I had the privilege of teaching Scottish smallpipes and Scottish border pipes at the Pipers’ Gathering in Burlington, VT each of the last two summers. There, i taught private and group lessons on bagpipes, showed a lot of people how to stretch and prevent injuries, sold a lot of pipers on the virtues of metronomes, and had some fabulous tunes with friends.
This year’s Gathering was especially meaningful for me because I had the chance to share the stage and teachers’ rostrum with so many of the pipers who’ve shaped my playing: Hamish and Fin Moore, who made my instruments and taught me at several summer camps, and Iain MacInnes, whose album Tryst is the reason I love smallpipes. It was a great time.
My Home Town
For the evening concert, I decided to throw some curveballs. I began with a familiar pipe tune, My Home Town, but sung it a cappella rather than playing it on pipes. We talk a lot about the role of bagpipe music in shaping and being shaped by the larger oeuvre of Scottish music, and I think it’s fun to present pipe music in different ways.
Ae Fond Kiss
A lot of pipers spend their time compartmentalized within the piping genre of Scottish traditional music, and I think it’s important as an instructor to spend time showing people things outside their experience as well as familiar material. Most of my bagpipe classes involve singing at some point, so I thought it would be nice to include some songs. This one, Ae Fond Kiss, is a Robert Burns song I’ve loved for years. If you like it, you’ll find it on my band’s new album.
I believe it’s worth sending people home from a concert having thought about some things—as storytellers and the descendents of troubadours, I think we owe it to our audiences to give people some “stuff to chew on”. Here’s a song called Navigator that does that nicely. I like to introduce it to people as a reflection on what things actually cost—and who does the paying.
(It’s also nice to get the audience singing, too—this crowd was pretty energetic about it, and you’ll hear that they sang beautifully!)
Julottan / Eklunda-Polska #3 / Slangpolska fran Sormland
I’ve been on a Scandinavian music kick this year, with a new love for Swedish music. There were some Swedish bagpipe players in camp (even though that wasn’t an official part of the Gathering’s curriculum this year) and I wanted to give them a nod—plus I wanted to share some vulnerability on stage. I explained that teachers always seem to be asking people to take risks… and then we don’t take them ourselves. So I asked their indulgence for playing my newest instrument—guitar—and my newest repertoire—Swedish—together on stage, despite my nerves. I’m joined by my buddy Bob Mills, who’s playing his newest instrument: the Nordic mandola. (which you can also hear here).
I was scared, but it came out well, and the real point was that lots of students told me in class the next morning that they had really appreciated having a teacher show them what it was like to embrace vulnerability. Given that I see my role at camp as being teacher first and foremost, I call that success.
March of the King of Laois
We all get by with a little help from our friends. I wanted to bring a host of friends on-stage for the last tune, a classic clan march from Ireland. I’ve loved this tune for at least 15 years now; I expect I always will. Here on stage with me are Bruce Childress (guitar), Bob Mills (Nordic mandola), Katie McNally (fiddle), and Iain MacHarg (Scottish smallpipes). I’m playing smallpipes too.
Thanks for listening!