Category Archives: Performances

What’s Going On

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so I thought I’d just jot down a bit of an update on what I’m doing with the old pipes.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Part of the reason I haven’t posted anything is that I’ve been practicing a lot. It all started when I went to bagpipe camp last summer. I’d wanted to go to the Coeur d’Alene Summer School of Piping and Drumming since I heard about it in the first month I started on the practice chanter, back in 2007. Things finally worked out to do it in 2011, and it was incredible. I think this school has been going on for over 40 years, and its location in Coeur d’Alene makes it a spectacular place to be. It was total immersion in piping for a week, culminating in competition at the Spokane Highland Games. In addition to the lengthy daily classes, most evenings feature recitals from the awesome instructors, lectures, and films on piping.

I like to be challenged, and somehow I got placed into the advanced class, taught by the impressive Ann Gray. She gave us a lot of music and pushed us hard, including a big MSR of Southall/Tulloch Castle/Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran. We also did lots of piobaireachd work, with instruction by the legendary Andrew Wright, on Gathering of the MacNabs, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, Sound of the Sea, and (my favorite of the bunch) Proud to Play a Pipe (Dastirum gu seinnim piob). Click Andrew’s photo below to hear a  bit of his piobaireachd instruction in our class.

Andrew Wright

Andrew Wright

On the last day of the school, I performed a complete piobaireachd for the first time, as part of the Macrae Cup Amateur Piobaireachd Competition. I couldn’t have been more nervous, as the judge was Andrew Wright, and the room was filled with other instructors and excellent pipers, many equipped with the Kilberry or Piobaireachd Society collections of tunes so they could follow along (or notice errors!). We had to submit two tunes we knew, and we were told 15 minutes before which one we’d play. I submitted Lament for the Son of King Aro and Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarberts Fancy, and Andrew selected the first. Here’s that performance:

I played it too slowly and made lots of note errors, but got through it and placed third. It was a good experience, but one I’m glad is behind me!

Jig/Hornpipe competiion at CSSPD 2011

Jig/Hornpipe competiion at CSSPD 2011

Later that evening, I really enjoyed the annual Hornpipe/Jig Competition at the local tavern, where the top players played some fantastic tunes for the ever busy Andrew Wright. It was great to relax with a pint and listen to some excellent performances.

The next day I drove to Spokane to compete in the Grade 4 piping events. I completely butchered “Mrs John MacColl” (2/4 march) in front of judge Ann Gray and got 5th; I played “The Highlander” (6/8 march) in front of judge Alan Walters and got first; I played Bruce Gandy’s “Mairi Matheson of Carloway” and “The Rejected Suitor” in the strathspey/reel for judge Andrew Wright and got first in that, which gave me enough points to win the aggregate. I was quite surprised because I felt I could have played better. It was a great way to end the week of intense bagpiping. I can’t wait for next year’s camp.

Lessons, finally!

Bruce Gandy

Bruce Gandy

The most exciting thing for me now is that I’ve finally begun taking lessons on the pipes. After years of working on stuff myself, and feeling like I’d reached a wall I couldn’t get over, I started taking lessons via Skype from Bruce Gandy (who lives in Nova Scotia). I’d been to a clinic he did in Portland a few years ago and really liked his teaching style, and have admired his piping since day one. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the remote format and the first lesson were excellent and very motivating. I’ll post more about how the lessons are going after I’ve been doing them for a month, but if you’ve been considering Skype as an instructional medium, I found it much better than expected.

Advertisements

9-year Plan for Bagpiping Profit

After my last post, I began thinking about numbers. I’ve put a lot of energy lately into my bagpipe “business,” and figured I should do some basic calculations and see just exactly how successful – in a purely economic sense – I am. I also wondered if I am charging too much (I don’t think so), largely because I get a lot of inquiries from my website (mcmichaelpiping.com) which, after I quote a fee, vanish into the ether.

So here it is; as you can tell, if you have the patience to sort through this mess, I am no financial wizard. But the rough costs below and the conclusion I reached (that it will take nine years to begin making a profit) were kind of surprising. Therefore, being a professional bagpiper is truly a labor of love.

