Behind the time

I’ve done a few seminars on timing and playing on or around the beat, particularly as it pertains to band ensemble. I find it a fascinating subject.

Mentioned The Who’s new CD, Endless Wire, a few posts ago. I’ve always thought that the band’s legendary, late drummer, Keith Moon, was a master at playing just a shade behind the beat. Moon was just about always fractionally late with everything, and it actually did wonders for The Who’s sound. They were able to evoke great control and reserve in the midst of thundering guitars and vocals, and Moon’s overly-busy brand of drumming.

After Moon’s death, The Who made a few recordings with Kenny Jones, who unfortunately played “in the pocket,” as they say: right on the beat. I thought the group’s music suffered as a result, and became overly poppy.

The new CD has Ringo’s son, Zak Starkey on drums, and on almost every tracks he plays just a shade behind, and I’m sure it’s intentional. The recording has been compared more closely and favourably with the group’s Moon-era stuff.

The 2006 World’s DVDs are great for analyzing ensemble. It’s interesting to me how leading-drummers can dictate a band’s energy. Shotts’s ensemble is always familiar, with the Mathieson/Kilpatrick combination never failing to fall right on the beat. These guys play solo that way, so it follows that together they produce on-the-beat rhythm.

SFU I always find full of energy, mainly because Reid Maxwell is naturally accomplished at playing just slightly on top of the beat. It creates terrific excitement and momentum, and Reid delivered that same forward style when he was with the 78th Frasers.

What’s remarkable to me are the bands that have fairly recently changed leading-drummers. Some, like Zak Starkey and The Who, have been able to maintain their previous ensemble style, while others are completely different. There are several top-of-the-heap bands that to me evoke a different (not necessarily better or worse) feeling because the leading-drummer has a different sense of the beat. If an L-D is slightly behind the beat while the pipe section is on it, it can work well.

But when the P-M naturally plays at the front of the beat and the L-D naturally plays behind (or vice versa), it can change the whole appeal of the band. It’s a very difficult thing to identify, but it’s a feeling that’s created – a pipe band intangible that is often reflected in crowd response.

Resistance is useful?

The Robert Malcolm Memorial II story keeps unfolding, hopefully not to the point of the band folding.

Without doubt, the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band system is a teaching and competitive success probably unrivalled by any other organization in the world, except for maybe the Scottish Schools piping program. But going back longer than a decade it has had detractors, accusing SFU of cornering the market on piping and drumming in the Pacific Northwest. Even SFU-organization members jokingly refer to the system as The Borg, maniacally consuming all around it.

With recent RMM2 developments, the situation may have come to a head. It would appear that members of RMM2 did not fully understand the band’s role: to feed SFU, but never to compete with it. It’s an unfortunate situation, but perhaps necessary to the evolution of piping and drumming in that area.

My prediction is that this will result in more diversity and a livelier competition scene in that part of the world. SFU is still one of the world’s three mega-bands. That won’t change any time soon. But what will change will be the be-all-and-end-all attitude with which the band tends to be considered by many in BC.

I’m a big believer in blessings in disguise, and I believe that this may well be one.