October 31, 2003

Readers Respond To Hutton, Currie Articles

The recent articles by RSPBA judge Jim Hutton and Strathclyde Police Pipe Band tenor drummer Scott Currie have created constructive worldwide discussion. pipes|drums, which first published the Hutton article, has been deluged by the thoughts of readers. Following is a selection of responses, and we thank readers for taking the time to write.

Pipes|drums will follow this with a formal conclusion on the dialogue by Jim Hutton, who has supplied us with his closing thoughts.

“Very well written article that I heartily agree with. I would suggest this article be offered to every pipe band association for publication in their respective magazines. Also, this should be must reading for every snare and ensemble judge in the world.”
– Al McMullin, EUSPBA President

“I would like to thank Jim Hutton for his honesty and comments he made on Piper & Drummer Online. I wish there were more people out there in the band community that besides offering criticism, backed up their statements with a sound argument, both theoretical and in practice.

“A perfect example of a modern pipe band that plays three tenor drummers, that play both rudiments and flourish is the David Urquhart Travel Pipe Band. When you hear the band play, the tenor drummers cannot be heard bashing away like demented idiots, they actually play with finesse, and appreciate the beauty of a good tone played at the right time. When they are playing runs, they can be heard, but not overpowering even the bass drum.”
-Adam Nortman, West Midlands Police Pipe Band

“The problem with pipe band competitions is that they are subjective. If you have to rely on human judgment and the likes and dislikes of a judge, it’s a crap shoot . The piping world is very slow and unreceptive to change. What was in vogue 20 or 30 years ago is stale by today’s standards. What may have worked for Mr. Hutton as a lead drummer in his time is now for the most part outdated.

“Using several different tones within the section only enhances the overall performance. As a piper for more than 30 years I think this innovation is a positive one. I am by no means attacking Mr. Hutton’s credentials, and most certainly respect his opinion, I would hope that he would try to be a little more open minded and try to look at this new trend as a positive one as opposed to something negative . If progress and innovation are stifled it would not bode well for the future of the art form.”
– K.R. Clarke

“I have read Jim’s piece with great interest. He covers many aspects of contest performance and preparation all of which are valid but I infer that the essential thrust of what he says is that, in general, tenor drummers are increasingly imposing a disproportionate and unwelcome influence on the musical product. And with that I agree.

“It’s difficult to say that so baldly without the expectation that a few feathers will not be ruffled. So in moderation of that viewpoint, like Jim, I believe that there is a place in the musical mix for a balanced contribution from a tenor section. Indeed there is some beautiful sound and rhythm being produced by a few corps. But it’s getting to the stage now where we have the tail wagging the dog.

“Jim will probably recall the term ‘jungle drumming’ – I think it might have been coined by Alex Duthart or was it J K McAllister? That was in the days when ‘ensemble’ was discovered or invented and tenor drummers were getting in on the act with some pretty crude scoring and delivery. We’re probably at that stage again now, where that description could justifiably be applied to the treatment dished up by some tenor sections notwithstanding the much greater sophistication in rudimentary technique and sound.

“Of course, the tenor lobby is becoming increasingly active and right now in New Zealand we have a bit of a campaign under way to allow the introduction of a full blown bass section judge as an added element to the piping, drumming, ensemble mix. I suspect that the campaign will be unsuccessful. As a backstop the activists are suggesting that the drumming judge should have a compulsory section on his sheet to appraise the bass & tenors.

“Jim hit it, right on the nail, when he said that it’s the responsibility of pipe majors and lead drummers to restore balance before we have a tiger by the tail.”
– Allan Cameron, Auckland, New Zealand

“Jim Hutton’s comparison of a pipe band’s drum corps with an orchestra’s percussion section is flawed. The percussion section in the orchestra encompasses not just drums but tubular bells, hand rung bells, gongs, xylophones, glockenspiels, celestas etc. in normal terms and in addition is responsible for any extras. To give a couple of examples, the plethora of assorted whistles, rattles and hooters in Arnold’s “the toy symphony” and the cannons/guns in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture! So whilst I accept that the number of side, tenor and bass drums in an orchestra is small by comparison to the overall number of players the percussion section itself is quite large (in terms of instruments). It also plays a huge part in the overall effect of any piece performed. In addition the percussion instruments do not play continuously. Therefore there is no need for one player per instrument. This is why the number of people is small.

