Intransigence 911

August 20, 2012 on 6:01 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Tips | 5 Comments

The pipe band world is many things: unmercifully competitive, aggressive, cutthroat even – and, yes, occasionally collegial. But loving and nurturing? Not so much. The last little while I’ve stumbled on things said in public places (read: the Internet) and am genuinely incredulous at the anger, rage even, that pipe band music can elicit from people who purport to love the music. And to be clear: it’s not just the band I play in I’m talking about – it’s almost every band going, especially in the premier grade. It’s clearly powerful stuff we bring to the world through the wiggling of fingers and battering of sticks.

In trying to figure out this odd pipe band rage I’ve talked with a few [lots of] people. Exchanged email, too. No one seems to know why people freak out when pipe music is played outside what is believed to be the “acceptable pipe band music template” (or, at least, if not “freak out”, actively seek out every opportunity to insult, or, better yet, offend the pipe band music perps).

So I reflect. What is it these (mostly nameless) people say? Are there themes? Can we bucket their bile into categories [Yikes! A favourite corporate technique in problem-solving] and in so doing maybe understand the root of their issue(s)?

Here are some rage-against-the-computer-screen themes:

– The band is a show-off: They’re being different just to be different (i.e. “for it’s own sake”)
– The band thinks they’re clever but they’re not: trying to be “innovative”, rip off other musical forms: so “boring”, so pretentious – and done so badly
– The band is full of idiots: No one in the world likes it or plays their music why do they keep doing it?

Rather than lamely attempt to respond to improbabilities, I’ve just concluded three things:

1. People think the worst when it comes to what makes people do what they do, what motivates them.
2. Pipe band music matters to people, especially when it’s the kind of pipe band music they like to hear.
3. Pipe band enthusiasts lean to the hyper-competitive. Period. Prone, too, to the “Tall Poppy Syndrome“.

Oh, and one more, courtesy of Confucius: “They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”



  1. I agree with 1-3, but do you think that the extent of the competitiveness and lack of musical charity might not also be a result of the fact that many pipe band people treat the whole thing as a sport rather than an art? That’s not to say that artists, including musicians in other musical forms, are not sometimes competitive or dogmatic (of course they can be), but pipe band people, and particularly pipers, are, with some notable exceptions, different from other musicians I know and tend to be competitive in the way athletes are rather than the way other musicians I know are.

    Comment by jamsie an t-sealgair — August 21, 2012 #

  2. It’s bound to be frustrating. Jamsie Gaelic raises a good point. The competitive nature makes people give everything a competitive edge. When threatened, competitively, the tendency is to try to diminish the threat, often by belittling it. Perhaps pipe band “artists” aren’t really up to the challenge of ultra-creativity, so they are threatened by it and try to run it down. And then there is the cultural difference. The “New World” is based on change. Everything is about change. Immigrants want big change. They are ready to accept a new way of life. The Auld World? Not so much.

    Comment by aberthoff — August 21, 2012 #

  3. Jamsie: you’re right. Some view pipe band competitions as battle, so maybe it is war over sport. Andrew: good points. I agree.


    Comment by Michael Grey — August 21, 2012 #

  4. Tall Popeye Syndrome:

    My how true.

    In may, 2013 it will be the 100th anniversary of Stravinksy’s debut of the music and ballet of the Rite of Spring. This modal/atonal piece rocked the hell out of classical music and ballet. Arguments and then fist fights broke out in the first half, while Maurice Ravel (Yes the Bolero guy)stood on his chair screaming “:Genius….Genius”

    Police were called and settled the crowd at intermission. In the second half, full scale rioting erupted, with Stravinsky fleeing the theatre before the end of the performance.

    And today the Rite of Spring is a premiere piece for performance.

    Let’s put all of this into that perspective.

    Comment by billlivingstone — August 22, 2012 #

  5. That’s a bit info I wasn’t aware of, thanks, Bill. Yes, exactly, we need to put all this in perspective: it’s only music. Mind you, Stravinksy’s work caused a riot, wouldn’t that be fun!


    Comment by Michael Grey — August 23, 2012 #

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