Rab Wallace / College of Piping Down on Canada?

June 20, 2010 on 4:59 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Tips | 12 Comments

I was at band practice today and one of the guys mentioned they’d come across a blurb on Rab Wallace’s blog where he slagged off the Toronto Police Pipe Band. How odd, I thought. Rab’s always been nothing but a professional when it comes to providing considered opinion. Anyway, I’m home now and checked out the offending words. And surprise: they’re offending. Here’s one of his entries:

“Had the dubious pleasure of hearing Toronto Police at the recent Canadian G1 contest at Georgetown via YouTube. Good tone but oh the ‘music’… In my humble you’re way off beam guys – lost it I’m afraid and you’re not the only guilty ones. Last time I saw someone so animated as the TP bass drummer was a voodoo witchdoctor on TV – his music sounded similar too. Judge Ken Eller’s face is a study – no words necessary! Read more in the next PT.”

So, on the strength of a shitey, heavily compressed, one-sided YouTube view of the band Rab fires off unhelpful words of derision — promising, no less, to feature more insightful gems in his mag around the dire state of Toronto Police and our ilk.

How disappointing. Not that Rab hates our stuff (and, apparently, the rest of Ontario’s grade one band’s medley efforts – more or less), but that he’s calling us out almost three years after the Internet hullaballoo of “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions”. I thought Rab and The Piping Times were on top of what was happening. Evidently not the case.
college of piping down on canadaAnd to be clear to those not in the know, the bass drummer of the Toronto Police Pipe Band may well be a “witchdoctor” [two words, I believe is more correct] – who knows – but one thing I do know: she is no “he”. Reagan Jones is a marvelous musician with a degree in music, to boot – something that can be said of very few of us.

Anyway, odd, too that Rab would publically insinuate what was going through judge Kenny Eller’s mind as he adjudicated. For the record, here are summary words from Kenny’s very professional, constructive and most helpful PoPo adjudication sheet: “…complex counter-rhythms very pleasing” … “well orchestrated” … “superb rhythmic entry…” … “rhythm plus…”a pleasing performance…”. I find it jaw-droppingly surprising that the Principal of Glasgow’s College of Piping would write such editorial without meaningful insight.

A final thought. I scrolled though Rab’s blog and there’s a raft of recent entries that impugn Canada’s piping scene – Ontario’s anyway. A casual reader of Rab’s words would almost think Canada was in the World Cup final against Scotland (laugh out loud here).

All this is to say, what a shame. Our world is small and we look to great institutions like the College of Piping, and its leadership, to rise above the fray and raise us all higher. Not knock down pipers and bands – and friends.


PS. If Rab hates this year’s PoPo medley effort, let’s hope he doesn’t seek out “Idiomatica” 🙂 !


  1. Some folks take comfort in the familiar I suppose. The medley is enjoyable start to finish and certainly demands more of the listener (and player I’m sure!)…perhaps Msr. Wallace just doesn’t want to be work so hard to listen, or something… at any rate, cheers on another excellent selection!

    Comment by pipervin — June 20, 2010 #

  2. I’m afraid that anyone who bases any kind of worthwhile musical comment (Rab does talk about “tone” in a positive way, but still) using a YouTube video as the reference should stop and think. It’s bad enough having the usual ill-informed or flat out know-nothings talk about tone, mistakes, etc, etc based on YouTube, but to have someone with a reputation do it, is decidedly dodgy. Whilst one can talk about the general melodic line and construction, surely that’s then in the area of subjective taste and should be kept as a personal opinion. People of substance and profile – credibility? – in the pipe band world should resist the temptation to say anything a) unless present at the ring, and b) where unfairly singling out individuals. Totally poor form.
    – Stephen

    Comment by srmdrummer — June 20, 2010 #

  3. Thanks very much for your comments guys! M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — June 21, 2010 #

  4. I recognize that YouTube is not the same as live or being there, but I have heard YouTube versions of contests where I have been there, and when the recordings are done well [such as the pipes|drums versions referenced in the PT blog] I think you can hear enough to form opinions about the contest, or about a performance. We use those recordings to review and think about our own band’s performances, and to focus on areas where we need to improve. Having said that, I like to focus on the positive aspects of what I hear/see in these things. My view is that the PT blog is consistent with the magazine in that it routinely slags competitors and performances, focuses on perceived and real shortcomings, and gives faint praise to those who play well. It’s been called “The Sniping Times” for years [before the current editor], and for good reason. The blog is simply a continuation of that editorial approach. Look forward to hearing the TPPB “Live at Cowal.”

