May 05, 2024

Opinion: Why do this?

Editor’s note: pipes|drums welcomes all fair perspectives and opinions. Sharing information and constructive dialogue are at the heart of the publication. Like all who live in a fair democracy, free speech and the free exchange of ideas are central to progress. Our competitive art can move forward only by asking questions, listening to answers, respecting opinions, and forming ideas.

As a seven or eight-year-old in the 1970s, I watched the popular TV sitcom “The Odd Couple,” based on the play by Neil Simon.

I didn’t completely understand it, but I remember not liking the priggish neat-freak Felix Unger, played by the great Broadway actor Tony Randall. I was drawn to Oscar Madison, the slovenly cigar-chomping sportswriter played by the equally great Jack Klugman. He got to write about baseball.

My dad wrote all the time. He published about a dozen books on American history and was constantly pounding out letters to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper or writing letters to politicians or TV news reporters. He had a long-running correspondence with Dan Rather during Watergate. I still have those letters. Expressing credible opinions in writing was baked into my upbringing as much as being a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. It’s bred in the bone.

Given that, what could be better than writing about something you love? Oscar Madison seeing all those ballgames and then writing a story about each one?

My first dream job was Sportswriter.

I didn’t directly angle for such a job, but I majored in English at Macalester College. I received a piping scholarship, ran the Macalester pipe band for a few years, and spent my third year “studying” at the University of Stirling in Scotland before returning to Mac for my graduation year.

Those four years helped me immeasurably in my two loves: piping and writing. While I knew I couldn’t make a living from merging the two passions, I realized the combination was like being a volunteer sportswriter.

That would be spiritually rewarding if not financially beneficial, and it still is.

I used to know a Felix Unger type at Macalester: a neat freak, intolerant, self-absorbed, thin-skinned, and self-unaware. The “friend” often asked me, “Why do you do it?” He was unsupportive and couldn’t understand how I could tolerate occasional negative criticism.

I would respond by saying that I love it, and there was exponentially more positive feedback. I also knew that anything worth writing as a journalist would not be well received by those who disagreed or didn’t like the content, even if they agreed. Looking back, this “friend” clearly wanted to see me fail. I probably would have been better asking him, Why the eff do you care?

I also recognized there was no real journalism in piping and drumming. Sure, just as there are now, there were publications, but rarely did they try to present more than one perspective. Captain John MacLellan’s International Piper tried to be more balanced but sadly fizzled.

The scene lacked a journalistic publication. Seumas MacNeill, himself a notorious publisher of entertaining but purely one-sided content, encouraged me to create my own publication if I didn’t like his Piping Times. (I did like it; I just thought he was often unfair, not recognizing that he wasn’t aspiring to be journalistic, and his Piping Times was what it was: his.) Nevertheless, Seumas was a great supporter of my efforts until his death.

I love merging two passions into a publication that gets daily positive feedback from readers and, judging from its ever-increasing readership, is appreciated by thousands daily.

Nearly 40 years later, I’m still sometimes asked, Why do you do it? It’s a good question, and one I ask myself more regularly when I am verbally and personally abused by those who don’t know me well or know me at all. I’ve lost some “friends” because they can’t tolerate criticism or, more often, anyone not sharing their opinions. They see it as crossing them personally, so they’ve cancelled me. That’s okay; I’ve realized they were never friends to begin with. They treated the relationship as purely transactional. Once I wasn’t useful to them, they turned their back. Sad, but one moves on.

But, back to answering the question. Why do I commit every single day of the year, including holidays, vacations and times of severe health issues, to working on pipes|drums? Why do I put up with occasional social media ogres? Why have I been willing to forego the chance of a solo competition prize when some corrupt judge holds a grudge against me for something published? Why do I do it when there’s no money to be made, no material gain, no advantage to be had in terms of competing or judging?

The answer is the same: because I love it. I love merging two passions into a publication that gets daily positive feedback from readers and, judging from its ever-increasing readership, is appreciated by thousands daily.

I also like to think that pipes|drums makes a difference by considering many previously taboo topics, and encouraging contributors to be honest, but fair. It’s gratifying that many of those topics only whispered in beer tents and band halls have been brought into the open, and progress has been made to address inequities and even corruption in our musical/competition avocation.

Sometimes, the mark is missed. Sometimes, the choice of words published wasn’t the best decision, and it could have been expressed differently and just as effectively. That’s on me, but it’s also okay. Newspaper opinion writers often admittedly go too far, acknowledging they could have softened their words to gain the same point. But that’s part of the role. If you strive for journalistic excellence, your words can be shaped in myriad ways. You always try to do it fairly, even if they occasionally aren’t palatable by the sensitive.

I can confidently say that commentary from pipes|drums has always been fair. Pointed? Sometimes. Not popular with every single reader? Always. Frustratingly steadfast to those who wish it to fail? Totally. 

Worth doing? 100%.

What’s your opinion? As always, we encourage readers to contribute their thoughts with our Comments feature below, where you can express opinions anonymously or with your name.

pipes|drums is independent of any third-party association, organization or business. Unless noted, articles do not speak for any other organization or person. The only things we sell are advertising and subscriptions, and all proceeds from those sources are invested in the publication and nonprofit or charitable causes that are also for the good of piping and drumming. We believe in the fundamental tenet of free and fair speech. Without exception, every article, video or other piece aims to contribute positively to piping and drumming and foster constructive dialogue. We welcome disagreement, and without exception, we invite our readers to offer their fair comments. The thoughts in the article are those of the author and no one else. They do not necessarily represent the opinion of any organization, including pipes|drums.




  1. I can’t even imagine the amount of time and preparation you put into Pipes|Drums but I have always appreciated your publication for the insight it provides for people like myself – who have great interest in the piping/pipe band world from the sidelines. I enjoy the interviews (John’s was of course my favourite) and love the historical retrospectives (the Clan MacFarlane series was riveting). You are my trusted resource for contest results and videos. Thanks for all you do!



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