June 16, 2009

Bloomsday scenario

It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, after the Georgetown games and the latest musical-envelope-pusher from the Toronto Police. Just like last year when the band came out with it’s “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions,” the comments are again flying around about the band’s “Idiomatica” entry.

I hesitate to call it a medley, since a musical medley, by Webster’s definition, is “a musical composition made up of a series of songs or short pieces,” rather than a cohesive single composition, which I believe “Idiomatica” is meant to be. You can’t call it a “selection” either, as that also involves, I think, selecting various existing tunes, much like a musical medley. Call it a piece, an opus or even an oeuvre.

Semantics aside, it’s bloody difficult to compare what the Toronto Police played against the more familiar formats of other bands in the contest. The pipe band “medley” has evolved more or less on its own, usually by bands dipping one timid toe at a time in the musical froth, trying a “different” tune here, an unusual rhythm there. Heaven forfend that a judge might react negatively.

There are actually very few musical requirements placed on a band in the rules of the world’s pipe band associations. The RSPBA has by far the most strictures, forcing bands to start with a “quick-march” at a certain minimum tempo and with the familiar three-paced rolls and a mandatory E.

The only musical requirement that I know for a Grade 1 pipe band medley under PPBSO rules is that it must be between five and eight minutes long. There are no stipulations as to what should be played or how many of the band’s pipers and drummers (or other instrumentalists, for that matter) can play at one time. In fact, there’s nothing to say that the band couldn’t just stand there, tacit, for five minutes, in homage to Chares Ives or something.

If the Toronto Police didn’t have the musical clean-slate that the PPBSO membership prefers, perhaps they wouldn’t compete with their new pieces, unless it were to make a one-time, “Thelma and Louise”-like statement. I gather they were fully prepared to go down in a blaze of glorious disqualification had they been able to play in the Final at last year’s World’s.

I like that bands are free to push musical buttons and boundaries. I can also appreciate those who feel that it shouldn’t be allowed, that such challenges to the familiar are too much of an affront to our musical “tradition,” whatever that is. It’s a healthy, difficult debate.

After all the talk of the Toronto Police’s “Good Intentions” piece, I was eager to see how many bands might follow suit with their own brave attempts to explore their own new musical limits. So far, I haven’t heard or heard of any other bands anywhere in the world making such an attempt. (Please let me know if there are.) In fact, I’m noticing the direct opposite: bands harking back to material, styles and structures of the 1970s and ’80s, particularly the once-hackneyed-now-retro seamless transition from strathspey-to-jig or jig-to-strathspey.

I might be wrong, but while a lone band is aggressively blazing new musical ground, others seem to be retreating into the past, with the old being new again. Whether that’s a conscious rejection, or just plain happenstance, again, I don’t know.

Let a thousand flowers bloom.


  1. While the performance was an entertaining novelty act, is it really competition worthy?
    What I find really interesting is the absense of the standard comments such as blowing, tone, tuning, drone sound, unity, ect. Are people so distracted by the abstract composition that they forget about the other elements of a competition that bands strive to perfect all winter.

    Is it really fair to ask a judge to compare this freestyle performance to a regimented style of playing that consist of the standard tunes we were all trained to play?

    In the pause, there was a blatant early chanter and trailing one too, that would have been grounds for last place under the standard rules or did Toronto have everything else so perfect that they overwhelmed the competition with the quality of playing?

    IF the rules have changed, it woudl be polite to let the rest of the World know!

  2. I liked it! I can only imagine how difficult it is to keep it all straight given the work it already takes for a conventional selection. Funny, I was just talking to someone about a concert my old man did with the Philadelphia Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra in the early 80’s. The pipe was the principle instrument and from time to time he would cut the chanter out with only drones playing, yet still accompanied by other instruments. Seemed like a neat idea for a band, surprise, surprise, surprise, looks like TPPB have done it. Oh, one critisism, the pink/powder blue sticks were real cute, thanks for nothing, every tenor drummer will now want custom colored sticks!
    Keep up the musical creations and good luck throughout the year.

    P.S. Having said all that the 78th Frasers were good as usual, Peel made huge strides forward and the 78th from Halifax were quite enjoyable.

