Mojo rising

Pipers and drummers, like many people today, sometimes have a sense of entitlement that’s out of whack with reality. Putting together pipes|drums Magazine is 99.99% gratifying, or at least neutral. But a few times a year I’m reminded just how selfish people can be – even in this worldwide little piping and drumming club where you naturally expect more from privileged members.

Last week the great piper Willie McCallum provided a lovely tribute to the late Alasdair Gillies. His article followed an equally moving piece by the equally great Colin MacLellan. They put a lot of thought and work into putting their thoughts down and, frankly, I put a lot of thought and effort into obtaining their articles. These are historical pieces following the unfair death of one of history’s greatest pipers.

I decided to make Colin’s tribute available to all visitors to pipes|drums, unlike almost all Features articles that are for reserved for paying subscribers. In the case of Willie’s piece, I chose to designate it for subscribers-only. (I’ve since switched Colin’s to subscriber-only.)

I received this e-mail message from someone I know of but believe I’ve never met. I omitted his/her name but I kept the rotten syntax:

Subject: Willie McCallum article about Alasdair


I can’t believe you have restricted this article to subscribers only.     This is an ultimate  bad move.     the one from Colin wasn’t restricted.  Why this one?

Bad, bad, bad, bad mojo

That was how my Monday morning started. The inference was that I somehow grievously wronged the memory of Alasdair Gillies by not making this tribute available to all for free.

Perhaps the judicious action would have been to press Delete and try to forget it, but anyone who knows me knows that that’s not my nature. Perhaps it’s a fault, but I tend to think there would never have been a pipes|drums if I just ignored things I perceive to be unfair. So, here’s how I responded:

Hi _____—

Sorry you don’t think the piece was worth including with a $15 annual subscription.

If you subscribe to any print magazines or newspapers, do you send similar angry messages about their “bad mojo” when they run extensive obituaries and tributes?

On the other hand, wasn’t it exceedingly generous that Colin MacLellan’s tribute was available to all?

What about thanking people like Willie McCallum or Colin or – heaven forbid – me, for putting this stuff together for you?

Perhaps you might consider your rather negative perspective.


I don’t begrudge anyone expressing their opinion, however wrong it may be, but I tend to think that this was just an instance of someone’s sense of entitlement skewing their common sense, manners and decency. Incidentally, I haven’t heard from the person since.

Pipers and drummers today often bellyache about things that years ago would have been the stuff of fantastic dreams. $10.99 for an iPhone bagpipe tuner?! A pipe band concert in a grand hall for $40?! Too many ticketed events at Piping Live!?! Having to pay $15 for a year’s access to more than 4,000 original articles on a nonprofit online magazine?!

Bad, bad mojo indeed.

True-love giving

“Twelve drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping” . . . these are maybe the greatest connections to piping and drumming we have when it comes to bridging to the non-playing public. Everyone loves “The 12 Days of Christmas.” It’s the “Scotland the Brave” of Christmas Carols.

I’m not sure about your part of the world, but it seems that Christmas windows at big department stores have made a comeback in Toronto. That’s nice. I’d hate to think that kids never get the chance to gaze dreamily at the mechanized glittering windows before they become completely inured to consumerism. It used to be that department store Christmas windows were a marvel of technology; now, they’re a quaint throwback to the days of Hornby trainsets and Meccano.

The fancy Holt-Renfrew store on Bloor Street this year has a really clever series of windows that have a fashionista take on “The 12 Days.” Their interpretation of 11 Pipers Piping is quite brilliant: 10 female mannequins in plaid/tartan with “drones” sticking out of their designer handbags. Get it? Bag-pipes. (The eleventh mannequin appears to be a man smoking a pipe, to keep everyone honest, since I’d imagine about one out of every eleven Holts customers is male.)

Sadly, the 12 Drummers window is made up of mannequins in a tin soldier motif. Drummers can be many things, while pipers to most punters, at least in the western world, are Highland bagpipers. Ed Neigh said many years ago that pipe bands must be eternally grateful to drummers, who have so many other musical options, but instead chose to play in, of all things, a pipe band.

Every year you see financial calculations of how much it would cost to buy or rent the entire 12 Days. For the 12 drummers, they always seem to go with a marching band of some kind, while the cost of 11 pipers is mainly that which the local pipe band would charge for what today would often mean about half of its pipe section. I’d imagine that hiring 11 of SFU or Field Marshal Montgomery’s pipe section would set you back at least a thousand dollars, or about the price of five decent gold rings — six if you throw in both Lees and a Parkes.

Swans, a partridge in a pear tree, geese a laying – all very doable, and I’d bet you could wait around Westminster to get 10 Lords to leap on their tea break. I’m not sure what eight farm-girls go for what with the cost of their dairy cows, or if eight wet-nurses are even possible in this age and day.

“Eleven pipers piping”: a true gift to our art.

