January 30, 2009

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We salute your change.Quite a few pipes|drums readers sent a heads-up about the drum-major with the Cleveland Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes & Drums quitting his band after he got in trouble for “making eye-contact” (read: winking and waving like Benny Hill) with President Obama at last week’s inaugural parade. Apparently, protocol strictly forbids even looking at the new president, although the Chosen One waved or winked or whatever back at John Coleman.

(It reminded me of the rock-star, Prince, 20 years or so ago, communicating with his “people” during his tour only by telepathy. No one was allowed to speak to him, including his girlfriend at the time, Sheena Easton, who was soon dumped for not being able to know what her wee purple man was thinking . . .)

Similar to the previous discussion on advertising acceptance, deciding what qualifies as pipes|drums news can be a difficult call. While “Colemangate” grabbed the attention of entertainment-focused outlets like CNN and “Good Morning, America,” I didn’t think it deserved the attention of pipes|drums. It wasn’t about piping / drumming; it was about one person’s breach of protocol.

Potentially, the “news” that could have been reported on pipes|drums could have been about the attention that the story got from mainstream news sources – the news becoming the news, if you follow, but still I didn’t think the story was about piping and drumming. Never mind that it was a drum-major, it had nothing to do with the actual playing of a bagpipe or pipe band drum.

Piping and drumming-related things occasionally garner mainstream attention. Often, it’s a piper who gets arrested for “noise pollution” when playing in public, or it’s some regulation that says that bagpipes are potentially dangerous to workers or soldiers’ hearing.

Personally I find that stuff tedious and I think most readers do, too. But occasionally, like when the mainstream media sensationalized Hugh Cheape’s 2008 book about the Highland bagpipe as being a relatively modern invention, it crosses into pipes|drums news territory.

If Obama had covered his ears, rolled his eyes and declared pipe bands Satanic when the Cleveland band marched past, well, then that would have been a pipes|drums story. But a drum-major doing what he did didn’t qualify as piping and drumming news, and the mainstream coverage of it was not about piping and drumming, either.


  1. That whole drum major episode baffled me, but I think it typifies the kind of stuff that goes on in bands at all levels, and especially para-military wannabes where people call each other according to band rank. “Yes, pipe major.” If he’s thrown his brogue at the president, THAT would’ve been a story.

    What it really sounded like was a band’s internal power struggle which got captured by mainstream news because of the Obama factor.

  2. Sounds like a political decision to me. This invasive type of thinking too often infiltrates Pipe Bands creating unrest that can lead up to the whole band self destructing.
    RE the Drum Major incident in particular, I didn’t really see what the problem was. It is not unusual to have personnel on parade turning their heads towards a reviewing podium and saluting the reviewers. See any clips of military style parades for confirmation on that. Perhaps a military band member could fill us in on the accepted rules concerning review style parardes of this nature.
    Admittedly in this case the Drum Major in question was told specifically not to do that, but who would have known if the band in question didn’t raise the point after the fact? And what harm did it really cause?
    In the end, the only thing that stands out is the ridiculous of the situation and that it paints Pipe Bands in a humiliating and negative way to the general public.
    Try convinicing non Pipe Band types to donate money to your bands cause now……..

  3. I knew that if this story ended up on the P & D anywhere, it would be in the blog.

    Personally, the fact that this story has made it to CNN etc. should make it worthy of a frontpage news article, on the basis that this incident and its outcome affect the perception of the pipe band world by non-bandfolk. Suddenly we civilian pipers and drummers are all about pageantry and protocol. What kind of publicity is that?

  4. I’m just glad it wasn’t a tenor drummer who waved because the petitions would be going full blast now.

  5. Wonder what he would have gotten had he blown them a kiss and displayed the peace sign? LOL

    Which is more news worthy, a band announcing another concert or a scandal involving a pipe band that reaches the public eye?

  6. That’s just it – I don’t think it was about the pipe band or piping/drumming; it was about the one guy. I seriously doubt any people really think differently about pipe bands because of what the D-M did or the coverage that it received. Actually, in our world, major concerts are a lot more relevant.

