December 31, 2010

Suite’s for Christmas: CPSPB strikes a musical commission

The Calgary Police Service Pipe Bands are hoping that 2011 will take the band in a new musical direction, and to facilitate its attempt to branch out the organization has commissioned the well known composer Michael Grey of Dundas, Ontario, to create an original suite for the two Grade 3 and Grade 4 bands.


Inspired after attending the Grade 1 Simon Fraser University Pipe Band’s “Affirmation” concert in Edmonton, Alberta, last April, the band’s recently appointed Pipe-Major, Stephanie McSween, decided that she wanted to get creative with the band’s music, even though, according to her, the band has “a very diverse range of skill which sometimes presents challenges when choosing music for performances.”


“It occurred to me that a ‘suite’ would fit the bill nicely,” McSween said. “With so many of the other suites that I have heard, there seemed to be opportunity to use harmonies and counter-melodies to achieve the objective of having all players participate and enjoy the experience.”


But McSween soon realized that creating such a composition was not within her current abilities, so she approached Grey to gauge his interest in accepting a commission to score a composition especially for the band.


“There’s nothing more inspiring than working with enthusiastic people and the Calgary band seems to have enthusiasm in spades,” Grey said. “I’ve found that building music around  the  parameters of a good story often helps  the work come to life.  The Calgary project will focus on a ‘tune cycle’  representing a  musical allegory.”


As a piper, Grey normally composes for that instrument, while conveying his ideas for drumming to others. For this project he has secured the talent of the well known drummer John Fisher of Victoria, British Columbia, to score the original percussion parts.


“Our working title of the  project is ‘Suite Chinook,’ ” Grey continued.”I’m especially looking forward to working with John Fisher and tapping in to some of his manic genius. So in January or so the band will be given the scores, learn it, and John and I will  workshop the thing with the band one weekend in March.”


Michael Grey’s original suites and competitions medleys have been played so far by Grade 1 bands: the 78th Fraser Highlanders, the Peel Regional Police and, more recently, the Toronto Police, of which Grey is Pipe-Sergeant. The Toronto Police for the last three seasons have competed with an adventurous new competition medley/suite, each resulting in lively love-it / hate-it dialog throughout the pipe band world.


So, how will Grey, who has previously written suites specifically for only Grade 1 bands, ensure that the music he comes up actually can be handled by lower-grade-band players? “Building something that will be easily played by almost any level of experience is a unique part of this project and one I look forward to making the most of,” he responded.


McSween stressed that the venture is as much about raising the abilities and confidence of the Calgary Police Service bands as it is about securing original music.


“This is a great opportunity for the entire band to create something new and exciting together,” she said. “One of the obvious benefits of this is that at the end of the day, we will have a new, unique and interesting performance piece. The less obvious benefits – but perhaps the ones that will have the greatest impact on our band – include the opportunity to grow as a band together and to solidify our ‘one band’ philosophy.”


McSween said that the March workshop with Grey and Fisher, when the pieces of “Suite Chinook” will be put together, will allow the group to emerge “a stronger and more confident pipe band.”


  1. At last. There’s absolutely no reason why lower grade bands shouldn’t be playing medleys, suites, more creative harmonies etc. It can only help everyone’s musical development and make things more interesting all round imho.

  2. I’m not sure who is facing the greater challenge, those scoring the piece or those tasked with playing it. Regardless it is an exciting and novel idea and I commend both and wish them all the best.



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