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Andrew's Competition #17 - May 21, 2005

Today is Friday, May 13, 2005. Boy, it feels peculiar typing this. It's been a long seven months. The Mount Tamalpais Solo Piping and Drumming Competition is a week from tomorrow. This is the second year of these new games, I missed it last year as I was in Colorado at the time.

So where am I piping-wise? "Okay." I was off the pipes for about six weeks starting in mid-January due to a piping related abdominal injury—I'm figuring it was a hyperextended/strained diaphragm—which was extremely painful for a few days. All the tests (blood, "fluid," Ultrasound) all came back negative, meaning it was muscular or nervous system. But that seems all behind me now, it's been four months. I'm going to compete with the same tunes as last year, I'm pretty happy with them, though I was considering learning a new 2/4 march, but I didn't get to it as I had hoped. My slow march (Hearken My Love) feels very good, my piobaireachd (The Battle of Auldearn) is very good—as long as I can keep focused on where I am in the tune! Only my 2/4 (The Siege of Delhi) really isn't where I want it to be, but we'll see what I can tweak in the last week leading up to the games. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 15, 2005. I had a lesson with Jay Salter, my instructor, yesterday for the second time in six months or so. He broke down the 2/4 march for me and gave me some things to correct for better expression. Today, I listened to a professional recording of the piobaireachd on a CD I have and realized I've been coming off the cadence E a bit too soon. I'll need to adjust that a bit. Practice chanter work only today. The slow march feels nice. The 2/4 has improved a bit, still needs work though.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005. Had a quick 30-45 minute lesson with Jay today—talk about a ramp up in lesson time! We ran through the slow march and the piobaireachd very briefly and spent most of the time on the 2/4, my weakest event. He feels I've made progress this week. I still need to hold the dotted C notes longer (as I'm pushing the tempo a bit in those spots) and get the grips at beginning of the lines a bit crisper. In the ballpark though. My left "E" ring finger has been bothering me a little bit—broke it last year—so I've been avoiding E intensive music, such as practicing toarluath and crunluath variations on my piobaireachd, which I don't need for a Grade IV competition anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2005. I got in a couple of brief practices in before and after work today. I have to admit, I feel a bit nervous. Not because of my playing, but just the thought of competition. I just have to remind myself that it's all for fun, which it is. Competition for me is a way to grow—push the envelope as it were. It'd be easy to just quit competing, play in the band and for family. Cake walk. But no. I'm not content to just be content with the status quo. Being nervous isn't comfortable, but it's a means to an end, the path to being a better piper. Competing can only help me improve.


COMPETION DAY!
Saturday, May 21, 2005.

If there was any doubt that I'm in this for self-improvement and not for medals, today was good proof. Read on . . .

I woke up early and one of my first thoughts was: "Why do I do this to myself?" Considering I usually have to be out the door to work by 9:00 a.m., being out the door by 7:00 a.m. for fun can be a challenge! I got additional directions from a friend of ours last night, who recommended taking 280 up to the Golden Gate Bridge, all the while I was visualizing 680 in my head once she mentioned "a lot of lanes." For those of you familiar with Northern California, you are now thinking "uh, oh." Yep. In my groggy state I proceeded to get myself on the northeast side of the San Francisco Bay near Benicia instead of southwest side approaching the Golden Gate! Yipe! One of these days, I'm going to end up in Nevada. I quick call to my wife Kristen and her asking around, got me across a bridge or two and back down to Larkspur for the competition with about an hour to spare before my first event. Whew! I explained my mishap at the registration table and a fellow, who introduced himself as Paul—while writing this I figured out he was Paul Forrest, who was the e-mail contact for the games—was quick to point out: "Didn't you do that before? A couple years ago?" I laughed and had to nod my head. (Seems like these writings often tend to proceed me!)

The illustrious registration tent. On the left in the green kit is Linsday Hall of the Macintosh PB. The tall man behind the table in the black cap is Charlie Rosenberger. The man in the red cap is Glen Thompson. To the immediate left of the schedule board, holding the yellow paper, is Paul Forrest.

The weather was very sunny and warm. The temperatures climbed into the 80s as the day went on, good thing I remember sunscreen this morning!

After double-checking the schedule and determining the locations of the platforms, I found a spot to warm up in the parking lot equidistant between the occupied tennis courts, the occupied children's playground and the occupied competition field area. (It's a well-used school grounds on the weekends!) I warmed up, carefully retaped my High-A and E which sounded out of whack. The instrument was now humming along. I had a quick banana to ward off hunger, parked my pipe case amidst a bunch of others near the registration tent then wandered about with my pipes until time to warm up again for the first event.

