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Andrew's Competition #26
May 12, 2007
Mt. Tamalpais Competition

Sunday, April 22, 2007.

I finally decided it was time to make the leap into Grade III. I'm going to be challenged on all my weakest types of tunes, and one of my strongest events, piobaireachd, goes from just about three minutes of playing to complete tunes of at least 2 -5 times the length. Man.

I registered this past week for the Mt. Tamalpais Competition in Marin County. I labeled the envelope "Rev. Paul Forrest" and put "" as my e-mail address. Paul—who's not a reverend—sent me an e-mail message back: "ok Mr. funny guy ... hope you enjoy your competition start time of 5am." Paul cracks me up!

The competition is three weeks from yesterday. The last month or so my wrists have been bothering me. Too much piping and computer. I know it's rather bad if I end up resting my right hand on my leg and driving only with my left hand—which I've done on a couple of occasions lately. I usually drive with both hands on the wheel, unless it's out-of-city driving. I'm trying to take it a bit easier, proper ergonomic typing, etc.

So Mt. Tam will have four Grade III events: 2/4 March, 6/8 March, Strathspey/Reel and Piobaireachd. A 2/4 isn't new, but marching will be. We play some 6/8 marches in band, so I have some in my repertoire. There are little things to tweak, but I feel pretty good about PM MacLean of Lewis. I've been spending most of my time on the piobaireachd, I've been learning a new one, Catherine's Lament. And while I have yet to play it completely through without making at least some error, it's getting there. I'm almost positive it'll be ready. The S/R is the event which has me most worried. Believe it or not, I really didn't have any complete strathspeys in my repertoire. My instructor and I picked The Marquis of Huntly's Highland Fling. For the reel, The Sound of Sleat. They are quick tunes and while I've got them memorized, they aren't where I want them to be yet in terms of execution and expression. Marquis has a trickly little triplet: double-C, B, low-G gracing to A, then followed by a D-throw. A bit of a finger twister to play well and fast. I've decided to play Siege of Delhi for my 2/4 March. I think that will help my performance. I told Jay Salter, my instructor, of my decision a few days ago and he said that he thought that it was wise and that he was about to recommend that anyway. There's always a certain amount of risk in changing a competition tune mid-stream, but I don't think I can get where I want to go with Balmoral Highlanders right now.

Tuesday, May 2, 2007.

I'm not going to type much as my wrists are really bothering me. I haven't played on the full set of pipes for about a week and have been really limiting my practice. My wrists ache and I'm getting odd pains in my right palm, hot and cold sensations at the same time. Ok, I'm stopping.

Saturday, May 12.

[I'm typing this Sunday, the day after.]

I was awaked at 6:20 a.m. by the sound of a child tromping through the hallway outside our bedroom door. It was a good thing too as I'd set my alarm for 6 a.m.! I'm still not sure why it didn't go off. I was out the door and on the road to Marin County by 6:55. The Mt. Tam games are always hot, so I left my jacket but grabbed my vest on a whim. The drive was uneventful. The night before, I'd printed out my Mt. Tam directions. For unfamiliar venues I only visit once each year, I keep my typed directions in my computer. After a games, I tweak the directions, e.g., "stay in the right lane after you pass such-and-such" and that helps me the next year.

I arrived a little after 8:30 in Larkspur and was in for a shock. It was cold and extremely windy! I walked over to the registration tent and greeted Paul Forrest. He checked me off on his list as the first arrival. I asked him if there was a restriction on how early we could warm up. He looked at his watch, "I was going to say 8:30, but it's already past that now."

Paul Forrest staked out behind the registration table. Gotta tape down those schedule sheets unless you want them blown over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco!

I returned to the car, happy for even my insufficient vest, and started warming up my pipes in preparation for my first event at 9:14—my first full piobaireachd in competition. As I was warming up I was a bit dumbfounded. My birl was hanging up. And I couldn't even play a D-throw without crashing it. Even after doing a scale of perfect D-throws at a very slow tempo, a technique which usually fixes problematic embellishments, they were still bad. I don't know if it was the cold or the necessary lack of practice lately. I don't think nerves were of much concern. I didn't have high expectations, the venue was small (only solo pipers and drummers), and I was familiar with many of the pipers and two out of the three judges—I was comfortable in that "department."

My time rolled around and the first piper, Robert Hollingsworth, finished up at Platform 4. The judge was Ben Holmes, an open piper and pipe major from Colorado. I told him my tune, Catherine's Lament and that it was in the Kilberry book. "Page 100, isn't it?" I was impressed. "In my book, it's 101." Thinking back, the music is on page 101, the tune introduction is on page 100. (When my instructor, Jay Salter, and I picked the tune, I easily memorized the page number without trying, "Bagpipes 101" immediately stuck in my head!) I told him the interpretation I was playing was a little different, with a heavier low hand. He said, "They are all about the same, aren't they?" Again, impressed. Early on, I'd checked the Killberry versus the Piobaireachd Society version and they are indeed the same—minus a minor typo in the PS engraving. I offered, "Yes, the settings are the same . . . it's [my playing] just a slight difference in interpretation."

