Grandfather Nicholas Patrick Heade performs for 1924 Ancient Order of Hibernians St Pat’s Celebration, Portland OR
Dateline Seattle, approaching St Pat’s 2021 – While planning for my own brief AOH related performance in 5 days…. didn’t expect to receive this 97 year old notice of my Grandfather doing the same in Portland 97 years ago from my Southern Oregon cousins. The ‘Irish bagpipes’ mentioned here were actually referred to — in my family’s native Ardee Cty Louth Ireland — as Irish War Pipes back then. This set of 1900 R.G.Lawrie Highland pipes that referred to as War Pipes then (as I think they still are now quite often in Ireland still). Those pipes are sitting right behind me as I write this, played at the current A480 pitch a few weeks ago in the snow, up from the A440 pitch I usually keep them at (and that grandpa probably had them them at too). I’m thinking he would be happy with my piping endeavors today, and might have questions about the full set of Uilleann pipes I’m working to get-up-to-snuff-on as well. Although, I think he might have had lots of questions regarding my frequent Piobaireachd studies no doubt!
Cheers to you as St Pat’s 2021 approaches. May it, and the rest of Spring, be a happy & welcome one!
Tyrone performs with Skagit Symphony, Oct 19 2019 – Peter Maxwell Davies, “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” – with Grandfather’s ca 1900 Lawrie Great Highland Pipe, A440; drones are extended in length to achieve Concert Pitch. Photo – Dave Prinzhorn
As with other musical traditions, the Tonal Character of the Great Highland Bagpipe has changed to suit tastes over time. As audiences want ‘more’, pitch has become ‘brighter’ – and we’ve had a sharpening of standard from strings, percussion and other classical instruments. It’s a case of creating options for audience preferences and expectations, and Brighter is usually more persuasive than Lower. Brighter also appears louder.
The Highland bagpipe’s ‘melody gear’ is the Chanter – a conical bore of wood or synthetic, where the instrument’s nine notes live under the pipers fingers, with a covered short double reed resting at the top (unseen unless revealed from it’s protected stock). My grandfather’s 1900 Lawrie chanter is so very smooth at A440, if I have the right mix of reeds.
The standard pitch-character of our chanter currently moves up every 5-7 years. In the 1990’s, it was about every 12-15. Before that, my guess it was about every 18-26. It changes as gear accommodates player preferences, as winning soloists and pipe bands accumulate prizes — the rest of us want to compete with a similar pitch. After all, who wants to stand out all alone in the Low Pitch field.
I was called this September to perform the Peter Maxwell Davies piece, “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” in October. The opening of Skagit Symphony 2019-20 Season, with new conductor Michael Wheatley, who was on the other end of the phone. I performed the Davies piece in 2014 with the Yakima Symphony, so I knew the pitch adjustment from the current standard of A480 to a durable A440 would take 25 hours. Getting my stride back from a bad late summer Pneumonia, I thought it might be a good distraction to help me get back in the swing — which it did (finding an extra 25 hrs of tricky effort by mid October was a good grindstone – I told myself that).
I began resurrecting my Grandfather’s Lawrie’s, which I used in 2014 for my first Davies call. Same pipe I was handed when 9 by my Grandmother Kathleen. This lovely, prayerful Irish Catholic immigrant grandmother always knew what she was doing – and always had something special for me when we arrived after our long drive to visit. She was mesmerizingly kindful. My four siblings, adults by then, mentioned the same years later. My grandfather passed when I was 4; I’ve come to know him as he looks on from his piping pictures on my Music Room wall – one solo, and one with his pipe band from Ardee, Cty Louth. I had both photos redone early on at Seattle’s Moon Photo. Found them torn and faded in his leather pipe case when she handed it to me.
