August 16, 2012

A predictable shafting?

Four firsts, four lasts or four of the same of any placing from judges are rare in a contest of more than 12, especially in Grade 1. In fact, at RSPBA majors it’s happened exactly six times in the top grade in the last three years. That’s six times in about 325 opportunities (number of events times number of competitors), or a miniscule 1.7 per cent of the time. For all purposes, it’s exceedingly unlikely to happen to any band, especially one that is well established and proven to be making the grade.

The Toronto Police Pipe Band had four last places in the Medley event in the Final of the World Pipe Band Championships. Most people know that this band likes to push musical boundaries when it comes to the competition medley, which has no stipulations in the UK beyond starting with two three-pace rolls, lasting between five and seven minutes, and playing with minimum section numbers. Aside from those, a band is free to do musically whatever it wishes.

There are as many personal musical preferences as there are people. One person’s favourite tune is another’s hateful noise. That’s true in pipe bands. We often chalk up our variable judging or unusual results to the “subjective” nature of music.

But there are some very objective qualities that must be assessed and upon which we pretty much are all agreed: Is it in tune? Is it together? Is it well executed? Were there any technical mistakes? How much stress judges put on each of these objective aspects also varies greatly, making four consistent placings even more unlikely.

For example, I don’t much like Duncan Johnstone’s “Farewell to Nigg,” and I find it odd that other people love it. But if I were judging and a pipe band played it would I put them last just because I didn’t prefer the tune? Of course not. I would assess them first on how they expressed it, the quality of their unison and technical accuracy, and the tone and tuning of the performance. I would recognize and respect the merits of Johnstone’s composition in terms of construction. No matter how much I disliked the music, I would give them a fair shake and ensure that the more objective qualities of the performance were duly critiqued.

A pipe band competition is first and foremost a test of accuracy. A band might receive a huge ovation from the crowd, but, relative to the competition, if the performance was not well tuned, not in unison and full of mistakes it should not be first.

Conversely, a band may perform content that all four judges feel is pure dreck, but – again relative to the competition – if it is well tuned, in unison and mistake-free, then it does not deserve to be last.

With the objective qualities in mind, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Toronto Police’s medley at the 2012 World’s deserved to be not last in piping. There were at least four pipe sections that were clearly not nearly as good on those technical, objective elements. (RSPBA adjudicator Bob Worrall appeared to agree in his BBC commentary.) Some judges might have had Toronto Police higher; some lower; but for every judge to put them dead last is truly incredible. Did they really dislike their variations on the ancient Gaelic song “Cutting Bracken” so much that they could throw tuning and playing accuracy out of the equation?

Why is rearranging “Cutting Bracken” (as Toronto Police did) any worse than rearranging “Glasgow Police Pipers” (as Boghall did), or “Alick C. MacGregor” (Inveraray) or any number of bands that went with the current trend of taking the familiar and reinventing it? What would have happened if a piping judge could not tolerate what ScottishPower did with Donald MacLeod’s classic 4/4 “The Battle of Waterloo,” ignored their sound and unison, and put them last? Answer: it would be that judge’s final contest.

Make no mistake, musical content should have some bearing on assessment. But the total assessment? That would not be fair.

It would be an unfortunate day for the pipe band world if even one band is judged strictly for what they played, ignoring how they played it.

You can create music or you can mimic music. Sadly, it would appear that competing pipe bands will be more successful simply repeating the past.


  1. I have to agree. I really, really, really hated what they played. I pretty much hated everything about it — EXCEPT how they played it. No way they were the worst pipe corps.

    I will say, though, that while I applaud their sense of innovation and willingness to stay true to who they are and what they do (which is take chances), they’re never going to win the Worlds because they don’t play the game “the right way.” Maybe winning isn’t their goal, but if it isn’t, I have to wonder, what is?

  2. If FMM can pull first with a less than perfect attack in their set even though Boghall pulls best drums all around, why would anyone be shocked at the TPPB result? I personally thought they played brilliantly! But I wasn’t judging. I was enjoying the performances. And as a matter of note, Peel and SLOT did way better than the results revealed. So maybe the sound is different at 2ft versus 12. It’s all the perspective of the judges – who ‘we’ happen to put there and keep there. There is that level of trust that should be inherent…maybe it’s changing. Time will tell. Well written articles such as this one may help in changing the way it is – we can only hope.

    1. Well said, as my Granny used to say, “What is meat to some, is scran to others”
      I personally like TPPB, I thought they played their music well. likewise, I question how FMM can make such a glaring cock up, and still claim 1st place, yet Boghall receive a 9th place in piping from a judge, with a performance certainly equal to if not better than FMM.
      Unfortunately such variances in scoring has become more and more prominent in piping circles these days.