Bagpipe gig (average)

Fee: + $150
Fuel: – $12
Net: + $138

1. Dress: 15 minutes
2. Drive to gig: 30 minutes
3. Performance site: 1 hour
4. Drive home: 30 minutes
5. Undress: 15 minutes

Total time: 2.5 hours (@ $138 net for a gig, this works out to $55/hour)

Kilts
Kilts (skirts for men)
Horsehair sporrans
Sporrans
Balmoral
Balmoral bonnet

Required equipment:

Bagpipes $2,000
Kilt & flash $1,000 (two kilts required)
Ghillie Brogues (shoes) $ 150
Kilt hose (socks) $ 100 (minimum 3 pairs required)
Sgian dubh (knife in hose) $ 75
Kilt belt & buckle $ 150
Sporrans $ 450 (two required: dress and day)
Prince Charlie jacket & vest $ 300
Argyll jacket $ 300
Jacobite shirt $ 50
• Dress shirts & ties $ 300 (three each required)
Glengarry (military hat) $ 85
Balmoral (casual hat) $ 85
Clan crest badges (for hats) $ 50
Kilt crest pins $ 50
Music books $ 500 (bagpipe music books are very expensive)

Total: $5,645

David Naill DN5 Bagpipes
What I want for Christmas

At $138 net per gig, I would need 41 full-paying gigs to pay off the required equipment. In the first six months of 2011 I’ve had 8 paying gigs. Assuming I average 16 gigs per year, it would take over 2.5 years to pay off the required equipment. Factoring in interest rates and miscellaneous expenses let’s say a 3-year loss of $2000 per year should cover the “one-time” equipment costs. Other annual costs (below) add to the ramp-up schedule and time-to-profit.

Other annual costs ($1,500 per year):

The annual costs and equipment amortization for the first 3 years would result in accumulated debt of $3,876 assuming income remains the same. After equipment costs are paid, it would take about 5 more years to amortize the accumulated debt.

Summary:

Year 1: Income ($2,208) – Expenses ($2000 + $1500 = $3,500) = -$1,292
Year 2: Income ($2,208) – Expenses ($2000 + $1500 = $3,500) = -$1,292
Year 3: Income ($2,208) – Expenses ($2000 + $1500 = $3,500) = -$1,292
Years 4-8: Income ($11,040) – Expenses ($7,500) – Y1-3 debt ($3,876) = -$336
Year 9: Income ($2,208) – Expenses ($1500) – $336 from Y8 = $372

Conclusion:

Nine years ain’t bad. I won’t even be 60 yet, and might be able to blow another ten to fifteen years after that. With any luck, too, I might get more gigs and collect more income. But the equipment doesn’t last forever, either, and I’ll need another set of pipes soon, and probably another kilt. The bottom line, obviously, is that – even charging what some apparently consider exorbitant fees – I’m not in it for the money. Few, if any, pipers are.


2010 Highland Games

Piping competition

Piping competition, 2010 Treasure Valley Highland Games

Our band, the City of Trees Pipes and Drums, made it through another Highland Games. The weather blessed us, unlike some years. The turnout seemed very high, and there were lots of good musical acts.

The piping competition featured more contestants than ever, especially in Grade 4, which had about 14 players. Despite many excellent performances by COTPAD members, we managed only two medals from judge Rob Barrick (Joel Munn, Slow Air, Grade 5, and Josh White, Grade 4 Piobaireachd). Perhaps we need to review the fundamentals. I came home and opened up the ol’ exercise book and went straight back to single grace notes.

There are lots of ways to approach competition. Some people just want to win. Others do it for the feedback from a judge in the effort to improve. Most do it for many different reasons. I competed in my first piobaireachd and was very pleased with my performance, so much so that when I didn’t medal I was very disappointed. It took a while to get over it, but I went back for more abuse in the medley, the march, and the trio. I did my best each time but – for the first time in the three years I’ve competed – ended up without a medal.

I have to say it was a humbling experience, but one I’m determined to use to my benefit. I realized afterward that – despite the serious practice I’ve put in with the pipes this year – I focused too much on learning tunes and not enough on their clean execution. So I’m going back to the basics. Listening to some of the younger players, it is impressive how clean their doublings and grips are. I think as an older player I have less patience and want to learn lots of tunes. I have less time left to play than those kids do, after all, but I need to realize that playing one tune cleanly and beautifully is better than a large repertoire of crushed tunes.


