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Category Archives: Pipe Bands

Ready for the Worlds?

This is a video that has been making the rounds of various piping sites and blogs this week. If it doesn’t get you fired up for the World Pipe Band Championships, there’s something wrong with you.

For best results, set the quality to HD.

Mark your calendar: August 11, 2012!

Field Marshal on top at Worlds

Yesterday was the World Pipe Band Championship, and I spent a great morning watching some great bands.

Field Marshal Montgomery emerged as world champions. Check out their medley performance to see why (WordPress won’t let me embed the html file on the page, so you’ll have to head to the BBC to watch it). That medley was the total package, and no one else was touching that performance. It’s a great medley in terms of how it’s constructed, with a nice combination of modern and classic tunes, new versions of classic tunes (I especially like the innovative setting of The Train Journey North as the closer), and harmonies and transitions that complemented the separate tunes without being overbearing or distracting.

It didn’t hurt that they played it absolutely flawlessly either. There’s good pipe band playing, there’s great pipe band playing, and then there’s this performance. Be sure to listen to Bob Worrall’s comments at the end of the video: “How a band can play better than that, I have no idea.”

Congratulations to Field Marshal on their well-earned victory.

Kudos should go to Inverary and District as well; they ended up in fourth place overall courtesy of two very strong performances. This is especially fantastic considering that this is the band’s second season in grade 1. The medley is great and well played (third place with a restrike), and its construction is very characteristic of their pipe major Stuart Liddell.

The BBC coverage was pretty good, and it was really fun to watch everyone’s comments on Facebook during the event. I hope they continue to offer the event, and I plan to watch it every year that I possibly can.

What are your Worlds plans?

The World Pipe Band Championship is just a week away! A few weeks ago the BBC announced that they would be streaming the Grade 1 competition from the Worlds live over the internet. Coverage includes the qualifier and both rounds of the final, and starts at 9 a.m. BST, which is the wonderfully early time of 4 a.m. where I live here on the east coast of the U.S.

Last year’s coverage included an excellent commentary on each band’s performance by Bob Worrall, a judge and instructor from Canada. According to an article on pipes|drums he’ll be doing the same thing this year, which I’m looking forward to hearing again.

This marks the third year the BBC has offered streaming coverage, and it’s been quite a hit in the piping community. Last year the BBC encouraged people to send photos of their Worlds parties, and some of them were featured on the BBC website. I’m planning to get together with a few folks from the band to watch the event in its entirety (yes, that means I will be up at 4 a.m. to watch every band).

What are your plans for watching the Worlds?

P.S.- If you’re not able to catch the event live (or even if you are), on-demand videos of every band will be available on the same website. Videos from last year are still up, with the commentary from Bob Worrall.

When your reporter doesn’t understand what he/she is reporting on

I came across this article today; it was published last summer, right after St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band won the Worlds. It seems to come from a radio station in the Vancouver area, and focuses on their local band. There are a few clues that the article was not written by someone who understand how piping competitions work. What gives it away for you?

SFU bagpipe team tied for third at Worlds

A pipe band for all players

In 2008, a group of some of the most decorated pipers and drummers in the world came together to form the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band, which existed for one week. The idea was to get these top players together, practice hard for a week, and compete at the World Pipe Band Championships.

The beginnings of the band was born at the Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship as several of the competitors were chatting and said that they’d like to play at the Worlds but didn’t have the time to commit to a band. Roddy MacLeod was the pipe major, John Fisher the leading drummer, and the ranks were filled by many top soloists who were not attached to a band (and some who were). The band qualified for the final in Grade 1 and finished 11th overall.

A documentary film was made about the event: On The Day. It’s very well done and worth watching if you can get your hands on it.

Yesterday I heard about a documentary film made about a band that is the exact opposite of the Spirit of Scotland. Called Follow Me… I’m Right Behind You, the band is formed by the College of Piping Training and invites people who otherwise would have no chance of playing at the Worlds. They play in grade 4B, have no intention of winning (or, I imagine, finishing anything except last), and the whole point is to allow the players to say that they’ve played at the Worlds.

I rather like the spirit of this band better than the Spirit of Scotland. Here’s my favorite quote from the trailer:

“No matter how bad the playing, and no matter how much they go to pieces on the day, we don’t turn anybody away.”

That really goes to the heart of teaching. Most of the bands who play at the Worlds, especially lower grade bands who travel from overseas, are not expecting to win. They go to play at the largest pipe band contest in the world, to get the experience of playing on the Worlds stage, to be there with 200 bands and 8000 musicians from all over the world, to say that they’ve done it.

I’m in favor of this band for bad players, and I hope they continue for years to come. I’d very much like to see this film, and if anyone knows where I can find a DVD copy of it, please let me know.

Random piping video

You may have noticed an upswing of posts over the past few weeks, and that has tailed off now that classes have started. I have some ideas for some posts that I’d like to write up when I have a chance, but for now here’s a video to hold you over.

The is the Peel Regional Police’s medley performance from the North American Pipe Band Championships at Maxville, Ontario in August of this year. This was the same medley they used last year, and the first time I heard it I thought it was fantastic. I still think so, and still very much enjoy listening to it. This performance earned them 1st place in this event, which combined with their 1st place in the MSR competition won them the championship.

