Papadum preach

'Blair Drummond' eat your heart out.At the PPBSO Judges Seminar in April for some reason someone was talking about the cut C-doubling-C to an E-gracenoted dotted low-A (that’s a mouthful). It comes up frequently in strathspeys, as in the fifth part of “Blair Drummond.” The person at the meeting referred to the combination as a “papadum,” and most people seemed to know what he meant.

Papadums are the fast-fried cracker things made from chickpea flour that you get in Indian restaurants. (Sadly, the waiter never can bring enough.)

I was later reminded at the meeting that it was a sidebar I wrote in a 1990s issue of the now defunct Piper & Drummer print magazine that coined the term, since the movement was just begging for a descriptive name. I had completely forgotten that, but was amused to hear that the little column registered and is part of the piping lexicon of some.

Piobaireachd has canntaireachd, of course, with all the gibberish terminology for notes and embellishments, all hippity hoppity taree tarah. Light music benefited from being written down as it was being invented, so it never needed to be taught via a mouth music system. And most pipers use their own form of hick-um-bro light music canntaireachd, making it up as they go along.

But, thinking about it, Indian food could really serve as the basis for light music canntaireachd. Papadum works, but what about “pakora”? That could be an all-purpose term for a triplet in strathspeys, as in “The Caledonian Society of London ” or “The Islay Ball,” i.e., pakora, pakora, pakora, pakora, pakora, pakora, daal.

Or what about “samosa”? Perfect for GDEs of all varieties, as in “The Judges’ Dilemma”: samosa-samosa-samosa-naan, samosa-samosa-samosa-samosa-samosa-samosa-naan, etc. Try “tika” for any cut-dot combination. Kind of like a tachum, but for the top-hand.

The possibilities are endless: “vindaloo,” “rogan josh,” “chutney” . . . and of course “baji” really works well for more top hand work, as in the start of “Lord Alexander Kennedy” – “baji naan vindaloo . . . tika daal baji naaaan . . .”

Sushi is also chock-a-block with potential light music canntaireachd, although I challenge anyone to use “California roll.” In fact, here’s a call for someone to write a complete light music language based on ethnic foods. Next time you find yourself at the Shish Mahal in Glasgow, just use the menu to transpose your entire MSR and get rid of all of those tedious written scores. You can thank me later.


Timmy!Last week I went to a conference called ideaCity. It’s an event that’s been going on in Toronto since 2001, and puts together accomplished people with great ideas from various walks of life, from a Nobel-prize-winning physicist to a Cape Breton fiddler to an “eco-warrior” to an evangelical street-preacher, and just about everything in between. It’s highfaluting and somewhat elitist, but it’s primarily a great way to think and learn about things you’d hardly ever think and learn about.

Each speaker has only 20 minutes to discuss whatever they want, as long as it’s with passion. When they hit the 20-minute mark the organizer, Moses Znaimer, very nicely gives them the hook.

As I settled into my seat on the first day awaiting the first speaker, Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a preternaturally smart professor of physics and astronomy. Within minutes I knew that the person right behind me had some mental issues. She was restless and occasionally very quietly muttering to herself, but, being the tolerant person I am, didn’t think much of it. After all, this is a conference for the open-minded, full of surprises and new experiences, and the lady was probably very smart and, for all I know, a Nobel laureate herself.

Krauss was a few minutes into his spiel, waxing on about quantum this and theoretical that, when the afflicted lady got increasingly animated. She gradually went from benign “grmf” mutters to full-scale blurts of obscenities.

“And so you see, Rutherford’s theory of . . .”

“^&*$ing Rutherford! Stupid @#!&”

“Ahem, as I was saying, Rutherf-“

“Bastard! Idiot science!”

Krauss and the audience’s agitation got commensurately bigger as the lady’s own Tourette-induced agitation grew. Krauss actually had to stop, and the whole crowd turned to see where the commotion was coming from.

“Crap! Zombies! Rotten teeth!”

It was a strange moment, this conference on being tolerant of those in complete control of their thoughts becoming increasingly intolerant of someone with little control of her actions.

Now, Tourette syndrome is a serious thing. I feel sorry for people with the condition, and I hope they find a cure for what must be a living hell. That said, during the conference I kept thinking about what it would be like for a piping or drumming judge to have the variety of Tourette syndrome that makes people blurt out things that are just under the psyche: the things you’re thinking but not saying or writing.

“D’s sagging! Need a bra!”


“Eff off!”


It would be a shame for the competitor but maybe a much clearer way to judge. You could say what’s really on your mind, always with a great excuse, chalking it up to the old Tourette’s.


Dust up

I didn’t attend the Sarnia Games this past weekend, but I was told that it was hot, dry and dusty, but, with an excellent beer tent and a large crowd, it was a great success. That’s good to hear, since this contest had to cancel last year due to bad weather and crowd-attendance in 2005.

It’s remarkable how the little Scottish Highland games keep going year after year, some for well more than a century. I suppose the Scots hope for sunshine but expect rain, so venture out in whatever to uphold the local tradition. North American contests are impacted far more severely, since only piping and drumming zealots will stand around in the rain waiting to compete.

I do wonder, though, which is more difficult: for North American competitors used to dry and hot conditions to adjust to a damp and relatively cold Scottish climate, or for Scots to make the journey here and deal with the reverse.

Perhaps North American bands have become so experienced at adjusting that the change hardly impacts their performance. If UK bands came here more we could more easily draw conclusions. I do know that the few Scottish bands that have competed in Ontario in hot, dry and dusty conditions have rarely played to their potential, seemingly melting in the heat.

Personal experience was always that the pipes would take on a better, more vibrant sound in Scotland in August. The instrument, at least with sheepskin and cane, was built for that “close” climate. Personally, I’d be interested to hear from any UK pipers and drummers who have come across to North America in the middle of a hot summer to compete.