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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 2:10 am 
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Hi all,

I'd like to hear your opinions on suitable skill level for performing with the pipes.
Although I myself haven't played the pipes that long or performed with them yet, this post isn't for seeking confirmation on any direction, but to have a discussion about how performing is considered in the piping world, or to extend that thought, in the ITM scene overall.

For starters, I've met people with different approaches to performing music in general. Some I've met play music and are very talented at it, but don't even want to find their way into performing. Others, in turn, are at a notably earlier stage at their musical career (in regard of proficiency), and aim to perform at the earliest opportunity.
I can understand the sentiment in both approaches; while a big part of the playing of music has to do with enjoying it on a personal level where audience isn't even welcome, I still largely think of music as a performing art.

All this transferred to the world of uilleann piping, an instrument which I think has a higher threshold of taking it up in the first place and reaching a skill level high enough to even be able to play a simple jig (especially so in a remote area like mine with little or no access to lessons) than many other instruments. I suppose that piping is regarded as up-keeping of a noble and valuable tradition, and I've understood that in the piping scene there are clear indicators, or distinct factors, of 'good piping' and 'bad piping', what they do and don't include and what they should and shouldn't include.

This in mind, one of the questions that I personally have been pondering is that, in the piping world, is it more of an insult towards the instrument and things around it, or an act of honoring the instrument and the tradition, if you perform on it although knowing that you aren't a master of the art, or even 'good' in many respects?
One thing I think is true is that if something, calling oneself a good player while knowing that they're not, would be an insult to the tradition, but how about performing while being realistically aware of one's personal skill level? I know that my own attitude towards performing would be very different, say, on a ITM festival with very advanced and/or professional players, where, exaggerated, I'm not sure if I would even dare to pick up my pipes next to the pros and call myself a player, versus a small gig in my own remote area where there are no pipers in addition to myself, and most of the audience probably haven't seen a set of pipes in their lives, not to mention recognize elements of 'good' or 'bad' piping, where I could regard performing partly as spreading knowledge about the instrument, maybe offer someone an exotic experience and (hopefully) get them interested further in ITM.

To somewhat summarize the main point: would you encourage amateur pipers to perform, with emphasis on performances as part of the music scenery; or would you encourage not to perform until a certain skill level, with emphasis on the importance of technical proficiency before it's acceptable to perform?
Many thoughts and aspects to this. Would be very nice to hear opinions (and facts, if they exist) on this matter.

Best,
Hooleh


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 4:22 am 
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First off, I'm not a piper, but my feelings toward performing are that if you want to, you should.

Personally, I have no interest in performing, as such, but will let some people listen to my musical efforts. If you want to, & have a reasonable standard, go ahead & perform, your audience will likely appreciate any performance where they know the performer is playing at their best, note, not perfect, just giving of themselves. :)

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 4:55 am 
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After many many years of workaday gigs in many different circumstances, I've formulated a "law of gigs," which says that there is generally an inverse relationship between how well you think you're playing and how much the audience likes it. Nights when I think "wow we are awful tonight" people come up and say "you guys are great!" Nights when I think "wow we are killing it tonight!" people are indifferent.

Unless you're the featured performer in a concert, it's my observation that most people either don't have the knowledge to judge you or aren't paying attention. Are you the featured performer, or are you just providing social capital? Case in point: some relatives of mine are putting on a big Irish themed Easter party. They've hired a harper. Out of the 40 or so people who will be there, I'll be the only one who has any solid idea of what Irish music is and should sound like. The harper will be able to get away with murder, although she/he might spot me rolling my eyes at some of the tunes my relatives will ask for.

So in most workaday situations, you can get away with musical murder.