[Taking a break typing here, my right wrist is bothering me too much to type any more. More tomorrow.]

I moved away to tune up and couldn't hear the drones over the wind in my ears. Earplugs don't usually cause much in the way of problems, but in this case, they were aggravating the situation, but I wasn't about to take them out. I moved outside the cones next to the only shelter available—a very small diameter tree and it didn't help much! After tuning for a couple minutes, I moved back into the marked off area and started into the tune. I played half of the first line and thought I'd already messed up, but carried on with what felt right for where I was and after another 30 seconds or so figured out that I hadn't messed up after all! Too much thinking and not enough tune in the brain. My instructor had told me to pick up the tempo a bit which I did, but it didn't feel right so I settle back on the tempo somewhat. Things were going reasonably well, though I felt I was pushing my abilities a bit as this tune required playing three times longer than I'd ever played in solo competition before.

I'm going to note here that in the three weeks prior to the games, I was only on the pipes 3-4 times and practice was pretty limited. It has been very frustrating. Brief tingling in some fingers, hot and cold sensations in my right palm, occasional throbbing on the underside of my right forearm. Recalling my challenges going into the Pleasanton Games last year, my instructor Jay Salter said "This is the second time you are going into a games with [physical] problems."

[My right wrist is getting numb and tingly, enough for tonight, more tomorrow (Tuesday).]

I was in the midst of the tune when I lifted up my foot to step forward and found that I was being blown over backward! I put my foot back down, leaned forward and when trying again, found success. Fortunately, that only happened once! Talk about windy! In the second line of the crunlauth, I accidentally added a second "B" crunlauth (the first half of the 2nd line has two, the second half is supposed to have one) but I plunged on. A couple crunlauths became taorluaths (cold/fatigued fingers), but I wrapped it up by finishing off with the first line of the ground.

Paul Forrest snapped this shot of me playing Catherine's Lament. The windswept hair, the drone cords, and kilt apron are indicative of nature doing its own blowing.

Zero problems with saliva or any mouth issues. Not perfect as I wanted, but respectable. Ben Holmes called me over and said that I needed to hold the themal notes longer and that one variation really stuck out as clipping those too short.

[Resuming typing here in late August!]

Robert Hollingsworth of the Macintosh Pipe Band listens on as young Kevin Sweetman plays his piobaireachd for Ben Holmes. Kevin took 1st in three of the four events including the piobaireachd and earned himself the Grade III Aggregate award.

My Piobaireachd Adjudication Sheet:

Games: Mt. Tam, Date: 5/12/07, Event: Piob
Competitor: Andrew Lenz, WUSPBA Number: 791, Grade: 3,
Tune(s): Catherine's Lament


Very nice sounding pipe
Drones/Chanter a good
balance but lower hand
tuning could be closer.
Nice hiharin—solid. Don't rush cadences
& work just a bit on the Dre.
Rushing a bit in Line 1 but
settling down by 2 & 3. Big contrast
in musicality between ground & 1st Var.
Nice phrasing in Var 1 that would have
helped the ground quite a bit. Variation
endings could be better expressed w/more
retard. Arm pulse causing the drones
to waiver at times. Taorluath doubling
becoming round and phraseless. Drone tuning
slipping in the crunluath. (Longer warm up time?)
Slight slip in the crunluath, nice recovery
memory slips in the crunluath but each was

Competitor's Performance Level:

Place Awarded: 2nd

Judge's Signature: <Ben Holmes>

I had an hour and a half stretch before the next event. So I did my rounds, talking to pipers, listening to performances, and doing my best to stay warm which included some trips to my car to sit out of the wind.

About half an hour after my piobaireachd. From left to right: Frank Conley seated, Kip Morais doing his best Jawa imitation (just kidding), Bill McKown acting as stewerd, Eric Magnus and Jan Richey waiting for Eric to finish tuning and play his Grade IV Slow March. Eric is one of Frank's students along with Kip and others. Imagine those branches blowing back and forth!

I ran into Donna Wiley, who has been around piping for years working in various capacities with WUSPBA, but recently took up pipes herself. I had seen her at games and actually met her at a Finn Moore (son of pipermaker Hamish Moore) Concert in Santa Cruz the second week of April.

Eric Magnus and Donna Wiley. No, Eric didn't tape his glengarry ribbon to his chin—it's that pesky wind again!

Eric's jacket later ended up on Kip Morais to keep Kip warmer for his Grade II competitions.

By the way, it's so nice that in Larkspur they have a place to park your dogs. Car parks and dog parks, what will they think of next!