Wedding by the River

Bride and groom waltzing to Irish Eyes

Bride and groom waltzing to "Irish Eyes"

Friday night Eddie and I performed at a wedding in Municipal Park in Boise. After a miserable Thursday (in weather and more), Friday evening, down by the river and under the huge cottonwood trees, was perfect: not too warm, not too cool, very gentle breeze. Lovely.

The bride and groom met with me about a week before the wedding to pick out music and discuss what they wanted and how the bagpipes would fit into their plans. I really enjoyed meeting and talking with them in the Piping Centre and getting to know them a little bit, which is much nicer than just showing up at a gig, playing, and going home.

Preparation

Eddie and I discussing the tunes or something

They both looked beautiful and incredibly happy and peaceful. We marched the bride and her entourage in playing Lord Lovat’s Lament and Murdo’s Wedding. The ceremony was refreshingly brief, with the bride and groom reading vows they composed themselves. After the officiate announced their marriage, we played Highland Cathedral (I played the harmony part). Then we marched the entire contingent back to the celebration area, played “Irish Eyes” for the bride and groom to dance to, and then a few more tunes before leaving them to their guests and – I hope – a wonderful, long life together.


Baker City Breakdown

City of Trees Pipes and Drums

Dennis McLaughlin, our new drum major

Our band, the City of Trees Pipes and Drums, traveled to Baker City, Oregon last weekend to participate in the Easter Oregon Highland Games. Oh my.

The weather could definitely have been worse. But it could have been way, way better. For a late August weekend, it was downright frigid: 50-something degrees, rainy, and windier than Rush Limbaugh the day after Halle Berry won an Oscar.

I felt badly for the organizers because the turnout was not what they expected. Most of the people who would have attended were huddled against the wood stove back at the cabin. But for those who did brave the elements – which include the vendors, the athletes, and the performers (especially the belly dancers) – it was a good show.

Aside from our fabulous group of nut-cases in kilts, there was a really good band from Emmett, Idaho featuring a couple of hot pipers, a fiddler, a drummer, and a crack bassist. The belly dancers boggled the mind (not least because nobody I asked could explain why you always see belly dancers at highland games) and some might have gone hypothermic. The athletes were fabulous, knee braces, pitchforks and all.

Irish wolfhounds

When was the last time you saw six Irish wolfhounds?

For me, the coolest thing there were the six enormous Irish wolfhounds (again – there seems to be a healthy lack of any shyness about the mixing of Irish, Scottish, gypsy, and whatever else you want to bring to the table at a “Scottish” Highland games). The couple who brought them have been breeding them for a dozen years or so, and they led the dogs (three each) around on leashes during the closing ceremony. Beautiful animals those.

It was a good time. However, unless I can get a guarantee from God next year that it will be warmer I can’t say if I’ll have another obligation that weekend.


Snowy Bagpipe Gig

City of Trees Pipes & Drums get up close & personal in the Eurovan. Clockwise from foreground: P/M John McDade, Josh White's wee head, D/S Gene "More Cowbell" Fisher

City of Trees Pipes & Drums get up close & personal in the Eurovan. P/M McDade, Josh White

Yesterday I and seven other dedicated members of the City of Trees Pipes & Drums hunkered down in the snow to play at a wedding. We do stuff like this to make money for the band. For this gig we earned $300. It involved the eight of us putting on the “kit”: off-white hose (except for Josh White, who wore snow white hose), red flash (the ribbons that get folded into the top of the hose), sgian doubh (black knife) inserted into the top of the right hose (in case one needs to slit the throat of one’s adversary or cut a piece of salami while waiting for the go signal), ghillie brogues (sort of a wing-tip shoe with long laces that get tied in a certain criss-crossy way in the front and back of the hose, with tassels that swagger about while marching), undershirt, white long-sleeve dress shirt, dark tie, kilt (for our band, we wear the Royal Stewart Black tartan – a 15 ounce, 8-yard wool kilt), kilt belt with large cast pewter buckle, kilt pin (mine was a lovely deer antler tip until I lost it – the second kilt pin I have lost in less than two years), sporran (the “purse” covering the crotch of the piper (drummers wear theirs on their sides so as not to interfere with the drum harness) – our band sporrans are made of skunk fur and are very soft and black; they provide a pocket for one’s car keys, wallet, cell phone, condoms, or whatever – the kilt has no pockets), Prince Charlie vest (mine is fine wool with three diamond-shaped buttons and made in Pakistan – a cheap version of the 5-button gabardine wool versions made in Scotland), and glengarry with red feather plume and clan crest (the boat-shaped wool felt hat). After dozens of gigs I now have the dressing routine dialed in at about 25 minutes. To remove everything and get changed back into normal duds after a gig takes about half that.

