This is my (mostly) instructional piping blog. As I approach 60 (I’m 57), I’m frequently amazed at how snippets of knowledge I’ve accumulated since I started piping in 1966 are grabbed up like gold nuggets by less experienced pipers. I toss off a comment on a forum somewhere, and people email me just to thank me for being me. It’s flattering. It’s humbling. It’s surreal.
Sometimes I understand it. Piping is how I make my living. I’ve had great instruction and I’ve thought long and hard about all of it. Some things have just seeped in through my ear holes because I was in the right place at the right time and just kept my mouth shut and listened. I sometimes don’t even know this stuff is in there until I write it down.
I learn a lot when I write, and I love doing it. That’s one reason I’m doing this. I’m also doing it because I like sharing what I’ve learned. I guess it’s good for my self-esteem. Maybe that’s part of what makes me a teacher.
But I’ll make no bones about it: I’m also blogging so you’ll have reason to come back to my site more than you otherwise might. Then maybe you’ll buy more of my sheet music or my pipes and books and I can keep doing what I love to do.
Some days I may post non-piping things here: feelings, opinions, notions, memories. But mostly it will be bits of piping knowledge that might be helpful to some. Kind of like this –
~Driving it home~
I teach piping at St. Andrew’s College, a wonderful independent boys’ school in Aurora, Ontario. I’m continually assigning tunes for a class to memorize. Not infrequently, a boy comes to me on ‘memory test’ day and says, “I’m sorry sir, but I tried and tried and I just couldn’t memorize this.”
I always give them the same answer, and it’s not a very charitable answer. “You didn’t try hard enough,” I say, with no hint of kidding in my voice. I’m a forgiving person, and I always give my boys the benefit of the doubt. But not in this area. Memorizing tunes is dog’s work. It’s tedious, and it’s boring. It’s one of piping’s more unpleasant necessities.
Often the boy will reply, “But sir, I must have played it 15, 20 times last night and it’s just not sticking!”
I say, “Try 100 times.” As he takes that stunning piece of information in, I drive the point home: “In fact, try 150.”
It’s no exaggeration. If someone hands me a 2-parted 4/4 march I’ve never heard before, I figure I have to play that tune at least 100 times — 10 times a day for 10 days — until it’s memorized. After that I have to play it on the pipes a couple of times a day for two weeks or I’ll lose it. If I don’t make it part of my permanent repertoire for the next 6 months it’ll slip away. Memorizing a tune is an ongoing commitment. It’s like a relationship.
The bad news is that the older I get, the longer it takes.
Everyone thinks the next guy memorizes faster than they do. Pipers are embarrassed by how long it takes them to memorize a tune. Don’t be. There are a small number who can do it remarkably quickly, but not many. I’m not one of them. I suspect you aren’t either.
100 times. Maybe more. I hate it. But it’s gotta be done. And don’t kid yourself: your bandmate is pounding through it just as many times as you are. He’s just not telling you that.
Welcome to memory work.
Welcome to my blog.