May 31, 2003

Story told

“Seanchaid,” 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, Springfield, Illinois, May 16, 2003

Reviewed by Matt Pantaleoni

The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band and the Celtic Accent Dance Group premiered their latest concert on Friday night in Springfield, Illinois, as a kick-off to the Springfield Highland Games weekend.

Entitled “Seanchaid,” Gaelic for storyteller, the concert weaves a musical tale of the evolution of piping since a fairy entrusted the music to man when she gave Donald Mor MacCrimmon the legendary silver chanter. Playing everything from top-class competition material to Gaelic song and piobaireachd, the band did an admirable job of covering the gamut of pipe music while adding their own unique musical twists throughout.

For example, one highlight was a “jazz waltz” version of the classic Donald MacLeod slow air “Malcolm Ferguson” accompanied by a synthesizer and the drum corps. The announcer said of Donald MacLeod that, while he wrote the tune as a slow air, “those who knew him would have rejoiced in what they will hear.” It certainly made for good listening.

Then there was a thoughtful small pipe set pairing a slow version of G.S. McLennan’s brilliant reel “The Little Cascade” with Dr. Angus MacDonald’s 9/8 jig “Chloe’s Passion,” both in the rarely heard key of F minor. While certainly not the first time that these tunes have been paired together, the band presented a new twist by adding a jazz introduction (a keyboard solo) and extending this theme throughout the set. It is well-conceived musical presentations like this that differentiate Seanchaidh from “just another pipe band concert.”

Those who like a bit of piobaireachd in their pipe band concerts will not be disappointed. The band highlighted the piobaireachd talent within their ranks by featuring double Gold Medallist John Cairns playing the Alan MacDonald interpretation of “Mackintosh’s Lament.” Alan MacDonald’s work has drawn its share of controversy, but even his detractors would find it difficult to ignore the sheer musicality which Cairns brought out in the tune.

And when thinking of the immense talent in the band, the “Fish Fry” set comes to mind. New lead tip John Fisher and young tenor drummer Tyler Fry played a wild drum duet combining their natural talent with visual antics galore.

Throughout the concert, the Celtic Accent Dance Group augmented the show by adding an extra visual dimension to many of the sets.

The Saint Andrew’s Society of Central Illinois Pipes & Drums deserve special recognition for bringing such a top musical act to the Midwest region. For many in the area – particularly those located further south and west of Ontario – Seanchaidh was their first and perhaps only opportunity to see a world class Grade 1 pipe band perform live. Despite the top quality promotion of this event, it was disappointing to see that many people did not take advantage of the opportunity and make the effort to attend.

Nevertheless, events such as this and the Midwest Highland Arts Fund’s January workshop and U.S. Silver Medal competition are rapidly tearing down the geographical divides and bringing top piping and drumming talent to a hungry audience in the region.

Matt Pantaleoni is a fast-rising star on the United States solo circuit and currently competes in the professional class. A native of St. Louis, he has just finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago.


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