Sunday, July 23, 2017

I want to thank Caveal for his reply to my blog, "A Problem With Three-Fours."  Well, Caveal, you are "a man after my own heart," and we are both in total agreement, that, sad as it is to say, pretty well all pipe bands in the world tend to play 3/4 - time pieces, generally known as Retreats, out of step.  Universally, Retreats, are played this way.   That is, with no regard to the pulsation that's part of the music when it is properly played.  Even our much reverenced hymn, "Amazing Grace," was played out of step by a small group of pipers in the movie, "The Titanic."   And this was by pipers from a well known world-famous pipe band.

For some peculiar reason, it seems that it is traditional to play out of step while playing 3/4's.  The fault has been passed along from teacher to student and has been repeated without anyone bringing this gross error to the point of being corrected.  Incidentally, I played in a very large band for the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena California several times, and during the practice for one of those occasions, for which we led the parade, one of the instructors stopped the band in the middle of "Scotland the Brave," and said, "This whole band is out of step."  One young piper spoke up and said, "It's because it followed "The Green Hills," " and so the instructor responded that we'll play "Scotland the Brave" first and then,"The Green Hills."  That occasion, and during the parade in Pasadena, were the only times I've ever heard that retreat played according to the beat or pulsation.  It's truly sad that excellent pipe bands have, and still are,"being led down the garden path," to play many otherwise beautiful pieces of music without any expression, but just simply in a mechanical sense, without regard for something that could be wonderful but it isn't, because of the lack of expression.

I should mention another great Scottish song that is played and sung without regard to the composer's feeling for the song, but I shall have to reserve this to comment on it when some interest has been shown in this subject.

It is an amazing thing that you, Caveal, responded at this particular time, because I was just referring to a manuscript on the theme, that was prepared some time ago, to be published for "The Church Piper," by Amazon.  It is a compendium of a number of Retreats and Hymns written with the 3/4 time signature.  I have been intending to publish a good number of hymns and retreats, with their bar lines in the correct positions.  I happened now, to be borrowing from it, just a few hymns with the theme, "Prayers for Pipers."  My intention is to meet the objective of 75 hymns on the theme, "Prayers for Pipers,"for each of two proposed volumes.  They are almost complete and ready for publication too.   Recently, George Delanghe and I published "Soul-Stirring Hymns," by Amazon.  It is music composed by the noted hymn-writer, Albert Brumley.  It was quite a challenge, because he wrote his piano music in a shape-note style.  Most of today's musicians wouldn't know what we are talking about.  Of course, I didn't understand this notation either, but after deciphering it, the effort proved worthwhile.  Soon, we will publish the two volumes of, "Prayers for Pipers.," and soon after, I now hope, we'll follow those two volumes with the book I started a few years ago.

Because of your comments, I propose to bring that manuscript called "Strictly 3/4 Time Music"
up to standard for publication too.  I will definitely expound on the subject of playing three-four tunes according to the beat, or pulse, whether they are military retreats or hymns.  I will include the words, wherever they are available, so pipers will be able to sing as well as play the music.  After all, one has to be able to sing the words into his or her music in order to give to the music the right expression.  I know you were saying that very thing.

Once again, Caveal, thanks for your wise comments on how, through neglect and lack of good observation it has allowed pipers and pipe bands to have continued to play many of their tunes without proper thought to their natural pulsations.  We'll both work on the subject, with due respect for everyone who has been so badly affected by tradition rather than by being properly taught.  Keep in touch, Caveal.  We both have work to do, to bring up the standard for piping across the world.  Do you think it was by accident that you contacted me when you did?"  I don't.  I have implicit faith that our Dear Lord in Heaven has chosen you and me, to do this work.  After all, if we intend to play pipes in heaven, we have to play them right!  I've read that there will be nothing in heaven by which it could be defiled, and no doubt this is one of them.  Let's practice towards perfection, and not practice the same errors over and over.