  3. I’m going to admit right now that I’m yet to listen to the TP medley, but I’m going to right after I’ve posted this.
    However, what I would like to say is that I hope that this Blogpipe entry is the fertiliser that helps to grow the balls of at least one judge to fairly adjudicate this band in the future. Kudos to whoever that may be.

  4. I certainly agree that Toronto’s tone and execution were exceptional. There is so much talent in the band that clearly showed through during the performance. However, I did not find the medley to be at all musical, nor ear pleasing in any way. Yes, great execution for sure, but the entire combination must be pleasing to a judges ear, and apparently it was not.

  5. For good or ill, almost everything in music is subjective, except tone, tuning, and technical execution. And collusion at the Glasgow Open is nothing new, and this certainly won’t be the last time a band gets shafted by the RSPBA. The medley was a series of variations on a waulking song; while interesting from a musicological point of view (and its piobaireachd-like structure duly noted), it wasn’t the most enthralling set ever played. Perhaps Gr. 1 bands should have to play two medleys, one ‘traditional’ and one more of a ‘suite.’

  6. Couldn’t agree more – Ilistened to the whole medley contest and how anyone (far less everyone) could have Toronto Police last is beyond me. I do, however, like “Farewell to Nigg”, however, I can’t stand “The Isle of Barra’s March”, and told Duncan as much!

  7. You say that content should play some role, not all. My argument is: musical content should be a large part of the final analysis on competition day. Bagpipe competition will always be dominated by technical concerns; it’s maybe what we as pipers do best. I think that even if musical content was made a large part of that on which bands were judged, most judges would still err on the side of the technical.

    Toronto Police, or Michael Grey, and the leadership, I believe, actually WANT to be judged by WHAT they play, as much as how they play it, whether or not they would say as much themselves. They believe in it. They think it is authentic and beautiful and exciting (both of which to listen and to be a part) and would love it, and do, when others think the same. That I think is why they play THAT music, THERE. Because, sure, they may already have the concert or beer-tent crew on board (remember the Accelerando Applause, in competition even, on the first airing of Good Intentions?) They want to draw respect from those In The Game – those who are new to it, and maybe even from those who have been in it forever. I mean, what if Bob Shepherd loved it? I think at least the Toronto Police would have far more respect for him.

    Disclaimer: all of this is more or less conjuncture. I am not in the band. I have friends in the band, and I am a bigbigfan of their music, but I am sort of just assuming that people in the band feel this way about their music.

    I think that making musical content an important criteria in competition will, yes, make the judging more subjective (and, dare I say, the results more interesting), but will it also, just maybe, push our art more? More incentive for bands to have musical directors, composers, arrangers, musicians, etc. involved in it all – rather than a Hornpipe/March, Jigs, Air, Strathspeys, Reels (or Hornpipe/March, S/R, Air, Jigs.) And also maybe more incentive for organizations to have medley judges who are not just great players, but who are musically-minded, and have had involvement in well-crafted medleys. If you want judging to be based primarily on technical elements, it actually means having more content-defining rules (and, the MSR serves that purpose well, no?), and if not sucking the “art” out of it, at least limiting the potential for growth.

    We are all judges, critics – some are more heart, some are more head, some are more gut, and but well also some never make up their minds. Competition judges will always have their preferences (not necessarily biases), despite attempts to focus on other elements, and this could almost be nurtured. As much as bands have recognizable styles, judges could be known as being more of a technical man/woman, or more “musical.” Games and contest organizers could even take this into account when hiring judges, and, over the course of a few years, that specific contest could even begin to have a “style” or “aura” about it, beyond just whether it is always hot or rainy there.

    I think MORE focus on the non-technical aspects of music making could only be good for piping – both the music, our art, and the competitive “scene”. Though they are related, I really don’t think that us pipers will ever get away from the chase for technical perfection, and less focus on it will not end in “lowering our standards.”

    And, again, my thoughts are conjecture, but I can’t imagine any band putting out anything as bold, intelligent and inspired as the Toronto Police and at the same time not caring about any of that, thinking of their musical content as of minor importance, and just wanting to be judged on the unison of their birls or how in-tune their D’s are.

    Let’s have more focus on and more credit given to musical decisions.

  8. Not sure your arguments hold water.
    If the judging was based purely on content, why did TP come second last in the MSR, playing standard tunes for a different set of judges? And if four identical marks is so unheard of, why did Peel – the next band above TP in the medley – also get four identical marks (13)?

