Monday, August 17, 2009

Seattle bagpiper stands on top of the world

TyroneHeade, a friend of mine and a key figure in Seattle's Scottish music category, is a world champion after winning the World Solo Amateur Piping Championship in piobaireachd music last Friday in Glasgow, Scotland.

Among other things, his win is significant because, at an age, 47, when, like athletes, pipers are considered past their prime, Tyrone's skills are improving. Furthermore, it's rare to see a pipe major -- Tyrone leads the Seattle-area's Elliott Bay Pipe Band -- compete in such a distinguished international forum.

Why mention it here in a military blog?

Well, for one thing, I play the Great Highland Bagpipes (known in Ireland as the Irish Warpipes)and Tyrone has been a teacher.

But in military matters, the instruments' adoption as martial music for British forces is one reason the pipes, which date back in various forms to ancient Egyptian days and at one time were popular in different variations throughout medieval Europe, did not die out.

British general Sir John Cope's army notoriously is said in song and lore to have fled from battle with a Jacobite army at the sound of the pipes.

Cope, commander in chief of government forces in Scotland, was defeated in a 15 minute battle in 1745 at the battle of Prestonpans, when his Hanoverian-British forces were routed by the forces of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In 1746, the Bonnie Prince and his French-backed Jacobite Scots were trounced by at the Battle of Culloden, leading to the breakup of the Highland clan system. Charlie fled to Rome never to try to regain the throne his family once held again.

A captured Scottish Jacobite bagpiper, James Reid, was the only piper among rebels hanged after Culloden in 1745, when the attempt to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne of Scotland was defeated.

While he pleaded he had not carried arms and a jury suggested leniency for the piper, Reid's sentence, now part of lore and legend, was handed down by the judge. It notoriously noted that since no army had marched without instruments, and a highland regiment had never marched without a piper, Reid's pipes were construed as "an instrument of war."

Sounds almost like "weapon of mass destruction."

Back to Tyrone. Here's a little story I wrote today about him and his achievement.

Before tuning up for the challenge of his talented musical life, Tyrone Heade was felled by food poisoning. He was white as a banshee and dizzy yet somehow mustered the strength to summon the spirit of Scotland’s most ancient muses.
Which made it all the more stunning when, last Friday, Heade, of Seattle, emerged as a world champion bagpiper. He took top place in the classical and most significant form of bagpipe music, piobaireachd – pronounced “pea-brock” and sometimes spelled simply pibroch – at the World Solo Amateur Piping Championship in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I'm still pretty shocked that this thing is called what it is and I won it,” Heade said by phone from Glasgow Monday morning as he prepared to fly home Tuesday.
“It is incredibly validating. It’s a huge award for me. I was in shock for over 24 hours after and it is still shocking,” Heade, who lives on Queen Anne with his wife, Rachael, and their cat, Lewis, said.
“And I won it playing my granddad’s pipes, which was a wonderful thing.”
Glasgow last week was alive with Celtic music and dance as the site of the “Piping Live” festival and the Glasgow International Pipe Festival, which coincided with the 2009 World Pipe Band Championships.
The latter was won a remarkable sixth time by Simon Fraser University’s Pipe Band, located just north of the border in Burnaby, B.C., the top honor among several awards earned by Pacific Northwest pipers last week.
Heade’s competition was held at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Dance under the auspices of CLASP, the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers run by the National Piping Centre in Scotland. (For the initiated, it differs from the famed Glenfiddich World Piping Championships for professional.)
Heade, (pronounced “heed”) is a key figure in Seattle’s Scottish music scene and has received other honors through the years.
He also is pipe major of the competitive Elliott Bay Pipe Band; resident piper at St. James and St. Mark’s Cathedrals; a founding member of Mastery of Scottish Arts, which brings the world’s best pipers, drummers, fiddlers and dancers to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall each year; and highly regarded for his effective but gentle teaching style with students ranging from seven to 70.
Heade formerly worked in marketing before venturing into bagpiping full time. He hires his services through, with a short version of his URL.
The now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper profiled him in a 1999 feature.
While the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe is commonly known from the skirling marches assimilated into martial music, piobaireachd can be thought of as music in a literary sense.
In Scotland, a piper might play the popular tunes magnificently but is more highly regarded for mastery of piobaireachd, known also as Ceol Mor, or Great Music (pronounced “kyol more”.)
The classic tunes are long, varying from more than six to more than 20 minutes and have been preserved in sheet music since the early 1700s. There are rules to master but they are also left to some interpretation.
“The hard part,” Heade said, “was actually practicing in the heat in Seattle before I left for Scotland” helped when St. Mark’s cathedral allowed him to use their cool chapel.
The tune Heade played was “Tulloch Ard,” a 10 to 12-minute “gathering tune” of the MacKenzie clan.
Heade said he grew emotional reading the favorable comments from his judge, Pipe Major Jimmy Banks, a retired military piper.
“Although I was sick I decided I would play the tune for all I was worth. It was heavily phrased and I tried to show that I knew what I was doing. I even lost my balance once while playing and was getting really tired at the end. But he really liked the tune,” Heade said.
Heade’s win is distinctive for two reasons:
At 47, an age when pipers, like athletes, can be considered past their prime, Heade continues to improve. And there aren’t many pipe majors -- those who lead and direct pipe bands -- doing this kind of competition.
“It’s really rare that someone my age keeps improving,” he said. “And it’s funny but there aren’t any pipe majors doing this.”
“It’s also especially nice to have this now that I am walking into my 20th anniversary being the cathedral piper for St. James,” Heade said.
Seattle for years seemed a black hole of Scottish pipe music until the last two decades. It’s proximity to Simon Fraser University, now a piping epicenter, along with the rise of other local entertainment and competition bands, and Heade’s achievements and those of younger local pipers like Jori Chisholm and the Northwest Junior Pipe Band have brought it more into the light.
“A lot of good young people are getting a good education,” Heade said, noting that Chisholm, an award winning piper, plays with Simon Fraser’s world champion band.
There are five grades of amateur piping, with grade V being beginners, III intermediate and I top level. The next level is professional.
While Heade took top honors in amateur piobaireached, he placed sixth in marches, reels and strathspeys. Overall amateur solo honors went to Joshua MacFarlane from Toronto.
Practically every piper has a teacher at levels higher than he or she. Heade’s teacher, who normally doesn’t show excitement, was enthusiastic at learning Heade one.
Heade’s teacher is Alan Bevan of Canada, who on the weekend won the overall professional “masters” solo piping competition in Glasgow.
Heade, began taking lessons from Bevan when Bevan, a gifted and hard-working piper, was 17. Bevan is now married with two kids and is a lawyer.
“Alan continues to be a big influence on me. I spent 12 years with Alan and I received a terrific attitude and terrific education from him,” Heade said.
Heade now plans to head to a London piobaireachd competition in November. He also wants to take his skills to another level, but age restrictions on the professional medal ranks limit him, as they screen out older players.
At home in Seattle on the weekend, Heade’s wife, Rachael, informed his friends of his win, knowing her humble husband wouldn’t jump to do so. More than a few wee drams were lifted in toast.
Excellence is a daily pursuit in any discipline, Heade said. “You are only as good as your weakest skill,” he said. “Once you think you’ve gotten it all beat you begin to not do so well at all.”

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to you! I had a wedding bagpiper, and have been fascinated by the instrument ever since.