Picking Up the Bagpipe Banner

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you:  I am here to live out loud.”

Emile Zola

 

Novelist Emile Zola wasn’t thinking about bagpipes in Seattle with that thought.  If you think about it, Mark Twain (who lived about the same time) had a thought that he and Zola might have shook hands 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, along with musicians of all types, have to do it all the time.  We need to.  If we don’t, we wont get to follow thru with what we’re here to obviously do.

Bagpipers live “out loud” with a unique instrumental voice.  It needs to be instantly, and I would say cared for so it can instinctually, be able to produce a consistent, harmonious musical quality — in nearly any physical environment.  Whether you’re on the roof of the Space Needle, or processing astronauts, or an archbishop, or a couple to their wedding (at sea level or a mile up), leading university faculty with students a mile to ritualize opening studies for the year.  Or, as documented in my next blog post —  taking a 99 years young Grandmother out the door for some piping on her birthday (over 30 years time).

All this, with an instrument that is just made technologically out of some delicate ingredients (I’ve never been let down by my instrument for a performance — I love the maintenance and prep of my instruments — it’s a great challenge and keeps my applied science and creativity thriving).  Let’s look at the ingredients of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and see where my Minor in Engineering Physics and skill of intuitive notion comes in….

  • Number of reeds: 4
  • Airtight valve that gets wet: 1
  • Highland Bagpipe structure:  wood combined with various bits of twine & wax.
  • Age of the Highland Bagpipe:  In my case, one is 128 yrs old and the other about 118 yrs old.
  • Highland Bagpipe maker alive to answer questions?  Not in my case.
  • Primary resonate chamber:  1 sheepskin bag, made in Glasgow, replaced every three years.
  • Primary energy to produce music with the Highland Bagpipe:  Human-pressurized air, with moisture controlled.
  • Number of places air can leak:  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 and your into a fair bit of musicality while living “Out Loud”!

 

When you bagpipe, history is always being made!

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…).

 

 

 

 

The Language of Bagpipe Music

 

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.

Bagpipe music, and some historic dust

Detail, Tapestry depicting the Life of Christ, New School of Raphael 1523-1534, Vatican Museum

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.   Berthold Auerbach

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.

–William Wordsworth

 

In Space… Everyone can hear your bagpipe!

In Space… Everyone can year your bagpipe!

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 Bagpipe Music, the new year — Make your Bagpipe Performance Presentation even Better!

A possible bagpipe performance audience in the '60's.

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 FallonQuestLove was the Executive Producer for the Grammy Award winning Original Cast recording of Hamilton.

Bagpipers, ready to improve your audience-centered performances for 2018?  Get up on things by thoughtfully improving your Practice, Rehearsals and Instrument presentation.

  • 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.

 

A Bagpipe Music Competition, a Castle, and a Birthday

www.Bagpipe101.com, Photo by Tyrone Heade, Cathedral Piper, Seattle

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.

www.Bagpipe101.com, Photo by Tyrone Heade, Cathedral Piper, Seattle

Backdrop detail of the Glenfiddich Championship stage wall, in the Ballroom of Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, Scotland.

www.Bagpipe101.com, Photo by Tyrone Heade, Cathedral Piper, Seattle

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!

www.Bagpipe101.com, Photo by Tyrone Heade, Cathedral Piper, Seattle

Seattle Funeral Bagpipe, helping families say Goodbye

Let’s talk about providing Seattle funeral bagpipe music and musicianship.

Music is what feelings sound like.  – Bo Bennett

Seattle Funeral Bagpipe location

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.

Seattle Funeral Bagpipe musician Tyrone Heade

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.

Seeing bagpipe sound is believing…

All the sounds of the earth are like music.  

— Oscar Hammerstein II

Bagpipe sound depicted thru Water wave pic, Education Development Center negative, "Arons", #RT20, ca 1960.

Water waves depict bagpipe sound leaving drones.

Bagpipe Sound is a curious thing.  Bagpipes visually represent a ‘bouquet of sound’ — Blackwood or Ebony hollow tubes displaying sound all around, pushing it into the world.  And more tubes of wood mean even more sound, making things even More Curious.

The sound of Highland pipes and Small pipes involve four reeds: one each sounding the three drones, and one for the melody chanter (see the picture of my Glenn drones and chanter).  Same for Northumbrian pipes.  A Full Set of Uilleann, or Irish pipes, may have as many as eight reeds – a two-plus octave chanter, three drones, four regulators (keyed drones that play a wide array of combined harmony — Uilleann Full Sets are something else entirely).

On all these pipes, one thing is constant:  the reeds are individuals.  Nothing identical between.  They could be made by the same maker, be the exact same size, manufactured to an exquisitely high tolerance of microns.   But they are not twins or triplets (nor octuplets, as in the Uilleann example).