  3. For me it was much more than an entertaining novelty act – you hear hundreds of those at competitions – it was a serious piece of music which required thinking, skill, musical-know-how and a degree of professionalism to pull off. Are people so distracted by such things as blowing, tone, tuning, drone sound, unity – those individual ‘components’ that they forget that the ‘whole’ is meant to be a piece of music? It’s fair to ask the organisations to ensure that judges are appropriately trained to deal with the new music being presented. As standards of playing and composition for the instruments grow, so too is the nature of the music being presented. A John Cage -esque composition for pipes would be a very interesting thing to experience. It’s very powerful – a group of players poised but not playing for a set length of time. Arouses quite powerful emotions. It’s not the cop-out you might think.Doing nothing is a very hard thing to do musically speaking.

  4. I’m often accused of stating the obvious, but this is not pipe band music and has no place in a pipe band competition.

    If bands want to showcase something different, then the concert stage calls.
    If they want to perform fancy marching drills to keep the crowd entertained, then the Edinburgh Tattoo has an opening for them too.

    Competitions like Races are setup where the competitors must conform to limited parameters to create an even playing field. How is a judge to give an even comparison with a drastic change in format and much of the playing clouded in harmonies?

    What TPPB are doing, constitutes nothing more than a stunt where they are using the contest field to express one composer’s idea of music.

    The other bands present demonstarated no lesser skill which required thinking, skill, musical-know-how and a very high degree of professionalism to pull off.

  5. Who are any of us to define what pipe band music is? It’s music. It’s art. It’s judged by people who are proven artists. It’s not a race.

  6. John, I couldn’t disagree with you more. The MSR is the formal, stylized, “Scottish” kabuki theater. The medley should allow the band to explore its musical limits to the fullest. In other words, “show me what you’ve got”. I understand this puts a great deal of pressure on the judges to assess the band’s musicality and musicianship, BUT…….that’s why they’re judges! They are supposed to be premier musicians!

  7. I agree with John Mitchell on this one. As for Tony Rashid’s response, you are pretty close to the mark. Your key phrase is “judged by people who are proven artists.” Judges are the ones who set the standards and I am not sure the training the judges receive covers this situation. It is all well and good for people to say, “I had to listen to it a few times before making up my mind.” Judges don’t have that luxury. Although I commend this band for pushing the envelope, in my opinion, pushing the envelope for the pure sake of pushing it (that’s how I heard this performance) does not quite make it for me.
    Maybe there is a reason no one else in the world is doing this?

  8. While I can see while one would not consider TPPB’s (To be politically correct) ‘piece’ a medley, it does have all of the elements that the rest of the ‘normal’ medleys do: Hornpipes/Reels, Airs, Strathspeys, Jigs, and bridges in between. Realistically, each ‘movement’ in Toronto’s ‘piece’ could count as a tune, albeit the tunes are, at times, only one part. However, more and more one-parters are showing up in today’s medleys. To be specific, in 2006, Clan Gregor played ‘I Would Make merry wi’ the Black-Haired Girl’ in their World’s medley. While it’s a waulking song turned strathspey, it is still ONE PART. AlCal played one part of ‘Angus John MacNeil of Barra’ in their medley. Even more popular was the 78th Frasers with ‘The Dizzle.’ The tune contained two phrases, much less parts. In my neck of the woods, at least, people raved about ‘The Dizzle.’ Think if the Frasers had expanded on the ‘Dizzle’ and the ‘Dizzle’ only for a medley this year, people would have loved it, likely because the Frasers are, well, the Frasers! Increasingly, one-parted slow airs are becoming more and more prevalent in all grades. As a YouTube comment of ‘Good Intentions’ said, “If SFU did it, people would’ve loved it!” Probably right…….

    On another note, I too am surprised that more bands haven’t tried to emulate what Toronto did last year. Perhaps it will take a couple of years. But I am almost sure it will happen. More and more Open Grade Band Medley contests are popping up, and a band may slip one like Toronto’s in because it’s a non-sanctioned contest that won’t hurt them in any way. (Other than perhaps in pride.)

