August 31, 2005

Masterful Medleys: Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia

Many would say that Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia is the best band not to have won a World Pipe Band Championship. There’s no denying that few bands have been so consistently excellent for so long as Boghall, a band that also routinely seems to get better as the season progresses, on several occasions taking championships in August and September. Pipe-Major Ross Walker kindly provided information on his band’s 2005 World Championship medley.

Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band

Ross Walker writes:

Constructing a new medley for Grade 1 competition is possibly one of the most challenging tasks that bands face. Successful medleys possess a certain something that manages to catch the imagination of the judge, crowd and bandsmen alike. People can wax lyrical about the intricacies of medley construction however there isn’t really a “cook book” to follow. You may have great tunes, great arrangements but you need a certain magic to make a good medley into a great one. Having spoken to previous World Champion pipe-majors from yesteryear, they echoed these views. One in particular said that he only felt he constructed three medleys that really hit the mark in a 20-year period!

I think it is important for a memorable medley to have some recognizable material to give the listener some reference points. Our most successful and popular medleys have included some classic tunes that most people know, from “The Mason’s Apron” and “The Banjo Breakdown,” albeit arranged in a way suitable for modern competition. The competition medley might only be performed once in a year so it’s important that the listener can make sense of what’s happening as it happens – almost knowing what’s coming before it’s actually played.

One other key consideration is that the material must be chosen to exploit the particular strengths of the band. Ensemble has been acknowledged as one of Boghall’s hallmarks for the last 25 years and this has been developed though a close partnership between the pipe-major and leading-drummer. That tradition is continued today with Gordon Brown and I working closely from the outset in the medley construction. Gordon’s ability to write musical and sympathetic scores is underpinned by choosing tunes that suit our style – I’ve thrown out more good tunes than I care to remember because they didn’t quite hit the mark from an ensemble perspective.

The medley that Gordon and I have constructed and will play at this year’s World Championship contains a combination of modern compositions and some classic material. It begins with a 9/8 march called “Bathgate Highland Games.” This tune was composed for the band by Bob Abbot in the early 1980s, however we never played it as a band. The music lay in a box for about 15 years until I stumbled across it in the late 1990s. With its majestic melody and sympathetic harmony, it has proved to be one of our most popular tunes.

Rather than follow the trend of constructing an elaborate bridge, we transition into the body of the medley with an aggressive rhythmical jig called “The Hills of Kazakstan,” delivering a real punch in the face after the 9/8 opener. Donald MacLeod’s arrangement of the traditional “Ten-Penny Bit” takes us into Don Bradford’s beautiful air “The Call To the Gathering.”

Don composed this tune while attending the funeral of his close friend and ex-pipe-major, Harry MacAleer. It has a unique haunting theme and the accompaniment that Gordon has written for it amplifies the effect.

Following on from the air, the traditional “Dora Macleod” is one of the more technical strathspeys and is a real test of any band’s technique. We finish the medley with a couple of reels. The first is a tune written by an ex-band member Fraser Martin called “Walking the Surf” that sets the performance up for a toe-tapping finish with an arrangement of “Crossing the Minch.”

The medley running order is

  • “Bathgate Highland Games” (9/8 march) – by Bob Abbot
  • “The Hills of Kazakstan” (jig) – by Ivan Drever
  • “The Ten Penny Bit” (jig) – trad., arr. D MacLeod
  • “The Call to the Gathering” (air) – by Don Bradford
  • “Dora MacLeod” (strath.) – by Donald MacLeod
  • “Walking the Surf” (reel) – by Fraser Martin
  • “Crossing the Minch” (reel) – by Donald MacLeod

    In summary, it flows well, has really strong melodic tunes with some interesting contrasts and crucially we really are getting a real buzz from playing it. Time will tell if it’s filed under the “belter” category or not.


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