What a great medley. It’s probably time for them to rotate it out since they’ve been playing it for two years, but I will miss it.

Once again, a stunning lack of variety

I made a post the other day about the repetition of tunes in the final round MSR at the World Pipe Band Championship, and I sat down this morning and compiled a tune list from the qualifying event in the morning. There were 18 bands in the qualifying round, and here’s the breakdown.

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Shaking up the MSR

I recently posted my analysis of the tune selection in the final round MSR of the World Pipe Band Championship, and my conclusion was that, once again, there were entirely too many tunes repeated.

The tunes that are often played in these band contests are excellent tunes: Highland Wedding, Clan MacRae Society, Lord Alexander Kennedy; Susan MacLeod, Blair Drummond, Maggie Cameron; Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran, John Morrison of Assynt House, MacAllister’s Dirk. They are all classics, difficult to play, and any band that can play them well certainly deserves to win a contest at the top level.

But I don’t want to hear every band play them.

Partly I think it sets a bad example for bands in the lower grades, encouraging them to pick tunes that might be too hard for them. This never ends well. More importantly though, I don’t want to hear the same tunes all throughout the competition.

Offered here is my humble suggestion for encouraging some variety in the tune selection without discarding the classic tunes altogether.

For these MSR competitions, the band must submit two sets, and they do this when they register for the competition. When the band comes to the line, a random draw from the chief steward determines which set they are required to play. I suggest that one submitted set from each band must not contain any of the most popular tunes for the last five years.

So a band is welcome to submit Set #1 as Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod, and John Morrison of Assynt House, but Set #2 can’t have any of those more popular tunes; let’s try something like John MacDonald of Glencoe, The Shepherd’s Crook, and Major David Manson.

If we require that each band’s Set #2 have none of these more popular tunes, probability says that half of the sets we’d hear would have the tunes that aren’t heard as often, but we’d still have a chance to hear these popular tunes. That’s my thought. Any other suggestions?

More variety in the MSR, but still not enough

I’ve posted before about how little variety there is among the MSR sets submitted by the top level bands. That particular post was just after the World Pipe Band Championships last year, and this year was about the same. I just went through the recordings posted on the BBC website of the 14 bands in the final MSR, and determined the following:


  • The march was where there was the most variety, with nine different tunes.
  • The most popular march was Pipe Major Tom MacAllister (4 times), with Balmoral Highlanders and The Clan MacRae Society being played twice each. These were the only tunes that were repeated.
  • Usual favorites Highland Wedding, Donald Cameron, and Lord Alexander Kennedy only made one appearance each.


  • Eight different strathspeys were played, with Susan MacLeod being played most often (4 times). Maggie Cameron and Atholl Cummers were each repeated twice, as was The Islay Ball, which hasn’t been very popular in years past.
  • Perennial favorite Dora MacLeod was only played by one band, as was Tulloch Castle.


  • There were only six different reels played, showing the least diversity
  • John Morrison of Assynt House was the most popular (4 times), with MacAllister’s Dirk next (3 times) and two appearances each of Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran, John MacKechnie, and Charlie’s Welcome.
  • Pretty Marion was only played once, and it was the only reel not repeated.

So there’s still an appalling lack of variety in the MSR tune selection, but there seems to be a bit more variety than last year. What can be done to shake things up a bit? Well, I have an idea that might appear here sometime in the next few days.

The Worlds goes global

Try to think about what life was like before the internet. It’s hard, I know. The net is the first place I look for news, weather, and things I used to look up in the yellow pages. I also contend that Wikipedia is one of the greatest inventions in the history of humanity. Information and interactive content has filtered down to nearly every part of the globe, involving nearly every aspect of every culture.

The bagpipe world has been involved in this as well. I can list a dozen pipers who have blogs and YouTube channels, and there are hundreds of others out there. Videos of band competitions, especially the ones involving the top bands, appear on YouTube within a few hours of the contest, offering people half a world away the chance to be armchair judges.

And speaking of armchair judging, I spent Saturday morning doing just that. Courtesy of the BBC, live coverage of the World Pipe Band Championship was available to anyone in the world with an internet connection. Being unable to make it to Scotland is no longer an excuse for not catching the performances.

Coverage included the entire grade 1 contest, starting with the qualifying round. I’ll admit that I’m not hardy enough to catch the qualifying round (it started at 4 am here on the east coast of the U.S., but I do know people who got up to watch it), but I did see the entirety of both the MSR and medley rounds of the finals.

This also suggests a great party event: “Hey, let’s get together and watch the Worlds!” The BBC recognized this would happen and asked people to submit photos of their Worlds parties.

The really nifty thing is that all of the videos from the day are still available at the BBC website. Even being busy on the day of the Worlds is no longer a valid excuse for not catching the performances. Videos from 2009 are actually still up on the web, so you can go back and compare.

Oh, and in case you’ve had your head in a bucket for the last 36 hours, it was the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band that came out on the top in grade 1, winning the Worlds for the first time in their history.