When my Grandfather played solo and with his band in Ireland, the pipe must have been very close to A440 – his pipe just sings at this pitch. The reeds I used back 2014 now didn’t have the Round Sound I wanted – when his pipe is a Round A440, the drones and chanter wrap around everything like a warm blanket. I worked away nonetheless. Work work work, finally had some stamina, my body and the pipe moving forward (though twice as physically demanding as normal). Work work work. Still, not the Round Sound. It was ‘okay’, but I won’t stop until it’s Right.
Out of the Blue, an email from Eastern Canada – a piper I’d never met asked if I wanted to try his newly designed A440 Highland Bagpipe drone reeds – out of no where. Sure I said. They showed up a few days later, no charge – then another packet, and another. I needed the perfect mix of reeds to foster my Grandad’s 1900 Lawries magically woven Round sounding A440 GHB tone, and suddenly I had them. I was able to mix Old and New for a sublime enveloping roundness for the Skagit Symphony’s home at fabulous McIntyre Hall. Maestro Wheatley’s helpful demeaner put me instantly at ease to creatively solve timing issues from afar as I moved toward the Skagit Symphony from the back of the Hall. We all did superbly, including Grandad’s pipe. I don’t think Davies ever sounded so good.
Novelist Emile Zola might have snickered about bagpipes in Seattle after his thought above. And Mark Twain (who lived about the same time) had a thought that he and Zola might have agreed with, “The human race is a race of cowards, and I am not only marching in that procession, but I’m carrying a Banner.”
I don’t know if it takes Twain’s “courage”, or if it just takes a step of human forcefulness to live “out loud”. But Bagpipers, and artists of all types — need to prepare to live out loud.
Bagpipers live “out loud” with a unique instrumental voice (we all sound a little different from each other — pipes in unison playing means months of separate prep beyond being a soloist). It needs to an instantly, instinctually, and consistently, harmonious musical sound — in any physical environment. Whether you’re on the roof of the Space Needle, or processing an archbishop, astronauts, or a couple to their wedding (at sea level or a mile up); or university faculty with students a mile to ritualize opening studies for the year. Or, as documented in another blog post — taking a 99 years young Grandmother out the door for some piping on her birthday (when she’s 80, 90, then 99).
All this, with an instrument that’s made out of some technologically delicate ingredients. [I’ve never been let down by my instruments for a performance — I love the maintenance prep of my instruments of all my pipes, a great application for my creativity and intuitive notion). Let’s look at the ingredients of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and see where my Minor in Engineering Physics comes in daily….
Number of reeds: 4
Airtight valve that gets wet: 1
Highland Bagpipe structure: tubes of air encased in wood, held with twine & wax.
Age of the Highland Bagpipe: For me, daily driver is 130 yrs old, Grandad’s is 118 yrs old, bellows pipes are young at 10-20 years.
Highland Bagpipe maker around to answer questions? No – perhaps I should have a séance.
Primary resonate chamber: 1 sheepskin bag, made in Glasgow, replaced every three years.
Primary energy to produce music with the Highland Bagpipe: air from my lungs, with moisture controlled.
Opportunity for air leaks: Infinite.
Finally, the Great Highland Bagpipe is in tune with: Itself, if all the above are maintained to a high standard.
Not to bad over all. Throw in wind, rain, sun, cold, snow, hail — prep for that, Pipers, and you’re ready to musicality live “Out Loud”!
Kids: They dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music. — William Stafford
6 year old Marie O’Connell, and myself, on our way to dance/play for her Grandfather’s 80th Birthday, Lincoln Park, Seattle 2006
Reprising our stance 12 years later – Marie, now 18, just after performing with dancers at Elliott Bay Pipe Band’s annual Father’s Day Concert, Ballard Locks, Seattle 2018
I first met Marie O’Connell when she was 6 years old. It was her grandad’s 80th Birthday celebration in Seattle’s Lincoln Park, and I was called to help with the festivities. Little did I know there would be a wee Irish dancer along to help. It was a hot Seattle day, and the celebration was a good one. But the memory had been buried underneath so many others.
