Trailing Drones
January 31, 2008


by Harry Tung

Have mercy, Miss Percy, but it has been a long time since I updated my column. I do apologize for my sloth, but I needed some down-time after such a hectic season. I’m wintering in Australia just now, playing with a Grade 2 band that will be travelling to Glasgow Green in August. Isn’t that the thing to do these days down under? Here’s some more stuff from below the belt:

I understand that R.T. Shepherd & Son Bagpipes, Reeds & Results Makers will unveil a new pipe chanter early in 2008. Apparently the venerable Cardenden craftsmen are making a new, improved chanter reed, too. They seem to have learned from Bill Gates on this one. You know how Microsoft launches a new operating system, and then all of their upgraded applications will only work with that new operating system. It sort of forces you to buy both. I understand that the new, improved Shepherd chanter reeds will only go with the new Shepherd chanters. Shrewd, very shrewd!

I really like the new Piobaireachd Society website, which is a vast improvement over the last one. Lots of great free content, which is always good. But I was wondering, why is the College of Piping the default option should a visitor want to purchase one of the Society’s books? Is this some sort of exclusive arrangement? What about the National Piping Centre, or the dozens or hundreds of other dealers that carry the PS Collection and everything else? Shouldn’t they be cut in on the deal? And, while I’m at it, what about all the innuendo and insinuation on the College of Piping’s site that they are affiliated with the Piobaireachd Society? Is the Piping Times the official organ (oo-er!) of the PS? I mean, come on. Things have changed. The old one-dimensional way of doing things stopped around 1990. If the Piobaireachd Society wants to be current it might want to be a bit more sensitive to treating all piping outlets equally. But if it has an exclusive arrangement, well, then go for it!

Just looking ahead to the Grade 1 band contest at Maxville 2008. Assuming that the usual four Ontario suspects will be there, the event could feature eight bands ? or more. 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) are apparently coming, Dowco-Triumph Street will be there, and if City of Washington, Fredericton Society of St. Andrew and the other newly-minted top-grade band, Oran Mor attends, that makes for the biggest North American Championship in many years, and possibly ever. Now, if Alberta Caledonian, LA Scots and SFU come to their senses and dropped in on Glengarry County on their way to the all-consuming World Pipe Band Championships, that would be the whole lot. Why go to Bridge of Allan when you can face a better quality contest at Maxville?

Ever notice those World’s countdown clocks on various non-Scottish websites? Yeah, the RSPBA’s site should have one, since that’s the big payday for them, but why would other associations’ sites have it? Don’t they realize how the World’s saps interest from their own contests? All these bands obsessing over the World’s just undermines an association’s own ambitions. I wonder how the organizers of big events feel when they visit the sanctioning pipe band association’s website and see a huge focus on an event elsewhere? Am I missing something here?

And speaking of numbers of Grade 1 bands, there are now 39 world-wide, and only nine from Scotland. That means that Scotland now has only 23 per cent of the world’s top-grade bands. Sooooo, I ask you, why is the World Pipe Band Championship in Scotland every year? The Australians invented the boomerang, but the 2008 World Boomerang Championships will be held in Seattle. The Scots invented curling, but the 2008 World Curling Championships are in Beijing. It’s time, people. It’s time.

This could be one of the biggest music book releases in quite a while: Iain MacDonald of Regina, Saskatchewan, should be releasing as new collection of tunes in 2008. Of course, that’s good news on its own, but the difference here is that it promises to feature many never-before-published-compositions by Pipe-Major Donald MacLeod, probably the greatest composer of the last 100 years, and maybe ever. Harry got his grubby mitts on the proofs and there are some gems to be had here. I understand that MacDonald received special permission of MacLeod’s widow, Winnie, to publish the tunes. What a fantastic development!

My agents in the field tell me that the Scottish Lion-78th Fraser Highlanders will compete in 2008 with about 21 pipers ? a cull of about 10 from the gargantuan 2007 band, when the only one who didn’t play with the Frasiers was Kelsey Grammer.

I saw in a recent pipes|drums article that the British Columbia Pipers’ Association (what, no drummers?!) has about 400 members in the entire organization. With two Grade 1 bands, two Grade 2 bands, and about 15 world-class solo pipers and drummers, that must certainly give the BCPA the richest density of quality players in the world. What other jurisdiction can claim that a full quarter of its members compete in the top two levels?

While I was considering being a “traveler” to play in Australia I realized that it’s a lot easier to play with a band that’s based somewhere else. I mean, if the band’s practicing just down the road you’re kind of expected to make every practice. But if it’s 5000 miles away, then you only need to turn up a few times a year! And that, my friends, is why top bands are attracting such high profile members. These people want to play with a great band, but they don’t want to have to attend every practice. So the solution is to be a “traveler.” It takes all the pressure off. Meanwhile the poor unfortunates who live locally trudge away to keep the band going. And this, dear readers, is one of the big reasons why hardly any Grade 1 bands have many members who are actually from the band’s so-called home city. Genius, that.

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