, but I think there is a formula and it has to be put into practice.

1. The most important thing is a good sounding bagpipe. You can improve your playing by 100%, but play on a bad instrument and it still sounds bad! Get someone with an instrument you like the sound of to look at your pipes, make sure they are always clean and maintained in tip top condition and spend some money on reeds, a chanter, whatever is required. You can get away with a lot if you have a nice sounding pipe. There are a lot of tips in "The Complete Pipers Handbook".

2. The next step is to establish a system of scalic exercises, there are some posted on the School of Piping website. These should be repeated to build strength of technique and stamina. Incorporate this into a solid and regular practice regime. Exercises, tune break-up (with a lot of attention to detail), playing on pipes.

3. Lessons concentrating on musicality are a great idea. Try to fix the technical issues before the lessons so you can concentrate on things you need to learn, not covering issues that you could have fixed yourself.

4. Play pipes like you are performing. Establish tuning times, how long it takes to settle the instrument and then play your contest pieces like you are performing. This will train your mind and teach you what you need to know about preparing your instrument.

I hope this helps a little toward steering those who wish to improve their playing. I am sure there are those who can add furthur suggestions?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Negativity in Publishing


I was having an email interaction following an interview that I did for a well know piping magazine. The editor was telling me about a topic that he wanted to "have a go" at, but had refrained as it would have been too negative. I thought at the time, what a refreshing attitude. You know, over the years we have had so many that have "had a go"! We see it more and more now on the internet. We used to see it frequently when Seamus McNiell (love him or hate him) used to get stuck into someone. At times it was entertaining, but most times it just put someone offside and eventually it becomes predictable and boring.

We all see the scribblings on judging sheets, and in that place, it is the judges role to comment on why points were removed during a performance. It is often testing to try and make the sheets positive, and in some cases being too positive on a sheet is out of place. I think we become used to this type of criticism of piping performances and expect it in all forums discussing piping.

Here's to a more positive future for piping!