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Andrew Lenz's bagpipe journeyAndrew
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Andrew's Competition #14 - August 7, 2004

Today is Wednesday, August 4, 2004. The Monterey Highland Games begin on Saturday, just a few short days away. As I sit here typing this, I'm hoping this competition season isn't going to be one health challenge after another! Monday night I pulled a muscle connecting my left shoulder and my neck. It was so painful last night I rolled onto the floor when I was supposed to begin reading a bedtime story to my daughter Charlotte. She didn't get that story. So, I'm off the pipes this week. Perfect timing, sigh. Playing-wise as of last week, I need a little more work focusing on the first variation on my piobaireachd (if I don't pay attention, I wander off the tune), my slow march is on par with a month ago and I feel stronger about my 2/4 march. On the instrument side of things, I'm not happy with my reed, it's a tad hard and sounds rotten with a piobaireachd high-G, which I'm hoping to use, of course.

Friday, August 6, 2004. Had a brief lesson with Jay Salter, my instructor, late in the afternoon just running through the piobaireachd a couple of times. We decided to just opt for a regular high-G fingering as the piobaireachd version was just not happening with my current reed. I was uncharacteristically trashing my grips. And my cadence (E, D A, birl) was getting bunched up, so we worked on that a bit. He also noticed a crossing noise coming up to E from C, another unusual thing. Jay suggested that I hold the end of the phrases longer, as well as keep the variation moving and consistent. Things to try and fix by tomorrow! One of my tenors cut out, so I'll have to investigate that too.
Later on this evening, I had a shoulder relapse where it pulled to about 80% of the intense pain I had earlier in the week for about 5 minutes then it tapered off over an hour or so. I was wincing. Definitely hurt.

Saturday, August 7, 2004
. I went to sleep around 11 p.m., only woke a few times with my internal clock wanting me to make sure I hadn't overslept my 5:58—obviously analog!—alarm. I picked up Kip Nead on the way down to Toro Park, home of the Monterey Games. We arrived around 8 a.m. to sunny skies and soon to be climbing temperatures. I forgot sunscreen and didn't bring a hat. Fortunately, there's a lot of trees around down there. Bandmates, Paul Llewellyn arrived at the same time and Zach Duncan arrived a little later.

Things just didn't seem to be clicking today. While my shoulder didn't really hurt, it felt a little tight. For whatever reason, during my warm up, I was having a hard time getting the drone tuning just right—no, we're not talking chanter pitch migration. Though, maybe the chanter reed that's been giving me a little trouble, varied a bit too much with pressure. I'm not sure. (Always blame the reed, right?) My tenors didn't shut down when blowing really hard, so they seemed to be fine.

I ran into Robert Boyd, one of the judges, chatting with a few people, and he commented that I'd been credited in a book—currently on his nightstand—called "Bagpipe Brothers." The author, Kerry Sheridan, had contacted me a while back. Aside from her using my reference pages, I helped her with whatever I could. She was researching for a book about the New York City's fire department bagpipe band in the wake of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. I hadn't thought at all about the correspondence. Rather exciting. That's the second acknowledgement in a book, following bestselling author Joann Ross' Out of the Mist romance novel.

In Woody Allen's film The Purple Rose of Cairo, the character of a movie comes to life and crosses the threshold of virtual space into reality. This games was a little like that for me. A bit surreal. I suppose it would only be a matter of time before the judges would start mentioning this site at competitions. Scott MacDonald mentioned an experimental bass drone reed he's been playing. Rob Boyd brought up the point of his judging comments showing up here. (The piping world meets it's virtual counterpart!) But being judges, it didn't keep them from scoring me out of the playoffs!

The Registration Tent.
The schedule was posted on the opposite side of the A-frame. And later, the results.

My first event was the 2/4 March, scheduled for 9:42 at Platform 1 with Scott MacDonald.

Here's what was on my 2/4 March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Monterey, Date: 8/7/04, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791, Grade: IV, Event: 2/4 March
Tune: S. of Delghi

1st/ Watch tempos - Rushing parts.
Bottom hand work - Not always clean

2/ Tenor Stopped -> Ouch!

3/ Better as you play.

4/ Watch tempos -

Overall -
Chanter good!
Drones - Band drone!

Points Awarded: 66

Judge's Signature: <MacDonald>

This was better than my first attempt at a 2/4 march, no chokes. He mentioned that it seemed that I spent the first section of the tune deciding on a tempo. I really needed to settle in and run the first phrase through my head before starting, then follow the "groove." I only noticed my shoulder once while playing. Bummer was my center tenor shut down in the middle of the tune. Drone reeds are mysterious things sometimes, but I think it's just a matter of pipers blowing harder than normally possible in a competition situation. Last year, Kip Morais (a Monterey Bay Area piper) at the Pleasanton Games had all of his drones shut down during his 2/4, then immediately after the event struck up his instrument, blew as hard as he possibly could and couldn't get even one to shut down. Go figure.

