There might be some serious practical limitations when it comes to creating original and engaging competitiveÂ pipe band shows these daysÂ but I still have to think we’re being too timidÂ inÂ reaching for the hazy boundary andÂ physicalÂ limits of pipe band instrumentation (meaning the bagpipe and the usual competitive instruments of percussion).
Why?Â Maybe it’s stringent and backward rules. Maybe it’s the phenomenon of pipe bandÂ competition and the sports-like atmosphere that pervades the game.Â MaybeÂ it’s the amateurÂ nature of the pipe band world (meaningÂ way more hobbyists than professionals).Â Maybe we’re just all artistic dullards who have fallen in to a crazy sub-cultureÂ fixated with big sound, tight unison andÂ beer tents.
It doesn’t really matter. There is another way:Â there always is;Â there always has been.Â
I am not denying there are loads of clever selections of music played around the world.Â I say “loads” but maybe I mean “some”.Â Â At the World Pipe Band Championships, for instance,Â you’re always guaranteedÂ more than a few great musical moments.Â But here is the first line from my upcoming book [not], “Confessions of a Pipe Band Guy”:Â 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.Â
Maybe I was crabby forÂ sitting on the sidelines and not in the fray; maybe I was just crabby.Â Â It has been known.Â IÂ don’t know.Â Â Â Anyway.Â
Consider what was presented to the ticket-paying public: 24Â sets of 3 pace rolls.Â 24 examples of bands furtively attempting to sound a perfectly intonedÂ introductory ‘e’ in unison (not ‘b’, not ‘f’).Â
24 examples of bandsÂ performing with their backs to theÂ audienceÂ 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).Â 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”Â 2. JigÂ 3. Jig with harmonyÂ Â 4.Â Slow air in tempo with intrusive mid-section percussion and (preferably lots of 3-4 part harmony with counterpoint)Â 5.Â Four beats to strathspey 6. Reel(s) building withÂ an extravaganza of harmony round about part 4 or 6. 7. Sustained final melody note.Â
It’s all good.Â I know.Â
But we can do more. We should.Â 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, musicÂ that engages and connects with people has anÂ element of surprise.Â You know, too,Â it’s about provoking a feeling, an emotion, a memory.Â Our current competitive format has allowed a lot of this to happen – but not always and not often.Â Â It’s getting old.Â Time to stretch.Â
In the next little while I am going to try and build a medley here.Â One section at a time.Â A 5-7 minute “something” thatÂ puts my money where my mouth is – as they say.
I have to tell you I started this web log with the intention ofÂ sharing freely and openly what I have learned along my bagpiping way.Â I wanted opinion and rants at a minimum.
So, apologies.Â I guess when talkingÂ artÂ there is no happy, safeÂ middleÂ ground.Â In fact, I wonder if there is a “happy, safe middle ground” anywhere.Â Anyway, let’s build a “medley selection”.Â Drop in, and see what you think.Â Â Â Â Â Â
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