The Pipe Band

One of my favourite TV shows (along with “Myth Busters” and “Rock School”) is “The Office,” the American adaptation of the UK series. It’s full of office stereo-types (e.g., the vacuous boss, the toady, the back-stabber, the quiet wise person).

It got me thinking that there should be a TV show called “The Pipe Band.” Here are the stereo-typed characters I’d have in it (absolutely not based on anyone I know!):

The Confused Pipe-Major – a person who can’t make a decision and, when he does, it’s the wrong one. Think David Schwimmer’s character in “Band of Brothers.” His biggest talent is having a stentorian voice for the command at the trigger.
Mr. Hard Reed – the piper who constantly brags about how hard his chanter reed is, insinuating that others aren’t pulling their weight. Usually obese.
The Prima-Donna – a piper who thinks he’s much better than he is, clinging to insignificant solo prizes. Everyone laughs behind his back and encourages him to “give us a tune” at parties.
The Cynic – the guy in the band who tries to figure out an angle on everything. Every judge has a motive. Every draw has a consequence. Every tune has to achieve a purpose. He remembers what judges did what when, even going back decades. Remarkably, he can usually memorize tunes after only one play.
L-D BDC – agrees with the pipe-major all the time, then goes and does what he wants. Scores never complement the tunes. Professes not to like the “Best Drum Corps” prize, but is always caught listening intently at the march past/massed bands for the award after the band’s not in the list.
Mickey Can – there’s always one guy who, no matter how important the contest, will get sauced the night before. He averages about one new band every two years. Swears loudly. Every band has one.

Those are a few that come to my mind. Maybe other people have some casting ideas!


Passing it down

Dropping by the George Sherriff contest on Saturday I was struck that Canada is for the first time seeing a substantial number of young solo pipers who are the sons and daughters of famous players.

Alex Gandy and Colin Lee, the sons of Bruce and Jack, respectively, made me think about it. These kids are destined for great-greatness — maybe even greater greatness than their fathers, as hard as that might be to conceive. I would venture to say that these two young men are playing far better and are more accomplished than their dads were at the same ages.

Scotland is on its third or fourth generation of pipers whose fathers and their fathers and their fathers were famous players. Angus MacColl has an incredible piping lineage, as do Willie McCallum and Iain Speirs. For sure, Canada has had a few descendents of good pipers, but never, I think, two kids like Gandy and Lee.

And there are of course more to come in Canada and, in about 10 years from the United States. That will mean that the piping standard at North America’s highest point will rise that much higher with that much more substance. The piping lineage factor has for years been a distinct advantage for Scotland over non-Scottish solo pipers. As these two proteges will prove, that too is changing quickly.


First pipe

An eleven-year-old who I’ve taught the past seven months or so is starting on the pipes this evening. He still has some technique to learn, but my idea is to get him going on the big pipe sooner, since the pipes are competing with the trombone, the piano, soccer, cross-country and who knows what else.

We’re loaning him my wife Julie’s set of Tweedie drones, which are actually one of the last sets that the late, great Jimmy Tweedie made himself. Beautiful workmanship. I played them for a season in a band some time ago. These pipes should be played.

But hopefully the pipes will win over Liam’s attention and time. He’s got a natural gift for seeing and doing perfectly, which is a great ability to have as a piper.


Count Floyd

I acquired my very first Pink Floyd music yesterday. I never thought that I liked the group ever since seventh grade at the harrowing Brittany Middle School, when 13-year-old stoners were into them. That was about the time that Dark Side of the Moon came out. I resisted, thinking that it might make me get into drugs or something, and might get in the way of my under-age drinking with the local pipe band.

But I heard “Comfortably Numb” (a PF song that I always liked) while watching the excellent movie, About A Boy, so I decided to download it and, what the hell, DSOTM, too.

Beautiful stuff, that. Everyone in the Western World will be familiar with the group’s catchier music, but listening to “Time” you just have to admire the work that must have gone in to engineering all those analog tapes. These boys were well ahead of their time.

Question: Is there a pipe band that’s musically ahead of its time? Unfortunately, competition (or, more accurately, the requirements we set for them and the judges we assign to them) keeps the reins on the creativity of bands. Can a pipe band the musical equivalent of Pink Floyd actually exist today and be noticed? I think not.


Top 5 movies

Here’s another list. My top six movies (fill-ums for UK readers) of all time:

  • Hannah & Her Sisters – Woody Allen’s crowning achievement.

  • The Dead – John Huston’s last movie, an adaptation of the James Joyce story.

  • American Beauty – I will sell this house.

  • Fanny & Alexander – Bergman’s epic is worth its arse-numbing length.

  • Apocalypse The Noo – Charlie disnae surf, ken?

  • After Hours – Scorsese’s often forgotten comedy.


Like many people, I love lists and rankings. Since I was a kid, I’ve kept lists in my head of favourite movies, books, songs, colours, people, and so on. I think it comes from pouring over the backs of baseball cards and memorizing stats and trivia.

Here are my favourite CDs so far this year:

  • Arcade Fire – Funeral

  • Beck – Guero

  • Metric – Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?

  • Wilco – A Ghost is Born


What comes around

The bagpipe-lovin’ Madonna is back with a hit song, “Hung Up,” that, I have to admit is perty dern catchy. And it is very 1980s and has a boom-boxey dance video to accompany it. The beautifully choreographed video looks like it could have been from her first LP. Madge has survived long enough simply to go back to where she started, and that must be a dream come true for a pop star with inevitable fading creativity.

Since pop trends go around and come back around in 20-year cycles, why not pipe music and pipe bands? If that were so then next year should see echoes of 1985 return to the fore.

Let’s see: flannel grey kilt jackets with gauntlet cuffs and waistcoats; 12/8 marches to open medleys (think “Brigadier Snow” and “Up To The Line”); Sinclair chanters, and of course the occasional glutton-for-punishment band wearing number-one dress. The World’s could return to its lottery system draw and the RSPBA could go back to keeping secret who’s judging and what the break-down of results were.

Nah. I think we’re better moving the art forward. Leave the retro music and stylin’ to Madonna.



Forgotten Password?