Cathedral Piper Tyrone Heade performs bagpipe music for events with audiences small & large. He performs with the Highland bagpipe and Scottish Small pipe. Here he offer a view ‘behind the curtain’ of all things Bagpipe. Details about his background, including non-profit bagpipe volunteerism, performances of note, awards etc.
Kids: They dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music. — William Stafford
6 year old Marie O’Connell & Tyrone, marching in to dance for her Grandfather’s 80th Birthday, Lincoln Park, Seattle 2006
Marie, 18 years old, after performing Elliott Bay Pipe Band’s annual Father’s Day Concert, Ballard Locks, Seattle 2018
I first met Marie O’Connell when she was 6 years old. It was her grandad’s 80th Birthday celebration in Seattle’s Lincoln Park, and I was called to help with the festivities. Little did I know there would be a wee Irish dancer along to help. It was a hot Seattle day, and the celebration was a good one. But the memory had been buried underneath so many others.
Fast forward to 2018 — The pipe band I direct, Seattle’s Elliott Bay Pipe Band, was performing our 22nd Annual Father’s Day Concert at the local Hiram Chittenden Locks. It’s always a lovely outing of music with the Band giving back to the community, our audience filled with families that grow with kids each year — a true annual Father’s Day trek for families near and far. Irish dancers join us too, most recently Seattle’s Tara Academy of Irish Dance, providing a lovely visual accompaniment to Elliott Bay’s jigs and reels, swooping in whenever dance tunes are played.
Sara Williams leads Tara with the rest of her family, a 3rd-generation Irish dance teacher who’s students include champions and principle dancers in international shows of Riverdance. After the concert last year, Sara told me one of her dancers recognized me from a 2006 family performance — with photographic proof! Marie O’Connell has been dancing with Elliott Bay for a few years, and little did I know we had met so long ago. We took a matching photo to celebrate our ‘ongoing collaboration’.
The longer you live your passion, the more new beginnings keep coming at you. Couples I’ve helped marry now have children and special anniversaries they want me to play for. Young students I taught from 9 thru college have me and the band perform at their weddings. And, after nearly 100 compositions, I’ll be adding more this week — a march for the 10th Chieftain of the Skagit Valley Highland Games, my first Piobaireachd, and a short suite for an instructor of mine that penned “Pipe-Major Tyrone Heade”, a 2/4 March (gobsmacked with that one; turnabout is fair play…).
Music is the greatest communication in the world. Even if people don’t understand the language that you’re singing in, they still know good music when they hear it. Lou Rawls
Humans have been talking for, well, for a long time. We don’t know precisely for how long – none of us were there. But my guess is communication by rhythm happened along with gestures. Vocal music with rhythm couldn’t have been far behind. Part of me wonders if our musical memory predates our words, significantly so. The bagpipe’s Mixolydian scale has been found in small whistles made of bone by ancient man.
Bagpiping has a lot of communication surrounding it — from the instrument, as all music has. Less well known is a representational singing language developed centuries ago to communicate, teacher to student, as the student played on the pipes. [The same language was used to represent ancient bagpipe music on the page, before written piping music was developed into staff notation.]
1523-1534 tapestry, with bagpiper far right, Vatican Museum
In March, Rachael and I were two of the 250 pilgrims traveling to Rome, Florence, Siena and Assisi from Seattle’s St. James Cathedral. Our Cathedral Choir, along with our young women’s Jubilate!, performed frequently — and beautifully! Our Music Department has known me a bit, but mostly seen me from a distance since I started my Bagpipe Residency back in 1990, and it was positively grand to spend time my fellow musicians. Our choirs, soloists and organist performed at…
We stayed a block from Vatican City the last few days, and had the chance to visit the Vatican Museums. I was on the lookout for depicted pipers, almost missing this one.
Bagpipes have been around for a long time. How long? Don’t know personally (I wasn’t there). I’m not one of the experts, but it seems that depictions of mouth-blown bagpipes date back to close to 1100 (in stone). The earliest surviving bagpipes, however, are of the bellows-blown variety, according to Hugh Cheape, who is known as our most experienced expert on the subject.
But I would guess that depictions of native pipers will long outlive their instruments, claimed by the dust, moisture and elements over time. How about our music? Our mouth-blown pipes were the electric guitars of their time, stirring hearts and minds just as all music does over time. Our music is remembered at length I think, given the notes I find in the mail, and audiences I run into years after the performance has ended.
I listened, motionless and still; And, as I mounted up the hill, The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more.
Seattle Bagpipers, ready for a New Year of making the best thing even better? Let’s improve our Bagpipe music performance presentation for 2018….
“The Best thing to happen to us was This Job, because This Job has us doing the one thing we never did in our lives: Practice.”
–QuestLove, percussionist Grammy-award winner and joint lead for The Roots, aka America’s House Band, referring to being hired for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. QuestLove was the Executive Producer for the Grammy Award winning Original Cast recording of Hamilton.
How well do you know your instrument? Reliability, ease of play, finesse in presentation? Solve it all, before 2018 gets away from you.
What is your process for refining Technique? We play the smallest notes in all of music; get involved with evolving to a high standard.
We’re also an instrument that requires practicing on another device, the Practice Chanter. Make good use of that lately?
Consider the following, and begin to set some goals…
Are you musically “out of control” on your Practice Chanter, Highland Bagpipe, or Small pipe? Start with a plan to be in control of all your music. Every note has purpose, the smallest, the largest.
If your first notes on the chanter are “out of control”, change that. Change your first notes, make them supremely under control — and you’ll get used to changing them all down the line.