COTPAD Crackup

Josh comes unglued, making Gene laugh.

We arrive at the designated spot – today at the Stone House: a pub adjacent to the Greenbelt. This is our second or third wedding gig here in the past year. I drove our Eurovan because I knew it would be snowing and that we’d be waiting for a while and wanted to have a heated haven where some of us could hang out until we were signaled to line up and march in. Six of us managed to fit in the van, cozy and warm with the propane heater running. I snapped a couple shots with my iPhone, hoping to catch some “regimental” images of my kilted buddies, but – alas – the iPhone’s lack of a flash prevented any compromising photos. John McDade, our dedicated pipe major, and the band’s only bona fide Scot, upon thinking I had snapped a shot of his privates yelled, “It’s bloody cold – I’m claiming shrinkage!”

We finally got the go signal, and burst from the Eurovan into the falling flakes and lined up. Two drummers – Gene, the Drum Sergeant, and Rhonda, our unflagging bass drummer – followed the six pipers (John, Josh, me, Tim, “Junior” McKay) and Jayce – our next to be initiated band member and current gig gopher, whom – today – served as band photographer and official door opener. On P/M McDade’s command, we fired up outside and began with Mairi’s Wedding/42nd Highlanders and someone’s drones were dreadfully misfiring. As we played and marched toward the entrance to the Stone House Josh – in front of me – shut down all his drones, thinking the wounded rhino sound was coming from his pipes. I had a perversely satisfied feeling the offending sonic malady was emanating from my bass drone but managed to ignore it and revel in the horrific dissonance as we marched into the absolutely packed interior and continued playing to wild applause.

For me at least, and I suspect many of my colleagues in the band, the most exciting moment of any gig is when we enter the interior of the venue, full of people – in this and many other cases, unsuspecting – and we are rewarded with facial expressions of childlike exuberance and fascination, hoots, hollers, whistles, and all other types of boisterous expressions of approval and visceral pleasure.

It is this dynamic that makes it worth the 25 minutes it takes to get dressed, and however long it takes to drive to the gig, and however long we wait in the wings before we are unleashed like rabid rats on a rotting feral cat carcass. It is this moment when I feel the righteousness of strutting, when I feel the loss of self that historical actors from Nazi storm troopers to the starting players in the World Series must have felt. My uncooperative bass drone notwithstanding, this moment is indeed what the great French social theorist Roland Barthes referred to as “jouissance” – the proto-orgasmic loss of self in the cataclysmic moment of pure pleasure…

We finish the two tunes and the ceremony begins. We scurry to stand out of the way so the guests can see. I watch the bride and groom – two middle-aged people whom I think are starting over with great hope, and surrounded by an impressive assortment of people I hope feel the same way – and remember with great warmth my own wedding atop a mountain in central Idaho. The bride’s gaze upon her soon-to-be-betrothed is so angelic that I cannot stop staring at her and makes me think that this is really a special moment and I’m privileged to be a part of it.

After a decent amount of time and words the ceremony is over and we’re lining up to begin the march-out tune, which John calls out at the last second: Scotland the Brave. We play it through twice, marching elegiacally through the crowd of gleeful attendees, following the bride and groom, out the door into the falling snow. It sounded great. The bride and groom stood in the snow for a moment with us and expressed their gratitude. Gig over, we scurried to our vehicles and headed to our homes to remove the kit and get on with our separate lives, the weekend half completed, thoughts of what’s ahead and what’s due in the offing.


%d bloggers like this: