Back to school(s) for a lesson in medley construction

March 15, 2017 on 5:49 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands | Comments Off on Back to school(s) for a lesson in medley construction

One of the most important, if not inspiring, events on the global piping calendar these days, surely, has to be the annual Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships. Yes, a Scottish-confined event – no Canadians need apply – but what a grand testament to the health of the bagpipe in the homeland of the instrument (and the pipe band, too, I don’t want to miss out drummers). For any hope of the bagpipe to thrive anywhere we need the instrument, and the pipe band, to flourish in Scotland. Of this I’m sure. And this event is both a barometer to the long-term vitality of the art and a hugely popular event if measured alone by sheer numbers of entrants and attendees.

All this is thanks to The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust. For anyone looking to get some ideas about how to replicate their good work locally, I encourage you to visit their website and learn more.

Last week, as is now the norm, the second Sunday in March saw a gathering of young pipers, drummers and supporting artists – and their friends, families and supporters – gather and take the stage in Edinburgh to showcase their music for expert assessment and adjudication. Promo material tells us, “The competition categories provide a forum for top level competition as well as a positive and encouraging environment for school pipe bands with minimal or no competing experience.” If video testament is any indication, the event’s aspiration has been met – in spades.

Over 60 pipe bands covering tuition in over 300 schools (primary and secondary) availed themselves to the harsh (but not really), yet nurturing, assessment of the adjudicators. Yet, it was the “freestyle” event that caught my ear [Ontario readers might recall my lobby for a professional freestyle event five years ago – one agreed to – adopted – executed – and rescinded last year (I note here with crabby pants on)].

What a breath of fresh air (sounding like Simon Cowell on any one of his talent shows) to hear a selection of music in the “Freestyle” event that follows the fundamental tenets of showmanship and, so, good musical construction.

The Freestyle event was adjudicated by leading lights of the Scottish music scene – not all pipers (how great is that!): Craig Ferguson, Scottish Orchestra, Phil Cunningham, living legend, Gary West, all-round leading pipe band, folkie and smart guy and Craig Munro, super talented member of the Red Hot Chili Pipers. Does a freestyle judgey panel get better than this one?

In the example of the winning combo, Sgoil Lionacleit, from Benbecula in the Western Isles (Benbecula bias alert!) you just have to tip your hat at the forward thinking that went into their show’s construction. Like, really basic: Start slow … and build tempo. Unfortunately we are not permitted (oddly) this most-basic musical device in competitive pipe bands, current rules just don’t allow it – but we can hope for change.

Here’s the Lionacleit performance. Like most all those at the school championships, musically sound and soundly musical – and surely an inspiration for anyone looking to build a medley of tunes that stirs the soul, surprises and, when performed well, entertains:

Freestyle 2017 with judges comments

Posted by Isla MacDonald on Monday, March 13, 2017

Fair play for pipes, indeed!


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