But last of all, I want to congratulate you for having composed a 3/4 tune that you are convinced should surely have won the prize, but didn't, because it wasn't written to be played out of step.  I can't blame you for being disappointed.  Who wouldn't be?  - Only one who didn't know any better.  Thanks again.  I appreciate your forthrightness.


Kindest regards,
Keith MacDonald, OD

Thursday, May 26, 2016

We Appreciate Our Teachers

I’ve been noticing the improvement one of our younger pipers in the band has been making, and I’ve complimented him.  He responded with a lovely smile.  I said, “You must be practicing every day, and he nodded.  “Are you taking lessons regularly,” I asked, and he responded affirmatively.  It’s a definite fact that conscientious practice will result in improvement to the extent of one’s level of ambition.

This has caused me to reflect upon my own process of learning to play the bagpipes.  My brother, Ken, and I, were fortunate to be taught by Hugh Fraser, pipe major of the Saskatoon Light Infantry.  He was also a member of the police force in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  As we became competent pipers in the Saskatoon Light Infantry (SLI) Pipe Band, we would be participants in many parades and ceremonies.  We learned a tune a week, and steadily improved.  Our playing motivated Dad to take lessons too, and the three of us had a wonderful time piping for many engagements.  Ken and I were not necessarily competitive with one another, but instead, we were just highly motivated, and so was our dad.  We would show him certain exercises that would improve his technique, but he wasn’t particularly receptive to our suggestions, and he would say, “You guys are just trying to hold me back.”  That wasn’t the case, and he knew it.  I’m sure Dad was greatly pleased to see the two of us improving steadily.

Listening to well-practiced pipers such as Peter Henderson, in the SLI band was a motivator.  Peter excelled in playing reels.  “Mrs. MacLeod of Raasay,” was one, and others were, “The Mason’s Apron” and “Mrs. Terence Eden’s Welcome to Cromlix.”  His G, D, and E grace notes clicked in even cadence, and his music had a timing that was obviously designed for dancers.  A person would want to play like that.  I certainly did.  His timing was impeccable.  One can learn so much by listening to a good piper.

Hugh was a good teacher because he was appreciative of our conscientious attitude to learn.  He was a band-piper however, and had techniques of his own that he passed along.  An example was in how he played the burl.  It was by sliding his little finger back and forth across the bottom hole.  Later on, when we moved to Winnipeg Manitoba, and took a few lessons from proficient pipers, we learned there was a better way.  Fred MacLeod and his dad, Donald, demonstrated the technique was to raise the little finger up to a position from which it could strike the bottom hole, then rise up to come down hard onto the hole once more, to really make that burl sound, while being supported by a well-tuned set of drones.  Fred was a competition piper.  His folks said he wore out the living room carpet by marching on it.
Apparently, that is how he, a competition piper improved upon his timing.

Bill Watt, and competition piper and a veteran of the Second World War, added to my learning by demonstrating how the ending on a competition two-four march should sound.  He called it, “Harry Haw, Petraw.”  By playing a nice clear C doubling, then a low A using an E grace note to emphasize the A, he would finalize the ending with that nice firm A burl.  The pipes “spoke” as the phrase was completed.  Bill Watt was not only a great teacher of the pipes, but he was also a composer.  One of his fine marches was, “Tornaveen Cottage,” with which I won a first place medal in an open competition.  Another technique Bill Watt taught me, was to finish off some 2/4 competition marches with a Bibero Harry Haw Petraw.

Lessons at Bill Watt’s home were memorable.  We regularly practiced pipes in his little kitchen for a couple of hours or so.  Mrs. Watt would go to the movie theatre.  Lesson time would be completed when she got back, and she’d make us a nice evening snack. Bill could produce a marvelous sound from his pipes, and he was keen to pass along his techniques to a piper really wanting to learn.  Bill’s son Chris, is a fine piper, and it’s great to see that his dad taught him.

