January 04, 2008

A frequent-flyer point

Just blow steadily . . .I was just reading Harry Tung’s latest Trailing Drones installment and, as usual, he has some excellent scoop and insights. One observation Harry made got me thinking: long-distance players in bands, or “travelers,” as he call them.

He’s exactly right. If you’re a good, experienced piper or drummer who’s pressed for time, why bother playing with a local band? You’re better off joining a group thousands of miles away. You don’t need to attend all those practices. Just learn and practice the music at home and turn up for a few practices and the contests you can make.

It’s working all over the world, and a lot of Grade 1 bands are now holding big weekend practice once every month or two instead of the usual twice- or thrice-weekly slog at the band hall.

Unfortunately, that approach is helping to kill local pipe band scenes. With so many bands relying on “travelers” to make up the numbers, they’re unable to compete at full strength at smaller local contests, let alone perform at a civic function. So they don’t go. As a result, these events deteriorate, and bands have a reduced presence, if any at all, in their community. That’s especially true in Scotland, where so many pipers and drummers drive by the local band’s hall on their way to catch a flight to Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

If the trend continues, the idea of top bands having a real home town won’t hold true. How many members of House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead are from Shotts? How many players in the Scottish Lion-78th Fraser Highlanders are from Toronto? Are there many pipers and drummers in SFU who actually live in Vancouver?

These are just a few examples, and I can think of dozens more. Many bands that welcome “travelers” are getting great competition results. But at what cost to their local pipe band community?




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