Keydet Piper I'm thinking bagpipes

Tag Archives: Pipe Band

A whirlwind of a summer

Ok, so I think the Keydet Piper may now have returned to blogging, after taking it easy for a few months. The reason for my absence is one of simple distraction (see point #4 below). I’m not promising to return to as full a blogging schedule as I’ve maintained at some points in the past, but I hope to be able to get some posts up on a somewhat more regular basis. There’s a few things that have occurred during my absence that I’d like to address.

1. The Piobaireachd Wednesday feature was proving to be pretty popular, and I’d like to resume work on that. I don’t foresee it being a regular weekly thing, but whenever I come across a good recording or manage to record some myself I’ll be sure to post it.

Speaking of that, here’s one to hold you over. I’ve been holding on to a stack of recordings I made at the USPF Amateur Piping Championship back in June, and this was the winning piobaireachd. The player is Kirk Brunson from Derry, New Hampshire, and the tune is Lament for Donald of Lagaan; he gives a very good account of this tune.

Kirk also won the MSR at this contest, making him the overall winner of the championship. Well done to him, certainly.

2. The Worlds happened a few weeks back, and Field Marshal Montgomery once again emerged on top, winning both the medley and the MSR. I wasn’t able to watch as much of the coverage as I would have liked, but I’ve listened to a lot of the recordings that are posted at the above link, and as usual Field Marshal put on a top-notch performance. The medley contest was actually really great, and commentator Bob Worrall kept commenting about the number of bands that played well.

In my mind the big story was ScottishPower, who put in a dynamite medley performance and ended the day in a solid second place. Their medley started with The Battle of Waterloo, which is one of those tunes that pretty much everyone plays, and showing (again) that a flashy medley opener is not required to contend as a top-tier grade 1 band.

Also check out a great medley performance from Boghall and Bathgate, and just to stir up some controversy here’s the medley entry from Toronto Police.

3. We’ve also seen the Argyllshire Gathering happen, with the Gold Medal there going to Finlay Johnston from Glasgow. The other top prizes at this contest went to Peter McCalister (Silver Medal), Stuart Liddell (Senior Piobaireachd), and Gordon Walker (Silver Star Former Winners’ MSR, the seventh time he’s won it). I haven’t heard any of these performances, but keep an eye on Pipeline over the next few weeks, and hopefully they’ll have some recordings. Also keep an eye out for the Northern Meeting, which takes place later this week.

4. Holy crap I’ve moved. In my last post of any substance, I announced that I was moving west, and I’ve now had a little time to get my feet under me here in Oregon. I missed the end of the local piping season, but I’m looking forward to next year to see what it’s all about. I’ve heard the level of play here is very high, brought up significantly by the proximity to the grade 1 powers Simon Fraser University and Triumph Street. I don’t know about solo competitions in 2013, but I’ll do my best to join up with the Portland Metro Pipe Band.

So stay tuned (in all senses of the word), and hopefully you’ll see some more bagpipe-related content coming at you from the Keydet Piper blog.

The Worlds Returns to the Internet in 2012

Good news for those pipers and drummers out there who aren’t planning to go to Scotland this August: The RSPBA has announced that the BBC will once again stream live coverage of the World Pipe Band Championship on August 11. The stream has been immensely popular in the previous three years that it’s been streamed, and I expect it will remain so this year.

Start planning your Worlds parties now!

How do you determine the best pipe band on the day?

Like them or hate them, band competitions are a fact of existence for most serious bands. It’s pretty much the only opportunity a band will have to play for an experienced and appreciative audience, and it’s a way for bands to be able to compare themselves to other bands.

Human nature has shown that pretty much any activity we engage in will become competitive at some point; it seems to strike an evolutionary need of ours to compare ourselves to other people who do the same activity. So in the piping and pipe band world, at least the part of it that I see on a regular basis, competitions are a big part of life.

I contend that pipe band competitions don’t do a very good job of determining which band is best. Here in the eastern US, almost every competition I attend with my band is a single event, so the bands have just one run to attempt to demonstrate their superiority. There’s not a lot that can be learned from a band in those few minutes, and the single event doesn’t determine which band is better, or even which band is better on that particular day, but rather which band had a better run in those five minutes in the circle.

I propose that the EUSPBA expand their band competitions to include all events for each band grade. Two contests would be a much better indicator of which is the best band on the day.

All the pipe band organizations in the world have determined that bands should be able to play a medley and MSR in order to be considered a grade 1, 2, or 3 band. Why not make them demonstrate that they can do both on the same day?

I’m thinking about golf tournaments here, where the winner is determined by the aggregate results of four rounds of golf over the course of four days. In order to win, a golfer must put together four strong rounds of golf, and at the same time making a few bad shots doesn’t necessarily take a golfer out of contention.

It’s still really hard to determine which band is best after only a few minutes of playing, but having the bands play twice in a day would be a better indicator than a single performance.

I understand that there are logistical challenges that may from essentially doubling the length of the band contest, and those must be addressed. That’s the topic for another post, so stay tuned to figure out how I solve that problem.

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.

Competition videos

I recently posted a video of my first competition with MacMillan Pipe Band at the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival, and since then videos of the other bands in the contest have been posted as well.

The videos are presented here in order of play, which was also, coincidentally, the order of placing. This was the grade 3 band MSR contest that took place on April 24, 2010.

1st place: MacMillan Pipe Band, Rockville, MD
Tunes: Balmoral Highlanders, Susan MacLeod, Colonel MacLeod

2nd place: Saffron United Pipe Band, Babylon, NY
Tunes: Pipe Major Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police, Dornie, Ferry, Fiona MacLeod

3rd place: Greater Richmond Pipes & Drums, Richmond, VA
Tunes: Captain Carswell, Highland Harry, Kalabakan