But they don’t have to be.  They do have to thrive in the tubes they live in — so their ‘bagpipe sound’ moves into the outside world with a refined result.  And the tubes, be it a drones or chanter, need to guide the sound through carefully created holes.  Gently sculpted, intricately fashioned, well maintained by their musician-owners.

Bagpipe sound depiction thru Water wave pic, Education Development Center negative, "Arons", #RT55, ca 1960.

Water waves depict the bagpipe sound of two side-by-side pipe drones. Note the nodes and anti-nodes as the sound mixes in the open, smooths over distance outside of our constraining tubes.

Add  that we don’t have silence in our bagpipe sound with either drones or melody, at least with Highland pipes or Small pipes.  Timbre and instrument character need to be pleasant, as it’s a constant sound, with no respite for the audience or musician.  Bagpipe musical expression needs extra accounting for it’s constant and unrelenting nature.  Indeed, staff notation in bagpiping is fairly false — it assumes silence during the melody (the reason Highland piping began with sung/written syllabic language in the 1500’s, instead of our staff invention created thru a notation competition in the 1780’s).  As such, singing to learn the music is critical for pipers, and previous choral work is an advantage for learners.

And so it goes, as nature (with some nurture) takes care of the curious, warm, sonorous sound that we pipers work to enjoy, as both musicians and listeners.  Getting as much as we can with our sound as it enters the World.

Now, On with the Show!

 

A Pipers Musical Voice – The Bagpipe Chanter!

Tyrone Heade, Piper

Tyrone Heade performing on Grandpa’s pipes, 1900 Lawrie drones & chanter, A=440 with Yakima Symphony, 2014.

Our voice – the Bagpipe Chanter

“The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Our Voice!

The bagpipe chanter is every piper’s musical voice.  Whether mouth-blown or bellows-blown.  Whether the pipes are Highland, Small, Reel-Border-Lowland, Uilleann, Northumberland, Galician — or so many others — our bagpipe chanter is our instruments’ voice.  And, as musicians – the bagpipe chanter is Our Voice.  It Speaks — to us, to our audience, to the music we play.  To the rest of our instrument, and to our purpose.

Our Rain!

The other “sticks” of our instruments matter greatly — and support our bagpipe chanter’s voice.  The best set up chanter/reed combinations can’t be heard without full-on, well maintained support by the rest of our instrument.

Our drones must be air-efficient, harmonic, blending; a sound you marvel at, appreciate, look forward to.  Rely on.  Blown into our personal perfection.  So, let’s get on-board with detail….

The Ripple!

The reeds in all of these are so Darn important.  Origin – selection – manipulation – efficiency.  All of which comes down to… Desire!  Meaty, gut wrenching, full throated – do anything to get a sound.  Anything.

Pipers, with the modicum of power I have – you’re henceforth given permission.  Do Anything to get a sound.  More precisely:  do anything to get Your Sound.  It’s all about you, what you hear in your head.  This, all of this, reflects you.  We all know – we play better if we sound better.

Pipers, I know you know this.  It’s crossed your minds – can I, should I, go to great lengths to get a sound?  Yes, yes and YES.  I’ve sat with pipers, the world acclaimed folks that we all look up to.  They will work on instruments after dinner until… whenever (multiple nights is common).

Our desire is there, but it’s best to plan ahead for practical matters.

  • We need a block of time;
  • Space to hear yourself think;
  • A large table and good lighting.

Help from Others

Bagpipe Chanter has the large silver sole (soul?) hallowing the bottom, next to David Glen drones, 1890.

Bagpipe Chanter with large silver sole (soul?) halos the bottom, next to David Glen drones, 1890.

Whether we’re shy on skills or heavy on experience — it’s wonderful and simply terrific to get another’s take on all this.  Bagpipe chanter, drones, reeds, tools, more reeds, blowpipes/bellows, position, posture, bags — all of it.  We best succeed by reaching out.  [For example, the Mastery of Scottish Arts Winter School — I’ve attended about 20 years, and helped to found it back in 1995 — www.CelticArts.org.]

Create an instrument you get to know as you moving forward.  Knowing your instrument is a great thing!

  • Is my Maintenance solid?  Air leaks (tenon, valve, reed seats, bridals, perfectly clean stocks?)
  • How long will my tuning last?
  • What’s the affect of letting the instrument rest?
  • Tune the instrument thoroughly, then rest it.  When you start up again, how long will it take for the instrument to come back into tune?
  • Can the instrument take rigorous play over days?  Solid for travel?
  • Balanced chanter?
  • How long does it take, including rest, for the instrument to settle?

We play better when we sound better.  Now, go off and Fitzgerald’s “exhilarating ripple”!

Cheers, kind regards,

Tyrone

 

 

 

 

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