Northumbrian Smallpipes Workshop Descriptions

Basic Technique
I am sometimes tempted to call this workshop “Playing Faster” to entice players who would rather not think about technique.  The original title was “Basic Technique for Advanced Pipers”, to emphasize the point that we never really stop refining our “basic” technique. I also teach this to beginners, but add and stress bag and bellows technique and arm/hand position.  1-1 1/2 hrs.

Special Topics in Advanced Technique
This covers all the usual problems that trip up more experienced players, such as thumb technique between low D – F#, other key techniques. 1 hr.

The 4 Elements of Playing Slow Tunes Musically
This used to be called “ornamentation”, until I realized that people say they want to learn how to ornament properly when they really mean they want to learn to play musically.  The 4 elements are:  1) Get the instrument sounding good, 2) Understanding phrasing and how it relates to a musical performance, 3) The rhythmic structure that underlies every tune, including slow airs in free time,  4) Ornamentation, including vibrato.  I can fit this into 1 ½ hrs, but musical examples are too limited for participants to really learn to hear phrasing.  When I do this at the 5-day course, I do an hour a day (one element per day), with a 5th hour to pull everything together.

How Staccato?
How staccato is staccato?  Practicing staccato control, traditional use of staccato, my interpretation of staccato, especially in reels, jigs.  1-1 ½ hrs.

Advanced Rhythm Control for Northumbrian Smallpipes (AKA Getting fast tunes to sound really good)
This outline could be titled, “Factors influencing the success of adapting a particular style of dance music to a particular instrument”, and it draws largely on my own experience attempting to play Cape Breton fiddle music on the Northumbrian smallpipes.  I had an interesting email exchange with another Northumbrian smallpiper who was also a musicologist working in Cape Breton music, and in our discussions, the main challenges to be surmounted were made quite clear.  It is an appropriate outline for very advanced students only. (I taught a simpler version of this at North Hero in ‘04, mainly stressing bilocal rhythm.)  Class time is flexible.

Optimal Practice Strategies for Northumbrian Smallpipes
This covers a lot of stuff, but you get the idea what the topic is. 1 hr.

Traditional vs. Historical Playing Styles
Traditional interpretation involves playing tunes like you’ve heard them played; historical interpretation integrates traditional interpretation with evidence from historical sources, such as contemporary ornamentation treatises, iconographic evidence, and studies of old instruments.  These may support, refute, or merely provide more relevant information than exists otherwise.  1 hr.

Traditional Northumbrian Playing Style vs. Other Styles
I'm not strictly a trad player, but I know enough about to contrast it with other approaches.  I think this is a relevant topic because understanding style elements helps you hear music better and develop your own style. 1 hr.

Accompanying Voice with the Pipes
This is really fun! 1-3 hrs.

Playing in a Band/ Arranging for Performance
Discuss concepts such as pitch and keys, transposition, appropriate instruments, balance, tuning, timbral opacity, use of drones, interaction of harmonies and drones, medleys and solving ensemble problems (the technique of playing together).  If  time allows, a band can be put together and many of these issues can be tried and demonstrated.  1 hr for talk, all afternoon for talk and hands-on band workshop.

Repertoire: Reading Music vs. Learning by Ear
“Readers” will learn earplaying techniques and earplayers will learn notational shortcuts. (Also, see The Secret of Melody”)  1 hr.

The Secret of Melody
The secret of using the pipes for ear-training, using ear-training to develop musicianship, and using musicianship to become a better piper.  See downloadable article.  1 hr, or longer.

Performing on the Northumbrian Smallpipes  How to give a performance: preparation, taking the stage, looking good, sounding good, habits that lead to good performances, nerves and what they mean, special problems in performance for Northumbrian pipers.  1 hr.

Northumbrian Smallpipes Setup and Maintenance
How to get/keep your pipes sounding their best with the minimum of time and effort.  As time allows.

Chanter Reedmaking
Taught only by advance request – this is a detailed hands-on workshop, not a demonstration.  5 hrs.

Writing Seconds, Improvising Harmonies, Group Improvisation Workshop
This mainly a quick, simplified theory talk on writing simple harmonies (improvising harmonies in this context is the same as writing them, but faster and without paper).  We get into improvisation  as time allows.  1-2 hrs.

Composition/Improvisation/Variation Workshop
A talk on writing tunes intended for a more general pipe/traditional music audience, and not necessarily for Northumbrian smallpipers. Taught at Piper’s Gathering in Vermont in ’05. 1 hr.

Using Your Drones to Think Outside the Box:  Using pipes for innovative ensembles and jamming
This talk follows on the talk I gave in 2005 on composition/improvisation/variation. While the 2005 talk focused on creativity in creating tunes, this talk will focus on creating all the other circumstances of our musical lives: who we play with and when, how we use our instruments to enhance our creativity, and how we want our sound to go out into the world. This can be a wide-ranging talk that covers many aspects of playing, and can have a lot of audience participation. Taught in Vermont in ’07. 1 hr

  All content © copyright 2008 by Dick Hensold.