Lesson #301: The Uilleann Pipes

I have always loved the uilleann pipes, especially when used for a lament. And lest you think you’ve never heard them, you have. You probably just don’t know it. 

I came about this all because I’ve spent the last five days of my current (miserable) unemployment re-watching the entire series of Battlestar Galactica*, which is not only my very favourite full run of any television series ever (the epilogue notwithstanding), but is also, by far, my favourite example of television scoring. Because it’s gorgeously scored.**

Anyway, you may be wondering where the uilleann pipes come in and that’s actually quite an easy segue. It turns out my favourite (and probably the most recognizable) of the leitmotifs*** that the BSG composer wrote uses the uilleann pipes. 

I am one of the seven (ten, max) people on the planet who like the sound of the Scottish bagpipes. And this is, admittedly, because I grew up with a piper in the extended family. The uilleann pipes are the lesser known, Irish cousin of the Scottish highland pipes. They’re softer, have a larger range, are played sitting down, and do not require a breath on the drone. But, like the Scottish pipes, they have a bag and a drone. They also have, to me, a very distinctive plaintive sound that I adore.

Anyway, the history is, like all things, evolutionary. The earliest mention of pipes in Ireland comes from the fifth century Brehon Laws (early Irish law that was in place more or less until the Norman Invasion in the 12th century). However, it is likely that this instrument was a bagless forebear of the modern pipes. The earliest reference specifically to the bagpipe is from a 13th century poem called  “Aonach Carman,” and illustrations have been found dating as far back as the 16th century. Until the 18th century, the Irish bagpipes closely resembled the highland pipes, but by 1790, the uilleann pipes were a completely separate instrument from the highland pipes.

The popularity of the modern instrument was fairly limited. After the famine, the mass exodus, combined with a shift in musical preferences, resulted in a declining number of pipers. In 1893, the Gaelic League stepped in and made a push for a nationalist movement (probably not coincidentally, this is also about the time when the Irish started to push back against English rule) and traditional pipers became teachers for a new wave of students. Eventually, the movement was abandoned — probably in the face of a revolution and two world wars — and it was 1968 (this one’s almost definitely not coincidental, this was exactly the time of a new Irish nationalist movement) before Na Píobairí Uilleann (The Uilleann Pipers) was established to help preserve the piping tradition in Ireland.****

*The first time I ever watched the series, none of my dozens of friends who are madly in love with the series warned me; I saw all four seasons (and the miniseries remake that preceded it) in six days. I cannot advise more against ever, ever, ever, ever, ever doing that on one’s first viewing. It’s so (awesomely) dark and so emotionally draining that it completely devastated me. And I’m a girl who has been called “emotionally unavailable”; I can’t imagine what seeing the entire series in six days would do to a normal person.

**You are entitled to your opinion on the value of the series itself, but you have nothing to stand on if you want to argue the validity of the score. The score is brilliant, and if you call yourself a lover of music and disagree, you’re wrong. I will fight you on that. Because you’re wrong.

***And, as a fan of Wagner, I’m all for the use of leitmotifs.

****More information can be read here and hereIn case you’re interested in learning how, exactly, the uilleann pipes work, you can read about it here


Lesson #50: The Physics of the Lost Universe

My very favourite TV show starts its final season tonight and I could not be more excited! I have watched LOST religiously since the very first episode and even stuck with it through its sort of muddled fourth season* and the fact that they killed off two of my three favourite characters in season 3. I was annoyed when they killed Mr. Eko,** but I nearly swore off the show completely when they killed Charlie.*** I still miss Charlie even though he’s been gone for two seasons now. At least I still have Desmond.****

Anyway, now that you’re caught up on my favourite characters, which matters, you know, not at all…

I found this article on the feasibility of the physics of time travel in the LOST universe by way of the Discovery Channel science page today. Apparently, they’re doing well with continuity and the laws of physics, which is pretty awesome!

If we’re being honest, when the LOST writers first presented the whole time travel idea to me, I was on board because I thought it was fleeting. I was in for the whole Vonnegut-ian “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time” aspect.***** But when it didn’t go away, I went “you have got to be kidding me.” Pure science fiction has never really been my forte. I don’t like how quickly it can become utterly ridiculous.****** I need substance with my impossibility. Or Simon Pegg and a Russian with difficulties pronouncing the word Victor (seriously, that makes me laugh EVERY time). But now that I see that there’s a purpose and direction to it, it has grown on me. I don’t so much know what the purpose and direction are, but I know that they’re there. And until they end the series in May without telling me that, knowing that they’re there is good enough for me.

I’m still mad about Charlie though.

*Though to be honest, my favourite episode of the entire series, The Constant, aired in the middle of the fourth season. It changed the game completely and has become the cornerstone for all the discussions on time travel in the LOST universe.

**A friend of mine in a European capital I used to live in went on a date with him — the actor, not the character — while he was in town filming a movie. It ended kind of creepily.

***In fact, after Charlie’s tragic (and heartbreaking) death at the end of season 3, I emailed my mother and said, “if they kill Desmond off, I’m done with this show.”

****Desmond is easily the best character of the entire run of the show. And not just because you find out at the beginning of season 5 that he named his son Charlie.

*****If you haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five, I highly, highly recommend it.

******Says the girl who watches ‘Eureka’, but I tend to do much better with ridiculous science fiction when at no point does the show take itself seriously and relies on tongue-in-cheek ridiculous science fiction and cheesy dialogue. It’s like a high-tech 50s B movie.

Lesson #45: The Russian Embassy

The other day, I was watching a wholly ridiculous show that airs on FOX in which stuff blows up and people die. Which is normally awesome. I’m a big fan of Burn Notice, which is also a wholly ridiculous show in which stuff blows up (a lot) and people die (often) because it’s awesome.* Also because I love Bruce Campbell. But this show? Less awesome.

I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.

So tonight, I’m talking to one of my best friends from the most recent state I called home and I could not get over how in this episode the characters were supposedly at a party at the Russian Embassy. Now, I have nothing against embassy parties. Or the Russians for that matter. I do have a problem with the fact that the building they were using looked absolutely NOTHING like the Russian Embassy in DC. The Russian Embassy in DC is a giant Soviet looking white block. It is *not* a neo-classical mansion.** This annoyed me what is probably a disproportionate amount, but really, FOX? It’s not like the building is hidden. And it’s not like there aren’t millions of people who actually know what it looks like. It’s not even poor research, it’s a complete lack of effort.***

Anyway, I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

So this conversation with my friend in the undisclosed state ended with me looking into how many Russian Embassies there are in the world.  Oh yes, you got all that backstory to find out a single number.

The number? 154.

I couldn’t find an actual list, so I had to go to the website for the Russian Embassies and count (and alphabetize) them myself. I hope you appreciate that. And, should you be wondering, here are the countries in which they are located:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovena, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, the Congo, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, the Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, the Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe and representations in Gaza and the Vatican, which I guess count.

*Despite the fact that I would sooner believe that Bruce Campbell’s character and the male lead had a thing for each other than I do that the male and female leads have a thing for each other.

**Mostly, I know this because I have a picture of me standing in front of it from when an old college roommate of mine quite literally lived around the corner from it. And, up until I moved to a European capital and quite literally lived around the corner from the Russian Embassy myself, I thought that was about the coolest thing ever. In fact, I own a t-shirt that says “I heart the Russian Embassy.” Yes, I have an inexplicable affinity for the Russian Embassies. What of it?

***I hate poor research. It makes me crazy. It is why people think Wagner (or Mozart) wrote Carmina Burana. Yes, I’m still bitter about that, what of it?