By the Left

Published: July 12, 2023

Want to be a better piper? Play for a drummer.

By Laura Mullin

Most know well the friendly rivalry that exists between pipers and drummers.

We pipers often fancy ourselves as serious musicians while our drumming friends are . . . well . . . did you hear about the boy who told his mother he wanted to be a drummer when he grew up?

She said, “You can’t do both, son.”

Jokes and jibes flow freely from both sides, but drummers know they need us, and we . . . well, I think we pipers sometimes forget that we need them, too. Drummers are the Yin to our Yang, our tempo-guidance technicians, the Great Keepers of the Beat.

So why is it so hard for some of them to find a piper for their solo competitions?

I left piping for a long time, and my memory may be faulty, but I recall a much more extensive list of drumming competitors in the 1980s than I see now at our local games. There are likely many reasons for this, but I’m pretty sure that finding a willing piper at 8:30 am on a Saturday is part of the problem.

Drummers cannot play solos “solo.” It’s a misnomer. Piping is required or you can’t compete. Sure, you don’t need a “live” piper. Dead ones, technically, can participate. By that, I mean you can play to a recording. So, drummers, make sure you bring along a 450-foot extension cord and a boombox and ask one of the Bacon-on-a-Bun vendors if you can plug into their electricity while you flit between March, Strathspey & Reel and Hornpipe & Jig competitions.

That, or a sporran loaded with jumbo “D” batteries, should work.

Is your drummer in a higher grade and playing closer to 10:30 or 11:00? Guess who might get a “pass” from the pipe-major for the first massed bands?

Some pipers already have their own busy day of solo competitions, massed bands, band tuning, band competition, beer tent, then massed bands again. I get it. But if you’re a piper who isn’t competing in the morning, why not show up a bit early for a drummer? I guarantee it will make you a better piper for several reasons:

  1. Your drummer might be playing tunes you already know – perhaps even band tunes. Learning the scores and getting the reps in with one of your drummers will help you perform better with the band.
  2. Your drummer may be playing different tunes. What better way to expand your repertoire than learning them and then practicing them?
  3. New to a band? Get to know some of your bandmates by practicing with them and piping for them.
  4. Getting to the games at the crack of dawn pretty much guarantees you a great parking spot.
  5. Is your drummer in a higher grade and playing closer to 10:30 or 11:00? Guess who might get a “pass” from the pipe-major for the first massed bands? (Emphasis on “might.”)
  6. Playing for a competitive drummer is an excellent way to get “nervous reps” in and perhaps ease your own jitters for band competition.
  7. The unwritten yet golden rule of “payment in the beer tent” will save you a few quid at the end of the day.

Solo competition is stressful enough without watching our drummers searching for pipers who know their tunes and are willing to show up and play for a few minutes. They are our friends. We should play for them if we can.

Playing more makes us better pipers, and playing for drummers committed to improvement makes us better people.

Laura Mullin is a first-rate piper and writer who has contributed several pieces to pipes|drums. A member of the Grade 1 Toronto & District in the 1980s and ’90s, she took a long break to commit herself to family and career and is now whole-hog back at competitive piping as a member of the Grade 2 St. Andrew’s College Association and occasional solo piper. In her spare time, she likes to play for friendly snare drummers.

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1 thought on “By the Left

  1. No matter the quality or nature of the medium, a recording simply cannot capture the full harmonics of the instrument. I attended one of the Dan Reid performances several years ago. Willie McCallum came into the room, blew up his pipes, and I thought, Wow! He kept tuning and I really felt that all Willie was doing was taking the time to calm his nerves as his pipe was great. Then it happened: perfection! Never heard anything like that before. The sound was exquisite. No: stunning. I bought a CD of the competition when it became available and while a great recording that I still play, it simply couldn’t capture that incredible sound. Nothing like hearing it live. Besides, there’s no interplay with your fellow enthusiasts while watching YouTube.

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