February 12, 2011

Being arsed

Remote possibility.For as long as I can remember I’ve read reports on things piping and drumming that moan about the lack of young pipers and drummers attending this or that competition or performance. They usually say something like, “It’s too bad that more kids don’t bother to listen to these great players. They could have learned something.” It has always been thus.

But attending a screening of On The Day, the documentary about the one-off (so far, anyway) Spirit of Scotland project of 2008 this week got me thinking. It’s not just most of the kids and beginners who don’t bother to attend performances – it’s most pipers and drummers of any ability, age or level of experience.

The one-time screening last Wednesday at a really nice, easily accessed theatre with a state-of-the-art sound system drew a decent crowd, but only maybe 20 were pipers and drummers. Remember, this was in a city of four-million people that may be third only to Glasgow and Edinburgh for number of players. Tickets were $12.

Whether it’s a concert by the World Champions, or a recital by a Gold Medallist, or an invitational professional competition, or a unique movie about a unique pipe band project, the vast majority of pipers and drummers who could easily attend something pretty darned excellent just can’t be bothered. Why is this?

It couldn’t possibly be that so many of us don’t actually like the music – or could it? Over the years of asking prominent pipers and drummers to list their top-five CDs of all time, I’m always struck when they don’t list any piping or pipe band recordings. It’s rare when they do. They prefer to listen to “real life” music.

Is it because we’re so competitive that we can’t stop listening with a hyper-critical ear? Perhaps it’s just too hard for pipe band folk to divorce themselves from competition, and just enjoy the music. Given that we spend so much time zealously pursuing this music-sport-hobby, it’s intriguing that we can be so often passive about it.

But I realized, sitting there watching this truly historic event – the first time in piping and drumming history that a Hollywood-produced full-length movie was being shown in a real live cinema to real life people – that so many pipers and drummers couldn’t be arsed to be a part of it, much less enjoy it. I’m pretty sure that if it were a documentary about Simon Fraser University, or St. Laurence O’Toole, or Field Marshal Montgomery the interest, or lack of it, would be the same.

So, the next time I read (not in these pages, to be sure) that well-worn cliché bemoaning today’s apathetic youth ignoring great opportunities to enjoy leading exponents of the art, I will be reminded that it’s not just the kids who can’t be bothered, it’s just about all of us.


  1. No idea if it’s possible, but it would be interesting to run a survey asking people WHY they didn’t attend. Apart from general apathy and reality based things like weather or wanting to keep free time just that, after a long day/week working, there could be all kinds of interesting reasons lurking under the surface. When I explore my own reasons (for not attending the showing in Glasgow during Piping Live), three come floating up. 1)didn’t want to go on my own 2)took offence at the joke about schools for bad boys or whatever it was, at the end,3) some discomfort over the funding of it.
    So taking them one at a time, I guess most pipers are men, who are more used (perhaps) to going to things on their own, but at the same time, maybe if pipe bands organised a group trip to the showing, more people would have gone. The joke is a purely personal thing as I work with ‘bad boys’. And the funding thing–there was a bit of controversy about people giving quite generously to fund the making of the film, maybe thinking that nobody would be making any profit out of it. And maybe they haven’t, but I don’t know that people are clear about that. But it would be interesting if others dug deep to examine THEIR reasons for not attending, then we’d have a truthful explanation as to why cinemas aren’t full to the brim with pipers and drummers eager to watch. In my case, I could easily have overcome reasons 2 and 3, by thinking in a certain way, but I guess it was reason 1, that mainly kept me away. Which is quite pathetic really, but true.

  2. I don’t think you’re too far off the mark. I know number of “pipers” who don’t even own piping recordings, much less listen to the music with any regularity. I wonder if this phenom, exists with other instruments. I also wonder how many of these fellows consider themselves musicians as opposed to just “pipers”

  3. It’s hard to say whats causing this. I myself have fallen victem to this ideal.
    In my early days of playing/competing all and I mean all I would listen to was piping/drumming music, the radio was something to listen to the news for. Certain tracks or entire albums I would listen to over and over again. As I got to the towards the top of the competing pyramid the more crtitical I became of the recordings, a honk here a sqreech there, especially of the worlds discs. How could a band still receive the placing it did even with a blown attack and an ear splitting squeel…
    I would stick around and listen to the Pros but as I reached this level myself whats the point, although then again there are pros and then there are pros.
    It’s fun to take a step back and look at the ipod menu and notice a steady increase in the # of non-pipe/drum music. If nothing else listening to other genres of music can provide ideas for future compositions.
    As for attendance, take a look at any of the non-major contests, the crowd draw just isn’t there anymore. Don’t know what the answer is but I can see this problem is not going to go away in the next few years.

  4. Just returned from the afternoon showing of On The Day. Possibly 30 or 40 patrons mostly seniors liike myself. Piper friends over the years have always expressed surprise at the amount of pipe/drum music I own. The amount of Pibroch (forgive spelling) has made them shake their head. There are a lot of pipers and drummers in this area and they haven’t show to watch this film. As has been said this is not a new phenomenon, sadly pretty much the way it has always been. However the music endures regardless.

  5. I just came from the matinee showing at the Varsity Cineplex in downtown Toronto. It was quite well attended and from what I could tell, I was certainly the youngest person there (I am 26). Most of the attendees were well over 60 and, judging by the quick departure during the ending credits, not current or former pipe banders. If such a film is created again, maybe more planning could be involved to include a question/answer session with the audience, or arrange to have a local band at the showing to represent the current pipe band community and what a film like this means to the promotion of pipe band music. I know that when there are dance-themed movies in the theatres, dancers of all kinds (mostly girls) are at there in giddy excitement to see their art on the big screen. I hope our community has embraced this film with some of that excitement at other theatres across this country.

