Sage advice

In piping and drumming, you never stop learning and realizing new perspectives, and my eyes were opened once again last November in a casual conversation with the great soloist, teacher, bagpipe-maker and reed craftsman, Murray Henderson. It was just a passing comment that he made regarding the Gold Medal success of his daughter, Faye, last August. He told me that he told her:

“If you are lucky enough to win a major event, always remember, you are still the same player as you drive home from the competition as you were going to it.”

After all of these years, that one comment rang true with me. Murray said that he tells all of his students this before a big event, and it’s such smart and clear advice that it’s hard to believe so many people don’t automatically understand it without being reminded.

To a fault, many competitive pipers and drummers almost incessantly chase prizes. On one hand, trying to win big events is motivation to practice. But over the centuries there have been not a few competitors who have quickly gained one big prize and then rapidly parlayed that success into a teaching and judging career.

A big win will open a door of opportunity with the piping and drumming masses who make the mistake of automatically assuming that being awarded a major prize is not just a stamp of approval of their technical skill, but also of their overall understanding of the art. It’s not so automatic.

The same mistake can be made in any art or sport that involves competition. The famously successful person who collects major accolades often does not understand exactly why he or she is so good. There are those extraordinary people in all walks of life who are supernaturally talented. They don’t seem to have to work as hard for prizes, or they blunder into awards one way or another.

So often the best teachers are those who have worked the hardest, striving to reach the top, learning and trying every angle or technique to put them over the edge. They make a life’s work of studying their art or sport as a student. So often, these people – not the big prizewinners – are the best teachers.

The truth is that in any Gold Medal competition probably 20 competitors have a realistic shot of winning the event on the day. There are those who are fortunate enough to win it seemingly without much effort or with a great deal of luck, and there are those who come back year after year after year working like dogs to learn all they are able to get that final edge. They acquire vast amounts of knowledge along the way.

“If you are lucky enough to win a major event, always remember, you are still the same player as you drive home from the competition as you were going to it.”

Sage advice from Murray Henderson. What piping/drumming words of wisdom have stuck with you?

Most excellent 2010

High Violet, The NationalCompared with 2009, I listened to less new music overall in 2010. There didn’t seem to be that many piping and drumming recordings released last year and, to be honest, stuff that comes in for review is often sent out to reviewers so quickly that I don’t get a chance to hear them. If the review is good, I’ll make sure that I purchase a copy.

But, to keep the annual streak going, here are my favourite tracks of 2010:

“Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” – from the CD High Violet by The National. This was my album of the year, and any one of several songs (e.g., “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “England”) could have made my list, but I like the simple 6/8 melody of this track. Brilliant musicality and a unique sound and semi-dark style.

“Dog Days Are Over” – from the CD Lungs by Florence + the Machine. I think this song may actually be from 2009, but it was re-released in 2010. I love the depth of Florence Welch’s voice – a cross between Cat Power and Grace Slick – and the reverb and rhythmical influences of Motown.

“Crash Years” – from the CD Together by The New Pornographers. This got a lot of rotations on my machine over the latter part of the year. Extremely listenable from the Vancouver collective.

“Desire Lines” – from the CD Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter. I didn’t much care for the rest of this CD, but this track stood out, and reminded me of “Nothing Ever Happened,” which made my 2008 list.

“Air & Concerto Ascenseur” – from the CD Live At The El Mocambo: Raw and Off the Floor by the Toronto Police Pipe Band. I heard this for the first time, live, at the band’s Toronto concert and it had an instantly favourable impression. It stands up on repeated listening, and also caught the ear of John Mulhearn in his pipes|drums review.

I could go on (Iain MacInnes, Kanye, Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend . . .), but a brief list perhaps suits for 2010. I find out about non-piping and drumming music from friends (thanks, Lorna!), so always interested to hear what your favourites were from 2010.