Sunday, May 11, 2008

Competition Weekend!

After Judy died on Monday, a viewing on Wednesday, a lousy band practice on Wednesday night and a burial on Thursday, I finished my day at the office and went home to pack for the trip to

Carrollton, Kentucky Highland Festival!

It didn't take long to pack my things to ready for travel, because I had a list..and checked it three times to make sure I had everything...

Big tent, little tent, sleeping bag, air bed, pillow, wool blanket, kilt, shirt, vest, tie, gillies, belt, hose, glen gerry, hat badge, flashes, skeign dubh, curling iron, hair dryer, towel, washcloth, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, pajamas, street clothes, underclothing, cell phone, drum and tenor sticks, drumsticks, drum harness, Ipod, camera, earplugs, sunglasses, regular glasses, camping stove, Kumihimo and duct tape.

The last items to go into the car were my pillow cell phone and Ipod. I had to buy duct tape, because the big tent had a mouse hole in the flooring....I digress.

Ray showed up at 8am, and we packed his gear (significantly less, but not less important): his sleeping back, air mattress, canvas stool, his briefcase and snare drum, a cooler with pop, barley pop and hot dogs, some snacks, buns and marshmallows and the sterno for the camping stove.

We were off like a prom dress in very short order. We called the snare instructor when we found out that they had left about 10am--so I figured that they were about 1/2 hour behind us--wanting to know if they would like to meet up with us for lunchtime.

As it turns out, nope. They were stuck in traffic tie up at the lunch rush hour in the Detroit area--which is experiencing that fourth season in Michigan we fondly refer to as "Construction". Okay, perhaps not so "fondly".

We arrived in Carrollton, Kentucky at about 2pm, and I called my brother to schedule a meeting, since I haven't seen him in more than 5 years (this unfortunately fell through, but he will be in Michigan in a few weeks with his almost 8 month preggers wife.).

We arrived at the campground, and found that we were going to need a drop cloth because the ground was mostly mud with little tufts of thin grass--really unacceptable, and if we do these games next year, I will know earlier where it's at, so I can schedule the DAYS INN!

It was lucky for us that the hardware store was immediately across the road from the games grounds, so it was no trouble finding, purchasing what we needed and getting back to the campground to lay out the cloth and put up the tents.

I found out that Ray hadn't put up a tent in over 4 years. I also found out that he can't really hear me when I talk to him from the other side of the tent! The effort was worth it, though, because once we got the tents up and open, the rest was fairly simple.

I blew up the air beds (as he had never had one before), and then we decided to eat.

We cooked hotdogs and had chips and cheese and a bottle of pop. Nutritious all the granola bars (read that sticks and seeds) for this gal!

After eating, we decided to check out the restrooms (about 1/4 mile away), and some of the other campers to see if any of our crew had arrived yet (nope!). We found a couple from the Indiana band in the second row of camping cul de sacs, and we got our drums out and terrorized the neighborhood for a few songs, then Ray and I played the drum salute for them that we played in Grand Rapids. We RULE!

We offered to bring marshmallows over later after we checked out the rest of the campground (unfortunately, they didn't have a marshmallow stick--so no s'mores for you), but that also fell through, so we took off back to the campsite and turned in for the night.

The night was cool and dark, and once the little children fell asleep (screaming meme's) and the adults turned in, I finally fell into light sleep, which always happens to me when sleeping in a different place other than my own bed!

I woke up about 3:31 am, and listened to the Grade 4 set, playing the drum score over and over, prepping for the competition which would happen sometime after the noon hour. At 5:30am, my alarm "woke" me (in fact, I did not get back to sleep), and I dressed and woke Ray up to one of the foggiest mornings I've ever seen. We drove past a lake nearby, and Ray commented that he thought he'd seen "Nessie". No such luck, it was only a couple of Canada geese.

In chatting with other campers the night before, we found out that the Rotary Club was having an "All You Can Eat" hotcake breakfast for $5, and after discussion, Ray and I decided to go, with or without fog. We asked about the location at the nearest gas station, and arrived quite handily, even through the fog--you could just barely make out the sign for the High School, and the actual school was far back off the road, so it took some time to finally locate it, but once again, the effort was worth it--the food was very good! We ate our fill and then headed back to the campsite to change into our band clothing.