Jack Reay, pipe major of The Manitoba Piper’s Association Pipe Band also taught his own son to play the pipes, and young Jack was an outstanding piper.  It was in perfecting band competition sets that I spent time with Jack Sr. where he worked, in the Manitoba Telephone Exchange building.  Our band won the Western Canadian Championship three times, and our members participated in The Rose Bowl Parade in Florida several times.  Every week-end in the summer, we had engagements.

Later on, Dad, Ken and I became part of the ANAVETS Pipe Band.  This was the Army & Navy Veterans Pipe Band.   Doug Will, who taught dozens of pipers in the city, was an ardent member.  He was enthusiastic about my desire to transcribe and arrange church music and he furnished me with a small collection of hymns as a starter.  Since then, I published a number of hymnbooks and continued to transcribe for future publications, all of which are under the title, “The Church Piper.”  Ian Conn from Scotland, joined our band.  He had the keenest ear for setting pipes.  Ian was an ex-member of the Schotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and was playing with them when the band was winning world championships.  His technique verified it.  I learned from Ian the need to open up my doublings; those F’s, E’s C’s and B’s and the others as well.  It meant lifting the fingers more and coming down firmly on the notes.  He required an extra consciousness for fine tuning.  Our pipes were singing when Ian was in charge, and when he played harmony, it was ecstasy.

One other piper who was a help to me in learning to play well, was Colin Cameron.  Colin played several instruments and he was also one of our judges.  As I demonstrated to him my mastery over a certain tune, he took note of my D doublings and demonstrated how to improve upon them.  I was to play a grip, then bridge the C and lift the fingers to form the D.  That’s how I play the D now, to obtain more quality  of sound, but of course, if there are two consecutive D’s, the second one would be a shake, while another D doubling might be played with the top hand.

It's grand to recall my various teachers and the times I simply listened to them play.  Their encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to play for weddings, funerals, call to worship, banquets and official events.  I do appreciate them.  I also expect other pipers must feel the same way about their teachers of piping.    eHHHH    

        

Friday, January 22, 2016

Humility 101 For Pipers

At the last supper, Jesus was sitting among a few of His disciples. From their conversation, one can visualize their proximity and can follow their conversation. They would have been reclining at the table, as compared to sitting, which is our custom. There wasn’t a slave to wash their dusty feet, so Jesus undertook to begin with Peter, who responded by asking Jesus if He actually intended to wash his feet. Peter was reluctant to consider Jesus’ kind offer, so Jesus replied that their relationship could not be the same if He didn’t.

Each of the disciples considered it inappropriate, but Jesus said He was about to set an example; that each should wash one another’s feet. He told them it would be a wonderful symbol of caring, because it would reveal an attitude of service, care, love and genuine humility, all characteristics of those who would be His followers.

This ceremony pointed towards Jesus’ impending death; a prelude to the cross, which might be stated in the words, “I am among you as he who serveth.” (Luke 22:27(b)). He also said, “The Son of Man came to serve.” (Mark 10:45) There is a beautiful hymn that reminds us of the faithful saying, that “Jesus emptied Himself of all but love, and was obedient to death, even to death on the cross, where He laid aside His glory,” and took on the nature of any of us. It is from the hymn, “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley:

“He left His Father’s throne above, 
So free, so infinite His grace! 

Emptied Himself of all but love, 

And bled for Adam’s helpless race!

’Tis mercy all, immense and free, 

For O my God, it found out me.

This hymn is an eloquent message about humility. Automatically, we will ask, “How do we become humble? Left to ourselves, we become proud, and lose any quality of humility. It is a quality of character revealed in how we relate to one another. Now is a good time to resort to prayer. It is then, when one becomes humble before God. Only in humility and brokenness, can we approach the throne of God. That is actually why we resist praying. When we pray every day, we will become humble. There is no place like Calvary to reveal our humility. A hymn by Dr. Isaac Watts explains that we can look contemptuously at our pride, when we consider Christ’s humility in forfeiting His life as a Sacrifice for us. His Sacrificial death was so we can have direct access to God. The hymn is, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

1. When I survey the wondrous cross 
On which the Prince of Glory died;
All my gains I count but loss
And throw contempt on all my pride.

2. Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to His blood.

How can one possibly be proud, knowing that God did this? Nevertheless, pride and ambition are our motivators. Pride manifests itself subtly. There is pride in ownership and achievements, and it is quite natural to be proud of what we have earned and done, and yet it is quite possible to be proud and still not be ostentatious. We must keep mindful that it is only because of God’s graciousness that we’ve had the vitality and wisdom to do what we’ve done. We are not humble by nature, but humility can become a natural part of us when we make a practice of considering others first. Peter tells us to clothe ourselves in humility and God will lift us up in due time. In the scriptural words, we are to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Jesus was asked, “What is the most important commandment of all?” He replied, “To love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength, and to love your neighbour as thyself.” (Mark 12:30, 31) He exemplified His love for others and He laid aside His position. As scripture tells us, “There is no greater love than that a man will lay down his life for his friends. After telling us that, Jesus went to the cross and laid down His life not only for His friends, but for everyone who will recognize His Sacrifice as God’s evidence of His love. By acknowledging God’s love, and by asking for forgiveness for what would otherwise separate him or her from God, a person can have a personal relationship with God.

To promote unity with others, it is well to abide by instructions given to us from the Bible. Paul, in Philippians, encouraged Jesus’ followers, saying, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interests of others. (Phil 2:4) Humility will unite us while selfishness and superiority will divide us. Humility is the quality of being one in spirit and one in mind. Rather than claim we are right in a situation, it is best to give up our right to be right. Rather than insist on having our own way, we will show grace and gentleness. Humility will gives us the ability to value others above ourselves. (Phil 2:3)

An example of humility would be the ability to graciously accept criticism or suggestions about your playing. Consider criticism to be given in the spirit of good advice. Thank the individual, and ask him or her to demonstrate the improvement. Listen carefully, and together, refer to the music page. Individuals may play the music so often that it is by ear. Consequently, the printed music should be the authority for this situation. By giving time to consider the advice, both pipers will benefit. The result is to have made a friend, and it is quite possible he or she was right. If so, you can humbly say thank you, and if he or she was wrong, you will have helped to improve the music as well as having maintained your respect as a player.

Being humble, makes us more like Jesus. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death.” (Phil. 2:7, 8) Following in Jesus’ footsteps, means to back away from what we would consider best for us, and to allow it to be best for others…Jesus gave up His life for us. We could ask Him in prayer, to help us make sacrifices for the sake of others. By putting others first, it would reflect upon our humility and be honoring to God.

Pipers can think how they may develop the character quality of humility. It could be by not trying to impress anyone or one another by the quality of their music, but honestly accepting, that to accomplish the level of playing they recognize in others, it must have required much practice. Those persons deserve to be recognized and complimented. That gives the other person an opportunity to say, “Thank you,” and probably acknowledge that you have an appreciation for their playing and that you might also know a great deal about the way the music should sound. Remember always, that your style of music could be different from theirs and vice versa. While one person might specialize in hornpipes, jigs and reels, another might excel in playing marches and memorials and for special occasions. And, if someone should complement you on what you’ve just played, a simple “Thank you,” is adequate. Definitely, never be critical of another’s playing when in conversation with anyone else.

Our conversation began with a discussion on humility. In actuality, humility is opposite to pride. It is natural to be proud of an accomplishment. One should be proud of his or her achievements, but not to the extent of bragging about them. To complete this discussion, several quotations on pride, will be found in scripture. James 4:6 tells us, “God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble.” The disciples of Jesus condescended to wash one another’s feet, and Jesus said that if they were unwilling to let Him wash their feet, they could have none of Him. In James, verse 4:10, we are reminded to “humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Finally, Paul, in Romans, 12:16, advises us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.” God loves us to be humble individuals. He requires us to be close to Him, and it is in Micah 6:9 that we are told, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”

I hope you will enjoy playing the two hymns included with this blog, and that you will learn the lyrics too, so your music will carry the expression where words or music alone are inadequate.