  9. Congrats again, Andrew, for penning your position very lucidly. The distant beatings from the Ontario Colony will continue until morale improves. Something about dumping Tea in the Harbour, King George, and those blessed, Royal pain Taxes. And no – most residents in Scotland etc are not guilty of such “old” thinking in a vibrant, web-connected world.
    I struggle with jet lag here and speaking of words – I still prefer dreich as in but such a “tedious, wearisome, drawn out” form of pedantry is what stultifies a living language. Just as forcing preconceived notions can for the music. I try to keep an open mind about this – as most of us do try, but no-one can really hope to succeed in this mortal sphere. Colin’s father, Captain John, spoke of how it wasn’t until he left the boards that he could truly appreciate the musical merit of his competitors’ music. Bill L mirrored a similar vein, I believe, w.r.t. the Allan MacDonald interpretations of Ceol Mor as Gaelic song. Allan’s scholarly credentials helped rethink the competitively oriented MacCrimmon ‘mythique’ of their ‘oral and playing tradition’ history that caused so much competitive angst in past decades – where certain hidebound judges were not the least bit open to other validly musical approaches to what they perceived as the hallowed, revered and immutable traditions of the Piobaireachd canon as they learned it. Such a controversy continues to point out that it is personalities and not a more abstract “politics” that ultimately drives our clashes in mutually ambitious attempts to make “our” music heard.
    To use the time worn analogy of taste and judging figure skating – the mind spins, but our old pals Torvill and Dean. They skated an excellence to the point where those hidebound judges could no longer deny the consummate elegance of their pushing the art in a different direction. To get my point across in this hobbled analogy – no top male skater can likely expect to win nowadays by going out with mere doubles, even despite a new fangled salchow or axel format, when the opponents are pulling off complex triples and quads with polished ease. A few knowledgeable pipe banders mentioned in Glasgow about the lack of technical demand in that medley. We have John MacFadyen’s favourite Cutting Bracken jig, a bit of complex S/P involved gracings but after that for technical level in fingering dexterity? SFU wowed us with their mitts in the 80s with drive and execution in spirited wee reels like the Swallowtailed Coat. Angus MacLellan, John Wilson and Ian MacLellan (yes, all from that other Band) continued to be impressed with Terry L’s dancing background and Simon Frasers’ S/P idiom that their blazing mitts could support. I always think of their hitting Caledonian Society of London in their Medleys – or the Frasers’ Miss Drummond of Perth lift in 1987, so even the Vic Police had to get that S/P spirit that a Judge now looked for in their 1997/8 winning medley. At present there are 3 other outfits whose fine solo players can challenge those Vancouver hands, I feel – and the rest are no slouches. As FM found with driving up the level of tone last year, their competitors will set that as the mark – and aim for it.
    Inveraray were the opposite end to this TO approach. The stunning articulation of the 4 young soloists we heard in the Strathclyde Suite was echoed in the Saturday performance with a strong Band in full flight. Winning solo players and Bands’ folks alike were impressed with digital clarity, seamless tune transitions and potent drive to this young Band’s magnificent and musically co-ordinated effort. I missed the live BBC commentary but Bob W’s truncated version on the BBC videos speaks volumes. This was a very fine medley contest (surely the best yet overall) and only 2 Bands did not notably improve their Medley Band sound compared to the earlier MSR – namely FM and Strathclyde who stood out for me as a result, with their Sets. 78ths’ Selection was very spirited for instance, as was the very musical and integrated approach of LA Scots – yet alone the higher achieving Triumph St, SLOT, Boghall etc etc. They were all very interesting performances on balance – so someone comes out at the bottom. I was particularly pleased all the Ontario Bands made the Qualifiers based on some very hard work and fine musical approach to the Classic Sets. For an indulgent, hedonistically dilettantish listener like me – the hits just keep on coming and the standard becomes unbelievable. And – we are all musical winners as the idiom moves forward.

    Good to see Kenny’s group improving and I teased Buzz Brown about all the outfits I keep seeing him with since meeting him at Wolfson Hall in 1986 at the SFU practice. Such experience is an advantageous and contributing back end addition. Sean has a great ear and continues to hone his gifts in every outing – so the Band sound continues to be improving (not that other vieing Bands are sitting still in that capacity). I sincerely wish all the Toronto folks the very best in their quest to be heard on the large stage. Great stuff.

  10. Spot on, Andrew. I’m haven’t been a big fan of the Toronto Police medleys to date, but I really enjoyed their performances on Saturday. They delivered superb MSR’s in both runs (especially in the Qualifier), and their Medley was first-class – tight, musical, on very well set pipes. What’s not to like?

    4 x 14th seems clearly to be a “directive” from on high. It’s a shame, as 10th or a little higher would have been a much fairer placing.