Personally, I'm not much interested in performing ITM, but it's also been a long term observation of mine that an hour of playing live, in front of people, is worth many weeks of private practice, because you have to make it work in real time, and if you can't get through that passage the "right" way you get through it some way, and if you do this a lot pretty soon you have a style or a "voice." So Im not close to ready for a gig, but if somebody were to ask me, I might actually do it, just to make myself step up


Last edited by PB+J on Thu Apr 11, 2019 3:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 7:16 am 
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I think there may be a bit of confusion in your use of the word "performance", Hooleh. If you are talking about playing a gig for money, I don't know - you'd have to be the judge of that, if you can do it in good conscience or not. But if you're just talking about playing in public, in front of other people, then in my opinion the sooner the better. Even if it's not great for your audience, it is good for you. I played for the first time in public after maybe 4-5 months of learning. Was it good? No, but my audience had never seen or heard of uilleann pipes, so there was not much stress (besides my own stage fright), and it broke the ice as it were for me.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 8:52 am 
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Nothing wrong with playing for the public at any stage, even rank beginners. However, you should always keep within your abilities. The general public will usually be amused by the novelty of the pipes. But the novelty will wear off after 10 or 15 minutes - even sooner if the piper isn't musical.

I've rarely seen professional pipers play solo for very long. Any time I've seen Paddy Keenan live, he tends tokeeps his solo pipig to a minimum (15 or 20 minutes) before he is joined by other musicians. Even the piping recitals at ITM or piping festivals, which feature the cream of pipers, tend to be 20 to 30 minutes per piper.

Knowing that you have to play for the public will give you a reason to practice. Also, it's all fine to be able to play a tune in the comfort of your own home, with just the cat as an audience, but the stress of performing for the public in an unfamiliar environment will test your mettle.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 3:22 pm 
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Thanks for the input, all. Nice to read people's takes on this.
The main idea behind my pondering, I suppose, was whether or not it's 'breaking the sanctity of the art' to perform underskilled.
My own approach to performing music with any instrument, including the uilleann pipes, is that for one thing it keeps up the motivation if you're practicing for something (a gig in this instance), which is close to what PJ said, and if you're lucky enough to get applauses , I bet it's a good self-confidence boost to keep you playing and enjoy it more and more. In addition I lean towards the idea that if you play the instrument well enough so that it sounds more like music than noise, you may consider performing. It's OK to have different leveled performances.

An Draighean wrote:
I think there may be a bit of confusion in your use of the word "performance"

Thanks for noting! Primarily I meant playing a gig (be it paid or not). Anyways an event where you (and the rest of the band should that be the case) are on stage and play for audience in an event arranged for that purpose.
Good that you pointed out the ambiguity. I didn't realize it until you said it, as the two other means of ITM public playing that come straight to my mind are pub sessions, which I think more of as an open playing moment (although I'm aware that there are 'closed sessions' by paid musicians that serve more the purpose of a show/performance), and busking, which is a form of performing but to me gives an impression of being more of playing in public but for fun and own pleasure.
To be clear, I'm not saying that a session isn't a performance, but compared to a gig, in a session it's 'safer' to make mistakes, for instance, practice etc, whereas on a gig-performance it's expected that you know at least to an adequate extent the list of tunes you're about to perform.
So based on this I would call a session public playing, while I would call a gig a performance. Don't know if I'm making any kind of sense at this hour. :lol:


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 6:25 pm 
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Interesting topic.

Don't be too self-conscious about playing for others but do be aware of whether the people you are playing for are enjoying it or not.

When I started playing I lived in an apartment building. My neighbours could hear me practice. I was careful to practice at reasonable times of the day. For the first six months or so I got some very nasty glances. Then things changed. People would actually compliment me and smile.

I remain an intermediate player and will never progress beyond that, but even my mediocre playing seems to be enjoyed by most. I brought my pipes on a work trip a few summers ago and had a few tunes outdoors at a park. I didn't realise there was a large group of people behind some trees. They came over as I was putting the pipes away and wanted to know about the instrument and assumed I was a professional player.

Another time, I was playing some tunes solo at an local pub's open mic night. The temp and humidity were quite different from home so the set was temperamental and not easily tuned. After 5-10 minutes of playing around with some scales and snippets of tunes as I adjusted the set, I stopped in preparation for my actual performance, only to be greeted with very enthusiastic applause. Maybe they thought it was some jazz improvisation.

