Tak Tang is a CLASP competitor, but has had other passions in his life as well as piping. As you will read below, he combined both to take his pipes to the top of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. He is originally from Hong Kong, but now lives in the United States. He is an adult learner who started at the age of 24, and received his first lesson from Ron Wallace in Minneapolis. He played for a little over ten years, then stopped and did not play again until he was in his late fifties, when he took lessons via Skype from John Mulhearn. He is now 66 years old and receives lessons from Connor Sinclair.
He played in the Grade 3 Macalester College Pipe Band in St Paul, Minnesota for a few years, but has since left to concentrate more on studying piobaireachd. He enjoys competing solo regularly at various games and gatherings in North America.
Tak joined the CLASP this year and competes in the online competitions as well.
Any humorous piping anecdote you can relate to the readers?
I worked in an office on the 8th floor of a building at the University. I took to practicing in the wee hours when most people were gone, and the whole floor had gone dark. There were, however, some graduate students who wouldn’t go home, and were somewhere else in the building all the time.
To forestall my being persecuted for my art, I played in the darkened hallway right by the lifts. I could see the lights indicating the movements of the lifts up and down. Whenever I saw one approaching my floor, I would stop, quickly retreat behind the locked door of my office, and turn off the light.
One day, while riding the campus bus, one of my fellow inmates of the building plopped himself down heavily next to me.
“I keep hearing bagpipes in the middle of the night, and it came from WITHIN THE BUILDING!”
I looked at him mutely.
“The sound’s omni-directional. It’s hard to tell where it’s coming from. And whenever I thought I was getting close to the source, it would stop. Have you heard it?”
I felt panic rising. I did not wish to admit to being the source of the sound that had to be hunted down. Who knows what’s on his mind. I stared at him, with what I hoped was an expression of incomprehension.
“What’s a bagpipe please?” I asked politely.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
When you grew up in Hong Kong, nothing is strange to eat, except the Scotch egg, surely.
How do you relax and do you have other interests or hobbies?
I was a rock climber and an ice climber, and dabbled in mountaineering. I was also keen on bicycling. I rode my bicycle long distances in US and Canada, and once from Carlisle to Cape Wrath and John o’Groats. These day for hobbies? There can be only one!
What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, the first national monument of the United States, sacred to Native Americans, is a massive rock formation rising 800 feet from the surrounding countryside. All routes to the top are technical rock climbing endeavours.
Every year a group of us went there on a group climbing holiday to scale it from all sides. We brought along formal wear and (non-alcoholic) bubblies that we dragged up to have a “formal do” on top, which is a flat area. I would take my pipes up there to give it a blow and unfurl a flag of Hong Kong on the summit cairn while my fellow climbers changed into their tuxes and flowing dresses and milled about.
I went up Ben Nevis without my pipes! Next time!
Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
Piping was not an early interest. I was interested in Scotland as a whole, a distant country which, according to Walter Scott, was a place of misty hills and lakes, sparsely populated by a people speaking a different kind of English. It seemed to be the exact antithesis of Hong Kong, a packed city in the South China Sea. The first time I went to Scotland was to visit the places described in the Waverley Novels, maybe even to tread on a windswept, heather covered wilderness. Bagpiping developed as an obsession later on.
Favourite piece of music – any music?
Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in D.
I listen to a good recording of it when I get discouraged with my progress, and I am once again reassured that musical perfection, if not yet attained by me, is possible in others, and therefore possible.
Which pipers did you aspire to, if any?
John Wilson of the missing fingers. I aspire to his determination.
What’s your most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or soloist?
Many years ago, during tourist season, a “Welcome Piper” played at sunset on the green by Inverness Castle. I remember sitting on the grass watching him and listening to his music while he marched back and forth, with the River Ness flowing in the near distance. That was the first time I heard piping that’s not performed by a military or police band. He was in day wear too, not wearing the “number 1”. I thought: this is a musical instrument after all!
What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or on a piping trip?
San Francisco is home away from home, a city of diverse culture where I could hear my mother tongue of Cantonese spoken, and the vestiges of the counterculture of the 60s still lingering. In the Bay Area of California I am a fish thrown back into water. There’s the spectacular Yosemite National Park where I liked to climb not very far away, and the big Pleasanton Highland Games held every September minutes away.
Do you recall the very first competition you competed in?
Practice Chanter at the Macalester Scottish Country Fair.
I played The 79’s Farewell to Gibraltar. There was only one other competitor. I won. I thought this piping thing was going to be a breeze. Didn’t realise what I was getting myself into.