Thursday, April 29, 2010


I was browsing through the Dunsire Forums while imbibing my morning coffee when I came across a very interesting link. Very, very interesting indeed! The folks at the National Piping Centre have put together a generous page of mp3s which feature the unlikely incorporation of bagpipes in old-time American music! I haven't heard them all yet myself, but the sampling I've had is pretty promising. Have a look and listen here.

On a bit of a different topic, the thread on the forums is pretty interesting too, especially where it branches off into in some experienced listeners' impressions of American old-time fiddle styles; they find the style closer to Shetland fiddling rather than to the mainland Scottish or even Irish that one might expect.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

By the Margin of the River

Here's something I found at the American River last weekend. I can find nothing that resembles the flowers so much as American brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), which, despite the common name, is an invasive plant from Europe, but the placement of the flowers seems much closer to the main stem than in the examples of American brooklime I've seen so far. Any ideas?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Up & Adam

Here's another contagious hornpipe--and probably the only one I'll be posting with a guitar solo in it! This is Australia's Victoria Police Pipe Band in concert in 1998, the year they won the Worlds. The tune is Murray Blair's "Up & Adam."

And I was going to keep this post short and strictly hornpipe. . .but I have a terrible weakness for this tune, which is evidently from the same concert, and it's a nice arrangement:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Foiled Again!

I had a lovely afternoon. Really I did. Even if the Pipevine Swallowtail was out with a vengeance. Y' see, I went afoot to the park, with my pipes on my back and, having finished my obligatory depredations on the peace of a Sunday evening, donned the figurative hat of the Nature Photographer and wandered over, with great hopes raising my heart, to the preserve--which was absolutely crawling with pipevine swallowtails. I mean, there was hardly even airspace! Okay, I exaggerate slightly, but there were herds and herds of them. If you look at the picture below, you should be able to count five, and this is certainly not counting their kinfolk who were fluttering among the branches of the live oaks, not to mention at 360 degrees around me--in whichever direction the camera was *not* pointed.

Butterflies in every direction, and what sort of pictures did I get?

Mostly the kind that didn't even pretend to have a butterfly in 'em.

If you can somewhat make out the shape of the insect in the picture below, memorize it, then avoid any similar creatures at all cost. They are cruel beyond measure! I tell you, whenever I was deleting useless photos (I had plenty, as you can guess) or callously attempting to shoot "just flowers", I'd have a pipevine swallowtail come gracefully wafting within inches of my nose. They have an impeccable sense of timing, and will hover, quite boldly, watching your finger on the shutter button, count the milliseconds it will take the shutter to close, and dance off, just before the picture is actually taken.

It is enough to make anyone quite bitter.

And other than that, I can scarcely tell you what a pleasant afternoon it was!. . .Yet it was indeed.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Measured History

One thing which has been keeping me occupied lately, is that my work schedule changed enough so that I could start attending band rehearsals again after an absence of some months. This means I got a great stack of new tunes to work through and memorize. Of these, I found our new retreat march the most intriguing. There is, of course, the matter of a cut-and-dotted bar in the second part that unaccountably gives me a case of the second-guesses every time I run across it, but I am referring, rather than the music, to the history of the piece. It's called "Heroes of St. Valéry."

Saint-Valéry-en-Caux is not over-far from Dunkirk where, in World War II, the British Expeditionary Force was so successfully evacuated, against stiff odds. While the action at Dunkirk resulted in future opportunities for the BEF, the concurrent events at St. Valéry culminated in the wholesale imprisonment of 8,000+ troops, largely from the 51st Highland Division. Among those captured was P/M Donald MacLean who was later to commemorate the 51st with a 3/4 march which he entitled "Heroes of St. Valéry."

The tune plays in the background of this very informative page on the 51st Highland Division.
You can read a bit more about P/M MacLean here on Jim McGillivray's inexhaustible website. And for those who thought the name sounded familiar, yes that is the Donald MacLean of Lewis, who is, in turn commemorated in Donald MacLeod's smashing march. (To take an entirely different tack, those unfamiliar with "P/M Donald MacLean of Lewis" can get a taste of the first two parts on harper Wendy Stewart's album Standing Wave--it's the seventh track.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Desert Storm

Of all the forms of tunes in vogue in the piping world, I have to say I have a particular fondness for hornpipes, even--or perhaps even more particularly--some of the really "swaggering" modern compositions like "Desert Storm" by P/M Robert Matheison of the world-class Shotts & Dykehead Pipe Band. That is the first tune in (or about the first minute and a half of) the medley above, nicely turned out by Turriff and District Pipe Band last year.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kind of Monochrome

I did a bit of "Sunday driving" yesterday in the foothills out southeast of Sacramento. It was a rather damp day. There were a fair amount of wildflowers out (you can see a splash in front of the rock in the foreground below) but the main impression was of green, a very bright, new green like the young leaves on the oak trees.

The air was so fresh, it practically tasted of growing things. My head always hurts just a little when I try to juxtapose the sun-blistered June version of the hills and the current pictures; smelling the damp, and feeling the saturated spears of grass underfoot, you'd be far from guessing that in a couple of months, the colour of choice will be an overwhelming brown, all the sharp points of the landscape swimming in a sea of heat waves, rather than softened by rain.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Catching Up With Spring

Here's a short round of pictures I came upon in an empty lot on my way home from work a few weeks ago. I was rather excited to run across the location as it meant I could butcher the reels from my band's medley in relative privacy, and yet not be so far off the beaten path as to set myself up for a mugging. After bludgeoning the reels into whimpering oblivion (i.e. when my lip was starting to give) I had a chance to look around, and found a flower I was unfamiliar with. If my identification is correct, these are Red Maids (Calandrinia ciliata).

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The High Road

Ah! Here's a video I've been hoping for ever since I heard Nine 8th's Irish last year. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite catch the interplay of the fiddle and whistle that was obvious in the very small venue that I was lucky enough to catch them in (let alone pick up much of the bodhran at all). . .but this is a neat arrangement, eh? I think it's probably pretty obvious from the sound, if you didn't catch the first Nine 8ths Irish post, but their specialty is indeed Irish music, and yes, they do some pretty cool things with bluegrass when they get ahold of it.