  9. John Gage? Let’s not go there……
    “Contemplating The Medley”. The band Marches out into the circle not playing a note, and then stands there for 5-7 minutes (5-8 in Ontario because we’re special!) doing absolutely nothing except maybe staring at the Pipe Major’s motionless hands….Genius, I tell you! Brilliant creativity!
    Methinks it’s time for some rules, folks, before we all become a bunch of “hippies”.

  10. It seems playing together in tune is the baseline. If it does not sound good then it does not matter how clever it is (nor how simple for that matter). What if all the bands in the G1 final played the same march? I am sure we could all note how different they sound based on the drum scores and tone. Leave entire suites for the stage, use bits of them in medlies or compete in Ontario.

  11. The only reason we don’t see more of it, is that things move slowly towards change. It always takes one band/person/group to go out on a limb, take the flack, weather the storm/ and lo and behold a few years later when people have got used to it, and notice that the world hasn’t ended, others come on board and follow suit (suite). The TPPB piece isn’t a stunt – it’s a piece of music. Something will need to happen with judges. Imagine taking the RSPBA judges and ‘training’ them to deal with this kind of entry. How would that be done? You can’t train people out of their old attitudes overnight. There are excellent musicians amongst the top piping and drumming fraternity of course, but all too often they are excluded from these opportunities and tasks, because of the preference for keeping things in-house, and the way they have always been. What a growth stifler! But it just goes to show- if something wants/needs to bloom, it finds a route through the brick wall, reaching for the light through a small crack. Soon everybody’ll be wanting packets of the seeds.

  12. Because the world is round? What goes around … Back early 90’s the status quo voices in Ontario were dismissive of Australasian toe tappers like Murray’s Suite (which had a thematic melody most could relate to) and declared the Vic Police finisher in ’94, The New Paradigm, as not being ‘in the Scottish idiom’. One Fort Erie judge said the same about the T&D finisher in 1991 from Perry Gauthier, Pandora’s Box. (and what are we opening here?) But he gave it first anyway based on tone, playing and ensemble effect. It also won the next 2 North American Championships for the same reasons. The Vic Police of the 90’s did better when they took the strongest (?) elements of Murray’s Jig and Hornpipe out of the “repetitive” (??) Suite. Their winning medley of ’98, like the 78ths in 1987, was conservative by their standard at the time, but stands up well over the decades.

    What I noticed on Saturday was the Judges simply stood with clipboards folded at their sides as they took in the ambience of the performance’s entirety. No pens flashed to the obvious squeaks, trailing drones and poor stops (plural) – perhaps this is why maverick international Judges do not submit their sheets to the RSPBA for their approbation (just kidding, Kenny).

    The same voices still determine Ontario’s musical direction today and mold it their own way. That’s fine, but let’s not expect other parts of today’s Web rounded world to mindlessly follow. A Journey to Skye seemed radical at the time and had a CBC symphonic direction to it. Like Doug S’s finely crafted percussion themes, it gave full rein to another half of the Band. Anyone counted the increasing percent of the Band – percussionists with ballooning sized tenors (but shrinking snare effect?) swelling the ranks recently? Oh sorry, that’s a separate controversy.

    Many non Pipe Band aficionados in the audience enjoyed the primal effect (as Hugh Cameron might say) of the African drum type entrée to the Oeuvre. But still, good pipe sound is essential at top 6 level and it was lacking on Saturday I felt, all around – to the point I thought only one (a top 6 Band that should have prequalified ! ) would make the Green’s Premier Final with such tone. With that I was disappointed, but some nice Choons from all 4 Bands with great orchestration and clever harmonies. As to whether TPPB’s series of notes on a limited octave plus scale manage to grab thematically and hold the listener, each alone, must judge. With Mark Saul’s tuner making the rounds of the Band World perhaps we are ready for his electronic mixolydian “Tchantahs” to extend the scale and give us digital reliability and stability for tone and tuning – which used to be worth 10 or 15 marks out of 75 total (and not more) on judging sheets in the land of my youth (that’s so Yesterday).

    One recalls that Ice Skating continues to field such debates where esthetics are also important. Torvill and Dean finally broke through in the Olympics with perfect “6’s” when the technical excellence could no longer be denied. Perhaps I must part siding with John M’s stating the obvious, but then Sunny thoughts from Lala land, as another forum in the UK seems to describe it, holds no sway with them – equally dismissive and intolerant of far away Ontario ideas in a polarized hobby? It’s important to play what we like and put passion into it, but to get a listen in a wider UTubed planet, it may be necessary to give them what they want. Extending what the consumer wants with trend setting design change each year may be like the Auto Manufacturers’ Big 3 mentality. Can it survive?

