August 31, 2005

Evolution theories

The Development of Pipe Bands
Alistair Aitken and Bob Shepherd
National Piping Centre
10 a.m., August 12, 2005

Twenty-five smart people turned up to hear two of the biggest names in the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association give a two-hour presentation on the evolution of the pipe band, pipe band competitions, and the music that bands have played since 1933. The thousands of pipers and drummers in Glasgow who couldn’t attend missed an illuminating and eye-opening discussion.

Extremely well prepared with audio-visual aids, Shepherd and Aitken played examples of bands through the years. The biggest treat by far was the vintage recording of the Bowhill Colliery Pipe Band’s winning performance at the 1947 World Championship, the first year the contest was officially held. Other musical illustrations from the likes of Red Hackle, Muirhead & Sons, and Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia, to name a few, really brought Shepherd and Aitken’s thoughts to light.

The discussion continually emphasized the musical evolution of the pipe band over the past 70-plus years, and which continues today. The landmark move in 1970 to add an ensemble judge and a medley competition, Shepherd proved, was not at all happenstance, but a natural progression as bands were continually stretching the boundaries of pipe band music.

Which of course points to today’s band situation. The RSPBA has reacted to musical trends by adjusting its competition structure and requirements, and it will no doubt eventually adjust again. With the dramatic innovations occurring today, the future of pipe band competition, if history is to be a guide, is very exciting indeed.


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