  11. Most people just don’t like change. In fact, so much so, that we are constantly being indoctrinated in the work place to “embrace constant change” by those few restless individuals that make our lives “interesting” (think of that Chinese curse about now..or maybe Napoleon…). As a result, playing way, way, outside the box is always a risky proposition a best. Conservative elements of judging will likely prevail more often than not with disappointing results. As long as people want to push the accepted boundaries, they need to understand that there is risk involved and be prepared to accept the consequences of doing so. A gentle nudge is more likely to succeed over a forceful push any day. I haven’t seen or heard any comments from TPPB concerning this, perhaps meaning that they understand this and have accepted the reality of the situation. While I may have a few constructive things to say about the music to help improve it ( it is a “so-so” medley from my perspective, but with potential to be a real winner), I will refrain as it really is none of my business to do so and I’m sure the unsolicited criticism would not be welcomed anyway. I will, however, commend the members of TPPB for their effort and willingness to shake things up a bit with a well executed performance with the presentation of some nice musical ideas. The performance certainly did not deserve last place across the board soley based on opinion of the content. Whatever happened to points for playing in unison or integration between sections? Also, just because the melody was perhaps considered “unacceptable” doesn’t mean that the drum scores didn’t fit or help the performance or weren’t well executed and in time with the melody lines. But, the results are what they are. There will always be opinions and controversy with subjective competitions. Love it or hate it, it’s the nature of the beast. “May you live in interesting times”.

  12. I heard all of the Grade1 MSR Final. It was excellent entertainment and contained an interesting variety of tunes and settings. The Medley Selections seemed generally inferior and, ocasionally, somewhat chaotic, I wonder whether the format requires to be reconsidered and a more structured specification introduced? I also note that a two day competition is planned next year. I thought that had already been tried and found to be unpopular?

  13. Toronto Police clearly don’t want to win playing by the traditional rules, so they decide to make a name for themselves as people who push the envelope for art’s sake. They are basically thumbing their nose at the RSPBA. Getting buried by the old school judges shouldn’t come as a surprise at all.

    They are using their opportunity to compete at the highest level as a soapbox to fight for artistic freedom and advancement of our music. What a heroic hill to die on, no?

    Are they ahead of their time? or trouble making pipe band hipsters?

    Forget the so called ‘Worlds’
    Toronto Police Pipe Band need their own ‘reality’ show on TLC.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say Andrew. I feel this band was discriminated against because of the content of their medley. I thought it a very fine composition based on the traditional tune Cutting Bracken. To play a piece of this kind requires a level of musicianship imho superior to most if not all the bands on Saturday. It is an insult to the members of the TPPB to award low marks simply because the antiquated institution and some of its judges, do not ‘get’ or ‘understand’ the music. It’s not rocket science. It’s not avant garde. It’s a very clever and pleasant composition based on a very traditional tune. Closed minds, ignorance, narrow mindedness and parochiality in the institution and the minds of judges ensure time and again, that real musical talent and merit, is stamped upon and discouraged. Why would any serious musician continue to support this farce? I really really admire the members of TPPB. I would bet my bottom dollar that each and every member of that band, will have developed immeasureably as a musician through learning and being part of the performance of that medley. It’s about time that was respected and rewarded, and that they were not discriminated against because of their music. Otherwise it looks like the way to win the Worlds is simply to play tunes that the judges like. Oh, and make sure they’re all four square, all predictible, all traditional as hell, and for heavens sake never venture out of the box.

  15. I think there needs to be a public or “crowd” input here. If it keeps going the way its going top grade 1 bands will become simply boring to listen to, but will keep being rewarded (as they should if they are playing well) for playing easier and less exciting music, to a point in which for an outsider or even a player themself, sitting and listening to a medley competition in grade 1 will not differ in enjoyment to listening to an MSR competition. There needs to be an incentive for all bands to play things that inspire people to learn the instruments or practice harder.

    At my first worlds in 2008 i stood watching as Shotts in their medley slowly turned to face the audience, it was quite incredible. People, including the players (i hope) would have enjoyed that no end. The crowd appreciated it anyway. Similarly listen to some of L&B’s 2007-08 medley recordings. In my perspective they were very enjoyable and musically very nice. So why have we taken a backward step from there? We have to ask ourselves, fundementally why do we play our instrument?

    I think at competitions, or maybe just the worlds, a band should be judged on what they play as a separate category to how they play it. I think there should be a crowd input or a separate judge that judges how exciting and musical the medley/set of tunes were. This should contribute to the final mark, in the same way as the four other marks do. This i think would accommodate bands like toronto police that are making innovations and pushing the boundaries, and incourage people to play music that moves our art forward in a healthy way.

  16. This all seems to come from a particular standpoint based on the ban of a pipe band legend…..Like the results or not I don’t believe the ban was cast for not liking a result or for being disillusioned at the result. My understanding is the ban was for publicising these feelings on a social network. Two totally separate matters. I for one am almost sick of hearing about it.

  17. With the world’s being the best of the best, does seem fit to have more than a handfull of judges? And open it up to judging tenor flourishes!! That would shake up some results. The results this year seemed like judges were going from prepresumed ideas

  18. I so agree with lachla c. We need the worlds to be judged on whats seen and not herd. We need the contest judges to take in the twirl. Cool that some people are signing their real name. And robin i don’t understand a word you said.