    

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Knowing the Words Helps


Technically, one plays the music the way it’s written; holding notes and cutting them according to the composer’s intention.  Keeping exact time for every bar of music is also part of a musician’s skill.  There’s also something besides, which is inherent in our minds.  It is the rhythmic beat that carries the music along and helps to give expression to its message.

Along with this, is the benefit from knowing the words for the song you are playing because they keep you intent on the line of music.  Playing the words is far more satisfying than just playing notes, and if it’s a hymn that’s being played, the words, known as the lyrics, will carry a message that is even more understandable than the words of a well thought-out message of a practiced minister.

That is what I want to relay to you.  It is the need to remember when playing this beautiful hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” that I’ve loved since I was a boy, that music is a language everyone understands.  Think of the words you are playing, and that your bagpipes are singing while people are listening.  Some people will hear the words in German, others in Spanish or French, or some other language, depending on the language that is familiar, and yet, each time when your pipes are playing, the words may be in English, but someone else is hearing them in his or her own native language.

In this hymn, think as you play, “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”  Those who know the words will hear those words.  “Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?”  Think as you play, “Oh, what needless pain we bear, because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” “In His arms He’ll take and shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there.”


There is so much depth of feeling and emotion in this hymn, and you are telling those who listening, that you know Jesus personally, the One person who knows your deepest sorrows and weaknesses, and He has promised to share your burdens.  In your effort to share God’s wonderful promises with others, you will probably feel deep emotions yourself, and be assured that the time will come when “there will be no need for prayer,” for it will be in glory, that you will meet your Saviour personally.  Here are the words to that beautiful hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Play them with all your heart for others to listen.



Playing in Harmony


 It is wonderful to play harmony in the band.  I would love to see and hear more pipers enjoying this experience.  Regularly, I will play harmony for such tunes as, “The Green Hills of Tyrol,” “O Rowan Tree,” “Wings,” and “Amazing Grace.”  I intend to play harmony for many more tunes, and will introduce them if anyone is desirous.  With this present blog, I hope to introduce you to a favourite hymn that I have loved since I was a lad.  I was taught to sing it, by my mother, who knew all the words, just as she did for many other hymns, such as, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” and “In the Garden.”  The roll has already been called for my mother, and my dad, as well as for two of my sisters.  I truly want to share with you, the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  That’s because, as you will see from the words of the hymn, it is “a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”  You will need a piper friend to play together with you, and you will appreciate what it is to have a friend.  Even so, there is no dearer Friend than Jesus, who “will all our sorrows share.”

One of my dear friends is George Delanghe, a piper in Las Vegas.  He and I have worked together to arrange the accompanying harmony to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  So far, we haven’t been able to play it together, but we’re both anxious for you to find a friend with whom you can play this hymn.  Perhaps, you will consider the words too, and assimilate them meaningfully in your own life.  We have more beautiful hymns if you would like to practice perfect timing and mutual expression, tuning your ears to the best harmony you can produce.  Don’t overlook the need to have your pipes tuned to perfection.

Like many hymns, there is a story.  The author, Joseph Scriven, was about to be married.  His bride-to-be was drowned the day before the ceremony could take place.  Later on, when he was about to marry another lady, she also died.  He lived the rest of his life trusting Jesus to help him bear his grief.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Music For Morning Church Service

I am sharing the three hymns I mentioned in my last blog post. I've played them on occasion, to begin a Sunday morning's church service. I would start at the back of the sanctuary and march in with the hymn, "Teach Me To Pray." At the front, I would turn and march several times across in front of the Remembrance Table. After completing the hymn twice over, I would begin "The Lord's Prayer," at first playing almost hesitatingly, because I would be playing to God, and would be gaining confidence in "speaking" to our Heavenly Father. With confidence coming from my assurance that Jesus taught me how to pray, I would play with an even time, and with considerable feeling. Immediately, the words to the prayer would be in my head and the timing would be precise. The music would develop to the climactic point. The people would have been singing the words silently, with emotion, immersed in their quiet singing of the Lord's Prayer, just as I would be when playing those words, "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen."

