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Andrew's Competition #20 - September 2-4, 2005

Wednesday, August 24, 2005.

I received the schedule for the Pleasanton Games in the mail today. Mercifully, I'll be playing a little later on Saturday, not until 9:30 or so. For Friday's piobaireachd, I'm scheduled for 1:40 in the afternoon. Last night, I played on my pipes for the first time since the Monterey Games. It was peculiar to find the joints loose on my pipes from lack of use. I've been continuing to deal with mild soreness in my hands and wrists, therefore have been only playing for very brief periods on the practice chanter though still almost every day. I've been focusing on the parts of the tunes that need the most work. Boy, I sure hope I can get my act together, nine days. Lately, I've been doing more stretching and rubbing/massaging of my hands and wrists. I'm hoping that will help.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005.

I played with the band at practice last night for the first time in what felt like months. I was getting pretty tired and my hands/arms were getting fatigued by the end and a bit tight. I had a lesson with Jay Salter, my instructor, this afternoon, entirely on the pipes. Where I'm feeling it most is on the back of my right hand and the inside of my right forearm. We spent some time tweaking the tuning on my chanter and most of the time picking apart my three competition tunes. I need to pull out more expression in my slow march, not push the tempo and clean up my grips for the 2/4 march, and hold the low-As and hold the high-As in the first variation of the piobaireachd. Little things here and there. Nothing major, but potentially enough to keep me out of medals, especially at Pleasanton. It's a tough venue. I have been listening to recordings of my competition tunes, the piobaireachd most often, that should help.

I'm feeling old. My right knee is sore (pulled ligament or something) from playing a softball game about 10 days ago and my hands and wrists are still not back to normal. Getting ready for this competition is like going to bed at 3 a.m. knowing you have to get up at 6!

Friday, September 2, 2005.

I've decided that I like morning competitions versus competitions in the afternoon. I had just enough time this morning to be at odd ends. Not enough time for a serious project plus my head would be thinking about something else. My wrists were hurting but I took a Tylenol and a Motrin to help.

I left Santa Cruz about 11:10 a.m., driving mostly with my left hand, and arrived in Pleasanton about 12:15. Weather was in the 80s, not too bad for this venue. Today was piobaireachd, I was to play at 1:40 p.m. I arrived over by the registration booth just in time to see Paul Llewellyn chatting with judge Rob Boyd right after his 12:10 performance. I gave them both a wave, got smiles and waves in return, and found a place to park my pipe case.

I started keeping an eye out for George MacKay, a student of Jay's who's been piping for three years and was entering his first competition today. I was to help him tune up . . . if I could find him! (Jay had an obligation come up and couldn't make it.) I walked around talking to people, Kip Moralis and clan, Gary Gifford and his 12-year-old winning piper daughter Amanda, Jennifer Febre—who'd done very well at Monterey and plays for Misty Isle PB—and a fellow named John from Oregon.

I eventually found George about 10 minutes before he was to play and helped him tune up. His E was definitely flat so I raised that a bit. For what little I listened to while we tuned, his technique seems pretty clean. The big disappointment for George was his outside tenor was too loose and slipped down just as he was to play for the Rob Boyd so his drones were really far out.

I started warming up my pipes and things felt good. Chanter was on, drones were not locking in exactly, but got better after a little bit. I think the heat helped my hand and wrists. My fingers seemed accurate and my hands weren't bothering me that much. (Typing this, I can feel it on the inside of my right forearm.)

George—who drove up in an RV—changed into shorts and a T-shirt and reappeared with a video camera and tripod to tape Mike's and my performances. That will be very interesting to see. I haven't had a performance taped since my very first—wait, no, I had Pleasanton a couple years ago taped, but I've never watched it, too painful! My first one at Monterey was pretty painful too, I only have watched that one once! In any case, this one should be educational.

Mike Lindelsee was scheduled to play 10 minutes before me. Paul and I helped tune him up then off they went. I stayed to continue warming up and tweak the drone tuning for another five minutes or so then headed over myself.

Don Saraceno of Oregon, who'd e-mailed me for the first time a few weeks ago walked over and introduced himself. He politely excused himself once I told him I was next. (He's a Grade IV competing piper, he knows what's up.)

Mike was done and I waited for Rob to finish up the score sheet. I walked over, and being very official, he told me the tune requirements. I gave him the tune, took a few steps off, struck in and started analyzing the drones against tune snippets. It was pretty close still, hard to tell if I could improve it or not without a long re-tuning process. So I turned and started the tune.

