June 21, 2008

A crazy salad with their meat

You don't often see salad bars these days . . .The last week has seen a ton of debate about not only the Toronto Police’s adventurous new “medley,” but what actually constitutes a pipe band medley. Someone raised the salient point that a medley should be a combination of different tunes and argued that, because what TPPB played wasn’t a selection of tunes, it’s not really a medley.
By that token, if a band came out and played, say, the short piobaireachd, “Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod,” as its “medley,” should it be allowed? It’s a single tune, after all, but certainly a medley of variations. Then again, all pipe tunes are built on variations, or parts, so is each tune a micro-medley?
“The Megantic Outlaw” (the brain-child of Michael Grey who wrote it with Bill Livingstone and Bruce Gandy), which I discussed in the previous blog, was clearly both a combination of distinct tunes, but also variations built on a common theme, each variation having a name. I recall some bands using one or two of those “Megantic” theme/variations within their own medleys. The introductory 12/8 march by Bill seemed to be the most popular.
The results of the p|d Poll were interesting and raised another point. Sixty-three per cent of poll-voters said Yes to the question, “Should pipe band competition music always have some familiar element of the Celtic idiom?” Some would debate that there’s nothing Celticly familiar in the TPPB’s medley.
It’s all subjective interpretation. What’s “familiar” and “Celtic” to one may not be to another. What’s a “tune” to one is a “variation” to another.” And the subjectivity of judging art is the age-old quandary of things like juried art shows, dance competitions, and pipe band contests.
I am involved with the PPBSO’s Music Board and already several judges are requesting that guidelines be established and guidance given to adjudicators. They don’t want to be caught off-guard by such musical nuances, which seemingly happened at the Georgetown games, not only in the Grade 1 event but in the Grade 3 band contest in which Alex Lifeson‘s power-chords were adapted for the Highland pipe, but surrounded by very “familiar Celtic content.”
This quandary will not be solved easily, or ever, and nor should it be. The role of the modern pipe band judge is not solely to identify good tone and point out blooters; it’s also to render musical judgment based on their years of experience and proven ability in the art.
As discussed in another Blogpipe post, the attack, blooters, tone and unison-playing are accepted objective competition criteria. The grey area, as it were, is music, and no one has the right to state definitively what is “good” or “bad” music. But we all agree that, on the day, the judges’ definition of good and bad music is what counts in the prizes. As long as there are judges judging subjective music, the healthy debate will rage.


  1. Well said, Andrew, and I appreciated Michael’s note on the Captain’s blog site. So, fellow adjudicators world wide, there is no gag order that I know of so why not join in on this discussion?

  2. “Medley’s” like the “Megantic Outlaw” and the one played by Toronto Police Pipe Band recently belong in the realm of the concert hall or on “vinyl”. While showcasing the innovation of some composing members of the world’s piping societies, they are not always easily identifiable by the listening public at large, but rather to a few select members of the piping world. They are somewhat “self serving” and can really only be appreciated fully by the relatively few musiciians who can appreciate the difficulty and expertise required to play them.

    Better to stick to more harmonious and melodic style medleys in the stylings of the then 78th Fraser’s “Magic Medley” or the Guelph Pipe Band’s “Oft On A Stilly Night” medley. While not as “advanced” as some of the more recent attempts, they are easier to listen to resulting in a more satisfying entertainment experience overall in addition to standing the test of time.

    Hoiwever, if one was still wishing to try one of the “theme” style innovate performances, why not try to remain within the standard accepted “Celtic Idiom”, keys, time signatures, rhythms, etc? Much can be done with the use of clever bridges and melodic tunes in more than one time signature; but don’t overdue it!

    Remember, piping band competitions are subjective, not objective. Better to remain somewhat linked to the mainstream.


  3. More correctly, I believe that the name of the band was “The City Of Guelph Pipe Band” from Guelph, Ontario (google it). At the time, the medley was fielded, circa 1980 ish I believe, the Pipe Major of the band was Ed Neigh, Pipe Seargant Jim MacGillivray and Drum Seargant Larry Willis. There were 7 grade 1 bands in Ontario at the time and the popular uniform was full dress (feather bonnets, spats, etc).

    Anyway, the point is that good quality music is timeless and not just the flavour of the day or another passing fad.

  4. The true genius (or hero) in all this is PM Ian MacDonald. Taking over a band last year that most would of shut down for a season. Played minimal numbers in his pipe corp for a summer. Had the vision last fall to make the call on this new music. Spent the winter working their competitive butts off not “spinning” this new direction. Now one contest into the new season their the band from Toronto getting all the press. Working the new media (Youtube) to get the music out and debate started. Thru this approach he has picked up the strong approval from 5 or 6 of the biggest names in the Ontario piping community. And the naysayers are running for cover….

  5. Art I read your comments and I guess my question is why you so scared of change? I mean really, you lambast the TPPB by saying that they don’t play the same thing as bands 30 year ago. But the point of the competition is to show your creativeness, not to duplicate someone else. You are basically arguing that you hate this medley because it is different, not because you have any real musical knowledge.

    look at your argument in detail:

    “…they are not always easily identifiable by the listening public at large, but rather to a few select members of the piping world. They are somewhat “self serving” and can really only be appreciated fully by the relatively few musiciians who can appreciate the difficulty and expertise required to play them.”

