Bagpiping Podcasts

This summer I started getting into podcasts. My work commute is a bit longer and I get tired of listening to the radio and my CD's. So my husband got me a car adaptor for my mp3 player and I started hunting for good bagpiping podcasts.

Like I said, I'm new to podcasts, but from what I can tell, there isn't a whole lot out there. Here's what I've found so far:

I found this one around the time of the World Pipe Band Championships. It's called Planet Pipe and features professional pipe bands, commentary, and interviews. A drawback is that their podcasts are relatively short and their archives aren't free. For under $10 a month however you can get access to their old shows. I haven't tried this yet but I probably will at some point.

One bagpiping podcast that I just started listening to is the Irish and Celtic Music Podcast. So far it seems like it has a pretty good variety of music but not a ton of commentary. It's music isn't just bagpipes either, there is folk music on here as well. But also music from more well known Celtic groups like Seven Nations and Gaelic Storm.

My favorite bagpipe podcast is Wetootwaag's Podcast of Bagpipe Power put out by Jeremy Kingsbury, a piper from Bemidji, Minnesota. Although he hasn't posted a new podcast since last spring, his old podcasts are still up so there's plenty for you to listen to. One of the reasons this is my favorite is because he spends an equal amount of time talking and playing the bagpipes. He samples different kinds of Scotch in his podcasts and he talks about re-enactments he attends as well as his studies in the Ojibwe language. In terms of the music, some of it is his own piping, and some of it is from artists on myspace or his friends. Oh, and, if you didn't believe that Eye of the Tiger or Bohemian Rhapsody could be played on pipes, he will prove you wrong! I've listened to every episode and am hoping that he posts a new podcast soon!

Although I am looking for good bagpiping podcasts, if anyone out there wants to promote their own podcast or a podcast they like to listen to, feel free to comment about them. I'd love to give it a listen.

In the meantime, pipe on!


Carrying the Bagpipes

When you see a bagpiper playing live, you might sometimes wonder about some of the finer details. Where did they get that kilt? What's that funny purse thing hanging around their waist? Is that a knife stuck in their sock?? And here's a question you probably never even thought to ask-how in the world did that piper get their bagpipes here in the first place?

There are all sorts of fancy carrying cases for bagpipes. There are cases that come as backpacks, with shoulder straps, and on wheels. There are hard shell cases made especially for airplane travel and monogrammed cases for the styling piper.

But let's face it, bagpipes and all the things that make me into Piping Girl, cost a fair amount of money. I went the quality route where I needed to, my pipes are quality, as is my uniform.

But I found that I could be cheap in the case I carried my bagpipes in. This is a lovely yellow tool box that I bought for about $15 at Menards. As you can see, my bagpipes fit into it very nicely. I could add some extra padding, but I don't really need to. The bagpipes are a pretty sturdy instrument, the stocks are made out of African Black Wood, and the only thing you really need to be careful with is the chanter (where you put your fingers), and of course the reeds.

It would be nice to have a shoulder strap as I have walked several blocks carrying my case a time or two, but for now it works.

Plus, the expression on a person's face when I pull a set of bagpipes out of a big yellow tool-box is absolutely priceless. I will probably continue to carry my pipes in my big yellow case purely for the "face" value.

Pipe on!


Samurai Jack and The Scotsman

I just found this video on youtube and had a good laugh over it:

No doubt many a person has wanted to do this to the bagpipes!

Pipe on!


Bagpiping Lullaby?!

If you've ever heard bagpipes played live, then you know that they are loud. To put this into some perspective, when I practice my bagpipes I wear ear-plugs, I'm just one piper, but that's how loud they are. I also read a study that came out of Britain where they said that a pipe band is as loud as a jet engine. It is a loud instrument!

How then can a lullaby that's meant to put sweet little babies to sleep, be played on the bagpipes? Yet there's a tune that I play on the bagpipes that is in fact a lullaby.

The tune is called Suo Gan. It's actually a Welsh lullaby that's traced back to the year 1800.