  7. I see the point as far as our closed off private “piping” world is concerned. Within our society, who really cares? But I do wonder about what the rest of the outsiders think.
    Consider this. Of the millions of people watching the “incident” (and never even noticed or cared, except that it made the U.S. national news), how many of them can tell you what a pipe band is, looks like, how it is supposed to act, etc?
    How many have heard of the WPBC or can name the winning band?
    Now, how many can tell you what happened on the parade, can name the band and how that band treated its own member for a trivial incident?
    Hopefully, the general public really just doesn’t care and gives this about as much attention as they do to any other piping or band event. That way, no harm, no foul.
    All I’m really trying to point out is that the petty suspension/resignation story really doesn’t help foster a good image of our collective art (no pun intended) and unfortunately was “paraded” in front of countless millions……………..loooking gooood!
    Thank goodness for the Blagojevich incident!
    FYI, the video of the wave is posted prominently along with the sordid story on Yahoo and will probably be there for a week or two………………….

  8. Maybe if it was a premeditated, planned thing by that DM, I could go some way to understanding the punishment – but if it was a spontaneous response to the occasion, the President and his family, and the music and atmosphere in general, it hardly seems a crime. No doubt there are internal politics in that band and the incident has been used to ‘punish’ him for not only this ‘crime’ but countless other things the guy has said or done over time. In the grand scale of things, it seems like a piece of nonsense.

    However somebody who knows how to write drum scores could turn it into a piece for drummers. The last solo drum piece I saw in a concert, eight drummers were lined up on stage, and as well as playing their drums, the players were throwing sticks in the air as well as across to each other – some sticks were fluorescent etc etc etc. Well how about a ‘Wink, Nod Wave’ kind of piece where a line up of drummers – in between drum beats – wave, wink, nod to each other – or even have some people up on a balcony trying to catch the drummers eyes. Somebody could make a theatre piece out of it. Turn a ‘nothing’ incident into a ‘drummers advantage’ piece.
    I don’t know enough about drum scores yet, so it won’t be me, but some creative imaginative drummer out there could!!

  9. Just wondering Andrew, had it been Simon Fraser and the offending bandsmen had of been Terry Lee , would it still have been considered not truely nws worthy?

  10. I think Iain has it right. The D/M got axed because of the bizarre para-military attitude and politics that exist those type of bands and the world happened to be watching.

    Andrew’s right that the incident has nothing to with what the P|D readership is about. This D/M doesn’t even rank as high Joe the Plumber in terms of newsworthiness.

    But, in the big picture, it does effect us. The type of band that would dismiss a member for a trivial breach of faux-decorum is the kind of pipe band that the majority of the population are exposed to. I’ve had several debates with musicians from oher disciplines, especially Irish pipes, because they perceive the behavior and musicianship of these bands as the behavior and musicianship of all Highland bagpipe players.

    So I think not addressing this story with more attention just reflects the ivory-tower attitude that we are so often accused of having.

    As for what would happen if this was SFU… I don’t recall their performance for the Dalai Lama or their performance on one of the most popular Japanese game shows making P|D headlines. The player that had his sporran tassles inspected by the Dalai Lama certainly didn’t get dismissed for his candid reaction nor did the players standing adjacent to him.

  11. Heres’ the heart of the discussion:

    “deciding what qualifies as pipes|drums news can be a difficult call. While “Colemangate” grabbed the attention of entertainment-focused outlets like CNN and “Good Morning, America,” I didn’t think it deserved the attention of pipes|drums. It wasn’t about piping / drumming; it was about one person’s breach of protocol.”

    It’s not really a difficult call at all, your readers are interesting in “anything” concerning their hobby. News of another concert rates right up there with the daily sunshine report we get here, but an incident that tops national news is not not worthy?

    Is the P|D nothing more than an announcement board for events and results?

