In the Newspaper
Monterey Herald - Sunday, July 25, 1999
Highland Games held at fairgrounds
By John DeSantis
Herald Staff Writer
Elbow on the bag, fingers at the chanter and shoulder to the drones, Morgan Johnson moved one foot gracefully before the other while rendering the standard "Wearing o' the Green," eyes straight ahead and an expression far too serious for an 11-year-old.
The judge, a kilted man from Canada named Rene Cusson, himself a piper for 30 years, smiled as he marked her scores Saturday, but Morgan was too busy with her performance to notice.
I think they're a really neat instrument," said Morgan, who lives in Denver and decided to complete as a solo piper at the 32nd annual Scottish Games and Celtic Festival when she learned her father would come here this weekend for a conference. "I think a lot about the notes, but mostly I think about having fun.
"There's lots of concentration, but I'm happy when I play."
The event sponsored by the Scottish Society of the Monterey Peninsula, continues today at the Monterey Fairground an involves far more than bagpipes. Among the attraction are competitions in tossing the caber—a telephone pole-like piece of timber three times the height of a man—putting the stone and throwing the hammer, a sheep dog demonstration, booths with information on lineage, dancing and some tasty meat pies.
But it is the pipers who appear everywhere. The skirling and humming stays in the head long after the fairgrounds are a speck in the rearview mirror, the music strong enough to stay intact on the back of a bay breeze all the way to Seaside.
Although identified with Scotland,
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"I find it intriguing. It's haunting music."
an article at the Web site bagpiper.com refers to a Greek treatise on the Roman Emperor Nero playing "with the armpit, a bag being thrown under it."
Pipes fed by air blown in to the bag made of an animal hide or stomach or in some cases gourds have been known in Africa, Europe and Asia, as well as ancient Greece and Russia.
The modern bagpipe, like most throughout history, has a chanter—the flute-like part with finger holes—and three drones that make the heavy humming sound. This form is believed to have developed in the 1700s from earlier one- and two-drone versions.
Some research suggest that pipes were considered a weapon of war during Scotland's times of difficulty with England because of their martial nature and ability to throw fear into the enemy. One legend refers to a piper being hanged for that reason.
While the traditional tunes, including "Scotland the Brave," were heard at Saturday's festival opening there also was the most serious—and difficult—piping of all.
At the far end of Braemar Field near the tents on the Avenue of the Clans, 32-year-old Andrew Lenz stood within a small area cordoned off by yellow tape, nattily dressed in white cotton shirt, green plaid kilt and a navy blazer. James Troy, a pipe master from Vancouver, watched as Lenz, who makes a living at his family's art supply store in Santa Cruz, willed his fingers into impossible positions while playing a tune called "Duncan MacRae."
Lenz was playing Piobaireachd—pronounced "Pea-brock"—the equivalent of classical music for bagpipes. The "great music" is full of difficult note combinations called doublings, taorluaths, crunlaths and throws—as difficult to master as their pronunciations.
The tunes evoke specific moods and demand masterful phrasing. In piping lore, it is said that each note of the nine-note Piobaireachd scale is given a specific meaning, adding to the mystery.
Lenz's pipes were hand-crafted in Scotland of African blackwood, a purchase his grandfather made during a trip many years ago.
The pipemaker challenged Lenz's grandfather to make music on a tin whistle to prove he had promise and was worthy of the pipes, telling him that pipes aren't made to be wall decorations.
The pipes gathered dust after his grandfather's death in 1988. Then nearly two years ago, Lenz decided to give it a go.
On Saturday, Lenz performed in competition for the first time; but the pipes would not cooperate. His chanter reed had failed, souring some notes despite his best efforts.
Lenz's spirits remained high, however, thanks to pride in tradition, sympathy from other pipers and love of Piobaireachd.
"I find it intriguing, " Lenz said of the music, managing a smile. "It's haunting music."
Today's schedule includes piping and drumming competitions at 8:30 a.m.; athletics at 9:30 a.m.; fiddler's concert at noon; and a massed bands award ceremony at 4:30 p.m.
General admission is $14; seniors pay $10 and children under age 5 are free. Paid parking is available.
[Just for the record, I was not wearing a navy blazer (kilt jacket) at the event—reporter's error. Also, my grandfather died in 1986, though I may have told the reporter 1988 at the time.]