  6. What I have come to realize as a “younger” player (25) is that the piping world is a very distant and very exclusive club to be in. We over criticize when anything is produced and don’t take things for what they are meant. It is always, well we/I could do better as apposed to listening for the pure enjoyment of the beautiful music we create. I personally love listening to pipe band recordin gs because I take them at face value. For entertainment. I think may have to do with either being a first generation player or someone who comes from a family rooted in the piping and drumming community. The general public does not care if Simon Fraser Pipe Band or the local shriners band is putting on a concert…To them it is new and exciting and I think we all should look at it through these eyes and ears. Mistakes happen, and considering most pipe band recordings are live we should be astonished there aren’t more.

  7. My son and I did got on Sunday. There was poor attendance at the theatre we were in and was mostly pipe band people or families. I think, one reason for the lack of attendance is that it is 3 years after the event. Most people have either purchased the DVD as we had or have borrowed it from someone.

    I agree that pipers especially, can’t seem to relax and just listen to the music regardless of if it is Worlds cds, individual pipers cds, pipe band cds or even the fun stuff from Red Hot Chilli Pipers without comments like “I don’t like their High As”, “Did you hear that squeal in the (fill in blank) part?” Do these same people who may have a background in orchestral music do that to that genre of music too or do they just sit back and listen to the “sweet music”?

    It will be interesting to see the reaction to Scottish Power’s Pre-Worlds Concert as it is being billed as not your typical pipe band music.

  8. I own my own copy of On the Day, and also have a copy of the 2008 worlds on my I-pod. The Spirit of Scotland’s medley is amazing. Listen as it slowly builds, putting the pieces together until that moment just after five and a half minutes in where Friday Harbor returns overlayed by the reel etc. — the harmonics are incredible!! The drums just stop and let the dance going on in the pipes rise up!! When I first saw On the Day, I loved the film–such a fine job, the narrative, the editing, the stories. I respect all the players, maybe because I’ve been away and am a kind of newcomer, a returner after decades away from piping (though my kids grew up listening to Thistle and Shamrock with dad as well as other music), and I found each personal story in On the Day interesting and the whole production very entertaining. But the music–give it time. As I listen to that medley, I’m more blown away every time I hear it. The first time I heard Bach’s double violin concerto in d-minor, it was nice. Over time, I came to appreciate how incredibly beautiful it is! Same thing here. I’m sorry if pipers (of all people) are as disengaged as this forum seems to think. It’s too bad. Because this effort by Roddy and Spirit of Scotland is just one example. There is some fantastic music going on out there!

    Here’s to John MacDonald for making a great film, to Roddy & friends for what must have been a rollicking good time, and to those who teach and pass on a love for the pipes.


    p.s. I know at least one other piper that loves this film–when he first got his DVD, he played it every night. And he’s been piping a very long time.

  9. Is it too obvious to state that this film has been available on DVD for about 18 months already….? Just imagine what affect this would have on a big Hollywood “blockbuster”, for example, and then apply that to this context.

    I’m trying to think what a documentary on an ‘all-stars’ orchestra might achieve by way of stirring interest amongst the classical snobs. And what sort of appeal would it have with the broader music-loving public? Probably about the same as this DVD, really.

    In fact, one could argue this highly ambitious product, focussing on a ‘fringe-dwelling’ subject matter (in popular culture terms), has exceeded all reasonable expectations.

    It’s a great little movie but I think the ensuing debate/discussion says even more about all of us (the piping and drumming tragics).

  10. I can’t take it anymore!!! I bought the DVD over in Scotland in 2009. Thankfully, I guess, because I live in the states where this is not showing, and I’ve tried being polite about how I had to veiw it a few times, but I’ll be blunt. This “Movie” was boring!!!! And to sit around for and hour and change to hear 8 minutes of music is a bit of a waste, I’ll listen to the worlds CD thank you. Anyway, I also beg to differ. Had this been a documentary about SFU, I think it would have drawn more of a crowd. There I’ve said it.

    On another note, I applaud Mr. MacDonald for taking on the task.

  11. With all due respect I suggest that we should account for personal preferences when condemning something as “boring”. I have a good friend who thinks all classical music is boring, but some of us disagree completely. I disagree with the last post regarding the film however I hesitate to say anyone should make it a must see as my enjoyment is simply my personal opinion. By the way I have owned the DVD for some time and still enjoyed going to the theatre to watch it.

  12. I loved the movie, bought a copy as soon as it was available and definitely did not, as somone else here stated “find it boring”. I have four small children and really have to juggle my piping related time wisely. After hearing that there were only 20 piper/drummers in the crowd I feel really bad for not coming. This movie was definitely made on a tight budget without the thought of it generating a profit and the fact that a piping movie ever saw the big screen is a major accomplishment. I honestly thought that there would be a better turn out! As I said, with four small kids, I’m at a point in my life that I’m stuck in “baby jail”. I’ve only been piping four years and am in a band as well as competing in grade four. Did I hear there was another screening? If so I’ll be there for sure! ( I live a 10 minute walk away in the Annex, no excuse!)

  13. Fair enough, it’s my own personal opinion, but I would find it hard pressed to find some one who thought it was exciting……? Watching people sit about a pub with a pint and calmly take a phone call to find out they qualified, while everyone else sat on buses or crammed in a tent. Good on them for having the facility. I’m just saying, and will continue to say so until it’s done. You want to grab the publics attention, follow a band through the year as it prepares for a trip over seas to compete at the worlds. Through the good and the bad. I think you’d find a bit more truth into what goes on in preparing for the contest “on the day” throughout “the year”

    I just got an iphone, I hear theyre top notch, so I’ll start filming at band tonight.



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