And, because playing "The Lord's Prayer," means being in direct communication with our Lord, while my pipes are "singing" the words that Jesus taught me, I am energized and it causes me to want to continue into a hymn that's right for marching out. "Singing I Go" expresses that eagerness. It is a hymn full of life, which is exactly how praying "The Lord's Prayer" prepares a person for the morning's service and for the days ahead.

These three hymns are from several of the hymnbooks for pipers in the series, The Church Piper. They are available from Henderson's Distributors.  Other medleys for call to worship are applicable, and I could be pleased to assist enthusiastic pipers to prepare their own call to worship.







Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Lord's Prayer


When we pray, we are actually speaking to God, and Jesus has given us a wonderful prayer as a model. It is rich in its teaching and brilliant in its significance. God has given us the right to address Him. Jesus had a unique relationship with God. We are co-heirs with Jesus and He encourages us to approach God with tremendous freedom. He assured us that, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.”

As you pray this prayer, or play it on the pipes for call to worship or at a wedding, think of the words throughout. Prayer is sacred, because we are speaking to God. We come before the Lord in prayer, and it’s from our heart. We should think of our Almighty God as our gracious Heavenly Father. In prayer, God is to be exalted as our Heavenly Father. Nevertheless, He lives here, amongst us. It is fitting and appropriate to reverence and honor God as most holy, when we pray. Our prayer was fashioned by Jesus, so that God will be hallowed. Jesus taught us to say, “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

We are about half way through The Lord’s Prayer before we even begin to ask God for anything, and we haven’t said a thing about ourselves. We haven’t admitted our sinfulness to God, but have asked, “Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” At this point in The Lord’s Prayer, we have actually aligned ourselves with God and His principals for us. Conscious of our many faults, we realize the necessity of admitting our transgressions and asking forgiveness, so we can speak to God unhindered. We’ve asked for sustenance and simultaneously have asked for forgiveness, knowing that in His fairness, God would only consider our prayers for sustenance once we have asked His forgiveness from those to whom we have been indebted.

Praying the first part of the prayer, helps us to know how to pray in the second part. The first part acknowledges to whom we are speaking, and it is most certainly to God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Certainly, we can’t live in variance to His will and still ask Him for something, We certainly can’t ask God to forgive us if we can’t forgive those who have sinned against us. This next part of the prayer, is to ask God to prevent us from getting into a situation where we will falter, but be delivered from the Evil One. “Lead us not into temptation,” is to ask God’s help in making us less tempted to act in discordance with His will. “But deliver us from evil, for Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, Forever, and Ever, Amen.” Here, we have admitted our need for willpower to avoid evil. Once we are able to avoid things that are evil, we can be depended upon to make our principals correspond with those descriptive of Heaven.

We must always keep in mind that God is a loving God and that He will listen intently to our prayers, not reluctantly, but with willingness. God listens if we come before Him with genuine love in our heart; that we remember what Jesus said when He gave us the most important commandment of all. It is, “to love your Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself. He gave us this wonderful gift; “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Prayer is not just for the purpose of asking God for things, but to reverence Him, admit our transgressions and ask forgiveness. It should help us to maintain a relationship with Him that would facilitate communication and assurance that God will listen to our prayers. James, who was Jesus’ brother, told us that the fervent prayers of a righteous person would accomplish much. Jesus said we should pray believing, and our prayers would be answered. Still, we must have faith that the prayer is reasonable.

Two of my favourite hymns are, “Teach Me to Pray,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.” After playing them as a medley, I love to play, “Singing I Go,” as it is most appropriate. After the two hymns are played for call to worship, the third is an excellent way to exit from the sanctuary.
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