Adventures in Judging Piping & Drumming (and a photo)

May 29, 2023 on 3:38 pm by Michael Grey | In Humour, Photographs, Pipe Bands | Comments Off on Adventures in Judging Piping & Drumming (and a photo)

Aside from getting a front row seat to good music, the best part about travelling around the place judging pipers and drummers is the people you meet. At its heart a good pipe band is a social club and that goes, too, for the judging game. While judges in most places are compensated for expenses and receive a fee, most don’t sit in judgement for the money. Travelling to games usually involves some degree of tedium – a little traffic here, a crabby border agent there. Its new friends made and old friendships renewed that is the best part of judging (that and the always five star accommodation, of course).

This past weekend I made my way 4 and a half hours west of Dundas, Ontario (or 6 hours if you miss the highway 402 turn-off – as I did) to a place in the middle of Michigan: Alma. I recall seeing a programme once proclaiming this small college town as “Scotland USA”. Anyway, this games is among the first of the season in this part of the world – and – the scene of my first solo piping contest (I’ve talked before of this and my “Hills of Perth” crit sheet from Bob Worrall’s teacher, Bill Miller, “this boy needs more practice”).

The Alma Highland Games are sanctioned by the Mid-West Pipe Band Association and are held over two days. Winners of the Sunday contest are proclaimed U.S Pipe Band Champions.

This past weekend was vintage. Between a near-miss in staying in the, er, fragrant, Zeta Sigma Fraternity House (complete with barber chair in the “games” room) to non-stop banter (“Michael’s got his red socks in the Value Village bargain bin”) with my colleagues, Stephen MacNeill, John Elliott, Jim Sim and J Reid Maxwell, the craic was mighty.

Just before heading off to Alma I happened on a pic of Reid and I from August 1987 – the day the band we played in won the World Pipe Band Championships. I had it in my mind to try and duplicate it (as we see so often on social media, “friends take pic in same pose every year for 30 years …”). So here we have the two of us in 1987 – both in a good place having just won a world title – and 36 years later. Still happy – and well fed.

I’ve know Reid since 1981. I met him through a mutual friend, Jim Cook, a snare drummer in the 48th Highlanders of Canada band. Jim and Reid had met at one of the post-Scottish World Festival gatherings at Fort York Armouries. Epic parties used to happen after tattoo performances at the Canadian National Exhibition stadium (the site now of BMO Field). Soon after meeting Reid I dragged him along to a General Motors practice at a library in Oshawa, Ontario. This was the autumn of 1981 and the tail-end of what was the General Motors Pipe Band. In any case, to tighten this story up, as I know I frequently say to people, Reid ended up joining the band just as the switch was pulled to change sponsorship to the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band. So, thinking vaingloriously, it might be said that had I never been taught by George Walker of the 48th, and joined the pipe band, met Jim, who introduced me to Reid, the trajectory of the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band might have been very different. Who knows? But fun to think about – well, for me.

Reid continues to be a great friend and is a remarkable talent. One of the greatest drummers anywhere. He is the current leader of the current Simon Fraser University World Pipe Band Champions Drum Corps. In fact, in the black and white photo you can see he wears the sash that represents that grand prize – he won that title in 1987, as well. The only drummer to have won a World’s Drum Corps championship (as corps member or leader) in six decades (1970s through to 2022). Consider that fact for a moment. Just plain remarkable.

Another truly remarkable thing to consider is that a bar of soap almost the size of a fifty pence piece can last a weekend.

Judging piping and drumming. Living the dream.


PS. Photo credit to John Elliott for the 2023 shot!

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