June 21, 2008

A crazy salad with their meat

You don't often see salad bars these days . . .The last week has seen a ton of debate about not only the Toronto Police’s adventurous new “medley,” but what actually constitutes a pipe band medley. Someone raised the salient point that a medley should be a combination of different tunes and argued that, because what TPPB played wasn’t a selection of tunes, it’s not really a medley.
By that token, if a band came out and played, say, the short piobaireachd, “Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod,” as its “medley,” should it be allowed? It’s a single tune, after all, but certainly a medley of variations. Then again, all pipe tunes are built on variations, or parts, so is each tune a micro-medley?
“The Megantic Outlaw” (the brain-child of Michael Grey who wrote it with Bill Livingstone and Bruce Gandy), which I discussed in the previous blog, was clearly both a combination of distinct tunes, but also variations built on a common theme, each variation having a name. I recall some bands using one or two of those “Megantic” theme/variations within their own medleys. The introductory 12/8 march by Bill seemed to be the most popular.
The results of the p|d Poll were interesting and raised another point. Sixty-three per cent of poll-voters said Yes to the question, “Should pipe band competition music always have some familiar element of the Celtic idiom?” Some would debate that there’s nothing Celticly familiar in the TPPB’s medley.
It’s all subjective interpretation. What’s “familiar” and “Celtic” to one may not be to another. What’s a “tune” to one is a “variation” to another.” And the subjectivity of judging art is the age-old quandary of things like juried art shows, dance competitions, and pipe band contests.
I am involved with the PPBSO’s Music Board and already several judges are requesting that guidelines be established and guidance given to adjudicators. They don’t want to be caught off-guard by such musical nuances, which seemingly happened at the Georgetown games, not only in the Grade 1 event but in the Grade 3 band contest in which Alex Lifeson‘s power-chords were adapted for the Highland pipe, but surrounded by very “familiar Celtic content.”
This quandary will not be solved easily, or ever, and nor should it be. The role of the modern pipe band judge is not solely to identify good tone and point out blooters; it’s also to render musical judgment based on their years of experience and proven ability in the art.
As discussed in another Blogpipe post, the attack, blooters, tone and unison-playing are accepted objective competition criteria. The grey area, as it were, is music, and no one has the right to state definitively what is “good” or “bad” music. But we all agree that, on the day, the judges’ definition of good and bad music is what counts in the prizes. As long as there are judges judging subjective music, the healthy debate will rage.
May 07, 2008


One medley for babies?Would it make sense to standardize competition rules worldwide at least at the top levels? Every year since the World Pipe Band Championships made the Grade 1 Final playing requirement submit two MSRs and one medley, there has been some hue and cry over the disparity between requirements leading up to the contest, with some alleging that some non-RSPBA bands have an advantage.

The RSPBA requires that bands submit two selections at all of its Grade 1 medley competitions. The Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario has the same rule. On the other hand, the British Columbia Pipers Association and other organizations call for Grade 1 bands to put in only one medley throughout their season.

The allegation by some is that bands that have only one selection to work on all summer enter the World’s with an edge.

I’m not sure what I think on the matter, but I do know that every association’s rules for solo competitions get progressively more stringent through the grades. In the Professional, or Open, grade, most associations require solo pipers to submit four of everything. Similarly, rules for bands get more and more difficult going up the grades, and it would seem logical to continue that increasing level of difficulty right through to the premier grade.

It makes sense to me that Grade 1 bands should have to prepare at least two MSRs and two medleys. In fact, in these days of most Grade 1 bands needing to have two hours of concert material at their fingertips, one would think that two of each is no bother at all.

But, then again, it also makes some sense that associations should follow the requirements set out by the RSPBA at the World’s, and allow their bands to hone their very best selection in the event that they need it on the big day.

Perhaps the solution is for the RSPBA to increase the requirement of the Grade 1 Final to two medleys. There are several advantages to this I think: more variety for the crowd; more variety year-to-year on the DVD and CD; more drama and excitement for the audience.

Sure, it’s more work and pressure for the bands (or at least as much when bands pre-1972 had to submit three MSRs) but, really, isn’t that what the Grade 1 Final all about?


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