Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
My name is Martha Srisamai Hall and I am originally from Upland, California. While in middle school, I heard bagpipes for the first time at an Upland High School football game. The summer before my first year of high school I joined the marching band with my friend, Tony Sewell. He suggested I learn the bagpipes with him and we have been playing ever since. In fact, we currently play in our first competition pipe band together.
How has the pandemic affected your piping personally?
Being the Pipe Major of a band means that I often need to spend my time helping others prepare for various competitions. I truly miss playing in person with my friends but the bright side of this pandemic is that I have time to focus on improving my own playing. During this time, I have attended two online piping schools, invited world class instructors to do workshops for my band, competed in three online solo contests and even competed in a piobaireachd contest for the very first time. I have enjoyed learning music just to play it for myself. I have learned how to write harmonies and play a crunluath a-mach! All this being said, I can’t wait to play with my band mates again and apply all of my new and improved skills.
When you travel is there something you particularly miss when away?
When I travel, I miss my kids, my bed, my ‘Mom’ van, and home-cooked food. I usually don’t miss my husband because he is the Drum Sergeant of my band so we travel together.
Do you have a set practice routine you could share with readers?
Being a mother and college professor, my practice routine is not as regular as I would like. During the week it is difficult for me to find time to practice but I do try to play parts of tunes on my practice chanter between classes or before my girls come home from school. I get most of my practicing done on the weekends. When I do practice, I usually focus on one or two things that I would like to improve. I record myself often so that I can hear what others hear when I play. I especially like to listen to my expression and tone. Honestly, the more I practice, the more I realise I need to practice. And the more I play, the more I want to play.
What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?
In 2017, my band played on Glasgow Green at the World Pipe Band Championships. When we made it to the Grade 3B finals, our medley performance was memorable. We had worked so hard to travel across the pond and we just wanted to play well. We had a few high school kids in the band and it was so exciting that all of us played in the medley. I’ll never forget that moment. We all played really well and ended up placing sixth. I was so nervous to lead the band but our coach, Bruce Gandy made me feel so confident that I didn’t even get butterflies during that performance.
Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
It really is hard to narrow down to my biggest influence in piping because I think it depends on the stage of my life. The late Kevin Blandford was my first teacher and he helped me develop into the piper/leader/person I am today. He encouraged and inspired me to play outside of the box with innovative compositions rich in harmonies and ambitious endings. During my college years, I took lessons from Ian Whitelaw and he helped me improve my technique and expression. More recently, Seumas Coyne, Jack Lee, Bruce Gandy, and Dani Millar are my biggest piping influences. They are all so talented and yet willing to teach me. They inspire me to play better.
How do you relax and do you have other interests or hobbies?
Pre-pandemic I used to relax by going to Disneyland. I would often go alone and get on rides, eat churros [fried dough – Editor], and watch various performances. Lately, my family and I have enjoyed going on bike rides on a nearby trail. I love to read audio books, do puzzles, play board games, go to the beach, and watch shows on Disney+, Netflix, and Hulu.
What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or on a piping trip?
My favourite holiday destination is New York City. Every Christmas (pre-pandemic), my band performs in the Pipes of Christmas concerts (in NYC and New Jersey) produced by the Clan Currie Society. This event is so wonderful because we play with organ and brass. I love going there during the holiday season because everything is decorated so beautifully. I also enjoy going there because the cast and producers have become family so it is nice to catch up with them every year. Another reason I love this destination is for Broadway musicals, of course!
Do you recall the very first competition you competed in?
My first competition was on practice chanter at the Prado Games in Chino, California. I played the The Green Hills of Tyrol. I placed third out of three. I think the year was 1993.
Favour piece of ceòl mòr?
MacMhurrich’s Salute. It is the first piece I’ve competed with and it is just beautiful to me.
Any humorous piping anecdote you can relate to the readers (keep it clean!)?
I often tell people that I have two talents. I am good at making people cry and I am good at putting people to sleep. I make people cry when I play my pipes and I put people to sleep with my math lessons! Maybe I shouldn’t boast about these things? Ha!
• Thank you, Martha!