We hadn't taken the drums or sticks out of the car the night before, so everything was packed except us--so we climb into the car and head to the competition/festival grounds. We had to do some finagling to enter close enough to where the band was meeting up so we didn't have to waste a ton of energy lugging drums around. I unloaded our gear, and

"Ray, where are my tenor sticks?"

"Aren't they in the car?"

"Not that I can see...." I swear, I gave the car a cursory once over, then opened the trunk and rummaged about in there, and came up

Zero. No tenor sticks.

So back to the campsite I go, leaving Ray to manage the drums alone, believing p'raps I'd left them in my tent...only to miss the turn (stress will do that to me), and end up travelling up to the top of the "hill" (which was considerable), turn around and go back (about 1.5 miles), then take the correct turn, and head into the camping area.

On arrival, I frantically open the zipped tent to find.

Zero. No tenor sticks.

I emptied the trunk.

Zero. No tenor sticks.

I packed again, then drove to the Indiana campsite...they had left for the parade grounds already.

I drove to the guard shack. No one home there either.

By now, I'm bawling, certain that I'd left them on top of the car, only to have them drop off the car somewhere to be destroyed by some passing motorist or picked up by a child and become a new "toy". Quite an expensive toy, and I figure they are lost forever. I'd just bought them--they weren't even "broken in" yet! An important precision instrument, and they are gone!!!

So I drove back to the festival grounds, and asked Ray if he'd had them in his briefcase, to which he replies that he looked in it that very morning, and they were not there. He opened the case to prove it (unnecessary, because it didn't quell my fear whatsoever).

The band's final decision was that I would borrow another pair of sticks from another tenor drummer, who was playing in grade 5, right before our performance, which meant that I would lose valuable time used to practice with the group right before "going on". It was all I could do--there was nothing else I could do, and therefore, I had to accept it.

I wept, I fretted, I thought and I thought, but nothing came to mind. At some point, I drove back to the campground again, just to double check the tent.

Zero. I'm usually pretty thorough the first time. I was simply hoping that they would magically appear, just as they had disappeared! Houdini had nuthin' on my tenor sticks.

I was sad and depressed over this. It simply added another dimension to my feelings of loss over the entire week, and it quickly became a bit too much. Massed bands started, and I felt bereft and lost--I felt as if I had come unprepared. Naked, and as if the entire trip was a total loss!

Since I was probably looking quite forlorn and I had nothing else better to do with my hands, one of the other tenors (who probably thought I was being melodramatic) and I walked over to the food vendors and I got a couple of cheeseburgers and she got a sausage. We ate and listened to massed bands, and when they played Amazing Grace, I thought of Judy, and cried anew. My friend strode off to check out the vendor booths and to leave me to my thoughts and grief for a moment.

When she returned, we walked back to the staging area, and I had a light beer to quell the nerves. I practiced with the other tenors without sticks, and one of them snickered because it looks sort of funny to be flourishing without sticks in your hands. I agreed. It was the first time I'd smiled.

Finally, Grade 5 competition started, and our band was last to go up. I decided to take the spun dog hair yarn that I had prepared to its owner, and met him clear over there (see me pointing to the far side of the staging area) on the opposite end of the field. We talked of competition, and he told me that Grand Rapids had scrounged about and found a couple of drummers out of the clear blue sky, but that they were really green as far as Scottish Drumming was concerned, and were likely not much threat. We'll be meeting them at the Alma Highland Festival. So I felt a small stab of irritation over Grand Rapid's sudden dismissal of my talent once again. So I dismissed it, and said to myself...

"Good for them. I hope they look over in the Grade 4 arena and find me playing there--in addition to the Grade 5 arena--having learned both tenor scores in less than 2 months!"

I wished my friend good luck in the competition, and from there, I walked back to the competition circle to watch the last band before Flint's Grade 5 whipped out their chosen selections. Then, it was time to watch my friends in Flint, Grade 5.