  19. The TPPB Medley was pretty ‘ho-hum’ and confusing, I must say. There’s not much “innovation” going on there. They still have the same 9 notes everyone else has to work with. I’ve always felt a tune should be tuneful/melodic and memorable. Not some cog that simply plays a role in a broader context. Throwing practice pads on your snares for an intro is an exercise where risk far outweighs any musical benefits. Anyone can do it. You don’t get points for thinking of it before anyone else. Maybe making the final was the objective for them – so they could throw themselves on the altar of sacrifice with their medley? I’m never sure with them sometimes. It just appears to me that so much could be done with that band, but they keep insisting that they are enjoying themselves with their music and that’s all that matters. Bugger what anyone else thinks! Well, I’m sure it makes them feel righteously warm and fuzzy, but to play well and come last……….that would really sting. And they’d be feeling it. Would playing more ‘conventional’ stuff be less enjoyable for them….? They need to ask themselves that question.

    That said, TPPB’s medley wasn’t the worst one there at all, and the result they got could not have just been a comment on the actual playing. I found SFU’s medley to be extremely dull, as were a few others. Triumph Street’s medley, including a mutilation of Capt Carswell, had multiple yawn factors also. Methinks TPPB featured in the judge’s briefing session prior to the event – those meetings were overseas judges are ‘brought up to speed’ on happenings (indirectly told who’s going to win, and why). There is also a martyr-like approach by the TPPB – it’s almost like they know they’re up for a pasting, but carry-on. Playing music that puts them in the frame to do better is not a compromise, I just wish they’d suck it up and go that way. They get a good sound and play very tight. I can guarantee if they did a medley that consisted some of Mike Grey’s greatest compositions of the past 30 years, they’d not only do better in the results, they’d probably win more people over. It would be no different to their current ‘what’s old is new again’ approach.

  20. For a non-insider like me the TP medley did not sound that great. It alltogether came around a bit artificial and intellectual and somewhat purposely over the top. Certainly a hindrance for getting to the essence of the World Ch created for the purpose of upholding Scottishness in music – as it was originally meant to be. The World’s are a place for enjoying the Westering Home spirit, and replicating tunes as best as one can, with a twinkling in the eye. Modern artistic inventiveness, on the other hand is a great thing, and a challenge for all. TP seem to emphasize on an imminent future with new and – presumably – more adventurous, judges to enter the scene. This band clearly aim at next year’s changes. I am not sure I am going to like it, if the rest of the bands try to follow their example just to be up this new “standard”. Scottishness is great because it is also about warm-heartedness.

  21. Could it be that the judges find quantifying something when they have no access to the musical score beforehand as a guide to the piece being played ( it’s time signals and wether the pipers are playing the piece as written). It would be difficult to pick out mistakes and then critique it in conjunction to the other bands competing against Toronto as they could be guilty of letting them away with major mistakes because of their lack of knowledge of how the music is to be played.Most pipe music is out there published in books already . able to be learnt and understood readily. Maybe that’s where Toronto are missing something in getting the actual physical music out there to everyone so as they understand it better.

  22. Can everyone stop using words like ‘new’ and ‘innovative’? Nothing we do is new, or ‘pushes the envelope’. There are 9 notes. You don a kilt, head for the contest ground and play in a pipe band contest – something as rigid as it is antiquated. Go back over the years and you’ll see that ‘innovation’ is old hat. My own belief is that TPPB play a lot of rubbish tunes well, on very well set pipes, and well as a band. One ingredient here seems to be out of place. How many bands around the world emulate SFU, FMM et al when it comes to tunes….and how many are going to rush out and play what TPPB are currently doing….?

  23. Andy / Andrew / Lawrie — I noticed one or two other Grade 1 bands using accelerando in their medleys, which is something that I believe the Toronto Police have employed in competition for the last four years. I can’t recall a band doing that in competition before. Rest assured, bands listen to and adapt ideas from these medleys. Perhaps it’s like haute couture in the fashion world: designers create lofty concepts that eventually trickle down to the masses. But people watch these unconventional designs extremely closely. Some are laughed and snickered at by the masses for their extreme creativity, but those who appreciate the art of design understand the importance of the lofty concept for the industry as a whole. Lesser fashion designers watch haute couture very carefully, and then adapt concepts for eventual introduction to the store shelves. The question, as many, including me, have pointed out is whether TPPB’s lofty concepts are for the competition circle. I say why not? What I fail to understand is why people – including many judges – seem to be so threatened and outraged by what they do. It’s music. It’s art. It’s all good.

    1. Andrew,
      Didn’t the Frasers use the acceleration thing (at least a little bit of it) in “The Mason’s Apron” medley in the mid-80s to get into “The Little Cascade”?
      Regards, Roderick

    2. Andrew – all taken onboard.

      I don’t know everything about wine either, but I know what I like.