  13. I listened to the TPPB medley live, and had been pre-warned that it was a “weird” medley. I am not sure how prone I am to being influenced but I admit that on the field I was undecided (note that this was the first games I had attended in 7 years so my ears were also a bit rusty). I do remember thinking that I was glad I did not have to judge this. It was very enjoyable, but at the same time, how do you compare it to a more traditional medley? In speaking with people afterwards, including the person I assume is the composer, I mentioned that I hoped this type of entry would not be killed by rule changes. In the early 80’s the ice dancers Torvill and Dean came out with incredibly creative and expressive routines that were as (or more) avant guard, and to some just plain weird, as TPPB’s medleys of the last few years have been. Before that time, skaters often used several pieces of music linked together to show off their versatility, and used standard dance moves, but Torvill and Dean wanted to present a unified theme to their routines and use modern dance so they broke with convention and went with just one long piece of music. Originally, only a few pairs that could afford the fee and got Dean to choreograph their routines followed suite, but then people began to really branch out and helped push the entire sport forward. For a few years this new type of routine almost became the “standard”, with every pair doing something more or less unique, but then an executive decision was made that the routines had become too different and were too difficult to compare and rules were introduced to help standardize performances, eliminate certain moves, and greatly limit how creative the dancers could be. I am not, and was not, involved but to me it seemed to be a decision of convenience. It was as if the powers that be decided that “I am not sure how to judge this, so let’s not allow it”. If my memory is correct, it was also to help preserve the “art” of ice dancing. Whatever the reason, I think it was a shame. I am uncertain if this type of “medley” that TPPB played should become more popular, the people will decide that, but I hope that performances like those given by TPPB last year and this year are not forced out of existence by rule changes that compel the entire pipe band world to abandon this type musical composition as a competition piece. Time will tell . . . . .

  14. At least this sort of thing might pave the way for someone to get the “suite” concept right one day. But I seem to recall it has been more or less ‘nailed’ in the past though – e.g. “Journey to Skye”, “Calm Before the Storm” (although more akin to a medley). These pieces had much stronger melody, impact and overall redeeming features IMHO.

    As I listened to TPPB, I couldn’t help but find myself being made to think about the limitations of the pipes and, more specifically, how these limitations were being highlighted, within the current pipe band format/configuration/ensemble, by this performance. It occurred to me, while listening, how easy it is for us to optimistically ignore this limit and to carry on past it.

    A trip into ‘Bagad territory’ demonstrates how much those Breton bands have it over us, and what sort of ensemble is required to produce the effects that carry pipe scores (bagpipes are not even the principal instrument in a Bagad) that are sometimes there for ‘atmosphere’ and not melody.

    TPPB are to be applauded for the attempt. It’s a very good pipe band and i look forawrd to what they are going to do next. For my taste, this piece still has a long way to go and lacks a degree of substance. But the direction is there and they seem to be relishing the quest and doing their thing with aplomb. Good luck to them!

  15. Just an observation: The same day that TPPB debuts Idiomatica, SFU plays (almost verbatim) their medley from 1995. Both bands sounded really good. So maybe it’s a case of re-inventing the wheel, or trying to create a different mode of transportation altogether…i don’t know. Paris rioted when Le Sacre du Printemps premiered in Paris and went on to become a very famous piece. Time will tell…

  16. I ask this, how long can a band that good, keep playing for 2nd place? Not to mention the drum corps, which I imagine, might be wondering what the heck to write to this “medley”. I commend the band in their efforts to broaden our horizons, and Doug’s ability to make something of it for the drum corps. But, we all know some of the world (Scotltish judges over the age of 60) will not be nearly as kind (maybe some of them). That is a damn fine band that went through a rebuilding, and now has good players and should be competing for it all. A key change wouldn’t have been too bad, and maybe just a hair more from the drummers. (At one point they started marking time again), I assume it was because their feet fell asleep. In all honesty I was hoping they would give last years medley another run, now that people had just started to hear and “accept”? it. Good luck, and I hope to see Toronto taking a real good shot at the worlds in 2010.

