Our second member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP) to be profiled is Dagmar Pesta from Germany, pictured.
CLASP is the National Piping Centre’s circuit of graded solo piping competitions for adult amateur pipers. There are now 107 members worldwide – a record – and its latest competition takes places this week via video submission.
Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I am from Germany. I live in a little town around 80 kilometres from Hanover. I got into piping in September 2008 (aged 44), when I joined a pipe band. After a year, I sourced a teacher for one-to-one lessons and I attended a lot of workshops. I studied and learned, passed a lot exams, passed the Tutor Certificate in 2015 and the HNC in 2020. The bagpipes are not my first instrument; I played trumpet, flute, guitar and piano. I studied music for a teaching degree in schools. I have now given up all other instruments for the bagpipe.
On a personal level, how has the pandemic affected your piping?
I had less gigs this year, the competitions were online, I wasn’t able to visit Scotland. However, it’s not all negative. I made video concerts and learned more about video cutting. Without the pandemic, I wouldn’t make video concerts because I was too shy to present myself in the videos. The HNC gave me more self-confidence. At the first lockdown in March, there was ‘Music at the window’. Everyone in their respective areaa played the same music at the same time. I wrote the tunes playable for pipes, recorded my own playing and posted it on Facebook every Sunday. After this ended I continued with a weekly tune queue for 10 weeks with 19 tunes. I wasn’t too shy to present videos anymore!
Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
I can’t leave without my pipes (or when I know I don’t need my pipes) or without my electronic chanter so that I can practice wherever I am.
Do you have a set practice routine you could share with readers?
I practice a lot with a metronome. Technique and tunes. I try to play my pipes every day, especially what I had practiced on my practice chanter to see if it works. If not, I make the same practice work on pipes as well. When I practice on the chanter I start with technique for about half an hour. Then I practice the tunes slowly with the metronome, then I lift the tempo a little bit, as long as I reached my original tempo, and as long the tidiness is saved. When it becomes untidy, I go back with the tempo and practice it more slowly again.
What’s your most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or soloist?
I was happy to stream the piobaireachd concert on November 29, 2020. The players were so good, the tunes were so nice. And the sound of the pipes was the best I ever heard. I like it when the pipes are tuned so nice and it is my dream to reach this tuning quality. The technique of the pipers was great as well.
Have you taken part in any shows, concerts or recitals since last March?
Yes I did, but less. I had a gig with a trombone choir in March. It was one of the projects for my HNC studies. Then I had a concert with an organist in my church in August. I had some private gigs as well in June, July, August, September and October. It was a little bit like a return to normality. I had nothing from the end of March to May and nothing from November. I tried to bring a little bit fun to the people with my video concerts and some street music, especially on Hogmanay.
What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or on a piping trip?
It is Scotland. I can’t imagine traveling to another country, because when I’m in Scotland, I am there because of piping. I like the country and the people. I can imagine living there.
Do you recall the very first competition you competed in?
My first competition was in the beginner level after one year in piping. My first judge was Barry Donaldson and my English was very bad (it was October 2009). I came fifth in the March and fifth in the Slow Air and I was very proud that I played my tunes from the start to the end. My knees were very wobbly!
I played The Rose of Kelvingrove as a Slow Air and Mhari’s Wedding as the March. My first piobaireachd ground I played in January 2010 in my second competition.
Do you have a favourite piobaireachd?
I like a lot of piobaireachds, mostly those that I play but I like the Battle of Auldearn No. 2 very much and the Desperate Battle (this one I would like to learn). The others are Sir James MacDonald of the Isle’s Lament, Massacre of Glencoe, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, Lament for Donald of Laggan, Catherine’s Lament …
Do you have a humorous piping anecdote you can relate to the readers (keep it clean!)?
Oh yes, there are a lot in my piping career. One is very funny. There was a request to our band from an orchestra that was looking for a piper to play Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney’s Wedding with Sunrise. The band selected me to do this job. I took the sheet music from the orchestra and read it. Thank God they gave me the partiture as well. I read the partiture, I read the bagpipe music and noticed that the pipe music was written in the same key as the orchestra: A. What to do? Using a B-flat-chanter and taping it down to A? No, it’s better is buy an A chanter.
So I bought one. Then I had the problems with the drone reeds. What did I do? I used B-flat-drone reeds, put some adapters on and hat drone reeds for a key of A. My drone reeds had a length of 15cm (5.9 inches)!
I tried to play but the air column of the drone reeds was so long that I wasn’t able to hold the pressure. Because I had no solo in the whole performance, I closed the drones and played with the chanter only. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ score contained embellishments I had never seen before but I changed them from unplayable into playable …
The first rehearsal came and the conductor gave the entries to the instruments. Then he gave me the nod. He looked at me oblivious to the rest of the orchestra. He appeared confused. Then he told me my breathing confused him. I don’t breathe like those who play other instruments. I breath whenever I need to. It was very funny, the whole orchestra stopped playing as the conductor looked at me with his mouth open!
Thank you, Dagmar!