One of my students, when he was 12 I think and really not very good at all (pretty awful actually) played for his school concert. Maybe 500 hundred people in the audience and they absolutely loved it. And to be honest he wasn't much worse than many other kids.

So as has been said it's all about the audience and the context, and there are definitely times not to play.

One gentleman who had just 'learned' the infamous bodhran, used to bring it out to sessions along with the 'music' his teacher gave him. (Not really music but pages with different up and down stroke patterns or something for the rhythmic patterns of jigs, reels, etc.) Unfortunately the 'music' didn't help and he couldn't keep any sort of beat. He never tuned in to the evil stares.

Music is all about sharing and feeling, and if you can make people feel good go for it. If you get evil stares, don't ignore them, put the pipes away and keep practising in your basement. Another tip would be to busk. If people smile and throw you lots of coin, that's a good sign. Of course, they make just be throwing coin because they feel sorry for you :)
Caper Mike


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 8:04 am 
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I think the point about being sensitive to audience enjoyment is a good one. Thanks to the novelty value of the pipes for most people you can get away with a surprising amount, but the novelty will quickly wear off.

Play for your own pleasure first of all and certainly for other pipers, to get feedback. I do think though if you're playing in front of an audience you should at the very least be able to keep good time and keep reasonably accurate tuning on the tunes you've selected. If you can't, pick other tunes or leave the pipes at home.

This is advice I've tried to follow myself. There's enough hamfisted piping in the wild thanks to Youtube without me adding my own contributions to the pile!


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 09, 2019 8:32 am 
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The fact that the uilleann pipes are a totally binary (either on, or off) and single dynamic (ranging from mezzo forte, to forte, to fortissimo) instrument brings with it certain challenges and social sensitivity. Especially in a session setting. You have to be more on top of your game than with instruments where you can sneak in and out of the melodic line or noodle along.

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 10, 2019 3:22 pm 
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This is definitely an interesting topic for the uilleann pipes, because like tommykleen mentioned, the pipes are on or off. And if you aren't also "on" as a piper, it's extremely noticeable to anyone who plays music. Some of the common issues with new pipers, myself included for the first couple years, like squeaks and out of tune notes, is jarring to the audience. Like has been mentioned, sometimes just a little bit of piping, even from a new piper, is a curiosity for people unfamiliar to the instrument. Personally I'm all for sharing the pipes, and music in general, and I encourage any piper interested, at any stage, to perform as they feel is appropriate.

I personally went through the process of starting to perform on the pipes over the last couple years. It was an extremely difficult journey for me, as the pipes can be a pain to play in the best of circumstances. There was a gig I played on them about 6 months before I started performing on them regularly where I wasn't ready. Why did I do it? The festival REALLY WANTED PIPES. It worked out, though I knew an experienced piper who was in the crowd, who I assume noticed every mistake. Talking about stressful! Now I perform on the pipes sometimes weekly, and I just look back at past me and shake my head! And I have so much left to learn... And regulators...

Performing for me is a brilliant way to perfect your playing. In my opinion, playing in front of a crowd who is silent and watching your every movement is one of the best situations for pushing yourself.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 3:15 am 
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Again, very nice to read people's feelings towards the subject, along with your personal experiences. I suppose that a lot of what's been said is somewhat parallel to what I was reckoning about the subject.

Maybe this overlaps the original subject, but another thing that I was thinking about regarding performing on the uilleann pipes, especially in areas where people in general are not familiar with the instrument, is that does someone as a performing piper perhaps feel it frustrating that, because the audience probably isn't aware of what kind of elements the above mentioned 'good piping' includes versus 'bad piping', the audience perhaps isn't able to fully appreciate the talent of the piper to the same extent as an audience full of people who are familiar with piping would? Or, on the other hand, is it an issue for someone that, for the same reason, a beginner (or, not-so-skilled) piper may be taken as a good piper because the audience doesn't have the knowledge to be critical?
All this, I suppose, is far from being black and white, but nevertheless some thoughts it would be nice to discuss!

