Category Archives: Music

Minor Lesson Today

I know that a lot of people use BWW for writing bagpipe music. But I’m cheap, and I use a Mac, and I tried the demo versions of the music notation software my teacher and bandmates use and I hate them (the programs). Iconoclast that I am, I have chosen to transcribe all my music using ABC notation.

The neat thing about this, for me, is that the files are easily editable with any plain ol’ text editor and there’s an easy command line toolchain for converting the ABC files to PDF. The thing I learned today is that the key matters, not just for the signature at the beginning of a line, but for the way grace notes are rendered.

It’s true that the great highland bagpipe is tuned more-or-less in the key of D, and some modern scores are even written that way. However, when you use that key notation in the ABC file, grace notes are written as being tied to the following melody note, whereas if you note the key as ‘HP’ then the grace notes are unadorned, as pipers are wont to expect. This behavior can be overridden with the format directive:

 %%graceslurs false

If I Were Better, I’d Be Good

As I put my pipes away from this morning’s practice, feeling wrung-out and self-critical, I panted, “Well, if I didn’t suck I’d be pretty good!”

I thought about all the evenings when the Badb had been skimming through her viola practice, not really paying attention to her playing just in a rush to get it done. We’d tell her to stop, go back and play the tune’s properly. She didn’t get to be done until she’d played at least one of them right. She’d sulk and then, obediently, go back and play it again with intention and get it right. She feels proud of her playing ability now, and I am proud of her for doing the work. She has every reason to feel proud of herself.

Whenever I play, I’m trying to listen to what I’m actually playing and compare it to what I want to be playing. Sometimes I have these flashes where the tune I wish I were playing is note-for-note superimposed on the tune I’m actually playing and it feels amazing. Today, though, I was a long way off from that. I need to do a lot of work with the chanter and playing carefully and with intention. The really hard part is that after half an hour of steady blowing I feel dizzy. I want to go back and play the tunes properly but I just can’t drive the reeds. I’m falling short.

I’ve got to walk a line between being too easy on myself and being unreasonably hard. Sure, I need to take better care of myself. Yes, I have a lot going on here, and yes, only an hour ago I was so hungry I was prepared to eat tortilla chips and dirt for breakfast (I made a big sandwich instead, don’t worry). So, okay, I was practicing with probably really low blood sugar and energy reserves, but still. I aspire to be able to pick up the pipes, tune them, and be able to deliver my competition tunes in a passable rendition even if I’ve only just gotten out of the car after a two hour drive, having gotten up an hour early. I had to do that once last year, and I’d like to be able to acquit myself well if the need should arise again. Emergency bagpiping is a thing.

So, after knocking out a few urgent chores, I’m going to have to spend some more time on the big pipes and at least an hour on the practice chanter. In this family, we try to have some compassion for failure but we don’t lower our standards.