  17. Interesting question. It’s surprising just how long a band will play without winning. Look at BC? When was the last time that SFU lost?
    This is just my opinion (and I’m entitled to it, so don’t overreact, but…) TPPB was lucky to get 2nd place. Both Peel & Halifax technically outplayed them (even the 78th in places), but TPPB was awarded the novelty act prize in part due to the “Tone Tone & Tone” rule kicking in and pushing out Peel + Halifax (blowing issues).
    The real test will be the first set competition. That will determine who is really the best. And it will answer the question of whether or not TPPB could win the Worlds or not. Remember, for most bands in Grade I, the Worlds consists of two Sets and one Medley competition.
    It’ll be interesting to see whether the Ontario bands got the message or not about their Set playing (per the judges’ opinions at least) last year. Judging by the sloppy round fast Strathspey playing by of one of the bands last week, I think not………

  18. Dude, were you even there? Maybe the live sound was very different from the recording and maybe just maybe the judges heard some details that you didn’t or can’t.

  19. Valid points. I’m only going by the recordings. I should have mentioned that originally.
    However, I stand by what I wrote, based on the above restriction.
    Also, it is true that the judges definitely can hear or miss things that are or are not captured on a recording.
    We’ll let the Sets sort things out later…

  20. Regardless of what you think of the performance, something has been clarified as far as competing in Ontario. The precedent has been set allowing a pipe section to cut out during a medley. If Toronto Police can cut out for a number of bars and restart, other pipe sections can also cut their chanters for a part of a reeel or a hornpipe etc.

  21. Ray — the precedent was set, I believe, in 1982 or so when the Grade 1 Clan MacFarlane started its medley with a solo piper. Pipers cut out frequently, usually unintentionally; drum sections cut out every performance.

  22. Re Starting & stopping intentionally or not.
    Intersting point about the drummers, but bear this in mind. The nature of the instrument dictates that the drummers have to cut out. The sticks are constantly bouncing on and off the drum head. Otherwise all we would hear would be a constant roll accented in various places throughout (from the snare section).
    If referring to the unison or integration, well, yes, they do cut out as a core and allow the lead to play the full score with the core accenting parts of it. I suppose that a rule could be created to force the whole core to play the full score throughout, but we would really be losing something.
    As far as the pipe secion goes, you do realize that the pipe core is SUPPOSED to be penalized by the judges for accidental loss of sound volume and tone here and there.
    Now, when an entire pipe core cuts out in the middle and restarts, should they be judging as executing another attack? If the Medley starts without the drummers and pipers playing together, then how does a judge mark their attack?
    I think that one thing is clear. We need to redefine the concept of the Medley and depending on what that defiinition is (Medley or Selection), workshops may need to be held to understand better how to judge the new or renewed format, at least from the point of view of ensemble and piping as no matter what the format, it would be business as usual for the snare drummers and mid section.

  23. Judges often seem to throw out the traditional strictures of tuning, tone, attacks, unison, technique, expression. Assessing art is subjective. One person’s idea of “correct” is another person’s notion of “wrong.” There are accepted norms, but none of them are written down or defined in any rule book I know of. All bands take risks regardless whether it’s an MSR or a Medley, because there are no real musical rules. Even in an MSR event, a band could play “Blair Drummond” backwards if they chose to. They would be taking a big risk, and may well get hammered by the judges and booed by the crowd, but it’s still permissible.

    Occasionally, as in the instance of the 78th Fraser Highlanders opening with a waulking song in their medley at the World’s in 1992, a rule is enacted to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future (see RSPBA’s rule to open with a quick-march that was made the following winter). Perhaps after this season rules will be made to try to hinder innovation like mid-medley stops/starts, vibrato, guitar-like effects, two bass drums, and so forth, but that is a slippery slope.

    Either the “Medley” needs to have MSR-like accepted musical rules in terms of “Scottish” idiom, tune-types, and so on, or it should continue to be free-form.