It was originally written in Welsh, so here's the English translation of the lyrics:

Sleep, my baby, on my bosom, Warm and cozy, it will prove,
Round thee mother's arms are folding, In her heart a mother's love.
There shall no one come to harm thee, Naught shall ever break thy rest;
Sleep, my darling babe, in quiet, Sleep on mother's gentle breast.
Sleep serenely, baby, slumber, Lovely baby, gently sleep;
Tell me wherefore art thou smiling, Smiling sweetly in thy sleep?
Do the angels smile in heaven When thy happy smile they see?
Dost thou on them smile while slum'bring On my bosom peacefully.

It is a somewhat famous tune. Steven Spielberg used it in his movie Empire of the Sun. It's played at both the beginning:

And then again at the end of the movie:

Apparently the heavy metal band Savatage played a version of this song called Heal My Soul on their 1991 album Streets: A Rock Album. I can't find a video version of this song, the best I can do is steer you to where you can hear a clip of the song. It sounds like it's basically the same melody, so here are Savatage's lyrics:

I've been waiting, long forgotten Shipwrecked on a distant shore
Am I drifting, no more wanted Floating outward evermore
All the dreams that I have harbored In the labyrinth of my soul
Gone forever Not discarded Only sleeping Till they're whole
In the graveyard of my heart now Sleep the years that I've long sold
For their markers is there nothing Only ghost I cannot hold
And Father hear me I am tired Shall I waken In thy home
And hold me closer I am trying Sweet Lord Jesus Heal my soul

Strangely enough, I cannot for the life of me find a version of it on bagpipes. Some day when I have better audio/visual equipment (right now all I've got is the video program on my cell phone and digital camera), I will have to record myself playing it on bagpipes. It's a very lovely tune and I really like how my band plays it. We play it as part of a two tune set right now. The first tune is really fast, and than we break into Suo Gan, this gorgeous slow tune. The contrast between the two is awesome. Every time I play the two songs together, and I break into the hauntingly slow Suo Gan, it hits me hard.

Enjoy the tune, find a softer version if you really want to play it for your baby, and pipe on!


Presenting Piping Girl

So how did I come to be the only girl in my pipe band, and, let's face it, one of only a few girl pipers in a predominantly male activity?

It started with just a general interest in Scotland. The brogue, the country and its history, and more importantly, the music. It moved on to a love of bagpipe music after going to some local Scottish festivals.

My love of Scotland and the bagpipes became a sealed deal after I had the opportunity to live and work in Scotland for three months when I was in college. There's absolutely nothing like actually living in another country and culture. It was an amazing experience-castles, the Royal Mile, bagpipers in the Streets, Robert Burns dinners-I came home immediately wanting to go right back. Unfortunately, I've never made it back but I have had one of my Scottish friends visit me on several occasions.

After I returned I started thinking about how I could create a piece of the country that I had grown to love in my own life. Of course playing the bagpipes was right up there on my list of ways to do that. But finding a teacher for this pretty unique instrument was not easy to do.

Finally, about three years ago now, I happened to be leafing through my town's community education catalog and it was like those epiphany moments you read about in books or see on movies. A class was offering six bagpipe lessons for $90.

I signed up and off I went to my first lesson. The lessons were held at a local church. About twenty people signed up for the course, only one other girl besides me. At our first lesson we were treated with a bagpipe performance and a general overview. Basically, the band was looking for a way to increase their numbers and if we stuck with it beyond the six lessons we'd paid for, they would continue to teach us for free. Yes, you read that right, FOR FREE. The $90 we paid for the class covered the cost of our practice chanter and an instruction book, so until we bought the actual bagpipes, there would be no other costs.

This was like a dream come true. Until I got my practice chanter that is, and tried playing it at our first lesson.

In the pictures at the top of the post you will see my practice chanter. The picture on the top shows my practice chanter broken down so you can see the reed inside of it. I had never played an instrument with a reed in it before and I couldn't get the blasted thing to make a single note!

The picture on the bottom is the chanter all put together and ready to play. It sits next to my tv chair so that I can play whenever the spirit moves me. But I make sure to pack it up with my bagpipes each week for practice, our Pipe Major gets angry when he wants us to have a chanter practice and we don't have our chanters-for obvious reasons. It has seven holes on the top of it and one hole on the bottom of it.

It isn't an exact replica of the chanter I play on the actual bagpipes, my bagpipe chanter's holes are a bit further apart. But I start out learning any new tune on the chanter, and after it's memorized, I typically move it on to the bagpipes.
And that's the origin of Piping Girl!

