Last Saturday at the Georgetown gamesÂ the band I play in, The Toronto Police Pipe Band,Â participated in the grade one pipe band contest.Â The event was a “medley” event and we played a piece of music I builtÂ called, “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions“.Â What an experience.Â We had all anticipated playing this “medley” and the crowd reaction was spine-tingling.Â IÂ have never in my long piping career experienced spontaneous, mid-performanceÂ cheers from a crowd at a pipe band contest.Â I’m not sure about the other playersÂ but it was all I could do to hold concentration.Â Believe me, these are the kinds of “challenges” we want to be faced with when competing!Â Forget the results for a moment, reaction like this is a performer’s triumph.Â It is what this is all about, or should be.Â Â Â
We all knewÂ the music would be controversial, a real love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing – like art!Â Someone said the opposite of art is not ugliness but indifference – and that makes good sense to me.Â Not a lot of indifferenceÂ amongst reaction toÂ “Good Intentions”.
Comments I’ve heard aroundÂ have been really interesting, and sometimes surprising – and sometimes disappointing (particularly when you know the person, sometimes a friend or friendly aquaintance,Â who made the unhelpful comment).
I don’t want to write a defense or an apology for this “Good Intentions”.Â It has been a great learningÂ and team-building experience for all of us in the Toronto Police Pipe Band.Â But I do feel compelled to clear up a few misconceptions of the “Good Intentions”.
It is a piece of music made for performance.Â At a concert, at aÂ games, in a boat, with a goat.Â Competitions are one of the only performance venues we have in pipe bands (and solo piping) so why can’t we make our best musical efforts here – whatever that effort looks like?Â I includeÂ composition, arrangement,Â musicianship under the “musical” banner.Â “A piece for a concert”?Â How many pipe band concerts happen around the world in one year? Six? And, again, music made for soft concert seats works just as well in the wet, green grass of competition.Â Maybe better.
It is not a “medley” of wee top-tapping tunes, the kind I have made forever – and most of the pipe band world, too.Â It is not a “suite”.Â It is one “tune”, one “thing”, inter-connected.Â Like a pibroch?Â I don’t know.Â Breton music?Â Nope.Â It’s no where near as subtle.Â But there isÂ no innovation that I can identify.Â This piece of musicÂ pretty much represents the standard wayÂ everyone else in the world of music approaches composition.Â “It all sounds the same”? Hardly.Â “Rubbish”? Well, that’s a hurtful rather than good intention, that’s for sure.Â Â I know I have aÂ bit of a track recordÂ in building a few tunes a lot of people don’t think areÂ rubbish.Â Â Â
“Good Intentions” is absolutely “judgeable” in the traditional pipe band sense:Â Â there’re clear phrases (and phrasing), technique, tempo, harmonic construction, traditional piping idioms, like jig, reel, hornpipe and old-fashioned dime-a-dozen Royal Conservatory musical principles – and, of course, there’s tuning,Â timbre, rhythmic integration,Â dynamics and unisonÂ all to consider.Â
In 6 minutes and 40 seconds we have crammed 6 key changes and no fewer than 8 rhythmic shiftsÂ -Â more doesn’t feelÂ right for this particular piece, for the time frame alloted.Â The averageÂ premier grade competition medleyÂ might have a similar musical profile.Â Â Â
OK,Â I amÂ sounding a wee bitty whingey and defensive – not my intention, believe me!Â Â I supposeÂ that’s what happens when you’re passionate about something;Â same, I’ll acknowledge,Â for those that dislike this music – and areÂ passionate for wee tunes knitted together in bridges (selections like thatÂ work for me, too!).Â Spirited dialogue can’t hurt!
I was around forÂ the 78th FHPB’sÂ “Mason’sÂ Apron” medley. I played it,Â loved it.Â Â “The Immigrant’s Suite” and “Megantic Outlaw” ,Â and all the other variousÂ “medleyÂ selections” over the years, too – allÂ great adventures in music.Â
Of pieces, or “medleys”,Â I have made, “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions” took the most effort and the most time to put together.Â I’m grateful for Ian K MacDonald’s and Doug Stronach’s leadership and the band’s wherewithal to give it a go.Â Â It really was – and is – fun.Â Pure and simple.Â I recommend funÂ to anyone, wherever you can get it.
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