    Failing that, perhaps a third event needs to be added. Maybe it’s time for Grade 1 bands to be ready with two MSRs, one Medley (comprising established tune-types) and one Freestyle Piece in which absolutely anything goes. And I’m pretty sure I know which event will be most popular with the crowd.

  24. Heaven forbid if all bagpipe music of the future has to start with an attack, and if rests are banned!! I hope the competition system will be a thing that encourages development and makes its rules so that bands can develop as musicians – not make rules to stop and block and suppress development and musicianship and advances in the music and the instruments involved. If lower grade bands too, were encouraged to do more Freestyle playing, it would greatly help them when they came to play their more structured, ‘straight’ repertoire. We can all get into a business suit or a uniform when we need to, but if we’d to live in one all the time it would feel like a straightjacket. The times when we can let it all hang out, are vital, and mean that when we DO get into the more formal wear, it’s much more effective or means something. More ‘letting it all hang out freestyle’ needed imho.

  25. Is there any rule that it has to only be bagpipes, drums and
    a mid section out there?? If not i’m thinking we might
    have a few bombards accompanied by Red Ross trews
    in Georgretown 2010!

    Rock on TPPB! From what I gathered it was a huge crowd pleasing musical “performance”. Looking around pretty much everyone around
    me had a smile on their face. Isn’t that what good music is suppose to feel
    like? A momentary escape from the already busy, stressful, intense,
    competative world we (or at least I for sure) live in.

    Speaking about MSR’s, since the same grade one bands play
    the same MSR’s for two decades attempting to make each and
    every movement exactly perfect together year after year after
    year…they probably could play them backwards by now.
    I’m certain Shotts could play Highland Wedding
    and FMM Clan Macrae Society backwards by now.

    to each there own.


  26. The composer Bela Bartok apparently once said ‘Competitions are for horses, not artists’.
    I found this quote in an intersesting article by a Dale Miller, where he was writing a Guest Editorial for the magazine ‘Guitar Player’, Feb 1989. Much seems to pertain to some of the discussions we have today re piping and drumming and the competition emphasis that pervades the scene. Miller points out that competition is fundamental to our development as a species and cites sports and Presidential Elections. But he says – just because its natural, do we have to use it in all situations – and what might doing that, block?
    He thinks emphasis on competition builds bigger egos, and the judges/audience may award the prizes to those who seem to be doing the HARDEST thing, not necessarily the most musical.

    He goes on to mention that in competitions, the competitors have a tendency to trot out the same 20 tunes and uses the analogy – how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    He reminds us that blues, flamenco and rock didn’t come about through musicians following a bunch of rules, and considers it a waste of time to get everybody ranked and pigeon-holed.

    He says people go the competition route perhaps because it is ONE place you can strut your stuff, and be heard, and climb a ladder of success. Fans subscribe to it to meet like minded people at the gatherings of the tribe. This inspires them for the long lone months ahead.

    He goes on that he can’t be too down on competitions. They have their place. But he pleads – please see yourselves as creators of art, rather than the winners of contests. Jam more, to learn cooperation. He asks the fans not to go to events with notebooks and tape recorders – l’et the music take you’.
    He concludes ‘Music is really all about magic. Life’s too short to worry about who’s best’.

    That’s the gist of the article. I thought there was so much in it that is relevant to our piping’drumming situation and was writing about it on the Bob Dunsire Forums, but thought it was very relevant to the discussion here too.

    This article comes from 20 yrs ago and is about fingerstyle guitarists but it just goes to show we’re not alone in our fankles and conundrums about music and competitions.

  27. Thoughtful and varied opinions throughout this thread. I would disagree with Bella Bartok. Competition is an inherant quality of life, in music as in everything else. One can call it competition or natural selection or evolution, take your pick. Musicians compete all the time. They always have and always will. That’s why they call it “first chair” at the philharmonic. Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky, Alan Bevan won the Gold Medal, SLU won the spiked trophy at the Worlds. Rock stars are competative….they count Platinum records. I think what we’re trying to get a handle on here is what should the “ground rules” be and how do we “measure” achievment. As Duncan says, the RSPBA has more constraints, PPBSO has less. Pick the venue that appeals to you. All the bands push the rules….in different ways. SFU opens with a 9/8 and plays a “suite”, Shotts turns outward to the crowd, Toronto goes a whole different direction with tonal mix and musical flow. Make your own list. As a generality, those that are successful within a certain set of rules, tend to “like” them and resist change, those not so successful tend to want to change the rules. Suprisingly, this does not appear to hold as true in the Pipe Band world. I thnk the top bands are granted a little more leeway. Then there is the whole issue of “playing ti” a particular judge or judging panal. That’s a whole different bag of worms! Personally, I’m waiting for a pipe section to play a rest. Drummers play rests all the time. Bands with the chops, play six and eight-parted tunes in their MSR instead of the minimum four. At a minimum, this gives the judges more to critique…..then what’s the difference with more attacks and cutoffs to critique? Just a thought on Father’s day.