I have a question for anyone that wanders on to this blog that I'd like you to comment on:

Have you ever wanted to play the bagpipes? If you've been able to follow through and play the bagpipes now, what's your finding the bagpipes story?

If you haven't been able to follow through, what has stood in your way?

Pipe on!


Bagpipes Rock the 1970's

I've written about bagpipe bands that that rock, but I haven't written about specific rock bands that feature the bagpipes in their songs. It's actually pretty amazing to look at all of the rock bands over history that make use of the bagpipes.

Since there are a lot of bands, I'll have to do several blogs on them. I thought a good way to break them up would be cover them by decades. The earliest bands I could find were from the 1970's so that's where we're starting.

The first band is The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Alex Harvey was a Scottish rocker and toured all over the place in the 1970's. This is their song Anthem performed in 1974. The bagpipes come in quite dramatically at the end so wait for it!

Next up is Sir Paul McCartney himself with his band Wings performing Mull of Kintyre in 1977.

Finally, the ultimate bagpipe Rock 'n Roll song, AC/DC's It's a Long Way to the Top in an incredibly awesome 1976 promo.

A couple of members from my band played this song along with the CD last Saint Patrick's Day, the crowd went insane!

Pipe on! Or maybe I should say rock on!


Last Parade

My parade last weekend went really well. The weather was absolutely perfect, sunhsine and aorund 65 so not too hot, not too cold, and no rain! We had 6 total pipers and 4 drummers, so not the greatest turnout, but 6 pipers and 4 drummers make a lot of noise so I don't think our audience missed out on anything.

Interesting comments from the parade watchers included one small boy who yelled "Those men are wearing skirts!" and some teenage girls who said they "liked guys in kilts".

The last little bit of the parade had a pretty steep slope, and wouldn't you know it we started a new set of tunes just as we turned up the corner to go up the hill. So we were playing up the whole hill! Needless to say I was wiped out by the time we got to the top, my lips were shot and I didn't have the breath I needed to blow. I made a valiant effort to play the last two sets but I was finished.

Our last parade of the season. And the conclusion of my first successful parade season:woo-hoo me!

I took some good pictures of my piping gear this past weekend so I plan on having a whole bunch of anatomy of a bagpipe/r in future posts.

Pipe on!


Playing the Practice Chanter

I'm just back from bagpipe practice, we're actually supposed to call it "rehearsal" because we "practice" at home. Or so our Pipe Major says. But this week I've barely gotten any practicing in, so it really was practice for me.

Fortunately, we just played on practice chanters tonight. Sometime, maybe this weekend if I remember, I'm going to take a bunch of pictures of all my bagpipe gear so you can see some of the things I talk about on here. Like the practice chanter. You're probably wondering what that is. It's basically the glorified recorder you played in elementary school, except it has a reed.

At any rate, we're winding down our parade season so at practice/rehearsal we got a bunch of new tunes to work on. Whenever we get new tunes we always start on the practice chanter. It would be next to impossible to just launch into a new tune on the bagpipes. It takes a lot of energy and focus to play the bagpipes and I can pipe along on the practice chanter while I'm watching tv.

So I start out on the practice chanter and just learn the tune, then I start trying to memorize the tune and slowly start working on it on the actual bagpipes. All of the tunes have to be memorized and it's far easier to memorize them right from the start when I'm still on the chanter. And it's important to memorize them correctly which is also easier to do on the chanter. I've memorized a couple of tunes wrong on the chanter and it's so hard to unlearn wrong notes.

One more parade to go and then I need to get down to the work of learning and memorizing new tunes.

Pipe on!


Scotland's National Anthem

In a previous post I talked about how Scotland doesn't have a national anthem. The reason they don't have one has to do of course with their history with England. For anything that they needed an anthem for, they actually used God Save the Queen. One of the verses in God Save the Queen has a line about crushing the Scots, granted they hardly ever sing that verse, but I can still how it still offends.

As they've become more independent from England they've been trying to come to some sort of consensus on a national anthem. At any rate, I thought it might be interesting to blog on the most popular tunes in the running and set up a little poll off to the side.