    Comment by iainmacd — June 21, 2010 #

  5. Fair enough iainmacd, whilst I agree that more major mistakes like early Es and poor cut-outs, and possibly overall expression are generally easy to hear via YouTube, and could give a band some idea of its overall quality of playing, I would maintain that it’s the in-depth, supposedly informed and credible critique that’s harder to make. In the case we are talking about here, there is apparently some axe of some kind to grind for some reason, we’ll take that for granted. But I think about either being in a circle playing or adjudicating myself and the things that you ‘miss’ that may have been heard around the other side of the circle by a band-mate or fellow judge… and that’s being there live. To me the only video recordings that are *really* “done well” are the BBC ones at the Worlds – multiple, extremely high quality mics placed all around the band. I guess that my point is most video camera mics (even HD video) simply aren’t up to the job for any real and proper, informed critiquing via video, in my opinion. Add to that the compression and sound processing in streamed video… But then, reasonable people can discuss issues openly and freely without resorting to cheap ‘sniping’ can’t they?
    – Stephen

    Comment by srmdrummer — June 21, 2010 #

  6. Iain – I’d have to say that Stephen makes a pretty strong case! I tend to agree with him. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — June 21, 2010 #

  7. “I would maintain that it’s the in-depth, supposedly informed and credible critique that’s harder to make.”

    Agree 100%, and I don’t think that anything I said above clashes with that. The whole reason we put up and watch YouTube recordings is so that we can get a sense of what happened, and enjoy some moments of performances we didn’t get to hear.

    I think it’s fair to form opinions about things we see and hear, even on YouTube, but how and when we communicate them is key. Respect for the performers and the music—and a sense of perspective about the medium—would go a long way.

    Comment by iainmacd — June 21, 2010 #

  8. “Shitey”?! One must be very careful with words that may offend – unintentionally, I’m sure. I thought the pipes|drums video was pretty durn good. But, back on topic, I used to think that Seumas’s Piping Times was simply what piping journalism was. Most of us, I like to think, are a little more enlightened and tolerant now.

    Comment by aberthoff — June 22, 2010 #

  9. I have always thought that there was some thing strange in the soil of Otago Street that at times made people write a bit odd.

    Comment by Stig Bang-Mortensen — June 22, 2010 #

  10. No offense intended. By “shitey” I meant any YouTube offering. I agree with Stephen that the degree of compression and the limited perspective offered by youtube offerings, no matter how well recorded, prevents the best assessment of what’s heard – especially if its a pipe band. YouTube just dosn’t allow rich sound no matter how great the material uploaded. Is there a recording on YouTube of any great band or orchestra where the sound would be described as great – or good?

    Almost getting off track. Oops. M.

    Comment by Michael Grey — June 22, 2010 #

  11. Right. Mustn’t be thin-skinned. I think Harry said it best on Facebook: “The antique piping tradition of belittling and discrediting anything you don’t like or can’t understand. I can tolerate anything but intolerance.”

    Comment by aberthoff — June 22, 2010 #

  12. To Andrew – I certainly don’t want to rubbish the quality of the P|D (or many other) YouTube videos. They are what they are, and for that, are extremely welcomed, valued and well-watched. I know this is a ‘side issue’ to the main theme of ‘Sniping Times’ having a go at Canadians/Ontarians (is that word?), but it is thought provoking in itself. I owe a great deal to YouTube as the raw material for my MSR tempo research, with which, both you and Michael are familiar. The database now has over 910 examples in it. The YouTube quality varies, on the lower end, scratchy phone-cam recordings. Nonetheless, they are still digital, and still accurately represent the tempos in which I am interested (and now, to some extent, the MSR repertoires going around and the changes in trends there). So yes, YouTube has its place. In fact, I reckon it is playing a role in ‘spreading’ pipe band culture further – sometimes for better or worse! What I can say is that pre-YouTube, I was averaging maybe 10-15 Grade 1 standard MSRs accessible through CDs, etc, and last year’s total is 194! The YouTube commenting facility is partly what has me feeling strongly about people using the medium to ‘judge’ certain aspects of bands… and that’s why, to me, Rab’s comment and tone is disappointing, because he *should* know better. But again, the discussion and debate in a respectful, reasonable way, is to be encouraged.
    – Stephen

    Comment by srmdrummer — June 22, 2010 #

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