Use when needed.Because pipes|drums is non-profit, funds from subscriptions and sponsors that remain after site development and hosting costs are taken care of go to other worthy, non-profit piping/drumming causes. The other day the pipe-major of a Grade 3 band asked if a few subscriptions might be donated to a silent auction to help the group get to Scotland. Of course! Happy to help, and it’s good for pipes|drums, too, since almost all subscribers re-up year after year.

That’s not a monetary donation, of course, but it got me thinking about donations to piping/drumming causes in general, and then about what more associations could offer for sale to members beyond membership itself.

I think folks are looking for ways to create new and interesting approaches to competitions. There’s the “Pipe-Majors’ Wheel of Fortune” in the Edinburgh area that is extremely clever. I haven’t been to it, but I understand it’s great fun, with competitors spinning the wheel to see what they have to play – or even if they have to tell a joke.

What if a group put on a competition / fundraiser where competitors could purchase vouchers as part of the event? There could be “Play Again” cards that pipers and drummers could purchase to use if they cocked up the first attempt, sort of like Monopoly’s “Get out of Jail Free” card.

Or how about purchasing a loan of some great player’s pipes or drum for the event? Imagine being able to use someone like Bruce Gandy’s pipes for a day. Or maybe buying a voucher that you can use to have the judge tune your drum or drones. Or buy the right to move up a place or two in the prizes, should you make the list.

The fun fundraising possibilities are endless.


When I was maybe 14, after attending a piping summer school (or “camp” as the kids often refer to them now), I was told by an instructor (from the Brown-Nicol Camp) that “that” Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor was complete rubbish, and that only the Piobaireachd Society Collection would do.

Well okay then. I loyally relayed this information to my parents, who, as ever, dutifully did whatever was needed for their child and found the money to secure the 13 separate PS books (all that were published at the time). This was an expensive proposition, but they did it anyway. Not only that, but after a year of carting around these separate volumes, they got them professionally bound in one of those hulking tomes that I’ve used since

Today, a complete, 15-book, bound PS Collection costs about $500. They’re occasionally awarded as a prize at amateur piping competitions like the Sherriff Memorial, and I’ve heard competitors say that the big book is to them even more valuable and practical than a prize chanter or set of drones. The bound collection I received (complete with Angus Nichol’s calligraphic dedication) for winning the MacGregor Memorial way-back-when remains a treasure.

I understand from the president’s message that the PS books aren’t selling well these days. It’s not surprising, since people are used to a more a la carte approach to music. Most people I know download from iTunes just the track that they like, and not the whole CD. When it comes to bagpipe music, they generally either go to to snag that tune they specifically want, or get a photocopy from a friend if the tune was published eons ago in Ross or Edcath. They should buy the whole collection but the reality is those people have been in the minority for decades now.

The thinking applies to the PS books: why buy a $25 Book 12, full of stuff you’d rather not hear, let alone play, when the only tune you really want is “Lament for the Harp Tree”?

If the Piobaireachd Society really wants to further the playing and accessibility of ceol mor, it would 1) offer the tunes individually, 2) make the music available online in pdf format, and 3) provide it for free.

The Piobaireachd Society could still offer its printed books or the entire, bound Collection at a break-even price. That’s fair. But perhaps it’s time the society also made the non-copyright music available in electronic form as part of its membership, or even free to everyone and anyone who wants it. Seems to me that that would foster the organization’s fundamental goal to “encourage the study and playing of Piobaireachd” like never before.

Getting an edge

Kiss it goodbye.What is it about age and nerves? When you would think that doing stuff would get easier as you get older, it gets more difficult. Anyone older than 30 marvels at kids who seem to have no inhibition or anxiety at all.

Skiing the other day for the first time this season reminded me of the fearlessness of kids. Even children who are novice skiers plow down the hill seemingly without regard to anything but fun, while the experienced adults take every precaution to ensure things are just-so before heading down the slope. My nine-year-old daughter, still only just getting the hang of keeping her skis parallel, was eager to take on a(nother) black diamond run with me. Persuaded to share something marginally less steep, she nonetheless zoomed past, laughing all the way.

Judging solo competitions you get a clear view of anxiety’s relationship with age. Most of the kids come up with hardly a thought about failure, and occasionally seem so aloof to the whole business that you wonder why they’re even doing it. Not a care in the world. Meanwhile, some adults routinely quake in their brogues, visibly trembling as they struggle sometimes to . . . just . . . get . . . through . . . it.

Nearly five years ago I blogged about “performance enhancing” drugs, and former Major League Baseball player Mark McGwire’s recent admission that he took steroids and human growth hormone to help his career along reminded me of it. (Unfortunately, the many comments to that post aren’t viewable, since when the blog moved to a new platform there was no way to import them to the current system.)