  28. Well, I wonder if Messrs Grey, Macdonald et al at TPPB are just sitting back and looking at all this tail-chasing, conservatism, speculation, debate on rules etc. etc., and are wondering if the idea of playing the music you believe in and enjoy was ever this controversial before.

    Maybe TPPB are just too busy having fun and looking forward to the next chapter. But I’m sure they are chuckling just a little at how seriously people are taking all this. I get the impression that TPPB, in a good way, do not take themselves too seriously and are happy to roll with the punches.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us all stick to the formula of compliance and wait for the next ‘green light’ (from the pointy end) to move slightly forward by maybe an inch. That way we can all be ‘different’ together and sleep safely knowing that we are not sticking our necks out in the slightest bit.

    We really must be a funny bunch to observe from the outside.

  29. This really seems to be showing, I think, somewhat of a polarization in our little community. Those who play because it’s music, and those who view it as a sport.

  30. It’s only a sport if you have direct control over the result, else it’s just a contest where you’re lucky to draw a winning ticket if all things are equal with the other contestants.

    I think the mission of ever band is just to play well regardless of the outcome.

  31. How interesting that Kent made specific mention of the Tchaikovsky Competition! A friend of mine once took leave of his teaching post at a near-by school of music long enough to travel to Russia and compete in this. His insight was that there were only a few recognized interpretations of these ‘standard’ pieces which would be accepted and which had any chance of winning. Any ‘individual’ interpretation never left the first round. Nor did he believe that ANY of these accepted and commonly applied interpretations would stand a snowballs chance of succeeding on the concert stage where they would be scorned as ‘stale’ and ‘rehashed.’

    Yet the competition thrives. Its value is understood in establishing the base-point from which flows the true understanding of the music and which then positively affects all else. The advantage enjoyed by the classical music world is that they actually HAVE an “all else!” With competition being our ‘main stage,’ we cannot enjoy the dichotomy of the classical musician’s world. We ‘have and have not.’ Until that’s resolved, the conflict will continue to challenge and abrade.

  32. Aside from anything else, that fact that these robust, quality discussions and debates are going on here and in other places like Dunsire forums is positive, in my view. From the actual quality or what was played – whether heard live or via recording – to the merits or potential of the ‘free-form’ format or the degree to which judges will accept it, or even if there are enough composers good enough to create the music itself, this is all good. There seem to be clear divisions emerging; those who think it’s a good thing that should be embraced, others who see it as a silly joke. Either way, if anything is going to change, these discussions need to take place. Perhaps they have never happened before now because the pipe band community was more divided and isolated in their particular pockets of the world. Scottish judges/contests/formats remained unchallenged at the top of the tree and other voices were never in a position to ‘connect’, or even be heard. Those at the top of that ‘nominal tree’ are probably (almost certainly) not listening, and if they are they’d never admit it, BUT, there are a lot of people who are important who are. Important now because of their influence, important in the future because they may well be the new ones at the top of that tree! Andrew mentions déjà vu – certainly… every time a band decides to turn around, ‘blow up’ a tenor, start without rolls (where permitted!), or play a ‘one-tune medley’ we start discussing it like we never have before, all over the planet, and in real time. Going back even five years, events like this may have gone unnoticed in isolated pockets of our little community. Although I’m sure there are still large number of our peers who are unaware or uncaring about what’s transpiring, there are large numbers who are watching with interest, if not talking actively. Where will we be in five years with all this and more? Who knows, but the trip’s going to be bumpy and interesting!
    Cheers, Stephen



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