I ran into Tom Jenkins, who was scheduled to play the same events, though a few pipers before me in the timeline. Tom has a quick wit and always has good stories to tell. I also got to meet Mike Lindelsee, a new student of Jay's from the San Jose Area who will be competing for the first time at Campbell next month. He was getting a handle on how competition works and getting a gauge on where he stands relative to other pipers. It's a good practice to scope things out.


The Slow March.

My first event was the Slow March scheduled at 9:56 at Platform 2 which was marked out with orange cones on the grass along one edge of the grassy field. The judge was Charlie Rosenberger who had judged me in Pleasanton a couple years ago. I told him I'd be playing "Heaken My Love." He replied, "I haven't hear that one in a while." I retuned for a minute, faced the table, held an E, tried to get focused and then launched into the tune. About three bars into the tune, I zoned out and went to the wrong note. Thoughts: "Oh, crud! What did I do? How did I do that? I don't know how to weave back into the right place! Ack! Should I just break down? No, I'm not going to do that. Just start again at the beginning of the tune." And that's what I did. Once I started over, I played it just fine with only minor issues.

My Slow March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Mt. Tamalpais, Date: 5-21-05, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791P4, Grade: 4, Event: Slow Air
Tune: Heaken My Love

Tone and Tuning
F Sharp. Good full drone sound - Well set + steady.
Chanter Bright + Full - Good Balance

Execution
Got lost in 1st part.
Ending (B to A) not consistently clean.

Expression
Good.

Tempos
Good and steady except in the 1st part when you got lost.

Breaks
N/A

Is tune selection appropriate?
Yes

Points Awarded: 68

Judge's Signature: <Charlie Rosenberger>

In a bit of deja vu, after I'd played, Charlie asked me who my instructor was and if I'd been taught "back East." (Obviously, he judges a lot and wouldn't remember asking me this very question a couple years earlier.) He doesn't see the alternate High-A (F finger down) that often. I told him Jay Salter and rattled off a couple of Jay's instructors, including Jimmy McColl.

I was really disappointed with myself. 'Out of the running' already with the first event. Secretly I was harboring dreams of grandure that I might win the Grade IV aggregate medal. Kip Nead did it last year at Mt. Tam, so I figured I had a decent shot. Phooey. When I got the score sheet later on, and saw the comment on the ending (B to A with a Low-G gracing) I knew this had been a problem area—surprisingly perhaps—for me this past week. That should be easy to fix in the future with a just some brief work. I found some solace chatting with Tom and Mike before the next event, the 2/4.

In the foreground at Platform 2, is Charlie Rosenberger judging Jonathan Adams in the Grade III 2/4 March competition later in the day. A little farther off is Glen Thompson under the white umbrella. To the right of Jonathan, in the black shirt, is Bill Merriman of the Prince Charles PB with a young student. Barely visable above the student's head is Fritz Hoffman judging at Platform 4.



The 2/4 March.

My second event was the 2/4 March scheduled at 10:24 at Platform 3 which was also marked out with orange cones on the grass about 90 feet from Platform 2. The judge was Glen Thompson. Tom who played five competitors before me said Glen had made some candid and humorous remarks about Tom's small error in the final part, saying it was going to make it hard on him (as a judge). Tom commented that Glen writes a lot on his sheets unlike Jimmy McColl who is very sparse. I warmed up/retuned again then spent about 15 minutes waiting and chatting with Tom and Mike.

I told the judge my tune then I tuned up again and couldn't quite get the drones to lock in spot on—purely operator's shortcoming—but I didn't want to spend all day trying to get them in. I positioned myself near the table, set the tempo with my foot then launched into the tune—faster! I played through fine, or at least didn't get off the tune this time, but at a higher tempo than my fingers could consistently handle. Common old competitor's issue. Playing too fast under pressure.

Glen called me over to the table, "I saw you setting a tempo where I would like to see you play, but then you just took off." (He used a nice wide wave of the arm to illustrate.) He told me that for someone with my experience, I should be marching. (Not just tapping my foot to keep the tempo.) "Your tempo was also inconsistent." He made a up and down wave motion with his hand. (Here I was thinking, "Boy, the other pipers watching are going to think I'm really bad!") Marching would keep the tempo from running away.