It went very well, aside from the drones which started drifting out of tune with the chanter. I stayed on the tune, felt I did well with the phrasing, pretty clean fingering, had no reed chokes. It felt good and I was happy with my performance aside from wondered how much damage was done by the drones being out, that and some slight pressure changes that I heard.

Playing "Battle of Auldearn (No. 1)" for Rob Boyd.

You can just see what Rob is thinking: "Just a few more pipers and lunch is all mine!"

Uh, oh. Hat hair showing! I was wearing a baseball cap earlier to keep out of the sun.

You can see Rob is writing now: "...lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, extra mayo..."

Actually he might be writing "...I particularly like the confident approach...."

Once I was done, Rob offered that he liked that particular tune and that I'd played it well. Mike said it sounded beautiful.

While waiting for the event to wrap up, I spotted Steve Megarity (reed maker and former PM of the L.A. Police Pipe Band and now PM of Misty Isle) tuning up Jennifer Febre for her piobaireachd. When I introduced myself as "Andrew Lenz" he said "oh, yeah," though I'm not sure if he was just being polite. Steve was one of the instructors at a one day WUSPBA workshop that I attended a few years back—not that he knew me from a hole in the ground. We had a nice chat about the Misty Isle Pipe Band and the challenges of tuning in the heat of Pleasanton. That, and the Worlds last month, and I asked about his reed making business. Friendly guy, ended up shooting the breeze with Mike and George too since they strolled over to join us.

Waiting for results, I hung out with a variety of folks. I was kidding Don S. about his making the mistake of asking for the score sheets too early. Gotta give those organizers their breathing space!

Finally, the top three finishers for the Leet "B" (not ours) were stapled to the fence—unfamiliar names. After another 10-15 minutes, Leet "A" went up. Rats. No one I knew, including myself. The next question is whether I'd managed to get a Top-5 finish or not. Time to get the score sheet.

My Piobaireachd Adjudication Sheet:

Place: Pleasanton,
Contest: GR IV, Date: 9/2/05, Competitor's No.: 528
Competitor's name: Andrew Lenz Jr, Judge's Name: [blank]
Name of Tune: Battle of Auldearn #1

Drones close & good balance with chanter.

Watch high A—overblown. Listen to drones to watch for surges in pressure.

Tempo never drags and I particularly like the confident approach to line 2 in ground.

More delineation needed between end of ground & beginning of Var. I.

Drones starting to drift.

Don't be afraid to give even more emphasis on the theme notes in Var. I.

Nice tune, Andrew.

Score: 62

Placing: [Blank]

Judge's Signature: <Robert Boyd>

Double drat. No placing either. There were 14 pipers signed up in my leet, so even if all of them showed up, that leaves me out of the top third. The Pleasanton Jinx continues. Of course, there's just a whole lot of pipers competing there. Not to mention, the caliber of piping is usually above average for a games. And Pleasanton draws pipers from all over North America. To quote a famous song: "If you can make it there, you can make it annny-where!" Paul, Mike and George all scored in the 50s.

I got asked by one of Kip Moralis' group, Shep, how I did. No placing. "Bit of a dry spell for you, isn't it?" "Yep."

I think I may be in the market for a new chanter reed soon. One that's a little harder to overblow.

Now that I've aggravated my hands by typing this up, I go back tomorrow morning! I have my doubts that I'll place in anything tomorrow. But I like to think that I've got a reasonable chance to place in the slow march—and I've been surprised in the 2/4 March in the past. Who knows.

Charlotte, my daughter turns 7-years-old tomorrow. Time marches on!

Day 2
Saturday, September 3, 2005.

I was up at 6:50 and on the road by 7:40 with a Motrin and Tylenol in my system. No minor accidents on the road like yesterday, so it was a little smoother and slightly quicker trip. I arrived about 8:40 or so. It wasn't too hot which was nice, but it was early yet.

I checked the registration booth for the platforms at which I'd be playing and ran into Mike Lindelsee along with his wife, son and daughter. We sought out the platforms (7 & 8 for me) and also found our instructor Jay Salter along with George. George was to play very soon so Jay was helping him. I went off to find a spot to warm up as it was now about 20 minutes to my time of 9:24.

I came back about 10 minutes before my event and Jay tuned up the drones and checked the chanter. The temperature was starting to climb a bit.