“Another blatant problem lies with the fundamental purpose of the drum corps in a pipe band – dynamics. In an orchestra virtually every instrument can (and does) produce it’s own dynamics and is written into their music. The drumming in an orchestra does not need to provide this. For this reason, I think that you can not compare a pipe band’s drum corps with any other type of band either, whether rock, pop, military or brass.

“As a pipe band consists of basically four instruments, three of which are drums, and the main melody instrument unable to produce either dynamics or articulation these must come from the drum corps. I believe that the current setup of the entire drum corps in the top bands (to my ear) is excellent. The tenor and bass drums add dynamics and colour to the overall sound and I think that we are now a far better ensemble as a result.

“In the defense of Jim Hutton, I do think that we have reached the limit to the drum corps’ input to the competition performance in it’s current state. A bit more from any part would be over the top. I am also of the opinion that the current competing styles of MSR and selection needs changing. Whilst an MSR retains a more ‘classical’ pipe band genre the selection is perhaps becoming obsolete and we need something more innovative to show off the bands, and it’s pipe and drum corps individually, expertise and ability. (another argument entirely I accept).

“As a player in Field Marshal Montgomery and one who is seriously thinking about adjudication I am a tad dismayed at Jim’s attack on the tenor section. They have been under-rated so much in the past it’s good to see that they now have an important role to play. If there not going to, why have them in the band at all?

“I am not criticizing Jim in any way as he has as much right to an opinion as anyone, but let’s keep things in perspective. An orchestra is no pipe band, and vice versa. The two are totally different and shouldn’t be compared. Pipe band drumming is much more difficult, entertaining and involved than in any other type of band. It’s become more than an accompaniment and tempo keeping. Let’s not lose this. Let pipe band drumming set the standard of marching type band drumming the world over!”
– Guy Rylatt

“I agree fully with the points raised with one worry. As former Pipe-Major of a lower grade band I possibly witnessed my drum corps being penalized because they were supposedly thin on the ground. If we apply the formula you suggest then we would have had sufficient in ratio to those playing the melody, the pipers.

“Having discussed this at length, with my then leading drummer, he said that ‘it was because of the expectation of adjudicators who gave points for size of corps sometimes with as much emphasis on quality of music produced. This was putting pressure on Bands to throw on as many as possible.'”

“Maybe it is this which has created a monster. Some kind of clear guidance from the authorities may be required for the bands and adjudicators. It can’t be difficult.”
– George Sharp

“I believe Mr. Hutton raises some valid points, and I congratulate Scott Currie on his considered response. In my opinion, as a piper having played in bands at all grade levels, the number of drummers or pipers in a band is immaterial. The key issue is how each individual band integrates all corps into the musical performance, and a highly skilled large drum corps should be capable of producing a balanced performance complimenting the pipe corps. Let the ears do the listening!”
– Tim McLeod, Warrnambool Pipe Band, Australia

“Jim Hutton’s point about not being able to hear the bass during a performance is a trend that has become all too prevalent. Balance, tonal quality and ensemble expression are compromised all at the expense of the piping and the total objective of the medley itself.

“Hutton’s analogy to orchestral balance in percussion is essential and similar applications should be used in pipe bands to accentuate ensemble balance as a total performance.

“Piping and drumming band members whose opinion I respect immensely all agree that a trend to ‘mid section call and echo’ needs to be moderated and balanced in competition settings as it is very disturbing to play within and to listen to.”
– Bill Alty, Ontario

“I would like to agree whole heartedly with Jim Hutton. After being away from the band world for many years I recently attended a couple of contests just to introduce my kids to the sound and atmosphere of pipe bands and drumming. I was a bit disappointed to hear most of the corps playing scores that only a couple of the drummers were able to manoeuvre around. Weak layer obviously hidden in the corp and has drummers forgot about light and shade. Scores should always accompany the melody. Listen to the tune and write the score to complement the tune and ensemble. This is a major point generator in competition – or it was in my day.

“I might be biased, but maybe not. Just listen to some of the recordings from the 1970s.”
– Gary Stutt (member of Dysart & Dundonald in the 1970s)


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