Scott MacDonald judges a competitor at Platform 1 about an hour after my performance.

Before my next event the slow march at 9:48, almost immediately following the 2/4, I moved up the bridle on the offending drone reed—it gave me no more trouble the rest of the day. The slow march was at Platform 3 with Robert Boyd.

Here's what was on my Slow March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Monterey, Date: 8/7/04, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791, Grade: IV, Event: Slow March
Tune: Hearken My Love

Spend another minute or two making sure your instrument has settled.

Nice full sound from the drones, but they were tuned a bit sharp at start and never settled. Chanter over-powered a bit by the drones—thin & needs to be blown out particularly on the top hand.

Good tempo. Nice melody line coming through well. Execution good too, but some work needed (leumluath, doublings for example) for even more consistent basic movements. Good work.

Points Awarded: 68

Judge's Signature: <R Boyd>

I was losing my lip seal a bit, blowing past the blowpipe, ironically, just as I had a couple years ago playing for Rob Boyd in Monterey! He was kind enough not to mention it, or maybe it was unnoticeable. As a result in that break in concentration, I made a couple of embellishment errors, which he eluded to with his "some work needed" comment. I just haven't been able to do as much on the big pipes lately as I should for various work/family/health obligations. Not as good of a performance as in Campbell.

There was a couple hour break before the piobaireachd event at 11:32. I wandered about, chatted with people. If I was thinking, I would have spent the time listening to my recording of The Battle of Auldearn.

Warming up for the piobaireachd, I decided to change the birl for my cadence from the "tap and pull" to the "7" style birl to break the problematic mold—at least temporarily. Seems to have worked.

Here's what was on my Piobaireachd WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Monterey, Date: 8/7/04, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791, Grade: IV, Event: Piobaireachd
Tune: Battle of Auldearn

Drones full, not quite in at start. Drifted further in variation. Chanter bright—nice chanter.

Nice pace in ground. Off tune briefly, but a good recovery. Tune is drifting a bit—needs a clearer approach to the phrases.

Execution solid. Timing in the first variation good but erratic in spots.

Strive for a smooth, consistent presentation in first & subsequent variations.

Good work.

Points Awarded: 71

Judge's Signature: <R Boyd>

Somewhere in the tune, I had a brain burp and fumbled a couple notes, but got back on track. Kip Nead wasn't so lucky. He got off his tune once, recovered, then got off again this time too far to get back. Kip and I had gone 1-2 last year, this year I dropped from first to third and he dropped out of the running completely. I'd have to say that Mr. Boyd's comments were spot on, echoing the sentiments of my instructor the afternoon before regarding the irregular timing in my variation and the need for more pronounced phrasing. Jay had also felt my ground (urlar) was very solid.

Paul Llewellyn recorded my piobaireachd performance, so it's going to be interesting to hear myself in competition. Maybe I can figure out a way to get that done on a regular basis. If things work out with Paul, maybe I can put a little sound snippet on this page.

I was chatting with Kip Morais and his entourage when Kip Nead strolled over and told me the results were up and "congratulations." Being suspenseful, he wouldn't tell me what I was awarded, so I made the short trek over the registration tent to find a third place medal waiting for me, behind Kip Morais' second and someone's first place. I suppose I should pat myself for a having a strong enough performance to garner a third place even with a couple wrong notes. I'm disappointed I didn't play my best though.

[I found out later that 8 pipers competed in the piobaireachd event, Paul took fourth. Brendan Allen, who I don't know, took the first place spot.]

Third place, Piobaireachd, Monterey Games 2004

The Drone Reed Collection.

I brought along the drone reed collection mentioned elsewhere on this site for other pipers to peruse. Once all the solo events were done and results posted, I made the collection available. Unfortunately, a lot the band pipers were getting ready for their group events, so most couldn't break away to see the collection, but I did get a number of curious pipers.

Pipers checking out drone reeds from the official collection.

Wrapping up.

I figure there's two bright spots for today. First, my 2/4 performance was a huge improvement over my first attempt at it last month. Second, even on an "off-day"—with a recovering shoulder, funky reed, lack of practice, generally just "off"—I was able to manage a third in piobaireachd. That's something I couldn't do a couple years ago.

The other positive aspect of not advancing is that I get to take my two kids—Nicholas (7) and Charlotte (5)—to the Cabrillo Music Festival's free family concert tomorrow in downtown Santa Cruz. Family time! In this instance, my wife was very happy I didn't have to return tomorrow for the playoffs. (I think she clapped!) She has a bridal shower to help host this weekend!

I'm concerned about the embellishment issues I'm having in competition, I know they sound good on a practice chanter, after six and a half years of piping, I know a well executed embellishment from a poor one. I'll have to determine how to correct it, with a proper transition to the big pipes.

Now, I'm going to rest my shoulder—it's a little tight as I type this—and after that, make a push for a better performance in Pleasanton!

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