Scenes from Cambridge Highland Games (1989!)

January 30, 2022 on 9:03 am by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Stories, Video | Comments Off on Scenes from Cambridge Highland Games (1989!)

I’ve just had a bag full of old VHS videos digitized. They’ve been kicking around collecting dust for years; after having sourced a place for a digitization job for The Pipers’ & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, I thought I’d get my lot done at the same time.
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In Praise of Ear Learning

December 1, 2021 on 4:57 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping | Comments Off on In Praise of Ear Learning

It dawned on me as I waded through the day’s Duolingo French exercises: learning a language is easiest by immersion; that is, to be constantly around the sounds of the language. To live it, to learn what the sounds mean, what they represent. In childhood, for instance, I’d have to think it’s often the things done wrong that prove to be the speediest way to ingrain words. As goes the old axiom: we most often learn best from the mistakes we make: “Mon Dieu! Idiot! Le poêle est chaud ! Tu t’es brûlé la main !”.
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A Tune from John MacFadyen

November 13, 2021 on 5:13 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Stories, Video | Comments Off on A Tune from John MacFadyen

The piobaireachd, Rory McLoude’s Lament has always been a favourite. The old Anglicized spelling of MacLeod is likely connected to its first appearance in the Campbell canntaireachd manuscripts. And, as this is the spelling chosen by the editors of book eleven of The Piobaireachd Society Collection (1966), this is how pipers generally spell the tune. But that’s enough on letters. It’s a fine piece; in fact, Joseph MacDonald, in his Compleat Theory (1762) described it as a “…very soft lament …”. This tune, too, was among the first I learned from the hands of Bill Livingstone. He, in turn, was taught this tune by John MacFadyen (1926-1979).
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John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

June 29, 2021 on 3:58 pm by Michael Grey | In Photographs, Solo Piping, Stories | Comments Off on John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

Anyone who has visited the excellent G S McLennan website will have seen a smashing photograph of John MacDonald of Inverness. I include it here for easy reference (well, for those click-averse). This version is colourized and “enhanced” – and I’m not entirely sure its better than the original.
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Imagining Three Greats: Animating Ross, McLennan & MacDonald

March 6, 2021 on 1:30 pm by Michael Grey | In Audio File, Photographs, Solo Piping, Video | Comments Off on Imagining Three Greats: Animating Ross, McLennan & MacDonald

There’s a famous photo generally available online and everywhere (I suppose that’s redundant) of three of the most famous pipers of the twentieth century – if not all time. The photo is a post-WWI study of Pipe Major William “Willie” Ross, George S McLennan and John MacDonald (Inverness). You’ll likely know, MacDonald almost always gets an “Inverness” plugged on to his name due to the popularity, to this day, of the combination of given and surnames. Though, truth be told, he isn’t the only John MacDonald to ever call Inverness his home. But to pipers everywhere, when the name appears with the marker “(Inverness)” we know precisely the man mentioned: one of the greatest exponents of piobaireachd, one who left a great musical legacy thanks to a hugely impactful lifelong teaching effort.
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Bill Livingstone on Lament for Mary MacLeod and Ceol Mor (generally)

February 24, 2021 on 10:56 am by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Stories, Video | Comments Off on Bill Livingstone on Lament for Mary MacLeod and Ceol Mor (generally)

I’ve known Bill Livingstone since I first met him as a young feller attending The Seaway School of Piping in 1981 where Bill was an instructor. The school was held each July centred in and around Ban Righ Hall of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Colin MacLellan directed the school and his, dad, Captain John MacLellan, the school’s principal instructor. I recall this because, in part, the video presented here has Bill talking a little about his time there and a pithy – yet monumentally important – piobaireachd lesson Captain MacLellan offered Bill related to piobaireachd interpretation. You’ll have to watch the video to glean that secret (33’15”) and the many others mentioned connected to interpreting the big music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.
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Advice from G S McLennan: “There are those who can …

November 30, 2020 on 2:05 pm by Michael Grey | In Solo Piping, Technique, Tips | Comments Off on Advice from G S McLennan: “There are those who can …

George Stewart McLennan was not just a great player and composer; he was an important contributor to the evolution of the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe. In his approach to technique (meaning embellishments and associated phrasing) he was on the vanguard of the music’s transition from the 19th to 20th centuries.
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Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert

October 31, 2020 on 5:03 am by Michael Grey | In Random Thoughts, Solo Piping | Comments Off on Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert

You’ll know today was the annual Glenfiddich Piping Championships. I tuned in to the pandemic version and took in the contest online. It was while Connor Sinclair was in mid-tune that the thought struck me: the piece he’s playing is not really all that old. Sure, it’s a good stretch older than the performer but as a tune written around 1837 its still shy of 200 years old. There’s even wine and beer around that have been known to be drinkable after 200 years. Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy is a much-liked favourite in the repertoires of many piobaireachd players: purely melodic, it hits the mark as a tune to be savoured – and played.
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The 2021 pipe band season: possible solutions

August 31, 2020 on 6:13 pm by Michael Grey | In News, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on The 2021 pipe band season: possible solutions

Not too long ago Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Teresa Tam offered up a sobering – if not depressing – update to Canadians:

“We’re planning, as a public health community, that we’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term on the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don’t know yet.”

It seems that – as much as we’d hope – there may not be a swift magic way out of the fog of our pandemic-lived lives.

I’ve been thinking for a while about competition possibilities for pipe bands (and soloists, too). Pre-recorded online activity is ok, maybe, for a brief locked-down moment in time but it does nothing to slake the thirst of the competition-loving piper and drummer. To create an event – a real event, a happening of importance and one where a paying audience is interested – any competitive online presentation must be live (or, at least, a recorded “one-off-only” performance; more on this later)
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Online Piping Competitions

June 10, 2020 on 7:01 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Tips | Comments Off on Online Piping Competitions

Hats off to New Zealand. This past Monday (June 8) marked the first day since February that there’s been no active cases of Covid-19. Among many other pleasant pre-pandemic freedoms, the country can again hold public events without limitations on numbers. Thinking of piping and pipe band competitions the Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands’ Association enjoyed a pipe case full of good luck in the timing of their final contest of the year. Presented in the South Island city of Invercargill on the weekend of March 13, the organization’s national championship came in just under the quarantine wire. I thought at the time it would be the world’s final pipe band championship of 2020. And I may be right (sadly). Barring, of course, some kind of online “championship” – just the kind of post-apocalyptic thing New Zealand pipers and drummers can take off their to-do – or worry – list.
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