Published: March 31, 2002

Recent Subjects of Discussion Regarding Pipe Band Drumming

By Tom Foote

Since coming back into the competitive arena last year, I’ve had a burning desire to reinvent the pipe band-drumming wheel. After listening to people, asking questions and surfing the net for input and perspectives, I’ve discovered that it’s not a drumming wheel, it’s a box with a bunch of smaller boxes inside of each other.

There is a multitude of hard working people doing the same tasks in their neck of the woods. In this series, I attempt to pass on some of the views communicated to me, and that could contribute to the advancement of our arts.

Volume 2: Set Pieces vs. Own Compositions

There have been rumblings in the pipe band drumming community of introducing set pieces as individual solo event music criteria. When the idea was first brought to my attention, my instinctive reaction was negative.

I come from a competition-based musical background, and it has been engrained into my soul that “our stuff (scores) is the best.” Most highly competitive groups function best when they ooze with confidence, be it sometimes false. Sometimes being “cocky” is a good thing. It can help you toward goals by creating a perceived winning attitude, but one had better have the skills to back it up, or risk the ridicule that could follow.

Set pieces for solos would stifle creativity in young drummers playing their own compositions. It also could limit the number of players in a contest if the same criteria where not used in other parts of the world, if one travels to any of the big contests.

Then, while discussing the matter with a few of my drumming peers, a piper exclaimed, “You mean you guys don’t all play the same scores for a solo contest?” It was then that I realized that pipers have been using set tunes forever. I remember playing a set piece for solo contests in elementary school. Why do pipers play set pieces and why did I for concert band solos?

It was the way my instructor controlled my progress as I developed as a musician. It allows pipers to be judged on how they are playing as opposed to what they are playing.

It seems to me that, after careful analysis, the idea of set tunes for solo drumming contests is a good idea for the lower grades. At the very least a number of published scores should be properly identified as global benchmarks for all the grades. It would allow judges to identify specific nuances of an individual’s performance that may need attention, without considering compositional content. It would also automatically create a benchmark for teaching.

As in all other idioms of music, we can leave the composing to the composers. And we have (and have had) some great ones in our particular vein of percussion. Of course if a player wishes to play their own composition, they could provide a copy of it to the judge for his analysis.

Could this idea lead to composition contests?

Tom Foote lives in Rochester, New York, and plays with the Peel Regional Police Pipe Band. He has also been a member of the Metro Toronto Police and 78th Fraser Highlanders pipe bands.

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Published: January 31, 2002

Recent Subjects of Discussion Regarding Pipe Band Drumming

By Tom Foote

Since coming back into the competitive arena last year, I’ve had a burning desire to reinvent the pipe band drumming wheel. After listening to people, asking probing questions and surfing the net for input and perspectives, I’ve discovered that it’s not a drumming wheel, it’s a box with a bunch of smaller boxes inside each.

There is a multitude of hard working people doing the same tasks, for their own neck of the woods. In this series of subjects, I am attempting to pass on some of the viewpoints that were communicated to me, and that could contribute to the advancement of our arts.

Volume 1: The Lack of Drummers

On numerous occasions it has been said, by pipe-majors and lead tips alike, that we need more drummers. It is not a new problem. All bands have had this problem at one time or another. But what can we as a society of pipers and drummers do about it? Maybe nothing, but here are a few ideas.

There are some very good drumming instructors available for individuals who are willing to pay and/or travel to and from seminars and individual learning settings. Not many players can afford this travel on a constant basis, which really is required if one really wants to become a good player.

One could relocate in order to be closer to these people to receive ongoing learning, but not many have the fluidity in their life to just gather themselves and family and move for the purpose of improving one’s “hobby.”

A band could hook up with a local percussionist who could teach the early essentials (rudiments) of snare drumming. One problem with this is unless the instructor understands bagpipe music, the students will lack the same. But this is a better situation than not having any drummers at all. I’ve heard very interesting interpretations as a result of combining percussive idioms.

Distance Learning has become a very popular subject matter in all areas of pedagogy. Many universities have been offering these kinds of educational situations for a number of years. My own town offers online professional developmental courses, which they advertise on our local access channel.

Distance Learning lacks the “in person” experience. Even with the best of video technology available, the quick nuances of drumming are missed. The use of audio reproduction in various forms is common use and has been for years. I taped last week’s pad and stick practice in its entirety and edited out the unwanted antics and now have a great practice tool. Being about three hours from the practice site, I cannot be there every weekend. I find my minidisk recorder invaluable in my weekly practice routine.

What about that instructor that has been around for many, many years and really never has produced quality pupils? He or she may not have had good quality pupils. The instructor may not have received good quality instruction and therefore may not know the proper direction to take their pupil in. At the very least they have been there plugging along. Unfortunately, we rarely create instruction for instructors. If we can create good instructors, the players will follow.

What I’ve decided is this: there is no full replacement for teaching in person. There are visual cues picked up after hours and hours of playing together. You begin to know what your fellow players’ next musical move will be even before they do it. There is a special bond that comes from spending all that time together, if you don’t drive each other crazy in the process.

How does this relate to the lack of numbers in drumming? If we as a piping and drumming community could create more regional teaching forums throughout our respective branches and associations, and promoted them to the general musical public, I believe we could attract new players and reenergize the existing ones. Such settings would fill the need for more access to established teachers. We also need to look at teaching teachers to teach, or at least create a venue in which they can share their success stories with each other. This alone would make a impact on the quality of players already being produced.

Getting back to the box within a box idea, what do you suppose is in the last box? I hope these ideas have been thought provoking and have encouraged you to take a share in the responsibility of perpetuating and stimulating our art.

Tom Foote lives in Rochester, New York, and plays with the Peel Regional Police Pipe Band. He has also been a member of the Metro Toronto Police and 78th Fraser Highlanders pipe bands.

p|d

What do you think? We always want to hear from our readers, so please use our comment system to provide your thoughts!

Do you have an idea for a feature story that you would like to read or write? Be sure to send your concept to the pipes|drums. We can’t report what we don’t know about! Please remember to support the businesses that advertise and make the not-for-profit p|d possible.

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