Whether nerve-calming beta-blockers actually enhance a piper or drummer’s performance is debatable. For all but a freakish few, a major part of the piping performance challenge is controlling one’s nerves, and, in general, the older you get, the better you become, and the better you become, the more pressure you put on yourself to live up to expectations and standards. Obviously there are unmedicated pipers and drummers who know how to control their fear, and being fearless is all about being confident, without feeling the need to prove anything to anyone.

Slumps are common in sports, and they’re surprisingly common in competitive piping and drumming. A lot more common than purple patches, anyway. As that great St. Louisan, Yogi Berra, said, “Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical.”

I’m not sure how many top players take prescription beta-blockers. I can’t recall anyone in the game actually admitting to it, so I’d imagine that there could be a perceived stigma to it, as if it’s performance enhancing or “cheating.”

Or is it?


If you’re on the side of expanding our pipe band music, is there a better place to try that than Las Vegas? Vegas “is what it is,” as they say, but, really, it’s the most untraditional place on earth. I shouldn’t say that. Its tradition is this: no tradition.

As pipes|drums reported, the planners of the April 2011 $2-million pipe band gamble are considering creating a Grade 1 “Concert” competition event in addition to the traditional Medley and decrepit MSR events. They’re being super-accommodating, asking the bands themselves for their thoughts as to how the Concert competition could work. There’s really no need.

It’s Vegas, baby. If there were ever a place simply to see what happens, and let bands do whatever-the-heck they want, this is it. Personally, I would not have any problem with a band of Elvis impersonators, or a couple of Bengal tigers, or scantily clad showgirls tarting up their tartan show. Musically, bands can simply let ‘er dangle (as I write that, I’ll always hear Scott MacAulay’s voice), and go for it. Set a limit on time, but only for scheduling reasons. Fifteen minutes, no-holds-barred. Maybe require that Highland pipes have to be used at least some of time – but that’s it.

A few years ago there was talk, and even negotiations, with Florida’s Disneyworld to create the pipe band extravaganza that Vegas subsequently landed. It seemed like a good idea, until it became evident that the good people at Disney just saw it as a large group to pay to get into their theme park. For all they seemed to care, it could be a trombone festival, just as long as you brought your money.

At the time, there was something odd to me about placing a pipe band competition in the land of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but it’s even more counter-intuitive to hold it in Las Vegas. If I were to identify a place on earth that is the polar opposite of the traditional Scottish world of piping and drumming, it would have to be Las Vegas.

Please, don’t mistake me. I think this is a golden opportunity. I love juxtaposing things in surprising and counter-intuitive ways. Mash-ups are one of the most interesting developments in music and the arts as a whole.

I have nothing against Las Vegas, but there’s a reason why its art museum closed in 2008. The only culture that people who go to Vegas want is no culture at all. Hold an anything-goes Concert event, have fun, let it all hang out for a weekend. Let it happen in Vegas.

And whether it then stays in Vegas is up to the pipe band world to decide.

Bagpipes: instant celebration machine

Chapmen billiesHappy New Year to all, and here’s hoping that 2010 is a great one for everybody.

There’s probably not a person out there who’s at times at a loss for what to do on New Year’s Eve. Statistically, those who hit the town for big public countdowns are few, and rare with those, ahem, of a certain age. A piper-friend of mine said that his daughter ridiculed her parents for not having any New Year’s Eve plans, when of course the solution is right under his blowstick.

Pipers have it easy, if they want it. The ability to play the pipes is a license to hold a celebration virtually any time, any place. At least in Toronto, everyone likes the pipes. I can’t remember meeting anyone here who says that they dislike the instrument, and in fact most non-players enthusiastically say that they LOVE the sound and almost always connect it with an emotional memory: a wedding, a funeral, the 48th at the Leafs’ home openers, the sound of a piper playing across the lake at their cottage in August, or even New Year’s.

Where I live we like to invite a few drouthy neibors over for a cup of kindness, and then seconds after midnight go outside for a round of “Auld Lang Syne,” “Scotland the Brave” . . . and then inevitably, by request, a reprise of “Auld Lang Syne” on the street. People come from their houses, glasses charged, wishing everyone the best. Last year it was minus-17° for a risky one-minute, in-and-out, blackwood crackling performance; this year a balmy 3° kept folks around for a good half-hour. The pipes at New Year are now an annual tradition.

At least once a year, the tone of your pipes can be guaranteed to ring – ring in the New Year, anyway – fou and unco happy. Orrabest.


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