Flower of Scotland
The first and most popular song is called Flower of Scotland. This song was written in 1967 by the folk group The Corries. The song is about Robert the Bruce's victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. This is the same Robert the Bruce from Braveheart and the Battle of Bannockburn starts in the very last scene of the movie. This song was adopted by the Scottish Football Association (that's soccer in the U.S.) as their official pre-game anthem. One of the cons to this is that it's super hard to play on the Great Highland Bagpipes. Here are The Corries singing:

Higland Cathedral
The second song is called Highland Cathedral. This song was written in 1982 by German composers Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb. This song was written as a tribute to Scots fighting and serving overseas. It's often played as a hymn just before a battle. There are two sets of lyrics. I believe these are the original lyrics:

There is a land far from this distant shore
Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar
There is a land that will live ever more
Deep in my heart, my Bonnie Scotland
Though I serve so far away I still see your streams, cities and dreams
I can't wait until the day
When I'll come home once more
And so Lord keep me from the harm of war
Through all its dangers and the battle's roar
Keep me safe until I'm home once more
Home to my own in Bonnie Scotland

Another version is
Land of my fathers, we will always be
Faithful and loyal to our own country.
In times of danger, we will set you free.
Lead you to glory and to victory.
Hail, Caledonia, to our ancient land.
In this Highland Cathedral let us stand as men.
Joining together with one dream to share.
God bless the people of this land so fair.
Gone is the past, let us start anew.
Let this hope of peace, always remain.
Children of Scotia, be strong and true.
Then our children will smile again, again, again, again.
Rise, Caledonia, let your voices ring
In this Highland Cathedral of our God and King.
Whom, joy and liberty, to all, will bring.
Come; let your heart, with love and courage, sing

Here's a nice version played by The Royal Irish Regiment:

A Man's a Man for a 'That
The third song is called A Man's a Man for a 'That. This song was written by Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet.

This is old Scots again, here are the lyrics:

Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by -
We dare be poor for a that!
For a' that, an a' that!
Our toils obscure, an a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden grey, an a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine -
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
Their tinsel show, an a' that,
The honest man, tho e'er sae poor,
Is king o men for a' that.
Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an stares, an a' that?
Tho hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a cuif for a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
His ribband, star, an a' that,
The man o independent mind,
He looks an laughs at a' that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an a' that!
But an honest man's aboon his might -
Guid faith, he mauna fa' that!
For a' that, an a' that,
Their dignities, an a' that,
The pith o sense an pride o worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.
Then let us pray that come it may
(As come it will for a' that),
That Sense and Worth o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree an a' that.
For a' that, an a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That man to man, the world, o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

I like this version sung by Celtic Grooves:

Scotland the Brave
The fourth song in the running is Scotland the Brave. This song appeared around the turn of the 20th century and the lyrics were written by Scottish journalist Cliff Hanley around the 1950's.

Here are the lyrics:

Hark when the night is falling
Hear! hear the pipes are calling,
Loudly and proudly calling,
Down thro' the glen.
There where the hills are sleeping,
Now feel the blood a-leaping,
High as the spirits of the old Highland men.

Towering in gallant fame,
Scotland my mountain hame,
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour,
Land of the shining river,
Land of my heart for ever,
Scotland the brave.
High in the misty Highlands,
Out by the purple islands,
Brave are the hearts that beat
Beneath Scottish skies.
Wild are the winds to meet you,
Staunch are the friends that greet you,
Kind as the love that shines from fair maidens' eyes.

Far off in sunlit places,
Sad are the Scottish faces,
Yearning to feel the kiss
Of sweet Scottish rain.
Where tropic skies are beaming,
Love sets the heart a-dreaming,
Longing and dreaming for the homeland again.

I'm very amused by this version of it. Be prepared, it's called doggy dancing and in this video it's done to Scotland the Brave. I saw some of this interesting sport last winter:

Scots Wha Hae!
The last song in the running is Scots Wha Hae! I blogged about that recently so I won't repeat any of that here.

So there you have it. Of all of these songs, I only know how to play Scotland the Brave and Scots Wha Hae on the pipes and my vote would go to Scots Wha Hae.

After you've had a listen go and vote in the poll.

Pipe on!
ss_blog_claim=68f7af64104fe11da76f3d4a6a84c2cd ss_blog_claim=68f7af64104fe11da76f3d4a6a84c2cd