August 03, 2011

Maxville memories

Even though it was my twenty-third in succession and twenty-seventh overall, each Glengarry Highland Games at Maxville is remarkable. I recently compared photos of last year’s event with one from the 1980s and was amazed at how much the piping and drumming and band competitions have grown.

Each year is memorable for different reasons. The exact years often blur, but the memories tend to stay clear. Here are a few of my stand-out positive recollections from the 2011 rendition of Maxville.

Alex Gandy, Maxville 2011.1. Alex Gandy’s March, Strathspey & Reel. I heard maybe six or seven players in the contest, but when I caught Alex’s performance I thought that it could stand up just about anywhere. It emerged the winner of the “Glengarry MSR” against a field of more than 20 other top-flight players. Everything about it was excellent, but most of all the content: Donald MacLeod’s “Duncan MacColl,” Allan MacDonald’s “Crann Tara,” and Fred Morrison’s version of “Alick C. MacGregor,” and compliments to judge Reay Mackay for having the moxie and knowledge to choose them. I’m not sure when the last time was when a competitor won three Professional solo piping events at Maxville, but it’s a rarity.



2. Acknowledging our over-achievers. Special Honourary Life Memberships to the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario were awarded to Reay Mackay and Ed Neigh for their decades of unflagging service to the cause. Bob Worrall and Michael Grey respectively paid tribute to these stalwarts of the art not at some small members-only event, but at the final massed bands ceremony before tens of thousands of pipers, drummers and others. This sort of thing needs to happen more, and I’m pretty sure that it will after starting with these deserving gents.

Maxville Grade 1 commemorative pin.3. Pins for winners. The good folks at the Glengarry games decided this year to create commemorative pins to give to each player in the 2011 North American Champion band. What a great concept. Maxville lost most of its great trophies in a fire several years ago, and marking the achievement this way is a certain treasure for every member, this year, of the Peel Regional Police Pipe Band. Pure class.

4. Logistical brilliance. Coordinating the more than 60 events (51 separate solo contests on Friday alone) is an almost superhuman feat that we often take for granted. There are folks out there at the crack of dawn getting things ready week in and week out in Ontario, and they deserve huge thanks. There are games that have a hard time getting three events to run on time. Sure, there were minor hiccups, but the PPBSO’s volunteer management team for this year’s Maxville deserves huge recognition and credit.

5. Trickle-down creativity. I’ve heard people disparage the Toronto Police Pipe Band’s adventurous medleys of the last few years, saying that, if people liked them then why more bands would immitating them. But my view is that the avant-garde or Haute Couture in art or fashion makes a strong style statement that is rarely imitated, but it instead inspires. It trickles down to become a trend a few years later. Listening to bands, many are now more creative and adventurous than ever, and many times at Maxville I heard inspiration in their new music. There’s a correlation.

Those are a few of my stand-out Maxville memories. What are yours?


  1. Wonderful summary, Andrew – and good on both these contributors to my decades in the Game. I think of early 60’s trips to the Shakespearean Festival and a tall, willowy Farley Mowat like piper playing for the arriving crowds, as Ed did as a teen. Always someone to look up to. A couple of years later we came up for quartets at the Mosspark Armouries and saw John Wilson’s highly touted Reay racking up the solo scene. The quintessential, avuncular and kindly Judge now that all young players like Alex want to run into – for advice and encouragement. In my probing way, I wanted to know the name of the S/P in the MSR from Alex and asked both Glenna and Hector. It seemed somewhat familiar and it turns out, was, having seen it in the Red Book. I had to find out from Reay later, who generously volunteered that he also was not familiar with the tune. A fine gauge of his unassuming embrace of all that is possible in music. Good thing your video was not running or someone might have seen a D gracing missed in the 2nd line – just kidding, but it’s great that Reay would not feel threatened by such material. Alex may be shooting for his record at Glengarry now, and is quite capable of doing it.
    Fine point about trickle down – Michael and Bill, for example, have a more direct line to the Muse than we mere mortals, and it takes time for their understanding to penetrate our denser skulls (mine at least). Still think it’s a McCartney-Lennon situation where Michael can use a Bill or his old co-writer, Bruce, to temper the direction of his own musings. Just my angle, anyway.
    It’s been great to absorb all these creative musicians’ output over the decades – cheers – robin



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