You don’t have to be very old to remember the world before the Internet. I think my first foray was around 1996 using a workplace account (for business purposes only, of course). I imagine there’ll be loads of people in their late 20s who remember, even a little, a pre-Internet world.
The competitive pipe band world is a challenging environment to make music. Rules (and hefty musical parameters) aside, its a place, generally speaking, where there are strong preconceptions about what a pipe band should – or should not – perform. For example, the competition medley, launched as an event around 1970, is barely middle age in human terms, and in musical terms is still suckling at the teat. For the most part, what’s heard in pipe band contests today are really well thought-out arrangements and configurations of the main tune types common to bagpipe light music. And, with one main, notable exception: the “reelpipe intro” or “hornreel” or whatever you call it, there hasn’t been huge interest in shaking up the 25 year-old (plus) competition “medley” format.
Last Saturday at the Georgetown games the band I play in, The Toronto Police Pipe Band, participated in the grade one pipe band contest. The event was a “medley” event and we played a piece of music I built called, “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions“. What an experience. We had all anticipated playing this “medley” and the crowd reaction was spine-tingling. I have never in my long piping career experienced spontaneous, mid-performance cheers from a crowd at a pipe band contest. I’m not sure about the other players but it was all I could do to hold concentration. Believe me, these are the kinds of “challenges” we want to be faced with when competing! Forget the results for a moment, reaction like this is a performer’s triumph. It is what this is all about, or should be.
It’s summer, the pipes and drums are in high gear, and the games are afoot. It’s also the time of year we put our instruments (and ourselves) under their biggest tests - under stressful and, usually, trying conditions. Wind, rain, sleet, cold, hot, “gloom of night“ - we perform under the full gamut of weather conditions. We’re the “postpeople” of the music world. Rarely do we get that perfect, cloudless 21 degree performance day. But we always aim to deliver.
The truth of the matter, though: bagpipes, destined to be a perennial novelty.