February 14, 2019

Editorial: Originality is a cornerstone of piping and drumming

Originality is an irony of piping and drumming.

For those of us in the club, we demand the new. The format and time signatures of our music by and large stick to tradition, but we’re constantly seeking new melodic content for our medleys and performing repertoire.

Drum scores pretty much require lead-drummers to create new scores for every pipe tune, including even the fusty old traditional pieces that populate our MSRs.

Non-pipers and drummers so often just assume that we play the same tunes over and over again, that “they all sound the same,” and that – much to our composers’ financial loss in terms of earned royalties – everything is public domain.

The reality and irony are that pipe and drum music is rich with creativity and originality. We’re teeming with new tunes. Most pipers will try their hand at composing almost as soon as they’re able to play “Scotland the Brave,” and there’s no end to collections of new music.

We might well be the most creative and original genre of “traditional” music out there, and few appreciate it but us. But we know, and we hold originality dear.

It’s hard out there for composers. How to be original when tens of thousands of pieces have already been made within our eight or nine categories of tunes? It’s cliché to commiserate over the limitations of our nine notes, but they’re all we have to work with, so the avoidance of similarities and repetition is the great and wonderful challenge of composers.

We once heard a Grade 1 band proudly come out with a new 6/8 march, only to hastily discard it when it was pointed out that the entire concluding phrase was note-for-note the same as that of “Dornoch Highland Gathering.” That was the right thing to do.

Blatant rip-offs in our world are hard to forgive. They go against the unwritten rule that we don’t steal from each other, and having a reputation as a thief is almost impossible to shake. But, with all the music rattling around, coincidental similarities are bound to pop up, and inspiration can come from subconscious knowledge.

A few days ago we published a piece comparing piobaireachd to life. We thought it was original thinking. It turned out that the gist of the idea, although not public, we had seen before. But we’d forgotten about it, except presumably for it being locked in our subconscious. When we realized this, we immediately removed the piece and apologized to the originator for the unintentional oversight. Like the aforementioned band, it wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the only thing.

pipes|drums is committed to providing only original content. We don’t lazily reproduce submitted news releases. We learn from the content, ask questions, put details into context and work to provide an original and fulsome story. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it for our readers. It’s called integrity.

Piping and drumming is built on tradition, yet thrives on originality. We honour what has come before by creatively building on it. We give credit where it’s due, and we reject the very idea of passing off someone else’s work as our own.

It’s the best of both worlds, and should always be a guiding principle for our own little universe.





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