The 6/8 March was scheduled at 11:06 with Ken Sutherland at Platform 2. I was to pipe second out of four pipers. I figured of the remaining events, the 6/8 was my best best for a decent finish. Donna decided to tag along. I introduced my tune to the judge and moved away to tune up next to the building the table had been snuggled up against out of the wind. On of my troubles in competition, particularly with faster tunes, is tuning up at a lower blowing pressure. Consequently, my drones are flat against the chanter reed at full playing pressure. I didn't have the advantage of a band certified judge tuning me up with an expensive meter—nonetheless, no excuse, my drones should have been tuned correctly. My playing went blah. Someone off the street would probably be happy, but not a piping judge. Too be quite honest, I was a bit embarrassed that Donna (or anyone for that matter) had come to watch. Not crisp playing. But my first 6/8 March in competition was now in my mental filing cabinet of experience.

My 6/8 March Adjudication Sheet:

Games: Mt. Tam, Date: 5/12/07, Event: 6/8 March
Competitor: Andrew Lenz, WUSPBA Number: 791, Grade: 3,
Tune(s): PM Donald MacLean of Lewis


Drones out @ start —drifted more @ end.
Rushing E doub in 2nd part bar 2 + 6
Missed E tap.

Similar difficulties in parts 3 + 4 — rushing
doublings — takes away from the rhythm
of the tunes.

Pipes sound good + full (though tuning
was off).

Keep up the good work - -

Competitor's Performance Level:
[X] Level 3: The competitor has demonstrated proficiency generally recognized to be at this grade level.

Place Awarded: 4

Judge's Signature: <Ken Sutherland>

Now, before you get all excited and think "Wow! 4th Place! That's great!" keep in mind that there were only four pipers in competing in this event, so in other words, "last." The silver lining in this is the "demonstrated proficiency" at Grade III. Even with hand problems compounded by poor weather conditions for piping, I didn't get tagged with a "lower quartile" or "below grade level" checkbox. I count my blessings.

There wasn't much time to dwell, the next event was the 2/4 March at 11:20 with Jan Richey at Platform 3. I opted to march in place versus back and forth. My playing was very subpar. Between the problems with my hands and the cold, it came home to roost. It was not how I wanted to play my first Grade III 2/4 March.

My 2/4 March Adjudication Sheet:

Games: Mt. Tam, Date: 5/12/07, Event: 2/4 March
Competitor: Andrew Lenz, WUSPBA Number: 791, Grade: 3,
Tune(s): Siege of Delhi


(out of step) drones close
1st - more low a, shorter b. crisper grip -
it should be an embellishment but
is dominating phrase

Music of tune
is fine - just
work on cleaning
up the fingers so
the embellishments
are accents, the tune/
melody is the core.

grace notes are not
accurately landing
where they belong.
(as discussed).

Overall fingering need cleaning up
slight catch 4th

Good job,

Competitor's Performance Level:
[X] Level 3: The competitor has demonstrated proficiency generally recognized to be at this grade level.

Place Awarded: 3

Judge's Signature: <Janice E. Richey>

Since there were only four pipers in this event, a 3rd place meant that another piper messed up even more than I did. Later, I heard that the judges seemed to hear more than the normal amount of improperly performed embellishments and the like—seems as though I wasn't the only piper affected by the cold.

S/R 12:09 with Jan Richey.

My Strathspey/Reel Adjudication Sheet:

Games: Mt. Tam, Date: 5/12/07, Event: S/R
Competitor: Andrew Lenz, WUSPBA Number: 791, Grade: 3,
Tune(s): Marquis of Huntly / Sound of Sleat


Low hand work end pt 1 needs
cleaning up
S/S missing B taps 3rd
F doubs can be crisper
steady blowing
Overall fingering not clean
individual embellishments
need attention.

Round or not, feels rushed at outset
Your fingers are tumbling over themselves
leaving the listener with a sense of
rushing or franticness rather than

As discussed—fingers not making the most of the
musical possibilities, although you clearly understand
the tunes.

Competitor's Performance Level:
[X] Level 3: The competitor has demonstrated proficiency generally recognized to be at this grade level.
[X] Level 2: The competitor has demonstrated proficiency generally recognized to be in the lower quartile of this grade level.

Place Awarded: 3

Judge's Signature: <Janice E. Richey>

Since there

[June 2010: I never did finish typing up this entry. My hands were just hurting too much to continue. In March 2008, while slightly improved, my hands still weren't back to normal and I was referred by my general practitioner doctor to a neurologist, who did a nerve conduction test on my two hands. One nerve on my left hand was a "17" and the matching nerve on the right was "9". The doctor said that in order for it to qualify as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, one needs at least two pairs of nerves with a 2:1 ratio. Instead, he pronounced my case as "Overuse Syndrome" and referred to me to the "Hand Clinic" at the local hospital. How did the clinic go? I can't say. At that point, I was unconvinced that they could do anything to improve the situation. I never went. That might have been a mistake, but I can't say. But with hindsight, I probably should have gone since I'm still having hand issues.]

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