December 19, 2007

Driven to distraction?

Not recommended while wearing a 20-pound snare drum.For the three decades I played with pipe bands I think I was reminded a thousand times not to tap my foot in the circle. Pipe-majors and leading-drummers would constantly tell people that they are the only ones allowed to move anything but fingers and wrists.

The thinking was – and I assume still is – that you don’t want to distract the audience or other band members from hearing and producing good music. The focus should be on the sound, not the histrionics of band members. Today, you hardly ever see anyone but the pipe-major in a good band tapping his/her foot.

Which makes me wonder why it is that pipe band mid-sections should be allowed to flourish. Doesn’t it completely contradict the stay-as-still-as-possible ethic instilled in pipers and snare-drummers? If the band is supposed to encourage everyone to focus only on the music, why have a synchronized show going on in the middle of the band?

I’m just asking the question because it confuses me. I’m not saying that flourishing shouldn’t happen. But, as a judge, I am occasionally distracted from the music by the impressive choreography happening between the pipe-section and snare-line.

If complex flourishing is allowed and encouraged in the competition circle, why not have the pipers do a little two-step or the snares execute a wee French can-can? Maybe that too will visually enhance the performance. Maybe not.

Further, if the point is to play music as well as possible, don’t the odds of missing a crucial musical beat increase the more a tenor-drummer flourishes?

I like the display of mid-sections as much as the next person. Some of it is mesmerizingly entertaining. But should bands that are striving to play perfectly tuned and executed music to impress judges also be trying to distract visually?




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