June 30, 2005

Masterful Medleys: Strathclyde Police Pipe Band

Pipes|drums is pleased to bring to readers our new series: “Masterful Medleys: a preview of Grade 1 World’s selections.” We have asked pipe-majors from many of the prominent Grade 1 bands competing at the World Pipe Band Championships for a special sneak peek of their selections – the tunes, the strategy, and the behind-the-scenes considerations.

So often listeners and judges hear a band’s selection for the first time at the World’s, and have to make instant judgment. While that approach has its merits, we think that it’s interesting to provide an advance glimpse at what folks can look forward to.

Not going in any specific order, we start the series with the Strathclyde Police. The band is under new leadership, with Donald MacKay being selected by the police force for the Pipe-Major post in fall of last year. It has started the RSPBA season successfully, finishing second on June 25 in the European Championship.

We hope that you enjoy Masterful Medleys, our latest, exclusive series.

Strathclyde Police

World’s medley

  • “Delmenhorst Stand–Off (march) – by James Wark
  • “Michael MacDonald’s Jig” – by Jim McGillivary
  • “Humours of Whisky” (jig) – trad.
  • “Song for Shona” (air) – by Billy McIsaac
  • “The Strathspey King” (strath.) – by G.S McLennan
  • “Miss Victoria Ross” (strath.) – by W. Ross
  • “Miss Victoria Ross” (reel)
  • “Lady Margaret Stewart” (reel) – trad.
  • “Port a Beul” (reel) – trad.
  • “The Noose in the Ghillies (reel) – by P. Gauthier

    Pipe-Major Donald MacKay says: “When I took over the band I felt that both medleys were in need of some change, as most of the tunes had been in the repertoire for some time. With this happening as late as October, it was essential to get things moving quickly, get the material finalized and handed out, for the band to learn.

    “Not wanting to change too much too soon, I decided to combine the two existing medleys into one and start afresh with the other.

    “When consolidating the two existing medleys, I included Drum-Sergeant Eric Ward at all stages (as he was for the development of the new medley), and looked at which of the tunes we liked, those which the band played well, and ultimately those which would have the most musical impact.

    “This however proved challenging due to the time constraints and the desire to introduce a new ‘vitality’ into the set. We tried to achieve this by experimenting with the tunes and their relative positions within the medley, identifying their compatibility to one another in terms of time signature, key-change and rhythmical characteristics.

    “Fortunately we have within the band a wealth of creative talent, and from this a variety of musical solutions quickly came to the fore. The challenge that came then for Eric and me was to identify the best solutions and start constructing the medley.

    “We avoided the temptation to over-elaborate the set. For example, we only used harmony for reinforcing bridge passages and to provide highlights within the tunes themselves, creating the best balance between pure melody and harmony (not using harmony in nearly every tune, which seems to be a current trend.)

    “In terms of rhythm, Eric tried to keep our feet firmly on the ground while still maintaining a high level of technical interest. Again, the drum corps set out to reinforce the melodic and harmonic approach to the bridge passages using a variety of dynamic devices. For example, the bass section playing various tonal sequences, over snare drum cadences.

    “In short, we think that it’s desirable to present a medley that is understood by the listener, be they adjudicator or enthusiast – who may have only one opportunity to hear, digest, understand and enjoy the performance. To achieve this we feel there should be imaginative but clearly identifiable changes of time signature, and tunes that have a strong melodic line and which can stand on their own without harmony (basically, good tunes with a start, middle, and end). We would like to think that our desire to be creative and innovative is balanced against this need.

    “This year’s World’s medley materialized relatively quickly. There had been many tunes enthusiastically promoted by players within the band, and the only challenge was selecting the best permutation. We applied the same basic principles as the other medley – strong identifiable tunes, interesting but comprehensible transitions, selective use of harmony and appropriate use of full orchestration. The set has several influences: contemporary hornpipe style, traditional strathspey, Irish slip-jig, modern ballad, and Gaelic/Highland reels. We found that we could link these together to form a cohesive whole, without the need to ‘commission’ our own compositions to create a purpose-built set.

    Consolidated Medley from 2004 season repertoire

  • “Alison Maclean of Grogary” (march) – by Neil Smith
  • “Donald Cameron” (jig) – by Donald Macleod
  • “Stuck in the Middle” (jig) – by James Wark
  • “The Eavesdropper” (jig) – trad.
  • “The Youngest Shipley” (air) – by R. MacNeil
  • “MacBeth’s Strathspey” – trad.
  • “Aspen Bank” (strath.) – trad.
  • “Aspen Bank” (reel) – trad.
  • “John’s Elusive Hackle” (reel) – by John Dickson

    Some notes on a few of the tunes

    “The Delmenhorst Stand–Off” was composed by Jim Wark after a band engagement in Germany. Delmenhorst was the area in which we were accommodated outside Bremen for the performance, and without elaborating too much, the ‘stand-off’ was really much more innocent than it sounds!

    “Song for Shona” was composed by Billy McIsaac. Billy used to play in the pop band, ‘Slik,’ with Midge Ure, who had number-one hits in the 1970s. He has recently got into the folk scene and has composed several songs and ballads. The band will be playing some of these for him on a charity DVD, which will hopefully be released next year.


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