As inverted thought to the audience-side, personally I'd like to think that I don't go to watch and listen to a concert/gig/performance to be critical, but to enjoy the performer as they are. Of course, should I know more of the instrument in question and the playing thereof, I will probably look at it in a different way, try to scout for things that could be done differently or what I would do differently, but not in the name of being critical towards the performer, but for the sake of learning myself and a different kind of experience. Very rare are the times, even non-existent, that I've thought during a performance that "this shouldn't be happening, or he/she's not ready for this".
How would you all feel about the subject?


As yet another (maybe slightly off-topic) thought which came to my mind while I was browsing through one of Facebook's piping group, how do you feel about the pipes being transferred to a whole other musical genre away from trad music?
Do you feel that the pipes should remain mostly or totally in the traditional scene? Is it a good or a bad thing that they are adapted to popular music culture, metal, rock or punk etc.? Pros/cons?
As a follow-up thought, does the use of pipes in movie or video game music get a different attitude than their use in something like above?

That was a flood of thoughts.. I hope that this is still all discussable in one and same topic.
Anyway, as mentioned, very interesting to hear your opinions and nice if you contribute to the discussion. :)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:48 am 
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If I were to go to a performance, I would be expecting to be entertained, there would be some kind of interaction between the performer & their audience.

Any instrument can play any type of music, you are not confined to just ITM, as long as the instrument is capable of it.

I have harmonicas, ukuleles, flutes & whistles - & I play what I like to play - & it can be quite an eclectic mix. :D

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 10:29 am 
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Hooleh wrote:
does someone as a performing piper perhaps feel it frustrating that, because the audience probably isn't aware of what kind of elements the above mentioned 'good piping' includes versus 'bad piping', the audience perhaps isn't able to fully appreciate the talent of the piper to the same extent as an audience full of people who are familiar with piping would?

It's like that with anything really. If someone isn't familiar with the performance at hand, it's hard for them to know the extent of the skill involved. I'm just stoked to see an excited audience regardless of who's on stage.
Hooleh wrote:
Very rare are the times, even non-existent, that I've thought during a performance that "this shouldn't be happening, or he/she's not ready for this".

That's true. My comment was more what I was personally thinking about myself. I'm supportive of other musicians on stage.
Hooleh wrote:
Do you feel that the pipes should remain mostly or totally in the traditional scene?

I could see there being a camp in the trad community that feels that way, as you probably could tell from the FB "arguments", but mixing musical cultures is natural. The pipes themselves in their current form are really only as new as the late 1700s to early 1800s. While that's old, it was a musical mixture of sorts that made them happen. As long as the piping tradition itself is preserved, I don't mind what style of music you see them in.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 1:46 pm 
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I think I might have seen the same Facebook discussion.

Quote:
Do you feel that the pipes should remain mostly or totally in the traditional scene? Is it a good or a bad thing that they are adapted to popular music culture, metal, rock or punk etc.?


It's a neutral thing, the repertoire isn't set in stone! The pipes probably evolved as a chromatic instrument in order to be able to expand the range of playable tunes - they're meant to be adaptable. As for the 'tradition', I wasn't bought up in it so I think it would be presumptuous of me to take up cudgels on its behalf.

I thought the clip being discussed (if it's the same one) was pretty cheesy, but that's just my taste.

I will say I got the impression people were defending the player in question because he was a good player - I'd be interested to see if everyone was still so open-minded about the repertoire if he was mediocre


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 16, 2019 12:46 am 
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myles wrote:
I will say I got the impression people were defending the player in question because he was a good player - I'd be interested to see if everyone was still so open-minded about the repertoire if he was mediocre

That would be intriguing to see, indeed.
This actually kind of loops back to the original topic at hand: I wonder if there would be a difference in attitude if a mediocre player performs trad music, as opposed to if a mediocre player plays in a band that adapts the pipes into a whole other musical approach.

Interesting thoughts!


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