For the 2/4 March, I was to play for Scott MacDonald who also judged my 2/4 in Monterey about a month ago. While Scott was finishing up his write up of Walt Innes (who'd slipped in before me though I was two minutes early), Joe Fitch, of the Macintosh PB, suggested I double-check my drones. Sure enough with the temperature rising, they'd already shifted. He touched them up and I walked over to Scott. We exchanged 'good morning's and 'how are you's, I gave him my tune.

I tried keeping it slower and expressing it better. It wasn't exactly what I wanted but I got through it.

Scott invited me over and provided me with a lot of specifics. "I'm getting to know your playing and this was much better than last time." He gave specifics for improving: cut the B more after the initial A in the line, don't crush the grip—raise the D finger higher, hold the C longer, hold the longer notes for more expression. Watch the overblowing of the high hand, try taping down the High-A and F notes, see if that helps.

Scott MacDonald wrapping things up at Platform 7 after all the competitors had played. He could later be seen in the front rank of the L.A. Scots (Grade I) at the afternoon band competition.

The platforms are squeezed in wherever they'll fit. As seen here, some are just mere feet from occupied clan tents. I hope they like piping!

I was scheduled at 9:36 for Slow March at Platform 8 with John Partanen who'd judged me at Pleasanton a couple years ago. After the 2/4, I dropped the tape on my High-A just a touch. Jay discovered he had missed my 2/4, but was there to help tune up for the Slow March.

The playing went really well, I felt I was really expressing the music, but I had a large "blop" in the middle where I somehow messed up a note transition. Crud. Ah, well. Just play through. I finished up the tune well, then let myself feel the disappointment of knowing I was out of the medals again. Jay stopped me afterward and asked why I hadn't taken more time to settle in and feel the tune in my head before starting. "Uh..." Something to work on. He did say it was really musical. He also said he had recorded my performance with his Minidisc recorder. He added it was good that I didn't let the mistake throw my performance.

We walked across the road to watch/help Mike Lindelsee play his Slow March for A.W. Thompson at Platform 6.

Mike Lindelsee playing his slow march at Platform 6 for A. W. Thompson.

While Mr. Thompson looks a little bored, he's actually cupping his ear to block some of the ambient noise—a lot of piping going on!

Jay Salter discusses the performance with his student.

After a bit, I was able to retrieve my score sheets.

My 2/4 March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Pleasanton, Date: 9/3/05, Name: Andrew Lenz Jr #528
WUSPBA Registration Number: [blank], Grade: IV, Event: #14 [2/4 March is circled]
Tune: Siege of Del.

1/-- Nice Sounding Pipe @ Start
C grip not always clean slow

2/-- D Sharp — Watch Blowing / On Edge Here
Same with High A - Overblown
Burls @ Endings not always consistent

3/-- OK

4/-- OK

Much better performance than
the last time. Pipes balanced except
for sharp high hand as discussed-
Push expression as discussed as well
Keep up the good work—
It is showing

Points Awarded: 69

Judge's Signature: <Scott MacDonald>

No real surprises there.

My Slow March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Pleasanton, Date: 9-3-05, Name: Andrew Lenz Jr #528
WUSPBA Registration Number: [Blank], Grade: IV, Event: #15 Slow March
Tune: Heaken My Love

Tone and Tuning
Chanter tone sharp on upper notes. Drones
fair—chanter tone causing some disharmony.

Pretty good —slight slip 2nd part.




Is the tune selection appropriate?


Points Awarded: 88

Judge's Signature: <John Partanen>

Huh? Second place!?! Silver medal? Playoffs? I was very surprised. Usually an error like that will knock you out of the running. I guess the rest of my playing was really strong.

Second place, Slow March, 21+, Leet A,
Pleasanton Games 2005

Welp, there goes Sunday morning!

And yes, there's up and coming Jennifer Febre. The one that came up to me at Monterey and graciously thanked me for the advice on this web site which helped her out with competing. See, if I was smart, I'd write things like: "Tip: Wipe your chanter reed with ear wax" and "Your chanter will sound better if you tape over at least three-quarters of the E hole."

I finally got to meet and visit with Eric Mrozek who I'd conversed with for a few years and had donated a number of items to the Drone Reed Collection, which I displayed from about 11 a.m. to noon. Nice guy to have around. I loaned him a set of drone reeds he wanted to take for a spin. One of the pipers that stopped by to check out the reeds was a young fellow who introduced himself as "Aaron M" from the BobDunsire Forums.