      TPPB are not blazing any trails, in my opinion. Inveraray do the ‘accelerando’ stuff too, only with actual tunes, not assembled notes.

      It is all a bit of ‘fun’ for TPPB – fun that sees them come last at the worlds, Cowal and wherever else they front outside Nth America (which isn’t the centre of the universe when it comes to innovation, I might add).

      Their whole medley sounds like some sort of schism/brain-fart to me. It doesn’t come across as anything but a ramble of intellectual doodlings and stop/start fits – sort of like a ‘oh wait, we just thought of this too!……..and oh, oh, oh…..wait til you hear this party trick!’. It makes no sense to me and the fact that someone feels I need to be educated on why it should says it all. It is why this band chews up bandwidth on forums etc everytime they take the field. The ‘music’ can’t speak for itself.

      I subscribe to a simple theory – that melody matters most, especially when the instrument is so simple itself.

  24. RE Accelerando…”The Little Cascade”…78th Frasers, circa 1985-89?..when Harvey & Reid were in the core. The tune was rounded out instead of being played in a cut and hold style. I’m sure that other bands in Ontario have used accelerando before as well, possibly “City Of Toronto”, “Toronto & District” (my memory fails me as to what it was, but I’m sure we did it one year) and “The Clan”…
    What’s old is new again. I recently composed a slow air entitled “Whale Songs” named for just that point, thinking of how humpback whales sing the same song around the globe for while. This song then begins to evolve and change. Chances are that in the last 100,000 years that the same song has been sung more than once in a different era…Cheers!

  25. What do we all expect from a Grade 1 Medley? Clearly, if you are invited to the International Tchaikovsky Competition and you play Gershwin… brilliantly….you will lose. That is clearly not the case with the requirements for Grade 1 Medley… 2 sequential 3 beat rolls and off you go….but equally clearly, the judges do have expectations. I, for one, bemone the fact that compound time seems to be something limited to the march past, but that’s another story. I’ve gone back and listened to TPPB’s medlley four times now. It just hasn’t “grown” on me. I would best describe my impression as Music Theory and Composition 101. Much too “academic” and not enough “improv” Very “constrained” and not “free wheeling/joyous”. At the end-of-the-day, I have to applaud TPPB and their musical leadership for their daring, courage and innovation. Remember, the joy is in the journey and the creative process!

  26. I tell you the sad and tragic part of all this, go and watch any breton bagad and you will see that their harmonies and innovation destroys anything that comes from Scottish style pipe bands. TPPB think they are “creating” something different? only scratching the surface of what the bagads have been doing for decades. The bagads have even managed to make their compositions musical, genius!

  27. Wow, what a great stream of comments. I’m with Gerry Quigg: City of Toronto and the Clan MacFarlane did lots of accelerando (sp??) stuff back in the 70s. I’m going to dig out a cassette tape of Fergus (I think 1974) where the Clan and City both beat the world champion Edinburgh City Police the week before the Intercontinental championships. If I can figure how to digitize it, I’ll send to Andrew for posting. If I can’t maybe I’ll send the whole tape….

    As for the topic at hand: Toronto got stiffed, no doubt in my mind. did better in the MSR (look at the piping scores especially). Too bad. Recall that the City of Toronto, then General Motors, then the 78th Frasers also got stiffed for “innovation” for a few years. The winning years afterward were really fun though!

  28. I feel sorry for the TPPB band and our small (in every conceivable way) pipe band world. The TPPB is dragged through the mud here and all they did was go and play some music. They’re not shoving anything down anyone’s throats, or pretending to be new or fresh. They are not complaining about the results as far as I can see. I know some of the guys and they’re just enjoying playing and seem not to care if others band “pick up” what they do or not. Where’s the sadness or the tragedy? Only maybe that wing-nut pipe band people whip themselves in a frenzy over something that matters very little in the world. Drop the Buckie and get a life. LTFU.

  29. This medley is just too “different” from what we are used to hearing for judges to “judge” this on an equal footing with regular style medleys.One day maybe but as with all change it will take time.

  30. I think it is great to what TPPB is doing, i would be ashamed to think those within the pipe band realm would not want to see innovation pushed to its highest limits. Which to me, begs the question? do we have a great divide between pipers/drummers that are true musicians to those that are just “bagpipers” – i hear so many say, i have no undertsanding to what they are playing? really? as a musician i truly understand what they are trying to achieve, maybe thats why i think we have a big divide in our art which prevents our art to move forward musically.