    Really because the crowd seemed to love it, and the crowd wasn’t only pipers. More importantly if this is a competition it would be the ideal place to showcase you sets that only work for the piping world because the majority of the people would be from the piping world. At a concert I would expect more simple stuff to attract guys off the street. I think you really have the whole concept of target audience mixed up here. So if non-pipers like it, and bagpipe folk like it, how is it that only a “select few” understand the nuances?

    “Better to stick to more harmonious and melodic style medleys in the stylings of the then 78th Fraser’s “Magic Medley” or the Guelph Pipe Band’s “Oft On A Stilly Night” medley.”

    I think what you are really saying is “better to stick to Scotland the Brave because everyone knows that one and wants to hear it. I mean really this is redirect that retards advancement. Why would you stick to the same old same when you have a dynamic exciting new product that is very musical and people like.

    As an aside here, 78th are known for pushing the limits, that’s why they are known outside the piping world. Guelph doesn’t exist anymore, and people don’t even remember them, how is it that they made a lasting mark on the world? I guarantee people will remember this medley more than any “oft in a stilly night” medley.

    “…try to remain within the standard accepted “Celtic Idiom”, keys, time signatures, rhythms,”

    What are the standard Celtic idioms? I took some music classes and enjoy going to the symphony and have heard them play Mozart and Brahms but never “Celtic”, why is that? Simply put, because there is no such thing as a standard Celtic theme, it is a contrived notion for people unwilling to try something new. The band used the same 9 notes as everyone else….so they were in the theme. Last time I looked there was no decree from god that thou shalt play only 4/4, 2/4 and 6/8 marches so that time signature argument is a little dumb.

    I guess all you have to do is stretch you mind a little and get outside all your preconceived notions of what bagpipes has to be and you’ll enjoy this medley. Don’t rag on someone else for being creative just because you can’t do the same.

  6. Well said R. Wilson.

    I nejoyed all three Grd 1 bands, although two played very predictable medleys while TPPB wow’ed the socks the crowd – me included – it was a pleasant surprise and musical treat.

    One of the things that I thought kinda unprofessional was the face that one judge E.N. was making when TPPB was playing and the smirkey shake of his head when they were done. Although I don’t know how the scoring went – If I was to judge the judge I’d say he wouldn’t make the cut.

  7. As one who played in the City of Guelph pipe band and performed the Stilly Night medley in 1976, I can assure you Ed was not mocking the band but probably was admiring their audacity to try something completely off the wall.

    Ed was a pioneer at introducing different things as well, like extended harmonies and not using a 4/4 to start and end medlies that used to be the standard in the day.
    To date, it’s been the only band to use a stepped attack, but you would have had to been present to see it, sorry you missed those days as it was good fun.

    I’m not fond of the medley either and agree with Art that that it will soon be forgotten. Thiis is not change, it was just a gimmick!

    It’s is a pipe band competition and the rules are pretty simple!
    Pick a few tunes and try to play them together, leave the deep concept stuff for the concert stage.

  8. WOW!!! This medley is so addicting, that even though I stopped watching it, I am compelled to check out this website, to see if there are more comments about it.(may even splurge for the membership this summer). TPPB, you are all artist. All art is made to evoke a feeling or emotion, whether it is good or bad. I feel the area of medley is very shady. Is it a collection of tunes, as the deffinition says, or is it a movement with different themes(as the deffinition says)? I don’t believe it to be a gimmick, as there was no talk about it before it happened. I contacted Ian shortly after getting back from the Worlds about joining the band. He was kind enough to give me the details of what he had planned for the band, after a year, in which many people were writing them off. He wrote that he was looking to set a roster early, and those that might not make it should find another band, so they could be playing in the circle, until such a time was that they could make the roster. He spoke of putting together new music, and that he wanted to go out with the best bunch, not the biggest. And also outlined what was expected. Sadlly living far away, I didn’t feel I could commit, to the band as he wanted. Seeing what they have done one games into the season, the only hint I had of this medley, was, that he wanted the best musicians going out in the circle, and that they would be practicing a butt load to accomplish their musical goals. You only get one medley at the worlds, so time will tell if they have the brass to carry it out, or if Ian and the bunch, have another piece of art in the gallery waiting to be displayed in front of the world. Maybe an elephant placed in the middle of the circle on fire, while the band sit Indian style around it playing chords on low G? I would LOVE IT!

    By the way, my name is Jamie Everett, I play for the City of Dunedin Pipe Band. I have no judging credentials, just an open mind to music of all types.(for those that hate the anonymous names).

  9. I live in the world of “Fife & Drum” and there the argument about what is “traditional” and what is “accurate” has gone on for almost a century. The views are so polarized that you will never succeed in finding common ground. Worse, what is “proper” is based on decisions made by clearly biased judges. Your placement depends on who is judging that morning.

    Many of the best players and groups in the world now walk away from competitions so as not to face judges who exercise their personal preferences rather then actually listen to and judge the performance. You almost have to show up to competition with a doctoral thesis proving the historical lineage of the tunes you will be playing and even then there is no guarantee.

    Drum Corp International went this route twenty years ago. DCI held to their “traditions” and only today has begun to approach the musicianship and performance levels of those who pulled out completely from the circuit as a result. The audience nows jumps to its feet applauding what was marked down for nearly two decades.

    At Georgetown I heard loud applause at least three times during the TPPB performance: first when the stepped off, then in the middle, then huge at the end. The public seems to have spoken strongly. Now, do we let the pontiffs whimper it all back to some fabricated concept of tradition.

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