He also took issue with my tuning, saying I shouldn't tune my tenors with a false E. My process was tuning the outside tenor to low-A, varying blowing pressure to determine it the tenor was flat or sharp, then tuning the bass drone to the tenor using High-A and D, checking with low-A, then brought in the middle tenor, but it wasn't sounding quite right so I knocked out the bass drone to hear easier using the false fingered E not for referencing the tenors to the chanter but to each other with the chanter engaged—there were some other things I did for tuning too. In any case, I wasn't entirely successful tuning the drones. And do need more work on it so I can hit it 100% of the time. Glen recommended covering the low-A with my pinky to check the tenor, a technique I haven't been using for a while. He also recommended warming up closer to competition time.

I was disappointed, I didn't play my best, maybe my close to my best for that tempo, but not overall. Out of the running again.

My 2/4 March WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Mt. Tamalpais, Date: 5-21-05, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791P4, Grade: 4, Event: 2/4 March
Tune: Seige of Delhi

Tone and Tuning
E no Bottom Hand
Chirpy Taorluath

Execution
rushing EAFAE.
good.

Expression
rushing ending.
[There's a line drawn between the "rushing EAFAE" and the "rushing ending."]

[From the main comment area:]

Set tempo well B4 start, then started much faster
than the tempo you set.

drones were tuned to E with no hand on the bottom,
hence ended up with sharp to a well set crisp clean
chanter. some chirps on taorluaths, perhas fingers more
than set up.

fingering quite nice and clean, really only
showing problems in the rushed bits.

1st part — E LoA Fdoub LoA Edoub movement rushed, causing
some crushed doublings and some rushed endings.

tempo too fast to show off the good fingers
and good expression that were fighting to
get through. pick a number on the metronome
stick with it and get used to marching to it to
keep the tempo where you want it.

Points Awarded: 92

Judge's Signature: <Glen Thompson>

[A later note, May 30. It may be somewhat interesting to note that this was the first time I'd received a score in the 90s. Granted, scores are very much only relevant to the judge and the event. I didn't it consider significant at the time so I didn't comment on it. I remember a few years ago at Pleasanton seeing a Grade IV winner showing off a score sheet with a score in the 90s and enviously thinking, "Wow. In the 90s?" Four years ago I had half-jokingly predicted I might reach 100 points in 2005-6. Maybe I wasn't far off the truth!]

Another view of Platform 3.
If I'd turned about 60 degrees to the right, this photo would be of a soccer game!



The Piobaireachd.

Piobaireachd was my third and final even scheduled at 10:52 at Platform 4 which was marked out with yellow caution tape amid some trees. (It was close to a soccer match in progress, so I think the organizers were worried about someone wandering into the competition area.) The judge was Fritz Hoffman. Tom had to go act as statistician for his son's baseball game and had to scratch for the piobaireachd event. Walt Innes, on staff at Stanford's linear accelerator, had to scratch due to a power outage messing up his work schedule. That left only four out of the six pipers signed up. I spent more time tuning up and warming up for my last event. The soccer game wrapped up and one of the players made a point to angrily yell over, "Do you really think someone wants to listen to that noise for hours and hours?" I just smiled, amused and replied, "Hours and hours!" Still smiling, I turned to Mike, who was keeping me company, "I think that's the first negative comment I've ever had from someone."

I walked over to the table, Fritz said "It's nice to see you again." For the life of me, I couldn't—and can't—remember where I met Fritz before, but I just smiled. (I don't always remember the judges from earlier competitions, I used to be pretty oblivious to them due to the circumstances!) I introduced "The Battle of Auldearn" then tuned up. I thought I had the drones pretty close. I started into the tune, stayed on track and finished up pretty clean. I was pretty happy with it, I played it at least 95% of what I am capable.

I was called over to the table, and Fritz asked me how I thought I did. Now, this can be seen as a trick question! Like a police officer asking you how fast you were going when he pulled you over. So, I know I didn't play like an piper at the Glenfiddich Invitational, but I hesitantly told him "Pretty good." "You know . . ." Uh, oh. When a judge starts a sentence with "you know," you're in trouble. ". . . you weren't holding your E's as long as you should have for your Hiyoen." Here I ran into a little trouble. Jay Salter, my instructor, has modified the traditional canntaireachd vocable system to more closely match how it's actually played. For learning tunes correctly, this is great. When communicating with another piper using canntaireachd, it can complicate things. But, Fritz had his practice chanter handy—this, I have to admit, I like in a judge—and he demonstrated exactly what he was talking about and that made it clear.

