Here today, gone later today

It always surprises me just how quickly well known people can vanish from the piping and drumming scene. Our history is full of folks who did pretty significant things, and then suddenly elected to do something entirely different. When once they were at every event for decades, one day they seem to decide that they’ve had enough and they’re gone from our sight and our psyche.

Occasionally, these people will surface as a spectator at an event. A few veterans will notice them, and maybe you’ll hear one tow folks whispering, “Hey, there’s So-and-so. He once . . .”

It’s like seeing someone who went through drug/alcohol re-hab showing up at a pub drinking only ginger-ale.

I think piping and drumming is for so many such an intense passion that leaving it can only be done cold-turkey, otherwise the addiction will once again take hold. Piping and drumming dependence can be intense, so perhaps some people would rather walk away forever than try to temper their addiction.



I enjoyed listening to the complete light music contest at this year’s Livingstone Memorial on Saturday. It was very different being a non-participant. No heart-palpitations. No schadenfreude. No sweaty palms when the prizes were announced. Goodbye to all that.

In competitive terms, there were a few very good performances, but I enjoyed all of them — that is, once they actually started to perform.

With one exception, every competitor stood there for what seemed an eternity screwing and twisting away at their instrument, sometimes putting out of tune a perfectly tuned bagpipe. The more seasoned competitors at least whiled away part of the time with some nice airs, but others regaled the audience with hemming-and-hawing of the tuning-up variety. One competitor looked like he just didn’t want to compete, seemingly putting off the whole business until the end of the judges’ patience or the end of the world, whichever came first.

Granted, the tuning rooms were reportedly a bit chilly (one player referred to one particularly bad room as “the ice-box”), and instruments were clearly in some flux. But, still, are 10 minutes of tuning notes for seven minutes of tunes any way to treat the judges or the audience? I tend to think that the whole tuning thing is often more ritualistic than functional.

I’d like to see a contest some day that states in the rules, “Competitors are not allowed to touch their drones once they have blown up their pipes.” It would put every player on the exact same ground. It would also put pressure on contest organizers to provide temperature consistency between the tuning-rooms and the main stage. Imagine a pipe band contest where competitors tuned for 10 minutes in the circle before they actually played their medley. Bands would be pelted with beer cans. If Field-Marshal Montgomery’s pipe section can go into the circle sounding like a pipe-organ, surely a top solo piper can do the same.

Eliminating the mind-numbing tuning process would go a long way to making these events more enjoyable, and put the spotlight directly on the music rather than the ritualistic aspects of solo piping.


Vitamin C

My favourite note is C.

Each of my most favourite tunes — “Highland Brigade at Magersfontein,” “Lochanside,” “Donald MacLean,” “Jig of Slurs,” “Lament for Captain MacDougall,” Lament for Mary MacLeod” . . . — favours the C.

It’s a note that’s rarely not true on even the worst chanters with the crummiest reeds. It blends with the drones like no other non-A note. It is happy. It’s futz-proof.

Yes, it’s the C for me.