  12. I’ll say it again. my friend sent me this story, and I almost considered drinving to Cleveland *(#^@#*&%^ in the throat(not the drum major). I’ll probably get in trouble but hear me out. Since when does a firfighter band care so much about how it looks? one look at the picture tells me that this band had far more pressing issues of how it presented it self other than a wave. While most of the Fire and Cop bands out there are filled with great people doing a tough job, trying to find a way to (pardon the pun) blow off some steam, and honor their fellow fallen. They largely represent what is the bastardization of the Bagpipe in the public eyes and ears. I say worry about your horsey hairy sporran first! This man was caught up in the moment of a once in a lifetime opportunity to perfor for the President of the United States of America. It’s not as if the Pres. didn’t see him, and the guy tried to get his attention. The man nodded and waved because the Pres. did the same. he returned a courtesy which is more than I can say for what ever tune they may have been hacking to death behind him. formula….Grade 6 pipe band + frigid weather = first page of the green book. This is ridiculous, and yes Andrew this Mag. should have brought this to light sooner, so that we may show support for this poor guy. It is a Piping and Drumming related incident. I don’t have to hear it to know that. With all the talks of uniforms and how we stand in a circle,(all of which have zero effect on the music played) I’d think we could have lent this chap some support. Cleveland, worry more about your High A’s than your High fives!

  13. It’s actually a bit sad – to me, anyway – that something like this gets people so energized, but when a never-before-published interview with Donald Shaw Ramsay, one of the most important pipe-majors in history, appears for the first time ever, no one says a thing. The piping and drumming world always amazes.

  14. Are you really surprised, Andrew? Really?

    For one the DSR interview is kind of old news because you talked about it a few months back. Plus you posted it down in the lower right corner where it’s not immediately visible And it’s a subscriber only feature. And the majority of the first installment is a biography. And… well, you see where I’m going.

    The drum-major story is just a little more visceral. It elicits a stronger opinion even if that opinion is just how ridiculous and un-newsworthy the story is.

    Besides Andrew, you totally missed your opportunity to be a pundit. Can’t you picture it among the scrawl at the bottom of the tv screen? ‘Andrew Berthoff- Editor and publisher of award-winning bagpipe publication’ in technicolor splendor as you get into a shouting match with some talking head who cuts your microphone because your making him/her look stupid. It would have been glorious.

  15. I was going to post a slighty offbeat humorous quip on this blog stating that we should look on the bright side of all of this. At least we haven’t seen any news on Sarah Palin lately.
    However, I was checking out my yahoo site this mrning and guess what?
    Ya just gotta luv that American Media, naow.
    Also, the link to the video around the original discussion is STILL there………

  16. I’ll say it, a crappy firefighter band from Cleveland, a President you either love or love to hate…not newsworthy for uppercrust piping elitists. As said above, had it been SFU and the Canadian head of state, it probably would have been sopped up with a biscuit and ingested and rumigated and savored again and again or god forbid Strathclyde Polis and the Queen. The most unfortunate part of the whole story is that The Firefighters were the band chosen and they are from Cleveland. Cleveland already has weak self-esteem as a region, but to put out the worst band in the area and have this occur only adds to The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble…. P.S. He was interviewed locally and said all things considered, he’d do it again no question. So no harm no foul.

  17. Jason, the band didn’t ask to be raked thru the coals on national TV and I don’t think they deserve your comment, but since they were featured in the news, that makes it news worthy.

    Ironic that 95% of the readership is probably gr3 to Parade level, so why would they not be interesed in a story like this?

    Was it any different than the Ford piper, Band Club sponsorship, concerts that 80% can’t attend?

  18. John, it’s newsworthy. Im for the coverage. I’m from Cleveland. This kind of pub stings. I’m the one who called this blog out months ago on coverge of stuff no one cares about halfway around the world while subbing newsworthy events close to home. perhaps you misread my post.

  19. John Mitchell: by inference you’re saying that no one cares about what the LA Scots do. I think you’re wrong. This publication isn’t going to report on every time some piper’s kilt blows up and the footage runs on CNN. That’s pretty much what this is.

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