Each week, we explore a NEW piece of classic bagpipe repertoire, with the aim of ascending to our next "Bagpipe Freedom Phase." Our tune of this week is the first and second parts of the 2/4 march Major CM Usher OBE.
Here's yet another tune by the hugely influential composer G.S. MacLennan (1883 -1929) during his time as Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. As PM, he taught many young officers to play the pipes, including C.M. Usher-with whom he befriended and remained friends for many years. G.S. promised to compose a tune for Usher when he was promoted to the rank of Major. On the back of the manuscript after congratulating Usher, MacLennan wrote, “Hand and eye about gone now. Sincerely, Yours G.S. McLennan”, this was his final composition. At only 45, the reference to his failing eyesight and ability to play was tragic.
The night G.S. MacLennan died, he was purportedly teaching his two sons to play Dancing Feet and lapsed into a coma while his son John worked on correcting his G gracenote. Over 20,000 mourners turned out to lined his funeral procession. According to Box and Fiddle Archive, "PM Donald MacLeod believed that G.S. McLennan was the most complete piper of the century." He heard music in the everyday sounds of life which led to him composing or recording theme notes at all times in all places. "Some of his best tunes are the most simple and many of them are easy to play but beautifully musical and fresh. It was said that he never composed music that was mediocre." Major CM Usher is especially noted for the last part where it progresses from the top to the bottom notes.
All available materials for this tune (including sheet music and instructional media) can be found here.
Today's "Perfect Practice Plan"
We can't practice 24 hours a day. During all of the time you're not able to practice, try to fill it with bagpipe-music-immersion! Click here to learn more about bagpipe immersion. Click here if you need some immersion inspiration!
Turn Off All Distractions
When it is time to formally practice, you need to be able to truly, purely focus. Go to your dedicated practice space. Turn your phone to airplane mode. Get mean with anyone who dares to interrupt you.
5-Minute "Launch Sequence."
- Efficiently review the four questions of bagpipe maintenance, and adjust anything that is needed. Remember, a bagpipe should be easy to play, and if not, fix it now!
- Next, casually play a tune or two on your pipes. Don't worry about fine-tuning or fingerwork perfection right now. Just enjoy yourself and settle your mind.
- After 5 or so minutes, put the pipes down and let them "acclimatize." While the pipes are resting, we have some other high yield things to do.
PS - If you're not on the full pipes yet, just play a bit on your practice chanter as a warm up, not being too critical or hard on yourself just yet.
Important Note: If you're in a rotten mood and really "don't feel like bagpipes" today, that's perfectly fine. Stop here! At least you played a few tunes and kept your continuity rolling!
Mindful "Freedom" Practice
Remember, no matter what big deadlines are looming in our bagpiping lives right now, your number 1 priority should always be improvement. Each little bit that you improve as a musician, all future projects become faster, easier, better, and (most importantly) more fun!
With this in mind, BEFORE you move on to important personal bagpipe projects, you should carve out as much time as you can possibly spare for mindful work towards reaching your next Freedom Phase.
By this week's submission day, you'll want to submit a video attempting to fulfill all of the requirements of Freedom Phase 1 in order to graduate to Phase 2. Put as much time and effort as you can muster to make this happen this week!
Make a Recording
Before you move on to your personal bagpipe project(s), make a recording of your freedom work. You'll use this recording to reach out to others for feedback, and to integrate into your immersion process before next practice session.
And ALWAYS Remember - the recording should only take a minute or two to make, because we should always be adhering to the "One Take Rule."
Personal Project Work
Your personal bagpipe projects include memorizing tunes for your band, "drilling" your solo competition material, doing "reps" to help ensure you are ready for the next big gig, etc. They are totally personal to you, depending on what you choose to do with your bagpiping skills.
These projects are definitely important, but we really do believe that these projects should represent no more than 20% of your total active practice, the vast majority of the time.
The better our fundamentals become as we progress through the bagpipe freedom process, the easier (and faster, and better, and more fun) personal projects like your band, your solos, your gigs, etc. will be become!
Trust the process, keep bagpipe freedom at the forefront of your mind, and watch your personal projects flourish. (We promise!)
Now, the hard work for the day is done. Don't forget to have some wreckless fun, at least for a few minutes, before you put the pipes down.
Play some of your favorite fun tunes, and throw caution to the wind! Turn off the metronome. Relax. Jam out!
Don't Forget - Bagpipe Storage
One last thing - when you're done playing for the day, don't forget to store your instruments properly. We need things to be in great working order for tomorrow.