Fast forward to 2018 — The pipe band I direct, Seattle’s Elliott Bay Pipe Band, was performing our 22nd Annual Father’s Day Concert at the local Hiram Chittenden Locks. It’s always a lovely outing of music with the Band giving back to the community, our audience filled with families that grow with kids each year — a true annual Father’s Day trek for families near and far. Irish dancers join us too, most recently Seattle’s Tara Academy of Irish Dance, providing a lovely visual accompaniment to Elliott Bay’s jigs and reels, swooping in whenever dance tunes are played.
Sara Williams leads Tara with the rest of her family, a 3rd-generation Irish dance teacher who’s students include champions and principle dancers in international shows of Riverdance. After the concert last year, Sara told me one of her dancers recognized me from a 2006 family performance — with photographic proof! Marie O’Connell has been dancing with Elliott Bay for a few years, and little did I know we had met so long ago. We took a matching photo to celebrate our ‘ongoing collaboration’.
The longer you live your passion, the more new beginnings keep coming at you. Couples I’ve helped marry now have children and special anniversaries they want me to play for. Young students I taught from 9 thru college have me and the band perform at their weddings. And, after nearly 100 compositions, I’ll be adding more this week — a march for Rod McKenzie, in honor of his being the 10th Chieftain of the Skagit Valley Highland Games; my first Piobaireachd; and hopefully a short suite for Scottish instructor (and friend!) of mine, that penned the 2/4 March “Pipe-Major Tyrone Heade” (gobsmacked with that one, so turnabout is fair play I think…).
Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it. Lou Rawls
Humans have been talking for, well, for a long time. But we haven’t always talked – something we tend to forget about. My guess is we started with a rhythm and gesture combo to communicate. Vocal “music” (again with rhythm) couldn’t have been far behind. I’ve always felt our musical memory predates our words. Learning language with song is remarkably easier than learning language without. And the bagpipe’s Mixolydian musical scale is incredibly ancient, the same scale produced small whistles made of bone by ancient man.
The conversation about language and bagpipe music has some improbably dramatic bits to it. For example, the human voice interferes precisely with, and gets amplified, by the tonal quality of bagpipes. Piping instructors, at least since the 1500’s, have sung to their students as the student plays — taking advantage of the human voice being elevated by the drone and chanter sound of the pipe. The more resonate the bagpipe, the more in tune, the easier to hear a human voice nearby. [As it happens, this coincident interference with voice and bagpipe means indoor piping audiences shouldn’t talk; the volume of the instrument magnifies and carries voice to every corner of the room. You may think the volume of the instrument drowns you out, though it’s the opposite.]
So it is that voices carry the day regarding bagpipe music. Students learn the music through singing, teachers teach it by singing, in many ways like other instruments. Less well known is a representational written and sung language developed centuries ago to communicate and represent written ancient bagpipe music on the page, before bagpipe music was developed into staff notation.
The ancient music of the Highland bagpipe is called Piobaireachd, or pibroch. It’s written/sung representational language is Canntaireachd, as in the Campbell Canntaireachd or the Nether Lorn Canntaireachd. Piobaireachd is one of my specialties; it’s moderately slow moving, but it’s not a dirge. Some pibroch’s are pretty fast moving, and have a structure of variations-on-a-theme (they are not Airs). For lots of detail, please take advantage of The Piobaireachd Society or the Alt Pibroch Club.
1523-1534 tapestry, with bagpiper far right, Vatican Museum
In March, Rachael and I were two of 250 pilgrims traveling to Rome, Florence, Siena and Assisi from Seattle’s St. James Cathedral. Our Cathedral Choir, along with our young women’s Jubilate!, performed frequently — and beautifully! Mainstays of our choir have been familiar with me over the years, though mostly from afar since my Bagpipe Residency began back in 1990. It was positively grand to spend time with my fellow Cathedral musicians! Our choirs, soloists and organist performed at…
We stayed a block from Vatican City the last few days, taking advantage of visiting the Vatican Museums. I was on the lookout for depicted pipers, almost missing this one.
