June 15, 2008

Good morning

Sunset or sunrise?About 15 years ago, the 78th Fraser Highlanders decided that it would play its Megantic Outlaw “suite” as one of its competition medleys. The piece, which can be heard on the band’s CD of the same name, was about six minutes long, and was a musical impression of the tale of a celebrated figure in Canadian history.

The medley/suite was played one time in competition, at the then Canadian Championships at Cambridge, whereupon one judge, Archie Cairns, lambasted it, as I recall, writing on his scoresheet something like, “This does not fit the pipe band idiom.” I believe the band didn’t win as a reult.

After that, the suite was essentially bagged, not played at the own-choice medley events at Maxville or the World’s. In effect, the band caved for fear of risking losing points because the judges might not like the content, no matter how well it was executed.

That was a watershed decision, as I see it now. Had that band played “The Megantic Outlaw” at the World’s, then, who knows, perhaps the predictable HP/Jig/Air/Strath/Reel (the Jig and Reel sections interchangeable) might not be so predictable. Since then no Grade 1 band has competed with anything significantly different.

Until yesterday, that is, when the Toronto Police shook things up by playing a Gershwin-inspired selection that obviously rallied the crowd, but not all of the judges, one of whom once again apparently didn’t like or understand the content. (I didn’t hear the whole contest, so I can’t comment on what the other two bands played or the kind of sound and unison they produced.) The medley includes very little that is musically familiar to the pipe band enthusiast.

Looking back again to 1980, the General Motors band (the forerunners of the 78th Fraser Highlanders) regularly brought down the house with a creative (for the time) medley, but which also didn’t do well with the judges.

I’m a firm believer in art over-reaching its creative boundaries in order to move things forward. Impressionism was almost universally panned. Picasso was a heretic for cubism. Pollock splattered paint and offended many. Warhol called depictions of garbage art.

In my mind, full credit goes to the artists who are willing to sacrifice money and prizes by being courageous and, at times, outrageous. For the rest of us they fall on their swords.

May 26, 2008

Greener pastures

Going for the GreenI wasn’t at the Scottish Pipe Band Championships, but I have heard nothing to suggest that St. Laurence O’Toole was a worthy and popular winner. More than 80 per cent of voters on the current p|d Poll say the result was “Great for SLOT!” and you would be hard-pressed to find a more likable and talented band anywhere.

Things have come a long way in the UK when it comes to pipe band politics, and a very long way since the 1970s when Northern Ireland’s Grade 1 St. Patrick’s Donaghmore won the piping at the World Championships, only to have the ensemble judge relegate them to near-last, bumping them way down the list.

To add insult, the same ensemble judge allegedly (but this story has been relayed to me by many people over the years who say they witnessed it) saw Donaghmore off by giving the completely demoralized band the two-fingers-up salute as they drove out of the park.

For those pipers and drummers who live outside of the UK, SLOT’s win may not seem that important. But for those in the UK and Ireland who have witnessed first-hand the political and quasi-religious idiocy that has gone on decades before, it’s a true milestone.

To be sure, to be sure, that idiocy hasn’t much existed for at least the last 20 years, and all bands have had to play well enough to win, but SLOT finally doing so officially closes the door on some bad, lingering memories.

The road rises up.


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