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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