Bagpipes have been around for a long time. How long? Don’t know personally (I wasn’t there). I’m not one of the experts, but it seems that depictions of mouth-blown bagpipes date back to close to 1100 (in stone). The earliest surviving bagpipes, however, are of the bellows-blown variety, according to Hugh Cheape, our most experienced expert on the subject.
But I would guess that depictions of native pipers will long outlive their instruments, claimed by dust, moisture and elements over time. How about our music? Our mouth-blown pipes were the electric guitars of their time, stirring hearts and minds just as all impassioned music does over time. Our music is remembered at length I think, given the notes I find in the mail, and audiences I run into years after the performance has ended.
I listened, motionless and still; And, as I mounted up the hill, The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more.
Seattle’s Museum of Flight is an extraordinary highlight of the Pacific Northwest. Luscious displays detailing the Wright Brothers, to the Shuttle, the Concord, World War II fighters and Apollo missions all under their own roof. And those are just a brief scratch off the top our lovely Museum of Flight.
Space caught my eye in 1st Grade, when I was five. My teacher in Clatskanie, Mrs. Long, noticed I was set on it too. Four years before my introduction to Grandad’s Irish War Pipes, I was all about Space, flight, rockets, gravity, the Moon.
When I moved to Seattle in ’88, and became entrenched with the bundle of excitement our Flight Museum presents, well, they were pretty excited about bagpipes as well. In 1984, one of the first fundraisers for the museum involved the Concord arriving in Seattle with over 200 cases of wine for an auction. Greeting the Concord was the City of Seattle Pipe Band, filled with pipers that would teach here for decades.
Seattle Bagpipers, ready for a New Year of making the best thing even better? Let’s improve our Bagpipe music performance presentation for 2018….
“The Best thing to happen to us was This Job, because This Job has us doing the one thing we never did in our lives:Practice.”
–QuestLove, percussionist Grammy-award winner and joint lead for The Roots, aka America’s House Band, referring to being hired for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. QuestLove was the Executive Producer for the Grammy Award winning Original Cast recording of Hamilton.
How well do you know your instrument? Reliability, ease of play, finesse in presentation? Solve it all, before 2018 gets away from you.
What is your process for refining Technique? We play the smallest notes in all of music; get involved with evolving to a high standard.
We’re also an instrument that requires practicing on another device, the Practice Chanter. Make good use of that lately?
Consider the following, and begin to set some goals…
Are you musically “out of control” on your Practice Chanter, Highland Bagpipe, or Small pipe? Start with a plan to be in control of all your music. Every note has purpose, the smallest, the largest.
If your first notes on the chanter are “out of control”, change that. Change your first notes, make them supremely under control — and you’ll get used to changing them all down the line.
Fingers asleep on the holes, Right? Leave the gripping to folks that don’t want to play well.
Is your instrument too difficult to rehearse on comfortably? Pipes that are not efficient, taking too much air or not geometrically adjusted personally for the player are often the Root cause of unsteady tone, hands not in supreme control of the musical timing, or other Performance Presentation issues.
Pipers, it’s 2018 — continually change your approach, and the Sweet Music will follow in kind.
Annual site of The Glenfiddich Piping Championship, Blair Castle, Scotland’s Highlands
If you’re a tennis player, Wimbledon is your pinnacle; and a dream to just go watch. If you’re a competitive bagpiper – The Glenfiddich *is* your Wimbledon — the stuff that piper’s Dreams are made of.
The Glenfiddich Championship is the pinnacle for the world’s top solo bagpipe music professionals. Sponsored by the Grant Family Foundation, the top 10 winning players for the year are asked to compete (Piobaireach, then March/Strathspey/Reel). And, like so many things – it’s also about location, Location, LOCATION — Blair Castle, Scotland. And in 2017, it was held on my Birthday. So I took a bought a ticket, had a great jaunt — and an even better Listen!
