Mike Katz was a pioneer of the Scottish smallpipes in the early days of the revival and has remained one of the leading exponents of the instrument ever since. Originally from LA, Mike came to Scotland 10 years ago to study at Edinburgh University and has lived here ever since, playing in various bands and combinations, including Scottish Gas Pipe Band, Ceolbeg and the Battlefield Band. On the day, he also displayed a high sense of humour and a fiendish taste in shoes.

Thankfully we're on a tight schedule, because I'm not very good at talking for a long time. Hamish asked me to talk about playing pipes to accompany a singer
Frankly I would argue that it isn't a very difficult thing. Whether you're playing the pipes with another instrumentalist or with a singer, it's the same thing. I will caveat the whole talk with this- I will tell you what my opinion is, you don't have to agree with any of it, and also I believe in the great quote, which is attributed to Frank Zappa, 'talking about music is like dancing about architecture', so you can dismiss anything I say if you don't like it.
Davey was talking about tradition, and about teaching without bagpipes. I would do that anyway, which is probably why I don’t get asked to teach.  Even when I was a kid I was taught to sing it. Like Will, I'm an American, and Americans are generally not very good at singing or expressing themselves in that kind of way, but I think that if you don’t do that, you'll never be able to play anything.
The speech element of living is something that's common to everybody no matter how poor they are at playing an instrument. So you are capable of expressing yourself through speech, without thinking, you just talk, say whatever comes into your head. The whole idea of learning to play an instrument, especially the bagpipes, with all that complicated ornamentation, the whole idea of learning all that stuff is so that you can express these things without having to think about the minutiae.
If that's the case then when you accompany a singer, you're just accompanying a complicated instrument, because what we all understand about speech is the content of it, but within that content is all of these noises which are the same thing as cantareach, and we speak about grips, even the word 'grip' sounds like a grip, and of course that's different for different people, for different languages. You listen to a Gaelic singer, and if you don’t speak Gaelic, and I don’t, you can still hear the sounds and you can equate that to your impression of what you want to play and the ornamentation.  
I play other  instruments, but those of you who play only the bagpipes will sympathise with the mentality which pipers have which  is linear - we play the tunes - we don't need anything about harmony, we don’t need anything about chords. The benefit of smallpipes is that the balance between the drones and the chanter is such that you immediately make chords, more readily than you would on big pipes, so that every time you play a note there's a chord.
Will was talking about bagpipes being modal; that means that every note harmonises with the drones and to do that it's 'out of tune'. Will was talking about not playing thirds - an even better reason not to play thirds is, as any of you guys that make bagpipes knows, that they're not 'in tune'. If you have the third, which is the C on an A set of pipes, in tune with a tuner then it sounds horrific with the drones, because it has to be flat to be in accord with the drones. It's the same with the G seventh note and with the note we call F. If that's in tune with the tuner then it sounds terrible, because of things like equal temperament and a bunch of things that you don't need to hear about. But what it means is that you can get a set of bagpipes or indeed a pipe band or nine pipers all in tune with each other and notes like the second, that shouldn't sound good with the drones, do sound good. That's a positive thing.
[At this point Mike got out his pipes, and also a copy of the Metro free newspaper]
I brought this august journal, just as an example - I've never done this before so it might not work very well. I'll just say three things, in case there isn't time to tell you what I was going to tell you. As I said, it doesn't matter whether you're playing with an instrumentalist or a singer; the way you do it is by communication. You don't think about it, you just do it. And do it and do it. It doesn't matter that you're going to make mistakes and sometimes its going to sound terrible - hopefully the good things will rise to the top, and  that's life. If you keep working on it, it'll be alright.
For those of us who are pipers, that don't know these things- we basically organise western music in a series of chord changes. In the States we use number, we talk abut the 1 chord and the 4 chord. If a tune is in A major, the 1 chord is the A, the 4 chord is the D and the 5 chord is the E. Blues and Rock and Roll songs are generally made of chords 1,4,5. Will was talking about A and G and he's quite right, all the 2/4 marches, or the reels, are just A and G. That's not to discount the value of these things, that's why they are attractive - it's kind of weird music but they are like that.
