August 19, 2008


Honestly, they're playing facing you.Never under-estimate the value of canny marketing. Some pipe bands get it, and two bands used actual competition performances to draw attention not only to the band itself, but to issues of competing and musical presentation.

The first, of course, is the Toronto Police and its very different “medley.” I discussed it after the band performed the medley for the first time at Georgetown back in June. TPPB didn’t qualify for the Final at the World’s, and I’m quite sure they had every intention to play it there, even if it may have meant disqualification. I was hoping that they would get through.

The latest competition statement to be made was from House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead in the Medley event of the World’s Final. With about 30 seconds of the medley left, the pipe section turned outward to face the audience and the judges. Knowing the value of surprise, I understand that P-M Robert Mathieson kept this plan from even his own band members until the morning of the contest . Listening to the BBC recording of the performance, the pipe-section sound when they turn gets noticeably clearer, even if there’s a slight loss of unison.

Like TPPB after Georgetown, the Shotts turn was the talk of the day. I heard more about that from people than I did about how Field Marshal or the eventual World Champions SFU played. One can say that 2008 has been a year when the first-prize-winners had their thunder completely stolen.

The TPPB and HOESAD examples show what can be done simply by acting differently. I’m pretty sure that both bands saw 2008 as something of a building year, so perhaps winning was not the number-one objective for either. Would either band have done what they did if they thought that they were favourites to win the World’s? I don’t know. But I think that, without that win-at-any-cost mentality that guides a band that seriously thinks it can win, these bands made the most of the situation and decided to make very large musical statements.

Rab Mathieson calls for World’s reform in his pipes|drums Interview, even wondering why pipe bands don’t face the audience like any other serious musician would. Last Saturday he made a simple yet bold statement, risking losing the prize, but becoming the talk of the park while putting the spotlight directly on the important issue of what we are all are as musicians.

July 28, 2008

Rush to judgment


A few weeks ago I wrote about the Rush-inspired medley that the Grade 3 Durham Regional Police are playing this year. The band (pipe) starts with “Tom Sawyer,” the (rock) band’s one hit – or the closest thing they’ve ever come to a hit despite a gazillion album sales.

I managed to get a recording of it at Cambridge, so here it is. You can compare it with the original prog-rock song from the Canadian power-trio, as they’re referred to by anyone who cares. The video is from – gulp – 1981.

I also wrote a while back about bands doing new things with familiar melodies, mentioning that Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” might make a good adaptation. That summer I believe Shotts included Coldplay‘s “Kingdom Come” in its medley.

I think that what Durham does works, especially for a non-piping Canadian audience. The band includes lots of content for piping aficionados, and so it can still be new and different and clever while also being “true to the idiom,” as some people like to say.

You might say that the recent pipe band trend of taking a very familiar tune and repurposing it in a new time signature and tempo (see Al-Cal’s take on “Crossing The Minch,” for example) is much the same idea.

I spent much of my lost high school years doing two things: listening to Rush and playing the pipes. I never thought that the two could be merged.



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