Shake it up

The union of the Toronto Transit Commission – the organization that runs the city’s subway, streetcar, and bus system – called an illegal wildcat strike at midnight over an issue that they obviously felt strongly about. It sent the city of four-million into a bit of disarray, and the streets were filled with many times more walkers and cyclists than usual weaving through the more-clogged-with-idling-cars-than-usual streets. It annoyed a lot of people, but was effective, I suppose, in highlighting just how important mass-transit is to the city.

Which of course made me think of the pipe band world.

Pipe bands are generally all talk and little action. Despite the fact that there are huge inequities in important issues (e.g., fair and legal compensation for performance rights and royalties on the World’s broadcasts, CDs, and DVDs; travel money; prize money; nepotistic judging) bands don’t seem to have the courage to do anything about it.

Yes, yes, it’s a hobby and all that, but, please, people put way too much time and energy into this “hobby,” and there’s way too much money being made from it by others, to just keep taking it.

Seems to me that if you really want change, or really want to prove a point, you sometimes have to take a courageous stand. I don’t necessarily agree with what Toronto’s transit workers did today, but it got my attention and it showed just how vital they and the system are to the operation of the city. Yes, the work day went on, but at what cost?

When will pipe bands take the same sort of approach to elicit the change they so often talk about, but do nothing about? It’s actually the bands that have the power, not the associations. If they plucked up the courage, big changes could happen – and fast.



I thought about numbering my favourite candy/sweeties. Cherry Blasters would be at the top, followed closely by a Cadbury Flake. Chocolate and bad drumming usually give me a big headache, but a Flake, like several large whiskies, is worth the hangover.

More apt I guess are my top pipe band performances. These aren’t necessarily competitively great (although some are), just the ones that stand out in my brain most.

1. SFU – 1995 World’s MSR.
2. 78th Frasers – 1988 Maxville medley
3. SLOT – singing “The Auld Triangle” at their 2005 Pre-World’s Concert
4. SFU – 2005 World’s medley
5. 78th Frasers – “Journey To Skye” at the 1988 concert at Leith Town Hall

Lots more from MacLellan-vintage Strathclyde Police, FMM, Clan MacFarlane and others, if I really thought about it, but that’s I hope enough to prompt a few ideas from others.


More TO spring

Last week on the way home. The Humber River bridge at Old Mill, by the subway station.


Piping Mecca?

Ever since I came to Toronto from Scotland in 1988 I have been struck by something: you could well hear more good piping more often in Canada’s largest city than anywhere in the world.

Just about every evening you can turn on the local or national television news and hear piping at a police occasion, a funeral, or a wedding. In warm weather there are pipers busking in various locations. What’s more, Canadians genuinely seem to like piping. I can’t recall anyone ever saying to me here that they dislike the pipes. In fact, they generally say the love them.

The 48th Highlanders of Canada Pipe Band traditionally opens every Toronto Maple Leafs hockey season, and, similarly, the Toronto Police Pipe Band plays at every Toronto Blue Jays home opener. Torontonians know that and love it.

That’s not to say by any means that there are more or more excellent pipers in Toronto than Glasgow or Edinburgh. I actually busked for a few years on Princes Street. I’m just observing that you’re probably more likely to hear good piping in Toronto – without having to seek it out – than in those places.

The pipes are a customary part of the overall social fabric of Toronto.



Any musician involved with things Scotland will be intrigued by this – Ben Nevis piano. People were far more industrious in the past. No one thought twice of building by hand large cairns on every hill that Queen Victoria climbed in Aberdeenshire, so pushing a piano up Britain’s highest mountain is a no-brainer, literally.

Now, there must be a set of pipes up there mouldering away . . .


One or two people inquired through Blogpipe messages (e-mail’s much better for that, by the way) why the results of the annual Dr. Dan Reid Memorial Invitational Recital-Competition Piping event that apparently went on in San Francisco this weekend past have not appeard on P&D Online.

The answer is simple: no one sent them. It’s Thursday, five days after the event, and no one from or competing in the Recital-Contest has bothered, and now they’re kind of stale. I saw the results posted here and there, but my policy is never to lift anything from other Web sites. I ask for copyright respect and I respect copyrights of others. What’s more, so many of those sites struggle with accuracy. Someone did send the Dan Reid results to me as a cut-and-paste from one of those iffy sites, and, again I won’t copy them.

I do chase down results of the major solo events, like Oban and Aviemore, or make sure that there’s an agent in the field to report them, but for most events I gauge overall reader interest by how quickly results are forwarded.

Anyway, I hope that answers this question for anyone who’s interested.



Toronto spring

Just cherry trees in Toronto’s High Park caught on a quick detour on the way to work the other day.


Bell ring

This Sunday is the start of the UK pipe band season. Usually Dunbar is the first contest, but this year the calendar makes it Gourock on the other side of the country. May the best bands win.

Anyone who follows sports knows the sense of anticipation that comes with opening day, when the bell rings on the new season. Even fans of the most woeful teams are optimistic about their club’s chances for improvement over the previous year, and want to see how the off-season acquisitions and departures impact the team.

The pipe band world is no different. Sure, there are the Yankees and Red Sox and Cardinals of the pipe band major leagues in FMM, Shotts and SFU (in no specific order or equivalent), but there are always the groups nipping at the heals, that could finally make the new season the year they turned the corner.

I’ve often thought that the RSPBA, PPBSO or whoever else could create more excitement over the results, over what band does what from week to week, with more analysis from expert commentators. What fun that could be, provided people weren’t afraid to speak their mind with objectivity and fairness – and actually sign their name to their words. Oh, well, just a thought.

The week before a season starts brings great positive tension, the optimistic dreams of competitors and supporters always spring eternal.



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