Highlander's Survival Guide

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  • Highland games Survival guide:
  • Whether you're a spectator, or a competitor, the advice is the same.
    • Eat sensibly. The night before the contest, stay away from the greasy fried foods. The morning of the contest, eat healthy;  unless you want o be running off to the port-a-potty.  Try to eat a couple of hours before you play.
    • Get sleep. It's tempting to party the night away with bandmates and friends.  Don't.  You need 6-8 hours to be rested, so give extra time to fall asleep.  If you're roommate snores, you may want to use earplugs. Don't bee too cheap with your accomodations.  An uncomfortable sleep makes for a grumpy & tired conmpetitor or spectator.
    • IF you're a competitor, arrive early. Arrive early at the games and you’ll likely get a better parking spot and have time to check out the locations of your events without having to rush around.  Check in with all of your contest stewards as soona s you arrive so they know you're there, and you can find out any potential timing conflicts between events and ask them to accomodate any event conflicting with other event times.
    • Save the alcohol for after the games. Too much fun the night before will impact your sleep and leave you sleepy, grumpy, and unfocused. Some may suggest a small sip of fortitude before playing to calm yournerves, All this will achieve is to irritate your throstomach lining, dilate your blood vessels, and alter your brain chemistry and breathing.  DON'T DO IT.
    • Hydrate.  bring or purchase plenty of water for the day's activities.  Pipers and drummers sweat allot when practicing adn competing.  Windy conditions will prevent you from noticing it, and will dry you out.
    • EAT.  bring or purchase food for the day.  It's difficult to avoid the greasy fried foods at the games, so I advise that you bring fruit, and other healthy foods for you tio snack on during the day. 
    • Wear Sun protection.  In North America,  use sunscreen for anything exposed to the sun, unless you're fond fo the "highland games tan" effect.and potential second degree burns on hands,nose, ears, and face.


  • To oil or not to oil - that is the question.
    • I was originally taught by a Canadian Military band Pipe Sgt (born and raised in Scotland, played in boys brigade band, and military pipe bands), and, confirmed by the Senior Pipe Major of the Canadian Armed Forces and chief instructor for the Canadian Armed Forces School of piping and drumming, to oil my pipes.
    • I have asked every bagpipe maker that I have dealt with, what their position is on whether or not to oil your bagpipe and why.  Their answers have been unanimous.  If you want to protect and preserve your pipes, YES!  They all strongly recommend that you oil the bores on a regular basis. This helps to prevent the wood from rapidly abosrbing extra moisture from playing, and also the rapid loss of moisture during periods when you are not playing and most importantly for those of us that live in areas with extreme seasonal changes in temperature, and humidity levels.  Who would know better?


  • Tying laces on ghillie-brogues.
    • You're not a roman centurion, nor a greek goddess from a movie.  resist the urge to wrap them half-way up your leg.  A couple of twists in the front and the same in the back. wrap them around your leg once or twoice depending on how long the lace is, and a little above your ankle, and then tie off in a bow.  NOT all the way up to your calf.  It just looks silly, and you'll probably be pulling your kilt hose up every couple of steps as a result.


  • Wearing a kilt.
    • Rule number 1:  The pleats go in the back!
    • Saggy-ass pants look ridiculous.  So do saggy-ass kilts. Wear it at what is called your "natural waist".  That is just at , above,or below your belly button.  The loops in the back are intended for your kilt belt.  slide it through and you'll never have to worry about hitching it up, or lowering it again.  Helps hold up your kilt too!


  • Vests and belts.
    • The fashion police say that you should not wear a belt when wearing a vest.


  • How long does it take to learn to play the pipes?
    • popular mythology says that it takes 7 years to become a piper, and that one should be on the practice chanter for 1 to 2 years before progressing top starting on the pipes.  RUBBISH.  Everyone learns at their own pace, and by different means.  Many have progressed from practice chanter to learning to play on the pipes in as little  3 to 6 months, and with diligent practicing most should be ready within 1 year;  however it takes many years of learning and practiing to progress to the top levels.  Having a teacher than can find out which method of learning works best for you and can adapt their method of teaching to achieve this is very important.  At McCarthy Highland Services we have a number of competent teachers in the Ottawa area available for private tuition, and we can refer you to one near you with our extensive network of contacts.  Be sure to ask.


  • Influence of military pipe bands on the spread of pipe music
    • On a world stage, it really has been the military pipe bands that have kept alive, promoted, and exported the instrument and its music. Military uniforms have always been designed to inspire awe and trepidation into those seeing it. One of the many conditions imposed on Germany at the end of world war 2 was to never again design uniforms that were so aggressive. 
      The highland regimental uniform as we know it is very much a product of Victorian and Edwardian aesthetics. Big, loud, and flashy
      And it's this style that has been preserved as the ultimate in showmanship. Military bands long ago evolved past being signallers, and became entertainers, recruiting tools, and showpieces of military pageantry. You have to admit that when any of us sees a military band in "full dress," uniform, it captures our attention before anything else. Perhaps as nothing more than an oddity, or a relic of a bygone age, but it still serves its intended purpose and draws our attention. Any of us that have worn such uniforms can also appreciate the level of discomfort these players have to go through and still deliver a musical performance!




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