I have to say that I'm finally getting to the point where I can't remember everyone that I meet. I had someone walk up and tell me that he had introduced himself last year. I felt really bad, as I couldn't remember.

Jay and I stayed and listened to the Grade III and Grade I bands. (No Grade II.) Paul Llewellyn also stayed but his chair was across the circle from us. One of our band tenor drummers came and sat in the stands off at the right end of the circle. During the break Paul told us that he was sitting next to a former WUSPBA president from the 1970s—it was called the Pacific Coast Pipe Band Association back then, but I couldn't remember that at the time.

While waiting for the Grade I pipe band competition to start, Jay, who was recording the bands for fun, held out his set of headphones. At first I was expecting to hear a band set. Instead it was a piper playing. "Hmmm. Pretty decent piper..." Then it struck me that what I was listening to was my own Slow March performance. The stray sound that had emanated from my chanter was a lot less catastrophic as a listener.

Also during the break, I took the opportunity to walk over and greet Kevin MacHeffner, from whom I took over the WUSPBA webmaster job in late June. He was here—without his band—for the drum major competition.

Here's Alasdair Gillies, head of the piping program at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the top half-dozen or so pipers in the world.

Behind him—you can only see his foot and a bit of his back—is James Troy, who judged my first piobaireachd event at Monterey six years ago.

Alasdair judging the L.A. Scots Pipe Band (Grade I)

The L.A. Scots finished 3rd behind Prince Charles (2nd) and Alberta Caledonia, the winners of the Grade I MSR contest of the day.

After one last trip to the Registration area, I headed home around 4:15, leaving those remaining to wait for the 5 p.m. Massed Bands.

We'll see if I can give the teenagers a run for their money tomorrow.

In the meantime, it's been a very long day and I'm completely exhausted!

Day 3
Sunday, September 4, 2005.

My daughter Charlotte wanted to come see the highland dancers (she's taking Irish Dancing lessons) so she and my mother-in-law Bonnie Foster joined me today. We were out the door by 7:40, again with a Motrin and Tylenol in my system. We arrived just before 8:40. They went off to find the dancers, and I visited the registration booth to double-check the schedule. Warming up, I noticed my hands were actually cold. I checked my reed and it sounded pretty close. F did sound slightly off, but it was hard to tell. E and high-A sounded correct.

I made my way to Platform 7, I was scheduled to play at 9:24 for John Partanen again. I checked in with the steward and there were a couple pipers yet before me. I found a spot nearby but tucked away where I could tune again. Gag. I would get the low-A sounding good against all the drones, but then the upper notes would be off. I'm figuring what was going on here is—while it didn't feel like it—perhaps I was blowing harder and throwing off the balance of the chanter. Time was up.

I made my way over to the table, offered my tune and struck in. I doodled a bit with tune snippets. Like before, the drones sounded off a touch, but given with what I was experiencing with the balance, there wasn't any way I could fix it on the spot. (I'll give a nod here to Eric Mrozek who actually successfully retaped his entire chanter while at a judge's table a few years ago. Not me!) Resigned, I started the tune. I heard the drones off even more now. Any piper will tell you that it's much more enjoyable and easier to concentrate if your instrument is perfectly—or at least closely—tuned. I failed to keep my focus and messed up the tune—I believe it was in the same place as Mt. Tamalpais—I couldn't get back on the tune and returned to and started from the beginning again. Knowing I was without a doubt out of the running this time, I did my best to serve the tune and play the best I could for the enjoyment of the listeners.

When done, received a "Thank You" and smile from John, I gave him the head nod and the 'ack' eyebrow-shrug. I walked off to a smattering of applause and Fred Payne, a Grade III piper I'd met earlier this year, sounded surprised when I told him of my error. He offered the story of a medal he received when a judge missed an error in his performance—not the first time I'd heard such a story. Judges aren't perfect and also we're here to make music, if the mistake is very musical then one could argue that maybe it's just a different setting . . .

The Grade IV Slow March Playoffs.

A piper plays for John Partanen at Platform 7 shortly after my disappointing performance.

Beyond this photo you would see a cluster of about a dozen people listening in.

I wandered over to listen to a Grade III performance. Stacy Martinelli (Grade IV last year) was there, busy in conversation. Charlotte, Bonnie appeared and they'd completely missed my event. Ah, well. Charlotte liked the highland dancers.