Schematically for a bouzouki player or other instrument, if you don't really know the tune, you go along with that kind of thing - once you learn it better you can be more clever, but you can get by with these basic things. But if you're going to accompany a singer, you have a blend of following exactly what that singer is singing and then also this schematic idea, following the movement of the chords. So you learn those chords - which have substitutes; you can play different notes for each chord- that's a bit more complicated and you don’t need to know that now.
This means that you can mix between playing very little, just the chords, and playing exactly what the guy's singing, and then maybe playing the harmony.
The good thing about this demonic highland piping technique that we have is that it is complicated enough that you can mimic the words of any language, in my opinion. But even within this tradition there is a variety of options. You can choose a blippy high G grace note, or you can choose a subtler ornament such as a flute player might use. You make that decision, you're all sentient beings. What happens is you take all these things and you decide what you like and just use it. And then, if no-one else likes it, you don’t get asked to give talks about these things. But that's not your problem, you have to believe in whatever you play.
So if we take a song [here Mike returned to his newspaper]. We'll look at the sports section, that's probably better. We have a headline here 'After two days of talks a decision on Levine goes into extra time'. So if you think of that as a song,
[here Mike asked 'how much time have I got?' and was told ‘about 10 minutes.’ 'Oh that's a long time’, he replied, ‘I'm going to have to do the crossword I think']
This is not going to be one of the great songs but - 'after two days of talks' sounds like a 2/4 march, [here Mike attempted a sung version] but the rest doesn’t scan very well. We’ll take another piece [from the newspaper]-the name Milleband [the leader of the UK Labour Party] here, for instance. You get a rhythm from every word, is what I'm saying. There's a number of ways you can play that word. You have a triplet going down - 'mill e band' - you have Milleband with a taorluath or just playing on two notes. The one thing that's constant is the 'Milleband'. So you might say it's always going to be the same thing, but the guy that's playing with it can play more than that, or less than that, or exactly the same as that.
Then you get into the schematic thing of a tune having just chords, so that you just get the two notes [here Mike demonstrated playing a tune, then singing the same tune while he played just two long notes.]
The only thing that changes with the singer rather than an instrumentalist is that there is meaning in the words. That can be more complicated because you are then making a taste decision about whether or not you want to detract from or add to what the singer is singing. So sometimes you're wanting to just lay-off and play less, sometimes you want to play exactly the same. Sometimes you can reinforce things by playing the same thing, sometimes you reinforce things by not playing anything.
That's basically all I have to say about all this stuff. I don't know how to put it in a digestible format, but that's really all it is; all you’re doing is communicating, in the same way that you would communicate by talking to your pals or telling jokes- it's the communication between all the participants. What you want to happen is that when the two of you are playing together it's always going to be better than either of you on your own. How you find that way is really up to yourself.
[Mike then went on to comment on David Taylor's points about tradition]
I travel around all the time, playing in a band, and I sometimes find myself thinking, why am I doing this? But when you visit a place where they don't do it, you realise how absolutely vital it is; it's the most important thing in the world; it is the same thing as telling jokes, love, and all that kind of stuff. All this playing tunes, or if you're into painting, or writing books or reading, art and everything. What's the point, there's no point, in being alive, if you don't do this stuff. When you go to places where they're not playing tunes, they're not doing these things, you think, this is shite.
What you do with the tradition is you absorb all this stuff and then you decide what you're going to use, what you like, and if you take that back into a microcosm of playing with a singer, you take all that stuff and then stop thinking about it. You do all this preparation and practice, and when you get to the situation you just play, so that you're communicating the same way as you talk. You just make stuff up and hope for the best. Sometimes it's not good, and sometimes it's good.
[The final question Mike was asked was where he got the impressive pair of red-decorated black shoes he was wearing - ‘I got them in the Bronx’ was his reply, ‘two pairs for a hundred bucks - they’re very uncomfortable’.]