When I finished, I felt I'd played well enough to easily win the event, especially with only four pipers, but now I wasn't so confident.

My Piobaireachd WUSPBA Adjudication Sheet:

Contest Site: Mt. Tamalpais, Date: 5-21-05, Name: Andrew Lenz,
WUSPBA Registration Number: 791P4, Grade: 4, Event: Piobaireachd
Tune: Battle of Auldearn

Tone and Tuning
Drone not quite in tune. Chanter nice. E B and low A especially.

Execution
Hiharin could use more depth. Very strong positive fingers otherwise.

Expression
1st note of the Hyyoen a bit fast otherwise nice flow and phrasing.

Tempos
Nice and lively and good command of flow.

Breaks
[Nothing written.]

Is tune selection appropriate?
Yes

[From main comment area:]
Only minor issues as discussed on a good pipe and good tune.

Points Awarded: 83

Judge's Signature: <Fritz Hoffman>


I wandered about talking with Mike for a while, then some of the other competitors. Slowly, event by event, the results went up. First was the Slow March. I'd taken 5th! I was surprised and happy. A while later the 2/4 results where up, I'd placed 3rd! Tom Jenkins had taken 1st place. He had left me his cell phone number for me, and when I called, he couldn't believe it. "You better not be kidding me! I don't know your sense of humor, if I go around telling people I won and . . . " But with a little persistence I convinced him.

Here's the schedule board with the morning results finalized and posted. (Here I digitally highighted by my finishes.)

Lastly, the piobaireachd results went up and I had earned myself a first place finish. Hmmmm. This got me thinking. I asked Jan Richey what the requirements were for the aggregate winner. There was a fellow by the name of Gary Kirby (who I've never met) who'd taken 2nd to my 3rd and a 3rd to my 5th, but didn't compete in the piobaireachd where I'd taken 1st. She said the aggregate winner had to compete in all events, then did some quick figuring on the board. "You got it." Heck, I had won Grade IV Aggregate! (Now, if Gary Kirby had entered piobaireachd and taken 3rd or higher, he probably would have won aggregate, depending on how they figure such things.) She said to pick a 1st place medal out of the box, a bit anticlimactic, but maybe appropriate for an less than perfect aggregate win.

Earlier I alluded not being into competition for medals—though the positive reinforcement is nice. Back in the 2000 Summer Olympics, I remember an American swimmer winning a gold medal and looking very disappointed—he hadn't broken his personal best world record time. (He later apologized to the public for his apparent lack of appreciation.) I can completely relate. Given the choice of winning aggregate or simply playing my best ever and losing, I'd take the latter. Call me crazy. I left the competition field happy with the medals, but disappointed with myself. I have a lot of work to do, particularly on the mental game. Perhaps more recording of myself is in order.


Third place, 2/4 March
Mt. Tamalpais Solo Competition 2005

First place, Piobaireachd,
Mt. Tamalpais Solo Competition 2005

Grade IV Aggregate Winner
Mt. Tamalpais Solo Competition 2005


Workshops.

After the contest was over and all the tents where taken down, a workshop was held in the gymnasium around 2:30 with presentations by three of the judges, Alan Bevan (of SFU PB), Glen Thompson and Charlie Rosenberger. Alan covered a range of topics from technique and maintenance to competition preparation.

I briefly leaned over the back of my chair to chat with Stacy Martinelli, who'd done very well in Campbell last year and moved up to Grade III this year. She volunteered that the strathspey/reel event was harder than she had expected. Something for me to look forward to when I eventually move up!

During the break, I spread out my drone reed collection on the stage for everyone to look at. People always get a big kick out of seeing all the variety in one place.

Glen talked about the importance of exercises and proper fingering, recommending a series of "one minute exercises." Charlie followed suit and continued that discussion with more examples. All the judges were very approachable and helpful.

Home and beyond.

I was on my way back home by about 4:45. It'd been a while since I had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge. Quite a sight. After a brief stop at my folks' house when almost home, I walked in my door almost exactly 12 hours after I'd left.

Upcoming stuff. The Monterey Bay School of Piping is in a few weeks, followed immediately by the Campbell Games on June 18th. I've never been to a piping school before, so it should be interesting. Hopefully, I'll learn something. I have a pretty good idea what my weaknesses are already.

In the meantime, I have a new problem! I can't fit all my medals inside my pipe case lid . . .





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