Tenacious D

Blow!The current pipes|drums Poll asks about which note is most difficult to tune. (By the way, the poll system we use is limited to six choices, hence omitting specifically low-A, B, C and high-A, which I think are not that hard for most bands to get right.)

So far D leads the race, with F coming from behind (oo-er!). My choice is D, evidenced by the fact that it is by far the note that is most likely to blare when listening to a band. My second choice would be F, and actually bad F’s are harder on the ears than bad D’s.

I wrote about “The Brown Note” a while back (two years already?!), suggesting that instead of judges having to write again and again “D’s not well blown,” they could just write, “Brown Note,” and bands would know exactly what was meant.

In reality, more often than not a pipe section’s D is well tuned; it’s just not well blown. It’s a note that is prone to relaxation. Pipers love to take a little break with big D’s, all that air rushing through open bottom-hand. All pipers really have to do is be sure to time their blowing so that they’re blowing steadily, not breathing/squeezing, through the longer D’s, and, voila! D’s no longer sag, and the dreaded D becomes the mellifluously positive note that it deserves to be.

Well, that’s my theory, anyway. Your brown note may vary.


Young Liam Hoyle, a piping student of mine, will be playing tomorrow for Remembrance Day ceremonies at his church. He asked a few weeks ago what he might play this year, wanting the music for “The Flowers of the Forest,” that somber tune we Canadians hear all too frequently on the news these days when Colin Clansey or another Canadian Forces piper plays for a fallen soldier returning from Afghanistan.

This fall Liam has been working on “The Taking of Beaumont Hamel,” the magically swinging 2/4 march by my favourite of all composers, John MacLellan, DCM, of Dunoon. Like most of MacLellan’s tunes, “Beaumont Hamel” is more melodically captivating than technically challenging, and it’s a tune that stands up just as well in Grade 3 solos as it does at the Silver Star.

Beaumont-Hamel should also be able to stand up just as well at a Remembrance Day event. Along with the dozens of other terrific pieces of light music by MacLellan, G.S., Willie Lawrie and others that were inspired in part by The Great War, “The Taking of Beaumont Hamel” is a remarkably positive and uplifting composition – remarkable because more than 300,000 soldiers died during the Somme, some 30,000 on the first day, most within 30 minutes of the start of the Beaumont-Hamel action.

On Remembrance Day, we tend to want to hear a lament to pay homage to those who sacrificed themselves for their country. For us pipers and drummers, though, we should remember what all tunes inspired by World War I and other wars are about. And each time we play them, we pay our respects.

Competing concerts

The stars have come together in this general area with two major Grade 1 band concerts happening within a week and 250 miles of each other. On November 10 St. Laurence O’Toole performs its “Dawning of the Day” concert in Pittsburgh, and on November 17 the Scottish Lion-78th Fraser Highlanders mount its “Seanchaidh” show in Mississauga, Ontario.

Pittsburgh is about a five-hour drive from Toronto (as are Cleveland and Detroit), so, conceivably both of these events can reasonably draw from a total population of upwards of 20 million people.

Seanchaidh seems to have been marketed far more than SLOT’s event, and the Toronto area is a notoriously difficult place from which to attract a crowd. I have seen or heard nary a word or marketing about the SLOT concert, but my impression is that it will be heavily attended.

This will be interesting. I hope that both events will be sold out. They should be: two marquee bands in full form taking the stage for two hours at a reasonable price. Both of these concerts have been made into CDs and DVDs, so people will know what to expect. Both the SLOT and SL78FH events were well reviewed.

Stay tuned for how these events pan out, and, in the meantime, feel free to discuss here!