    Unfortunately you cant call a medley “tradtional” because its not, (how does a creation in the late 70’s early 80’s be considered tradtional? and if you do need to class the medley as tradtional, then the TPPB medley is just as traditional as SFU or inverary and district’s.

    we need to to push the envelop, but im thinking that we dont have many micheal grey’s out there to do as such.

    anyways last time i checked we play a musical instrument that plays music

  31. One thing that intrigues me is did TPPB really think they could win the World Championships with that medley? What is the TPPB raison d’etre in the main but in particular in their approach to achieving world champion status? I listened to the large majority of the qualifying competition and was impressed with the sound and playing produced by the TPPB pipe corps sufficient to give them second behind DTS in my mind. What a pity therefore that on qualifying for the final they let themselves down with the format of the medley in the knowledge that it would be slated by the judges. They must have know this was a high risk strategy and therefore I would be interested to learn how this risk was assessed and how the mitigation manifested itself in what we heard in the medley contest. Is the TPPB leadership and playing membership at one here with respect to the approach taken? Call it a near miss but had they played a medley more in the mainstream I am sure TPPB would have been challenging for a top 10 placing and our conversations here would be very different. I applaud innovation and it is good to see the top bands in the world pushing the boundaries. There is a lot to learn from the Breton bagads as mentioned previously but there is also a plethora of talented individuals out there within our top bands and I would challenge those (you know who you are) to gather and agree how best to take these new ideas forward. Challenging the RSPBA, judges and judging generally is not the correct approach. There needs to be a vision of something better, supported by a swell of opinion that will force the adminstrators to take notice.

  32. I think it’s a mission accomplished for TPPB, look how many people are following this closely and commenting! I can only speculate, but I imagine the point was not to win the Worlds, it was to qualify, play well, and to get people talking and show the world what they could do with a highly skilled band. No one is talking about the bad starts or inconsistent rankings of all the other bands. TPPB is the talk of the week after, not the prize winners. Good on them!

    On another note I can’t help but think their medley would have been much better received if TPPB had been a World Champion (yeah easier said than done, I know). Can you imagine if they played a medley that didn’t ruff as many feathers and won the Worlds with it (or even just got in the top three)? AND THEN, the year after, when they were to defend their crown, they came out with a medley akin to the one we heard this year? Wow, now that would send some waves through the pipe band world! I wonder how many other bands would start to copy them… and not just “copy” them but start to think in the way they are thinking and start to really harness the creativity of their respective band-members. I wonder how many bands (in all grades) would really hang some unusual stuff out there to see what happens. I think if the situation were like this, it would really, really spur some creativity and really turn a lot of what is conventional totally upside down. It would be neat and possibly a nightmare at the same time! It’s a bit fun to think about what if they HADN’T played the medley they did, did much better, and THEN introduced a medley like they did this year at the following worlds.

  33. What I find interesting is how the ensemble judge (BS) could seem less interested in what was going on and strolling aimlessly back to his tent like he lost his best friend. Could those results have been predetermined? Should have enjoyed the glorious sunshine and perhaps the best finals in years..

  34. It’s amazing how hard ‘change’ is for some people. At a first sniff of it they’re bristling and tightening and reinforcing all their defences against the threat. And yet what’s amazing is that the ‘change’ brought in by TPPB, is not very great! Its music just the same, its even music based on a very familiar and traditional tune, its just a move in a certain direction, its harmonious too. Heck if some of Matt Welch’s stuff ever gets into a Medley heaven forbid, or if some band some year does a John Cage on us, strikes in and then stops and stands in silence for the duration of the medley – there’s an idea for next year. How cool would that be. Imagine the whole of Glasgow Green stand still, waiting, and waiting, and waiting…………….What an atmosphere that would create.

    1. Sir Richard Harris:
      R.S.P.C.A.? Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals?
      Maybe you meant R.S.P.B.A.?
      To B? Or not to C? That is the question!

  35. Just going to copy/paste what I said over at Fbook, and maybe add a little…

    “I dunno… rearranging is one thing, changing the DNA of a tune is something different all together, and many times I’ve felt Toronto Police did that with their arrangements. Does that warrant a last place? Probably not, but you can’t go in there playing that expecting the traditionalists to tip their hats to innovation. It’s a contest, you play it to win it [**assuming that is your intended goal], which means you follow the general unspoken rules of the rest of the group and push the envelop: not burn it.”

    On the whole, I personally am not a fan of the way they do the bagad-style suite schtick. (The bagads do it better!) But while I feel it’s just a tad pretentious of them to present it on the competition field, I still applaud their efforts and panache to throw caution to the wind and play what they want to anyway.

    Now, I wasn’t around when there were only MSR contests, and I bet this sort of discussion took place when Medleys first started up, but…. regarding the competition format, and ignoring anything about bad judging on the day, I think that there is something to be said for structure, and keeping the culture of the contest intact. The pipe band medley, while likely not well-defined in the rules, is expected to be a musical compilation of the recognized idioms. Toronto goes outside that box, and kudos to them for it, but it doesn’t fit the culture.

    You wouldn’t expect a bagad to come and play their suites in a pipe band medley contest and place any more than you would expect pipe bands to go over to Lorient and play their medleys and MSRs in a bagad contest and place. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect a fiddler to play classical violin music in a fiddle contest….