Hosted in the Ballroom of Blair Castle, in Blair Atholl, just inside the southern crest of the Scottish Highlands. Parts of Blair Castle date from 1296, with additions/renovations/repair and refurbishment thru the late 20th century. The Ballroom is magnificent, seating perhaps 500 fans. The Ballroom’s significant features are many; the most prominent of which are perhaps over a hundred sets of stag horns creating an intricate design of exciting, dynamic majesty.
Backdrop detail of the Glenfiddich Championship stage wall, in the Ballroom of Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Scotland.
Blair Castle Ballroom, Blair Atholl, Scotland. Performance space for the Glenfiddich Championship, the annual world solo Highland bagpipe championship.
The all-day event was spellbinding. My own piping improved just sitting there, listening, and realizing once again the heart and soul of what are instrument does, can do and will do. To the Grant Family, thank you for supporting Highland bagpiping so well. And to the family of the Duke of Atholl, who reside still in the Castle today — Thank You for making your home open to the hundreds of us that live, breath and pour our Passion in our instrument! To the Competitors, thank you for your hard work just to make it to the Glenfiddich, and for sharing your music and instrument with those in attendance. All 10 pipers made it a joyful listen, undoubtedly moving me and my music, and that of others, forward for a spirited 2018!
Let’s talk about providing Seattle funeral bagpipe music and musicianship.
Music is what feelings sound like. – Bo Bennett
WSDOT Ferry, Photo by Grant Haller, 1976
Go ahead and read this quote again. It reminds musicians about their job, and our patrons why they have us.
For Seattle funeral bagpipe musicians, the unseen work on bagpiping is important. Proper practice, instrument maintenance, learning and memorizing complicated music, instructing others on the art of piping or being instructed ourselves. It all adds up to excellent musicianship on a complicated instrument. Our music must be played ESPECIALLY well, sans distraction, played expertly and seemingly effortlessly. We’re called to an extra-special task: to help others move forward.
Ready to Pipe Well Anywhere
Our music, well played, helps folks come to terms. Memorials, funerals, inurnments, internments. In parks, cemeteries, beaches, mausoleums, columbarium’s, cathedrals, churches and chapels. On ferries, lake fronts, islands, on peaks and in valleys. We need to know what to play (and play it at our best!). Selections of different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs (or an absence of belief). It all adds up to moving the family forward through great music, without any instrument distraction. With kindness, without distraction, and skill to move everyone forward. Bagpipes for outdoors, different pipes for inside.
Sodelbia’s service, Grants Pass Oregon
Piping is Always Personal
I grew up playing my Grandad’s pipe; he passed when I was a toddler (the family is pretty sure he’s heard me since). My grandmother passed suddenly years later, unfortunately just after I had surgery – so no piping that time either.
One of their daughters passed this summer, and requested the family instrument in Grants Pass, Oregon. Grandad’s set of ca 1900 Lawrie’s needed to be up and running right away. No flaws.
For a Yakima Symphony performance in 2014, I set Grandpa’s pipes to Concert Pitch (no crossing international borders with their ivory anymore). So a good going thru, normal-pitch reeds replaced. Set up a modern Strathmore bagpipe chanter set to blend with the ultra smooth, velvet sound of the early Lawrie drones. Even put back the original Bass Drone bottom section I replaced in 1992, making them a tad tricky to start; but What a Glorious Sound!
I tuned them on Monday, probably 76 degrees in Seattle. Tuesday drove to deep Southern Oregon, with Grandpa’s pipes along with Great Small pipes for inside the church. The Funeral Mass and internment was Wednesday, 113 degrees. The pipes never moved from Monday’s Seattle tuning. Not a smidge. Marched her into the church, marched her out; into the internment, and then after the family spoke. No change from Seattle tuning, two days, 37 degrees and 500 miles difference.