I’m back after a bit…

I'm back after a bit of a break. The completion of my bagpipe concerto took longer than I thought… I finally finished it on Tuesday morning at 3am! The writing was finshed at 4pm but when I reconvened at 10.30pm – after starting the new Harry Potter book – to write in the piano chord names it took me about 3 hours and then a further 90 minutes to input them to the computer. I'm very happy with the end product.

 

The rehearsal went very well yesterday (another one today). I spent time on the dynamics, tempo markings etc to make the individual instrument parts readable and playable quickly with not too much complication. Simon McKerrell did very well at his first reading ofthe parts. He is playing a D chanter but I have written in C, Cminor, D, C#minor which is very testing. We'll have to think about the tuning of the chanter to keep it consistent throughout the performance.

 

The perfomance is on the 9th August at 5pm in the National Piping Centre, Glasgow.

 

Anyway here are some facts I compiled about the piece:

 

• World Premiere on 9th August, 2007 (5pm), National Piping Centre, Piping Live Festival, Glasgow

• First ever Scottish Smallpipe concerto (probably even bagpipe but I can't substantiate this)

• Commissioned by Garvie Bagpipes

• Utilises Garvie Bagpipe’s unique fully chromatic chanter

• Written for a traditional music ensemble where the instrument is most at home

• Written to show off the virtuostic capabilities of the instrument and to expand the Scottish Smallpipe repertoire.

 

On another note, we've notified the Hall of Fame inductees and they're all very happy to join the Hall. I'll talk more of this in my next blog. I've now got to get back to work and concentrate on everything else including starting my fiddle concerto…

 

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Technique or feel.

I been thinking about the question of how important is technique in traditional music and is 'feel' mutually exclusive or can this and technique work together? Both are important and work well together although technique on its own doesn't work in trad music. Maybe feel is the most important part of our music?

Technique though, is becoming more prevalent – probably through the music colleges and also with the influx of young people performing. Is this a positive thing or is it stripping the identity from the music? Already many regional styles are disappearing because of breakup of communities, central belt drift etc and I wonder if more concentration should be made on 'feel'.

How do you teach 'feel'? In my opinion it is all about listening to old recordings, older musicians and performing with peers not just contemporaries. You have to be prepared to live and breath the music. Of course this can take quite bit of work sourcing records from at least pre 1990s(!) Many of the young musicians I talk to do not really listen to much trad music outside what is being released now.

There are some great resources out there (including our own www.footstompin.com) but one with lots of info on musicians, bands and recordings that is worth checking out is Nigel Gatherer's website http://www.nigelgatherer.com/. It lists all the old Scottish bands and their unavailable LPs with background information. All of this should also be incorporated in the new trad music grade exams that are being tested throughout Scotland at the moment.

If I'm honest I'm a fan of technique (combined with 'feel'). Technique comes with working hard at your instrument and enables you to do new things or makes complicated old things sound easy. My bug bear is that alot of musicians do not work hard enough at their instrument and end up in middle ground – being good enough to do most things but not of sufficient practice to try anything new. I would like to hear many more trad musicians capable of being soloists. They do not have to go down this road – as playing in a group can be the best fun – but they should be practised enough to step up to the mark if called apon.

Here's an interesting discussion on this subject http://www.footstompin.com/forum?threadid=87179

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We’ve had a great week…

We've had a great week at Tinto Summer School. The weather has been up and down but the young people don't seem to worry about it. We're very lucky to have such great young ones involved in the week – they're all up for learning tunes, playing tunes, dancing, football, rounders, fancy dress, teaching others tunes and sessions. In the organising of this event (done mostly by Paul Murray this year) I feel quite jaded at times and often question carrying on with it but as soon as I arrive it is amazing. There's so much talent in our young folk. We should have no worries for the future. It's great being at the coal face, witnessing what's going on. The concert tonight will be fun and heart warming at the same time. It starts at 7.30 and is scheduled (on my fancy spreadsheet) to finish at 9.53pm! We'll all come back to Wiston Lodge and have a big party.

My bagpipe concerto is finally happening on the 9th August in the Piping Centre. I've have to finish it quickly! I visited the soloist Simon McKerrell on Wednesday to introduce him to some of the music which was a positive experience. I need to do a pile of writing tomorrow – just the third movement to go and then I have to orchestrate for the ensemble.

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Wooden CD

Our Cascade trip went very well last week. We had nice hotels where I managed to get lots of writing done and great gigs both well supported by the public. A few years back on a German Folk Festival tour I introduced the concept of the 'wooden CD', a prize to the band/artist that sold the least product. I wasn't in last place at that point (Tony McManus was) however I did manage to make a late run and pick up the wooden CD for myself. At the Cascade gigs it is something similar although I haven't left last place yet and it isn't looking good! (I've yet to sell one!!)

I don't mind this too much as I believe that in music you should not be catering for anybody else. You should make music you like and if someone else likes it that's great (but secondary). I don't think you can go out to please people – this hinders the creative process. You have to please yourself. You have to believe in yourself. If you're not making music for you then what is the point. This is not going to make you money (unless you hit the jackpot) but real creativity is not about financial gain more fulfillment of your inner being. When I'm writing I feel at my best because I'm creating something. I will always make recordings and perform in a manner that suits me and if an audience chooses to come along then I'll be happy.

We visited the opening of the Scottish parliament on Saturday. It was great to see so many Scottish trad acts on the bill. I say see as we arrived late and it was sadly pouring of rain and we couldn't hang around because it was too wet for the baby. Maybe we are starting to see a sea change and the Goverment are recognising our traditional culture and the benefits it brings to our identity – not the pop trash that could be from anywhere which the many commercial radio stations persist in playing non-stop. By the way good to see the Spice Girls are reforming, just what we need – more trash.

We're at Tinto Summer School this week. I can happily say that we've got 56 young people attending many for the umpteenth time. It's amazing to watch them grow and learn. It will be a fun week even if the rain doesn't stop!

 

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