Fingers asleep on the holes, Right? Leave the gripping to folks that don’t want to play well.
Is your instrument too difficult to rehearse on comfortably? Pipes that are not efficient, taking too much air or not geometrically adjusted personally for the player are often the Root cause of unsteady tone, hands not in supreme control of the musical timing, or other Performance Presentation issues.
Pipers, it’s 2018 — continually change your approach, and the Sweet Music will follow in kind.
Let’s talk about providing Seattle funeral bagpipe music and musicianship.
Music is what feelings sound like. – Bo Bennett
WSDOT Ferry, Photo by Grant Haller, 1976
Go ahead and read this quote again. It reminds musicians about their job, and our patrons why they have us.
For Seattle funeral bagpipe musicians, the unseen work on bagpiping is important. Proper practice, instrument maintenance, learning and memorizing complicated music, instructing others on the art of piping or being instructed ourselves. It all adds up to excellent musicianship on a complicated instrument. Our music must be played ESPECIALLY well, sans distraction, played expertly and seemingly effortlessly. We’re called to an extra-special task: to help others move forward.
Ready to Pipe Well Anywhere
Our music, well played, helps folks come to terms. Memorials, funerals, inurnments, internments. In parks, cemeteries, beaches, mausoleums, columbarium’s, cathedrals, churches and chapels. On ferries, lake fronts, islands, on peaks and in valleys. We need to know what to play (and play it at our best!). Selections of different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs (or an absence of belief). It all adds up to moving the family forward through great music, without any instrument distraction. With kindness, without distraction, and skill to move everyone forward. Bagpipes for outdoors, different pipes for inside.
Sodelbia’s service, Grants Pass Oregon
Piping is Always Personal
I grew up playing my Grandad’s pipe; he passed when I was a toddler (the family is pretty sure he’s heard me since). My grandmother passed suddenly years later, unfortunately just after I had surgery – so no piping that time either.
One of their daughters passed this summer, and requested the family instrument in Grants Pass, Oregon. Grandad’s set of ca 1900 Lawrie’s needed to be up and running right away. No flaws.
For a Yakima Symphony performance in 2014, I set Grandpa’s pipes to Concert Pitch (no crossing international borders with their ivory anymore). So a good going thru, normal-pitch reeds replaced. Set up a modern Strathmore bagpipe chanter set to blend with the ultra smooth, velvet sound of the early Lawrie drones. Even put back the original Bass Drone bottom section I replaced in 1992, making them a tad tricky to start; but What a Glorious Sound!
I tuned them on Monday, probably 76 degrees in Seattle. Tuesday drove to deep Southern Oregon, with Grandpa’s pipes along with Great Small pipes for inside the church. The Funeral Mass and internment was Wednesday, 113 degrees. The pipes never moved from Monday’s Seattle tuning. Not a smidge. Marched her into the church, marched her out; into the internment, and then after the family spoke. No change from Seattle tuning, two days, 37 degrees and 500 miles difference.
The bagpipe chanter is every piper’s musical voice. Whether mouth-blown or bellows-blown. Whether the pipes are Highland, Small, Reel-Border-Lowland, Uilleann, Northumberland, Galician — or so many others — our bagpipe chanter is our instruments’ voice. And, as musicians – the bagpipe chanter is Our Voice. It Speaks — to us, to our audience, to the music we play. To the rest of our instrument, and to our purpose.
The other “sticks” of our instruments matter greatly — and support our bagpipe chanter’s voice. The best set up chanter/reed combinations can’t be heard without full-on, well maintained support by the rest of our instrument.
Our drones must be air-efficient, harmonic, blending; a sound you marvel at, appreciate, look forward to. Rely on. Blown into our personal perfection. So, let’s get on-board with detail….
The reeds in all of these are so Darn important. Origin – selection – manipulation – efficiency. All of which comes down to… Desire! Meaty, gut wrenching, full throated – do anything to get a sound. Anything.
Pipers, with the modicum of power I have – you’re henceforth given permission. Do Anything to get a sound. More precisely: do anything to get Your Sound. It’s all about you, what you hear in your head. This, all of this, reflects you. We all know – we play better if we sound better.
Pipers, I know you know this. It’s crossed your minds – can I, should I, go to great lengths to get a sound? Yes, yes and YES. I’ve sat with pipers, the world acclaimed folks that we all look up to. They will work on instruments after dinner until… whenever (multiple nights is common).
Our desire is there, but it’s best to plan ahead for practical matters.
We need a block of time;
Space to hear yourself think;
A large table and good lighting.
Help from Others
Bagpipe Chanter with large silver sole (soul?) halos the bottom, next to David Glen drones, 1890.
Whether we’re shy on skills or heavy on experience — it’s wonderful and simply terrific to get another’s take on all this. Bagpipe chanter, drones, reeds, tools, more reeds, blowpipes/bellows, position, posture, bags — all of it. We best succeed by reaching out. [For example, the Mastery of Scottish Arts Winter School — I’ve attended about 20 years, and helped to found it back in 1995 — www.CelticArts.org.]
Create an instrument you get to know as you moving forward. Knowing your instrument is a great thing!
Is my Maintenance solid? Air leaks (tenon, valve, reed seats, bridals, perfectly clean stocks?)
How long will my tuning last?
What’s the affect of letting the instrument rest?
Tune the instrument thoroughly, then rest it. When you start up again, how long will it take for the instrument to come back into tune?
Can the instrument take rigorous play over days? Solid for travel?
How long does it take, including rest, for the instrument to settle?
We play better when we sound better. Now, go off and Fitzgerald’s “exhilarating ripple”!