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.
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.
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!
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!
Well, I didn’t win a set of bagpipes as I had hoped. I had a reasonably good run at it though, and I’m pleased with my predictions, especially since I made the pick more than a week before the Worlds without having seen any of the performances. Here’s how close I came, compared to the actual results from the RSPBA and the winning entry.
|Actual Results||My Prediction||Winning Entry|
|1. Field Marshal Montgomery||1. Field Marshal Montgomery||1. Field Marshal Montgomery|
|2. Simon Fraser University||2. Simon Fraser University||2. Simon Fraser University|
|3. Scottish Power||3. St. Laurence O’Toole||3. St. Laurence O’Toole|
|4. Inverary & District||4. Boghall & Bathgate||4. Inverary & District|
|5. St. Laurence O’Toole||5. Inverary & District||5. Scottish Power|
|6. Boghall & Bathgate||6. Scottish Power||6. Boghall & Bathgate|
As you can see, I had all 6 bands, just not in quite the right order, and I had the top three bands the same as the winning pick. There were actually more than 30 people who tied for first, and the grand prizes were awarded by a random drawing of those entries.
I’m still trying to figure out what I would have done if I had won the pipes, since I have a set that works very well for me, and I certainly don’t have time to keep two sets of pipes active. I have this noble thought that I would have donated it to a learning piper who couldn’t afford his or her own pipes, but I guess it’s a moo point.
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.
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.
Or will soon, at least. The annual Pick the Six! contest at pipes|drums has opened, offering some nice prizes for those who most closely guess the finishing order of the top six bands at the World Pipe Band Championships on August 13.
The prizes this year include a set of RG Hardie bagpipes for the top finishing piper and a Premier snare drum for the highest drummer. On your entry, be sure to indicate whether you are a piper or a drummer so you don’t end up with an instrument that you don’t play.
It is a moot point though, because I’m going to win the pipes.
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?
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.
Prepare to smack yourself in the forehead: go read this, then come back.
I’m only concerned with the first half of the article, namely the woman who lodged this complaint:
“…the event was too noisy, there were too many people playing bagpipes and the park was far too busy.”
Um, hello? (more…)
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.
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.
I’ve commented before about the stunning lack of variety in tune selection for top level band MSR contests, and I’m hopping up on a different but related soap box this time. I will again visit the 2009 World Pipe Band Championship, this time the MSR from the grade 1 final round.
Just to recap the rules, the MSR set must consist of a 2/4 march, strathspey, and reel played as a set. Each tune must be at least four parts, and the performance must start with a three pace drum roll, not contain harmonies or reprises, and end promptly on the last note of the reel. In a grade 1 band contest each band must submit two sets, and a draw at the line determines which they are to play. It’s really a pretty esoteric competition and a non-piper will probably find it difficult to sit through more than just a few bands at a time.
In listening to the CD from this year, the majority of bands played tunes longer than the required four parts, which perhaps contributes to the limited repertoire. Here’s a listing of the bands in order of final placing in the MSR event and their selected tunes. I’ve marked tunes with six parts in red and tunes with eight parts in green.
- Simon Fraser University: The Highland Wedding / Blair Drummond / John Morrison of Assynt House
- Field Marshal Montgomery: The Highland Wedding / Blair Drummond / Pretty Marion
- St Laurence O’Toole: The Highland Wedding / Atholl Cummers / McAllister’s Dirk
- Strathclyde Police: Donald Cameron / Cameronian Rant / Mrs MacPherson of Inveran
- The House of Edgar Shotts & Dykehead: Balmoral Highlanders / Susan MacLeod / McAllister’s Dirk
- Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia: Pipe Major Tom McAllister / Susan MacLeod / John Morrison of Assynt House
- Scottish Power: Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling / Tulloch Castle / John Morrison of Assynt House
- Fife Constabulary: The Highland Wedding / Susan MacLeod / Mrs MacPherson of Inveran
- Robert Wiseman Dairies Vale of Atholl: Colin Thomson / Atholl Cummers / Mrs MacPherson of Inveran
- Cullybackey: The Clan Macrae Society / Susan MacLeod / John MacKechnie
- Manawatu Scottish: The Clan Macrae Society / Atholl Cummers / McAllister’s Dirk
- Ballycoan: The Clan Macrae Society / Susan MacLeod / John MacKechnie
- Dowco Triumph Street: The Highland Wedding / Maggie Cameron / Pretty Marion
- Australia Highlanders: Colin Thomson / Blair Drummond / John Morrison of Assynt House
As you can see, there’s not much black text in there. Here’s the breakdown:
- Three bands played four part marches, and only two different tunes: Colin Thomson and Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling.
- Seven bands played four part strathspeys, but only three different tunes: Maggie Cameron, Susan MacLeod, Tulloch Castle.
- No band played a four part reel.
- Five bands (including those who placed first through fourth) played no tune shorter than six parts.
I don’t know if it’s a trend, a fad, or a trendy fad, but I really don’t like it. There are a ton of great tunes out there, and bands rule out so many of them by limiting themselves only to longer tunes. Solo competitions, even at the top level, feature a much higher percentage of four parted tunes, although the six parted reels are very prevalent.
I’d like to see a grade 1 band be gutsy enough to buck the trend and play some shorter, but not necessarily smaller, tunes.
Andrew Berthoff over at Blogpipe is providing some good coverage of the Piping Live events while he’s in Scotland. I just read this review of Wednesday’s events, and I just wish I were there.
Three years ago this week I was in Scotland, and on Wednesday of that week I saw a magnificent recital by the incomparable Willie McCallum at The Piping Centre, and that evening I was at the pre-Worlds concert for a great concert by the Robert Wiseman Dairies Vale of Atholl Pipe Band. It was only because we were staying in Stirling, 45 minutes by train from Glasgow, that I didn’t get to see more of the Piping Live events, but the ones I did see were awesome. To be able to go to a dozen different venues in the city any time of any day during the week before the Worlds and hear different musicians is just fantastic.
Call it bagpipe heaven if you like. It was great, and I really wish I could go every year.
The House of Edgar Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band is certainly one of the top bands in the world today. They’ve won the World Pipe Band Championships fifteen times since 1948, and have placed in the top three every year since 1993, including five wins. Shotts is a dominant force that attract top quality players from all over the world, and are always contenders for the top prizes.
It was very surprising, therefore, that they pulled off this stunt at the Worlds this year. In the last tune of the medley, every piper turned around 180 degrees to face the audience instead of the center of the circle. Turning around will inevitably lead to a decline in unison playing and lower marks from the judges based on the technical performance, but perhaps riskier is being marked down for doing something different. The band broke no rules except tradition, which can be quite strong in its own right. For a contending band to do something different that would jeopardize the chance of winning takes courage and confidence.
Shotts Pipe Major Rob Mathieson has called for reform of the pipe band competition format, pointing out that we are really the only musical groups that perform with our backs to the audience and judges. It makes good musical sense to have all the musicians in view of each other, but not very good entertainment sense to block out the listeners.
Perhaps something like the arrangement in this concert, where only the pipe major has his back to the audience. That’s the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band from Ireland in concert in Pittsburgh, PA in November 2007, by the way. The majority of the musicians are facing out and everyone can see the one who is directing. It makes better sense to me, but trying to get the pipe band world to accept it, or any change to “the way things have always been done,” will be a slow process.
In case you’re wondering, Shotts finished fourth in the medley and third overall at the Worlds.