Published: December 13, 2007

Closer to the art

Closer to the Peart.

We are the priests
Of the temples of syrinx
Our great computers
Fill the hollowed halls


– Peart

When I was a kid I absolutely loved the prog-rock “power-trio” Rush. I thought their lyrics were awesome, and no one could beat Neil Peart the drummer, what with his massive kit, gongs, and handle-bar mustache. Way cool.

I probably saw them in concert five or six times when they’d come through The Loo. Along with Clan MacFarlane and Guelph and General Motors, they were part of my interest in all things Canadian, and probably subconsciously had something to do with me eventually landing here.

Actually, I occasionally see Rush’s lead-singer Geddy Lee walking around the downtown area that I work in. He goes to Blue Jays games, and seems like a regular guy with an extraordinary voice, which Rolling Stone once described as “something between Tiny Tim and Donald Duck.”

Listening to Rush stuff now is a cross of humour and embarrassment. They’re so pompous and over-the-top that I have to wonder whatever possessed me to take them seriously. The drumming in particular is awkward and over-cooked – it’s appalling. Peart can play, but he’s too often going at it on his own, jamming far too much into simple melodies, and taking the limelight from the band. His drumming is like his lyrics: self-indulgent and introspective.

Of course you frequently see that in pipe bands. The drum section that in your youth you may have thought was brilliant because of its technical abilities, you later realize is not really contributing anything to the band. In fact, overly complex scores that distract from, rather than complement and highlight, the melody do great harm to a band – any band. You never see drummers older than 40 in any musical genre trying to do too much. They learn that less is usually more when it comes to accompaniment.

Pipe band drumming and ensemble judges should always ask this question first: Is the drumming enhancing or detracting from the melody? If the respective answers are no and yes, it’s not a good drum section, no matter how clever it might sound on its own.

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