In late April 2013, I found myself struggling to get time to practice with so much teaching going on.
I was trying to fit 20 -30 minutes in here and there and found that most of that time was spent getting my hide bag, in shape. Patience was not working with me at the time and I just wanted to be getting through some tunes. I decided to go back and try a synthetic bag, if for nothing else, to know I could get right at playing each time, without one of the variables (leaking air). So, I put a call into Willie McCallum and talked to him about the new Bannatyne product. He explained that he had been getting the bag “cut” a wee bit different, to try to allow more freedom of the left arm. This is also a big factor for me as I have suffered a lot of problems with nerves in my neck so I ordered one right away. The bag came very quickly was very easy to install. I also installed the new Bannatyne moisture control system in there as well and was up playing in a half hour or just over.
I tried gels a few years ago and did not really like them and subsequently went back to using the kitty litter, but this time, different. For whatever reason, I am getting more time out of my gel canister than a canister of kitty litter, but, the round Bannatyne cylinder only holds 60-70% of what the kitty litter canister holds. Having the gel beads in the clear cylinder actually does make things much easier also. I have so many students that play other stuff, and “think” it’s okay, and I am always telling them I want them at my lesson with either a good dried sheep, hide, or , a fresh canister. You tend to think you know “how wet” it’s getting but you’re really guessing. With the clear canister, I can look at it and see it’s orange when I start and check the next time and or the next time and when the colour is getting dark, you just know to change it up, couldn’t be simpler. I mention all of this because as I have tried to rethink the instrument the past couple of years, one of the factors has been weight, which is why I shifted from the silver Henderson drones to an ivory set. Less weight equals less stress, and a lighter canister less weight again.
The bag itself fits very nicely under my arm and I can notice much clearer playing on my top hand. This is due to having less of the bag being squeezed by the forearm! My son Alex also noticed it in his own playing right away as well. There are many other physical characteristics which the maker can explain well but for me, I just wanted reliability and to be able to get going right away in a more positive manner. Getting this bag has led to me back enjoying playing much more than I had the past couple of years. There was some adjustment needed with altering the drone reeds, and some minor adjustments to the chanter reed to try to get the best quality sound I could from the bag, but that’s just part of the game. I had to do that changing from a sheep to a goat, we’re doing it all the time, in trying to achieve the best sound we can.
So far, I have had a very good summer with success on the boards, and a few comfortable recitals. I was working hard to try to play well, some inconsistency of practice is of course my own fault and partly due to this ongoing nerve issue, but the Bannatyne bag has got me wanting to get back to playing more again, and this will allow me to build up strength, and stamina, which in turn will help me with the overall success, I hope.
I began to play the pipes in December of 1970 in Victoria, British Columbia. My first teacher was Hal Senyk, who took me through the first exercises and tunes. Hal moved to Scotland to play with the famous Muirhead and Sons Pipe Band and study under Robert G. Hardie for a period of just over a year. It was at this time that I began a long and wonderful relationship with James Troy. During the 10 plus years that I spent with James Troy, I was given a foundation of playing that would benefit an entire solo and band piping career. I remember going over to Jamie’s House for dinner on a Tuesday night. I had started going to dinner so that I might get home earlier as my lessons seemed to be going on from 7 until after 10pm, which was getting late for a 12 or 13 year old. I think this starting earlier worked for about 3 weeks, but soon I was getting home around 10:30 and even 11:00. We used to have so much fun (most of the time) that I didn’t even worry about the time until the next morning. It was not at all uncommon to have a lesson for 3 ½ or 4 hours, it was great. Also during this time, I spent many summers down in Couer D’ Alene, Idaho at the piping school studying under Bob Hardie and Andrew Wright. These summers, combined with regular instruction, helped to instill a lifelong love and understanding of Piobaireachd.
In 1982, I moved to Ontario to join the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, and this was where I began to mature as a player. Playing in a band that was at the forefront of innovation was tremendous, and there was a great need for new music for the band to play. This inspired me very much and I began to be called upon to compose very particular elements of a medley. “He has a gift for writing what we need, at any particular time for the band whether it be a medley tune or a Jig or a piece in a certain rhythm, he always came back next Sunday with our answer,” recalled Bill Livingstone.
I spent 15 wonderful years with the 78th, traveling to Scotland each year as well as a variety of venues to perform concerts. These concerts were very taxing both physically and mentally but the reward always far outweighed the pain. Playing Live in Ireland before a packed house of 900 may possibly be the highlight of my piping career. A world championship, three live recordings, 13 North American championships and many life long friends– who could ask for anything more than that?
In 1997 I moved to Summerside, Prince Edward Island to take over as Piping Instructor at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts. I worked there for three years, setting up individualized study programs where again I met some truly wonderful people, as well as teaching the students from the local area on a weekly basis. Part of the job was being Pipe Major of the College of Piping Pipe Band, which meant teaching all of the fundamentals of pipe band playing as well as choosing and arranging all of the music for the band. This led to more composing to try to give a lower grade band a fresh edge, which eventually led to my 3rd book of music being published. Having not played in a lower grade band as a youth, I feel that this was a great learning experience for me.
In 1998, after an eight-year absence from the Northern Meeting at Inverness, I returned to the world’s top competition and won the Competing Pipers Silver Medal, along with 2nd in the jig and hornpipe and 3rd in the Strathspey and Reel. I returned for the Gold Medal in 1999 and was fortunate enough to win both the March and Strathspey and Reel but no prize in the medal. The medals did come, however. I won the Inverness Gold Medal in 2003 [photo at right: Piping Times] and I was able to capture theOban medal the following year. Following that, I also captured the Bratach Gorm [Blue Banner] at the London Contest, and I have been very honoured to compete in the Glenfiddich Championship.
What I’ve taken away from these experiences, apart from the honour of the prizes, is the joy of playing with great pipers, and having such a fellowship of friends from many parts of the world, who all pursue this music with such passion, dedication and skill.
Check out Bruce at – http://www.brucegandymusic.com/