Michael Grey’s Notes: Bagpipe 999


by Michael Grey.
Piping Today #75, 2015.

There’s around 2.5 million apps currently available for Android system users and almost the same number for those with iPhones. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s an app for pretty much any need or task a person might have. 

Bored out of your mind? Download Tiny Wings and start your little bird a-fluttering over a long road of endlessly amusing hills. Fingers red raw from practice and just not up to keying a note? Dragon Dictation is there to the rescue to transcribe your weary voice to text. RunPee has to be one of the oddest. This golden app tells you the best time to duck out of a movie to relieve yourself: key in your movie and the snooziest moments, complete with time marks, are offered up for consideration. Now you know the best times to hit the WC. No more rushed whispers of, “What did I miss?” with accompanying blasts of “Be quiet!”.    

While piping has been slow to find its way to the app world, there are more than 1100 “music” apps in Apple’s app store. Just as there are loads of apps that offer up self improvement help, from productivity tips to relationship advice, a Piping999 app might have a market. Theory, tunes, history, inspiration, advice — Piping999 could offer any and all of those things. Good advice that inspires is a fairly rare thing so maybe that could be a featured part. But what might that look like?  

Honesty is the best policy so I tell you now I have always loved proverbs. Those short and mostly sweet snatches of words that pass along a truth about something or a situation — and usually in a colourful, thought-provoking way. Proverbs can offer great advice; they can remind and guide and help people understand how things go in any number of situations — and any number of places. “If not now, when?” is one I draw on a lot. An old Yiddish proverb, it’s a great arse-kicker when you’re lazy, procrastinating or especially indecisive. 

And for canny counsel of the piping kind, proverbs have great app potential. And since we’re talking a bagpipe app, we should look to the Gael for wisdom. The 16th century philosopher Francis Bacon said that the genius, wit and spirit of a nation are discovered by their proverbs. And when it comes to pansophy the Scots Gael is no different from his Yiddish speaking brethren: we have a fount of reference material. 

The 19th century Skye-born lawyer Alexander Nicolson saw his way to collecting about 4000 Gaelic proverbs and published them in 1881. He wasn’t alone among those with time on their hands, but his are among those included here. So, here we go, a few short sentences of great wisdom. Click on the icon, breathe easy, help is at hand:   

Is fheàrr teicheadh math na droch fhuireach.
Better a good retreat than a bad stand.

This is all about a graceful exit, knowing when to pack it in, retain a little dignity and live to fight another day. Bass drone stops in solo contest? You stop. Blooters racking up and pain for you — and listeners — setting in? Time to move on. With a clean finish, chin up, and a nod to the crowd you proudly exit stage left. No one will see you crying yourself to sleep.  

Bidh cron duine cho mòr ri beinn mun lèir dha fhèin e.
A man’s fault will be as big as a mountain before he sees it.

This reminds me of the old axiom that says “an old friend is the best mirror”. Substitute “friend” for “teacher” and in piping you’re good to go. Do what you can to grab hold of objective constructive feedback. If you have a teacher, listen to her. Your imagined dreamy stylings can be riddled with jumped phrasing and crazy tempo. And. You. Don’t. Know.

Gabhaidh fear na sròine mòire a h-uile rud ga ionnsaigh fhèin.
The man with a big nose thinks everyone talks of it.

It’s not all about you and people don’t spend every waking hour fixated on you and your imagined imperfections. For instance, errors made in a stressful performance situation, like, say, a contest or show, are often magnified tenfold by you and your big onion head in-the-moment. Don’t let that get in the way of overcoming imagined flaws. Pipe like no one is watching — or listening (unless you’re off the rails).

Am fear nach dèan cur sa Mhàrt, cha bhuain e san Fhoghar.
He who will not sow in March will not reap in autumn.

One word: preparation. This line brings to mind another: “You make your own luck”. If you want good music, results and lots of enjoyment from your piping? Get the lead out and work it. Practice. This goes for anything in life.

Am fear a bhios a’ riarachadh na maraig, bidh an ceann reamhar aige fhèin.
The man that divides the pudding will have the thick end to himself.

OK. I’m not completely convinced this one is true but it can fit neatly in a piping context. When I put on my Grey piping shades and read this proverb I think judges, piping judges. It’s the piping judge person who has pupils or relatives in a contest where he’s working — and finds himself tempted to set results the family way — well, that’s the “thick end”. 

Cha mhisd’ a’ ghealach na coin a bhith comhartaich rithe.
The moon is none the worse for the dogs’ barking at her.

Now here’s a uniquely original way to say, “Stop your damned incessant whining”. For me this barky moon line is about cutting out the complaints and accepting — or taking accountability — for what comes your way. Your online whinges on social media or lame-o piping forum isn’t going to make one bit of difference (except maybe reflect badly on you). Pardon my internet bagpipe forum bias.

Chan i bhò ‘s àirde geum as mò bainne.
The loudest cow is not the best milker.

I think this line would make a great T-shirt. What does it mean? It’s got moo written all over it. It’s also got a neatly elegant way of saying, just because you say — or yell — an imagined truth, makes it true. Play those Tunes of Glory, lay them out for all — but let us, us listeners, decide if they’re happening and if you’re the “best milker”. OK. That doesn’t read well. Let’s put it this way: let me hear you play the sweet music — don’t tell me how sweet you can play it. Actions speak louder than words.  

Gluais faicilleach le cupan làn.
Go carefully with a full cup.

Be humble. 

Loud cows or not, whoever needs milk, bows to the animal.