Put a golf tee in it

Just shut it.pipes|drums is all about creating constructive conversation and dialog, and I like to think that over the years many sensitive topics have seen sunlight after having been swept under the rug for ages. We’re getting there.

Reviews are always done by those who have the right combination of objectivity, detachment, respect and expertise to make their words count. People who sell the product or compete with the item or have some other vested interest – real or perceived – are avoided. It’s often difficult to find the right match, and sometimes the best potential reviewers have to decline because they’re too busy or just feel uncomfortable about the task. I like it when they say no, rather than deliver something that disappoints or is well past the product’s sell-by-date.

Increasingly, RSPBA judges are declining the invitation to review products or events. It’s not because they feel they’re biased, it’s because the association allegedly requires  that they get permission in advance to write or speak about anything to do with piping or drumming. So, some of our best and brightest apparently are afraid to share their insights with the piping and drumming world, and don’t want the hassle of requesting advance consent from the association.

What a shame.

In 2007 I wrote about pipe bands veering towards that wrong-headed tack. Fortunately most of them have lightened up a great deal since then, as they’ve realized the communications potential of  Facebook and Twitter and other means to share insights. When an organization disallows members from speaking about their passion, and using their common sense when doing so, they undermine trust. The band or association views it from a strictly negative perspective, cynically thinking that their member will somehow embarrass the group, rather than indirectly vaunting it with their intelligence.

Granted, no organization should have members go out and speak for the organization, but, when it comes to a musical art, all they have to do is tell them to stick strictly to talking about music. Then trust them to do so.

As I understand it from RSPBA judges, they might not be allowed to post anything related to piping or drumming on Facebook, on which most of them have an account. They allegedly shouldn’t post any videos or anecdotes or comment about any band performance anywhere without prior consent, or do any interviews without prior approval. Should they just keep their mouths shut and their fingers off their keyboard? If they play a recital they shouldn’t speak to the audience without clearing things first with 45 Washington Street? Put tape right across your entire hole?

Are their only unapproved comments those that they put down on score sheets?

It’s a case study in how to get the least from your best.

Arresting change

Yesterday's news.A change is as good as a rest, and we all like a good rest, but for the rest of us a change makes all the difference. On that note, welcome to the latest rendition of Blogpipe!

You’ll find all of the content and comments that were with the previous iteration, but we’ve streamlined the look and usability, removed some clutter and improved a few important functions like search and usability on mobile devices.

With your iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and iPad, you can visit Blogpipe using the main URL  and up will pop a clean and efficient rendition optimized for your device. And with nearly 500 posts dating back to March 2005, searching for things is that much easier.

Because there are so many daily visitors to the blog, many organizations have inquired about advertising. So, we’ve added a place for ads for a nominal charge to those who want to tap the marketing benefits. As ever, advertising has nothing, zippo, nada, zilch to do with posts or comments.

As for the approach, well, it will be the same sort of babble on a variety of topics, some barely even relating to piping and drumming. It’s all about conversation and constructive dialog.

I hope that you enjoy it!

– Andrew

Flatten the grass

BzzzzzzBzzzzzplop . . . . . . BzzzzzBzzzzzplop  EEEEEEEELike many other people I’ve been listening to Ceremonials, the new disc by Florence + the Machine. Of course, it reminds me of a great pipe band. Florence Welch’s powerful, instant-on voice makes me think of a pipe chanter, except one with a three-octave range, multi-layered, with complex harmonies and counter-melodies textured in.

I just read that her new album has hit the number-one spot in the UK charts, so there must be a market for BIG music that carries certain sameness, and which is highly infused with Celtic style, crazy outfits and wispy heather visions of the moors. She also often uses lots of lower-toned drums, often in rhythmical, chant-like ways, which fits with the current sound of many bands.

Bill Livingstone once talked about listening to the 1980s vintage Strathclyde Police when they were “in full sail,” conjuring an image of a clipper meeting the waters head-on with wind. The pipe band-sailing ship analogy is even more apt today with much larger bands developing huge visual and sonic power.

I could see Florence + the Machine doing something with a pipe band, just as I could hear a pipe band covering one or two of her songs in a concert. Our music is often criticized by outsiders for always sounding the same with unwavering loudness and a dearth of dynamics. But there is no denying that a pipe band at its best produces impressive and beautiful energy that, as George Campbell would say, “flattens the grass.”

I’ve also read some criticism of Ceremonials, contending that the songs remain the same from track-to-track. But Florence Welch clearly works within a formula that rings true with many people. Sometime, pipe bands try too hard to be something they are not and can never be. Instead of working with what they have, they strive to overlay pipes and drums with other stuff, seemingly never content with, It is what it is.

I’m not saying for a second that there is anything wrong with that. I’m a vocal proponent of pushing the boundaries. But some artists are able to hit upon a formula without ever becoming formulaic. They recognize what they’ve been given, their limitations, and get on with making the most of them.


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