December 31, 2003

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A Collection of Pipe Band Drum Compositions by the Royal Ulster Constabulary G.C. Drum Corps, Edited by Robert Holland, Published by the Drum Corps of the RUC Pipe Band £15.

Reviewed by Alan Savage

The Royal Ulster Constabulary Pipe Band’s drum corps has been one of the most prominent and successful for many years. Drumming enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that the drum scores of the RUC have been published in A Collection of Pipe Band Drum Compositions by the RUC Drum Corps.

The book is a collaboration of scores for some of the most classic pipe band tunes. The quality and presentation of the book is excellent and includes a series of colourful photographs and police logos, a history of the RUC drum corps, its leading drummers and members. A summary of the drum corps’ competition successes as well as an historical tribute to the Royal Irish Constabulary, are also provided.

The contents include forty drum scores for marches, strathspeys, reels, hornpipes, and jigs. Regrettably, none of the scores are dated, leaving readers to surmise as to the age of the compositions. The book states, however, that the scores date back to 1977, being the year of inception of the RUC Pipe Band.

One interesting aspect of the RUC scores is that they are not written exclusively by the leading drummers, but include contributions from numerous drum corps members. This is indicative of the array of talent within the corps. It is also impressive that there is a high degree of stylistic and rudimental consistency among the many composers. All of the scores, as a whole, exemplify and define the unique RUC drumming style.

As for the compositions, there are some sticking patterns that are not sequenced “hand-to-hand,” making some phrases somewhat awkward to execute. There are also numerous left-handed rudiments and phrases that may be uncomfortable for right-handed drummers. Notwithstanding, my favourite scores are the marches, including “Balmoral Highlanders,” “Tom McAllister,” “Lord Alexander Kennedy,” “Highland Wedding” and “Donald Cameron,” which are composed by leading drummers Gary Corkin and Bobby Rea. Although a little busy at times, these scores are very original and contain plenty of variety.

In particular, the score for “Highland Wedding” is unique and does not emulate many of the standard phrasings played by other drum corps’ for that tune. The score for “Cameronian Rant,” on the under hand, appears to be based on the classic Alex Duthart model, although there are some clever and innovative variations. The reel compositions for the MSRs are very good. One observation, however, is that the scores for “Mrs. McPherson of Inveran,” “Loch Carron” and “John McKechnie” have virtually identical phrasing in the first bar of each ending. My favourite medley reel is “Kathie’s Willie,” composed by Rob Holland. The hornpipe scores for the “Goat Herder and the Shepherd” and “A Wee Bit out of the Ordinary” are also fun to play.

My criticisms of the book are very few. As for notation, there are a few minor errors. For instance, in the strathspeys (which are written in simple time), the phrasings that involve “triplets within triplets” are not always correctly transcribed. It is also noteworthy that there has been no inclusion of scores composed by former leading drummers Andrew Scullion and Paul Turner. Also absent is the score for “Walking the Plank,” being one of the more memorable medley scores composed by the RUC in recent years.

Overall, the RUC drum scores are of very high calibre, reasonably easy to read, and enjoyable to play. However, justice can only be served by hearing the scores played by the RUC on various recordings, including those of the World Pipe Band Championships. These recordings showcase the flare, punctuation and dynamics played by this very unique and talented group. This is particularly true of RUC’s patented and powerful crescendo roles and snappy Swiss ruffs. The RUC book is not only a tribute to Irish drumming but is a desirable and necessary collector’s item for pipe band snare drummers.

Al Savage led the drum section of the Toronto Police Pipe Band for many years. He also for years played with the 78th Fraser Highlanders and Simon Fraser University pipe bands. He is a lawyer by profession, and lives in Toronto.


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