A Musician’s Struggle: Rehearsal Space

January 9, 2016 on 7:51 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Whinges | Comments Off on A Musician’s Struggle: Rehearsal Space

When you’re a musician it’s never easy finding practice or rehearsal space. In big cities especially, high density and thin walls make snagging the right reliable place tricky in the extreme. But when you’re a piper – or group, like a pipe band – the challenge is layered with bias, barriers and brutal complication. I’ve found myself “practicing” tunes in some seriously ropey places: the B3, or third sub-level, of an underground parking lot on Bay Street across from Toronto City Hall, pretty much every men’s WC of any indoor contest or event I have ever participated in and the reclined front passenger seat of a Renault 5 (in the pouring rain while parked on Dunollie Terrace, Oban).

I remember a good long time ago practicing with the band before the Worlds in the front garden area outside Glasgow University’s Horselethill House. At the time this very large, old Victorian house was a university residence. This is where we were staying. It was mid-day and the only people stuck in nearby homes and uni residences would be dowager wives and truant students. But there was at least one person who hated our stylings to the point of calling the polis. There’s always “that” person, isn’t there?

And so we had a friendly visit from reps of the service sponsoring the biggest pipe band of the day: the Strathclyde Police. Car pulls up, two coppers step out, head straight to the Pipe Major (Bill Livingstone) and say, “Excuse us Pipe Major, we’ve received a complaint about noise from a Scottish pipe band.” Now you have to picture this as the band is in the typical circle, sweaty, holding instruments, and now focused on the Pipe Major for reasons beyond musical direction. Not to miss a trick, or an opportunity, Bill replied, “Well officer I don’t know about that. We just landed today from Toronto; we’re a Canadian pipe band.” The copper guys were clearly enjoying the patter potential with one responding, “Well, a Canadian pipe band; that’s quite different from a Scottish pipe band. Enjoy your practice.” And off they went. Bless their pipe band-loving hearts.

We lucked out that time. It doesn’t always happen that way.

The last while we have been hard at it trying to find rehearsal space in Glasgow for the upcoming LiveinIreland87 project. The Celtic Connections group have jammed most venues with acts for the duration of the festival and are unsurprisingly at wit’s end to find a City Centre rehearsal venue. They reached out to the planning team for help: did we have any inside track knowledge of potential rehearsal space?

So off we went, reaching out to one and all and scouring the city for a fair place to play. What we found was a massive hate-on for pipe bands. Period. There are, in fact, lots of halls, rooms and theatres in Glasgow to rehearse but once you start talking pipe bands? Fugetaboutit.

My favourite exchange comes thanks to a contact at one of the oldest theatres in the city, in the Gorbals (the Gorbals!). This place brands itself now as a community, er, “citizen’s”, organization and had the perfect free space for the group. Once we got to the stage of booking and details – and news we were a *gulp* pipe band – this is what we got back:

“Unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate a pipe band of 40 musicians in our building due to the noise this would create. We have theatre rehearsal spaces and although sound proofed – not for a 40 strong pipe band I’m afraid. You might be better suited to hire a bowling club hall … “

Bowling Club Member
“Noise?” A bowling club? An effing “bowling club”! I found it hard not to read this person’s note without imagining a plummy accent – but that’s just me and my sad bias.

Anyway, a bowling club would be out of the question: we’d never get in without white hats and jackets – and they’re way outside our budget.

So we’re now good to go knowing one thing for sure: nothing is easy. Nothing.


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