Published: May 31, 1998

Misfit musicians need each other

[Originally published as an Editorial]

The rivalry between pipers and drummers has gone on, as far as we know, since pipers and drummers banded together around 1850. Cross-section banter in bands is generally light-hearted, everyone has a laugh, and the friendly rivalry continues.

Sometimes, though, it gets old. The drummers’ skins wear thin, and they start losing their resistance to the constant strikes against it.

The Piper & Drummer, for example, is occasionally accused of not representing the drumming scene well enough. Conversely, when we publish drumming-specific articles, some pipers think it’s a waste of space. In fact, we tend not to delineate the pipe band world by instrument, and instead—perhaps idealistically—consider it all one big, not necessarily happy, family. We think that material on piping—and even piobaireachd—is useful for drummers so they can better understand the instrument they complement, just as we feel pipers should read and appreciate articles on drumming as an opportunity to learn about the percussive elements of a band.

It concerns and confounds us that, considering the need in pipe bands for pipers and drummers to understand each other, and the unarguable fact that drummers play with pipers in our idiom, there are such things as best drum corps prizes or that there is talk in Scotland of a “Competing Drummers’ Association.”

Pipe band drummers occasionally complain that pipers don’t give them the respect they deserve, and this is probably a valid comment. In truth, pipers should be larding praise and support on drummers.

Of all the world’s instruments, the bagpipe is probably the one that’s least understood and the most ridiculed by the general public. Pipers endure constant abuse and spend much of their time trying to correct misperceptions of those whose idea of pipe music is a stereotyped caterwaul.

A drummer, when he tells people what instrument he plays, is undoubtedly met with instant comprehension. He’s normal. The drum is a normal instrument. It’s accepted as an integral part of most bands.

A piper, on the other hand, when he lets uninformed people in on his hobby, is invariably met with a furrowed brow, questions about the kilt, and assumption that he must have “a lot of wind.” It gets old, and a piper’s skin must thicken with age.

The piper, weakened by the abuse, goes to band practice, and finds the drummers actually trying to accommodate and understand his music. At last, a little respect! The piper then feels that here, finally, there’s a musician at whom he can dish out his own ridicule. The piper will occasionally overstep the boundary between humour and abuse, and the drummer retaliates. It’s a psychological battle of musical misfits. It’s somewhat like the embattled office worker, shouted at all day by the boss, who comes home and kicks the cat.

In Ed Neigh’s interview in the August 1992 edition of the Piper & Drummer, he perceptively stated that pipers should be eternally grateful to drummers for deciding to play with them. His observation is apt, since drummers could easily put their energy into jazz, or classical, or the neighborhood garage band.

We agree. Pipers in general should always be more appreciative of drummers and keen to learn more about their craft. Similarly, drummers should always try to learn more about the complex and confusing music of the bagpipe. The sooner we do that, the sooner we become one big, happy family.

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