I walked to the other side of the field to be in place for the tenor stick hand off, and waited in the shade for the tunes to be played. I listened very carefully to the march medley. I determined that there were two places where the drums and the pipes were not "together", but couldn't figure out who was playing "out of sync"--the drums or the pipes?

When they finished playing, I applauded and "woohoo'd" at the appropriate time, but all I had on my mind really was "okay, ready set, go get those sticks!" The band stood at attention for an eternity while the judges scored the band, then the group fired up to march out.

The sigh of relief was quite audible. Oh, wait, that was me!

I got my "on loan" sticks from the other player, and started warming up with them. All too soon, it was time to get my drum and line up to march out onto the field.

Waiting with baited breath, the pipe major calls out "By the right, quick march!" and my sticks go up into the air in the celtic cross, and twirl and down--magic begins.

Now you need to remember that I haven't really "competed" in tenor for oh mumble mumble years, but have been playing snare off and on for all those years--so I am used to marching off LAST--so after a flawless medley that took almost no time at all, when the time came to "march off", I didn't go--so likewise, the other tenors didn't go, and the snares marched through us--then we tenors brought up the rear--

It was different than any other band and must have sounded spectacular, stellar, mah---velous!

But while it was technically "wrong", we made it look just fine--and never missed a beat or a step. We did quite well....and even though I wasn't playing a snare drum, I still got to march off last!

I bet that gets fixed at the next practice! HA!

Then it was time for Grade 3. I decided to stick around to watch my friend (the one I'm making yarn for---remember?), who was playing with the second band up to the line.

Now earlier in the day, our PM found out that there were only two Grade 3 bands playing, so he decided then and there that we were not going to let first prize go by default, so he challenged Grade 3! So the drummers were warming up, decisions were made, and when Flint's Grade 4 medley was done, the first Grade 3 band was warming up in the wings.

They were very good. I watched their tenors quite closely. They both played a different set, but both were compatible with the set (called a March-Strasphey-Reel or MSR). The drums looked like one of Ray's rope tensioned drums, but only in color. That's where the likeness ends. I thought they played well, but didn't really see anything "spectacular" in their medley that stood out and cried 'PICK ME, PICK ME'.

Next up was the Ann Arbor Pipes and Drums, the band we intended to challenge later in the year, but because of the few competing bands, the PM changed his mind and challenged EARLY which the drum major wasn't expecting...Ann Arbor's set held unfamiliar tunes which didn't set my heart to singing, but the drumming was solid, and my friend did a good job. The single tenor, however, was something to watch! I liked her style. I liked her performance. I thought to myself, 'I will hunt her down at Alma!'

Flint, however, is waiting in the wings, and when Ann Arbor marched off, I started to chat with some of the people who were sitting at the picnic table with me under a shady maple tree and a healthy blue sky with fluffy white clouds...

"Are these the best bands today?" asked one lady. To which I replied,

"If there are no Grade I or Grade II bands, then yes, the last 2 were both Grade III, and here comes the band I'm in--they have this fantastic medley of tunes that I really think you'll like, and, wait until you see this lady they have as tenor...she's a whiz at this, and she's only been playing for a YEAR!"

There was more conversation while the band marched up to the circle, and prepped for the competition. The man next to the lady asked

"How old is she?"

"She looks 16 doesn't she? But really, she's 20. I think she's wonderful. Watch her make those sticks fly!"

And the band played on.

And on...

and on...

And when the last note was played, sudden if a rock had just been tossed in the pool with the audible "plop" and the edge is waiting for the ripples to! The audience was just agog, and Ann Arbor looked a little hang dog--which didn't make sense to me at the time, as I thought they had played well, just not the tunes I would have chosen for my band...

And then the ripple hit the shore, and the crowd started to applaud in response, like the ripples bounce off the shore and head back inward from whence they came.

(good imagery there, eh?)

I believed we had it in the bag, even then, but reserved myself to support for my fellow band-members. But I was very pleased with their performance.

Soon would be time for closing ceremonies--where we find out how the bands did.... be continued....

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