    Sure it’s music, but it’s a competition as well. If you’re looking to make a statement instead of win the contest, why play the contest? So much more time, money, and effort could be put into creating new music – promoting it as something different, recording the band and selling albums, touring, bringing piping into the mainstream.

    But going against the grain just to make a point about contests and juding etc, that’s just bad joojoo IMHO – I only see it resulting in further written definition of what a Medley is, and that has the potential to be stifling.

    1. Thank you Kayla Harper. You make excellent assessment and comments about the situation and astute prognosis as to where this frenzy of foot stamping might lead.
      Well said.

  36. Point…………..TPPB were not last at the Worlds , they were a very proud 14th.
    There were 25 grade 1 bands at the worlds. Some of these negative posters want to tell us what place thier Grade 1 band was at the worlds?

    John Gaudet

  37. Stu raises an interesting point. Bob Shepherd came out of his tent only once (that I saw) during the entire Grade 1 Final Medley event, and that was for the first minute of the Toronto Police performance. The rest of the time he was “static,” as Bob himself would say. Perhaps as ensemble judge he wanted to be sure he witnessed the band’s introduction. But why just them? Shouldn’t he do the same for every band? He has made the argument for years that sitting in one place for each performance is the way to judge ensemble, but his emerging into the sunlight just for TPPB would seem to suggest that he was adjudicating them differently. Anyway, the perception created by his wandering out of his hut was exceptional.

  38. With God and Country(ies) as my witness + a video of Toronto’s medley and BBC – I will venture on a public site to say that this is not what my memory serves up as fully accurate, Andrew. I did note on repeated occasions (I thought, and mentioned to several people afterwards) that Bob Shepherd, MBE, did venture from his Tent for the Intros (plural) and then “hobbled” back quite immediately once the Band reached the circle. Perhaps I noticed him for those Bands which that did occur with. My thought was a portion of each Band was obscured by his Tent but my brief video does not entirely support my original geometric conjecture. He is positioned optimally at the far side of the tent (closest to audience entrance gate) to enhance his auditory capture. However – a circa 120 hz bass drone tone can circumvent some obstruction, but likely will be somewhat “occluded” for overall effect. It seems that the higher pitches would penetrate with his achieved vantage point. The point I repeated was that he was no closer than some of us higher paying spectators – or even some of the ‘peanut gallery’ stacked many deep behind, and beside him. To me the issue of sound discrimination loses its advantage for this very critical player in the Game. The Judges usually hear things that the nearest audience (such as yourself that day) will not. To wit, Lawrie’s inside observation re Vale (surely) – who appeared to have surprising problems at both Belfast and Glasgow not fully discernible to most of us at distance.

    I did also note that Mr. Peter Snaddon ambled to the same Ensemble Judge tent (furthest down) repeatedly, well before the cutoff of the Morning MSRs. Understandable in the attempt to write a good sheet in the rush between Bands. The question has often been raised as to physical fitness required of Judges. Mandatory retirement at 75 is one thing, but my basic understanding of physiology and the normal bell curve means that some at 75 are fitter than others for the stamina of this slog. Hearing tests would be a huge shock for exposing detection of overtones etc for all of us agesters (I am currently dipping under the 10 Khz ceiling myself and somewhat alarmed for nature and music sounds). But it raises a very sensitive point for our society as we ageing boomers lose eyesight, hearing and neural foliage at alarming rates. Most countries are still too lenient for driving testing of the agesters, and they are no more ‘neurally impaired’ than the concentration-challenged, ubiquitous cell phone users on our roads. Tougher Driving laws have hit around the Planet for greater safety, but I feel laws and enforcement will impose further for careening, ageing and mobility phone-use drivers.
    However – I diverge. Hearing is the issue in this Game. Hearing the many full and rich overtones + undertones of a live Band is one of the few advantages that the paying audience has over the BBC feed and videos. Surrendering such advantage of physical proximity (closeness to the playing Band) willingly appears to undermine the highly scrutinized Adjudication process. And the question has not been scientifically addressed as to the older Judge’s ability to note such richness and fullness of a full Pipe Band sound – so critical in Ensemble. Julie, B. Sc., will be in an excellent position to further comment on this.

  39. Very interesting comments and topic. I am not a judge so what I say really doesn’t matter. I generally like what TPPB does and I love it when a band pushes the envelope and I agree their tone was great on the day and they didn’t deserve to be last.

    In my mind though, I guess I think that every grade 1 band competent to vie for a Worlds Championship should be able to execute and present a tight and well defined sound. What is left is the creativity factor in presenting a “musical” performance. My opinion is that on that day and with that selection, frankly, it wasn’t very musical. That is not for one minute saying that I agree with the judges placement, but, after all is said and done, it was not my call.

    For the first time, I am glad it wasn’t!



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