I posted a poll recently asking if readers had ever asked a piper or drummer for an autograph. Being an
avid baseball fan as a kid (and now), I kind of just thought that when you meet famous people you ask for
their autograph. (My Dad used to counsel me that a handshake is worth a lot more, and he’s right, but try
telling that to a St. Louis kid in the 1970s who meets Lou Brock.)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I went up to Bill Livingstone in 1979 at Maxville and asked him to
autograph a Piobaireachd Society Collection book that I had handy. Bill had recently won one of
the Medals, so I figured he was a World Champion. I remember him, in his very Bill way, finding “Lament
for Mary MacLeod” in the book and saying that it made perfect sense for him to autograph that page. My
Dad, of course, had his omnipresent camera and telephoto lens trained on the scene, and now I have the
pictures to prove it, Bill with jet-black, Harry Reems-esque moustache; me with middle-parted blond hair.

But I also recall a piping school I attended in 1981 where there was a young, very cool snare-drummer
from Houston. Can’t remember his name. We were sitting around and other drummers were talking about
what kind of sticks they used. The drummer I mentioned said he wasn’t sure what sticks he played, but he
thought they were a “Mex Dumphy” model.

Mex Dumphy? people asked. He took them out and showed the autograph on them: “See, Mex Dumphy,”
he said, and pointed to the embossed autograph that he somehow deciphered as Mex Dumphy, which of
course was Alex Duthart’s signature. (I also remember him insisting that in the AC/DC song, “Dirty Deeds,”
Bon Scott wasn’t singing “done dirt cheap,” but “thunder chief.”) It wasn’t so much his misreading the
autograph as it was not knowing who Alex Duthart is, which is like a budding ballplayer being unfamiliar
with Babe Ruth.

I haven’t asked for an autograph in quite a while, but I will say that one of my prized possessions is a
poster of the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ 1988 concert at Massey Hall in Toronto signed by every member of
the band.

The minor fall, the major lift

Annabel, Julie and I went to the Toronto Symphony’s rendition of “The Messiah” (the best parts, that is) on Sunday at Roy Thompson Hall. It’s meant to be a Christmassy-type-thing, and I had heard that lots of families attend and some even make it an annual thing.

It was very nice and all, and few things are more musically impressive than a 130-member choir gi’in’ it laldy over top of belting brass and full strings playing like the clappers.

Annabel, who’s six, held up well and only fidget-kicked the old dear in front of her a few times. Just one glare from the hard-core symphony-files, at least that I noticed. She kept busy counting choir-members and eating mints by the handful.

But I also noticed how old the audience was, even for this performance that’s supposed to cater to the masses. I scanned the audience at one point in one of the mournful bits (it’s not that pleasant a tale, of course), and I could have sworn I was back at Eden Court Theatre listening to the Clasp. Every other auldyin seemed to be dozing off, mouth agape, while the music – exquisite as it was – droned on.

It was comforting, though, that MacCrimmon and Handel seem to touch people in similar ways and attract an exceedingly, um, mature audience.

“Classical music” of the pipes, indeed.

My-land dress

Here’s a thing: if Breton pipe bands can compete at the World’s wearing their national costume, and Pakistani bands can wear the yellow and red satin tunic and trousers, and Spanish pipe bands are allowed to wear the ornate ensemble of their homeland, why do New Zealand, Australian and Canadian bands have to wear the cultural dress of the Scots?

Shouldn’t Canadian bands be able to wear toques, Hudson’s Bay coats, and boots from Roots?

Shouldn’t bands from the United States be allowed to compete wearing the uniform of middle-America: Dockers, Oxford shirts and tasseled loafers?

Given the Ali G. / Borat analogy below being at least partly true, then New World non-Scots bands wedging themselves into Scotland’s ethnic dress – while Old World bands are allowed to play Scottish bagpipes, drums and music in their national attire – is even stranger.

I say New World pipe bands are allowed to compete in Scotland wearing blue jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps and Nike training shoes. What sort of inter-continental discrimination is this?