There might be some serious practical limitations when it comes to creating original and engaging competitive pipe band shows these days but I still have to think we’re being too timid in reaching for the hazy boundary and physical limits of pipe band instrumentation (meaning the bagpipe and the usual competitive instruments of percussion).
Why? Maybe it’s stringent and backward rules. Maybe it’s the phenomenon of pipe band competition and the sports-like atmosphere that pervades the game. Maybe it’s the amateur nature of the pipe band world (meaning way more hobbyists than professionals). Maybe we’re just all artistic dullards who have fallen in to a crazy sub-culture fixated with big sound, tight unison and beer tents.
It doesn’t really matter. There is another way: there always is; there always has been.
I am not denying there are loads of clever selections of music played around the world. I say “loads” but maybe I mean “some”. At the World Pipe Band Championships, for instance, you’re always guaranteed more than a few great musical moments. But here is the first line from my upcoming book [not], “Confessions of a Pipe Band Guy”: sitting in the bleachers at the Worlds a couple of years ago and listening to the complete grade one set and medley contest was the most boring afternoon I have ever spent – in Glasgow, at least.
Maybe I was crabby for sitting on the sidelines and not in the fray; maybe I was just crabby. It has been known. I don’t know. Anyway.
Consider what was presented to the ticket-paying public: 24 sets of 3 pace rolls. 24 examples of bands furtively attempting to sound a perfectly intoned introductory ‘e’ in unison (not ‘b’, not ‘f’).
24 examples of bands performing with their backs to the audience and a medley or “selection” of tunes that mostly followed the same pattern (note: replace jig with reel and reel with jig as you like). Also, please note: I am having fun here – there were many great performances on the day – and – I have built many selections of tunes that follow this prescription or one similar:
1. Intro march/march-like “hornpipe” 2. Jig 3. Jig with harmony 4. Slow air in tempo with intrusive mid-section percussion and (preferably lots of 3-4 part harmony with counterpoint) 5. Four beats to strathspey 6. Reel(s) building with an extravaganza of harmony round about part 4 or 6. 7. Sustained final melody note.
It’s all good. I know.
But we can do more. We should. If we all follow the same path, the path wears, the scenery gets old and we forget the joys of setting out on a new way. Good music, music that engages and connects with people has an element of surprise. You know, too, it’s about provoking a feeling, an emotion, a memory. Our current competitive format has allowed a lot of this to happen – but not always and not often. It’s getting old. Time to stretch.
In the next little while I am going to try and build a medley here. One section at a time. A 5-7 minute “something” that puts my money where my mouth is – as they say.
I have to tell you I started this web log with the intention of sharing freely and openly what I have learned along my bagpiping way. I wanted opinion and rants at a minimum.
So, apologies. I guess when talking art there is no happy, safe middle ground. In fact, I wonder if there is a “happy, safe middle ground” anywhere. Anyway, let’s build a “medley selection”. Drop in, and see what you think.
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