I ran into Drew Barker (a member of the Monterey Bay Pipe Band I'd met at a piping school earlier this year) and his dad Dan Barker, who helps run the Pipes & Drums of California Professional Firefighters. We ended up chatting for few minutes. Drew's thinking of going to a Naval Academy after he graduates from high school this year.

Dan, his son Drew, myself and a somewhat unflattering picture of Charlotte, who's now 7 years old plus one day. We posed while Bonnie took this photo.

Drew, you can see, is pretty gregarious!

After our visit with the Barkers, Charlotte, Bonnie and I made our way over to the Registration booth to check for score sheets.

On my way to check on my score sheets, I just had to take this picture. Not something I see every day—a piper that's armed with a semi-automatic handgun! There's a sheriff patch on that left shoulder, by the way.

"Ummm, yeah your playing was . . . ummm . . . perfect, yeah, that's it, perfect. The best I've ever had the honor to judge . . . uh, SIR. First place. Yeah, definitely. By a long shot—oops, sorry, poor choice of words. No offense. Nice spats."

[I learned later that the piper is Sgt. Bryan Reynolds of the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department.]

I saw the woman (not Margaret Hokeness) behind the counter with just two sheets to file away, no one around, and figured it was safe to ask for my score sheet. Bad assumption! Yipe! (She had a stack hidden under the counter!) Once I reattached my severed head, I hung out with others waiting for their sheets. Amanda Gifford (the Grade III bound 12-year-old), Drew Barker, some lads from the Prince Charles Pipe Band. (Yes, yes, I know. It's very ironic that I'd been hassling Don Saraceno about asking for score sheets too early on Friday!)

My Slow March Playoff WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Pleasanton, Date: 9-4-05, Name: Andrew Lenz
WUSPBA Registration Number: [Blank], Grade: IV, Event: Slow March
Tune: Heaken My Love

Tone and Tuning
Tone just not here: chanter sharp on upper
notes. Drones not well tuned and drifting. Small
chirps from chanter.

—1st part "difficulties." Not your day today Andrew.




Is the tune selection appropriate?

Points Awarded: 77

Judge's Signature: <John Partanen>

No surprises there! "Difficulties" was generous!

We were on our way back to Santa Cruz by 11:11 a.m.—Charlotte was quick to point out the exact time! Later it was "I'm thirsty!" "I want water!" "I'm thirsty!" "Do you want me to get sick?" (She can be a crack up!)

Well, another Pleasanton Games bites the dust. Another medal, though I wish it had been for the elusive piobaireachd. Maybe next year.

One of the major hurdles I have to get past is precise tuning of the instrument. It's been really, really frustrating playing well but on 'less than perfect' sounding instrument—and it's not the construction of my pipes. I'm figuring that very possibly tuning could have been a good part responsible for my not placing in piobaireachd. (I consider the overblowing of High-A part of the whole tuning 'envelope.') All judges are going to appreciate a well tuned instrument over otherwise. If technique and expression are close, the prize will always go to the better tuned instrument. Plus it's a drag for the competitor to have to listen to the disharmony when they really want to be able to truly feel the tune. Imagine playing a concert on a untuned old upright piano. It's be torture to the pianist as well as the audience!

On a quick soapbox here, it always gets me that lower grade pipers are scored on tuning. One new piper arrives with no instructor, tunes himself. Another new piper arrives with an instructor and is tuned with a tuning meter while the piper plays a tune at playing pressure. Immediately they are not on equal ground. I remember hearing of a judge in Scotland that would come around the table and tune each piper before he/she played. That's putting the pipers on equal footing. In at least one association, there's a requirement that a Grade III (and higher) piper tune himself or herself. I'd probably take it a step further. Have the judge walk around and untune the drones, then the piper tunes. Equal footing. If we're going to judge drone tuning, judge drone tuning. Call me nuts.

Anyway. The games were fun, always a good experience regardless. Judge's comments were all helpful. And it was entertaining and eye-opening to stay for the band competition this year.

One last games comment, I finally got to officially meet and shake hands with hard-working Bill Merriman, the 'main piping coordinator guy' of the Pleasanton Games.

We've got a band performance this coming Sunday, followed by the 'death march' Loch Lomond Games on October 1st. Hopefully, my hands will continue to improve and I'll be able to practice as often as I like. Ok, right hand is tingling—time to stop!

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