August 31, 2006

Masterful Medleys: Alberta Caledonia

Continuing our series on select Grade 1 bands competing at this year’s World Championships, we offer Alberta Caledonia’s analysis of what they hope to play in the final on August 12 at Glasgow Green.

Alberta Caledonia

Pipe band medleys are more than titles and composers. Therefore, it is difficult to express the musical flow in words. The driving force behind Alberta Caledonia’s 2006 medley is the merging of the traditional with the contemporary.

The medley opens with “The Axeman” (composed by Neil Dickie), a powerful hornpipe structured to create subtle symmetry of theme and variation.

The break into the jigs uses space as a tension building device, holding an extended low A. The first jig, the well known and briskly played “Donald Cameron’s Powder Horn’ (composed by Donald MacLeod) draws the listener in with its familiarity, however, the playful syncopated drumming in the first part adds a contemporary twist.

A crescendo snare roll bridges the gap into “The Cat and the Dog” (trad.), a driving 9/8 in a new key. Concluding the first half of the medley is “Stu Pididdy’s Jig”, written by our Pipe-Sergeant, Pat Napper. The last part begins with six bars of a polyrhythmical roll phrase, breaking away from the expectation that drumming should match the piping note for note.

The first eight bars of the slow air “Polyrhythmically Challenged” (composed by Pat Napper) are played slightly rubato, disregarding a strict tempo. The snare drumming enters and drives the piece forward. The minimalist bass drumming here is used only to fill the space the melody has provided.

The highly danceable strathspeys, “Duncan Lamont” (trad.) and “Blackley of Hillsdale” (composed by Michael Grey) are tunes contrasting in key and structure.

A clean and simple break into “Sleepy Maggie” (trad., arr. Neil Dickie) is all that is necessary to get this classic minor piece off to a good start.

Some obvious “question and answer” drumming in the second part acts as an extended transition into the next tune, The Rejected Suitor” (trad., arr. Pat Napper). This piece is traditionally played swung, or pointed. We chose to play it round and driving. The reel has many peeks and valleys, most of which are from the fifth part until the end. The fifth part is a repeat of the second, but played with more vigor and harmony to create contrast between it and the following part. A macro verses micro way of composition using harmony, layering, and dynamics in the last half of this reel generates tension and release. There is a total absence of bass drumming for 16 bars, while the rest of the drum corps graduates through a layering of instruments, bringing attention to the ethereal harmonies that conclude the medley.


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