Driven to distraction?

Not recommended while wearing a 20-pound snare drum.For the three decades I played with pipe bands I think I was reminded a thousand times not to tap my foot in the circle. Pipe-majors and leading-drummers would constantly tell people that they are the only ones allowed to move anything but fingers and wrists.

The thinking was – and I assume still is – that you don’t want to distract the audience or other band members from hearing and producing good music. The focus should be on the sound, not the histrionics of band members. Today, you hardly ever see anyone but the pipe-major in a good band tapping his/her foot.

Which makes me wonder why it is that pipe band mid-sections should be allowed to flourish. Doesn’t it completely contradict the stay-as-still-as-possible ethic instilled in pipers and snare-drummers? If the band is supposed to encourage everyone to focus only on the music, why have a synchronized show going on in the middle of the band?

I’m just asking the question because it confuses me. I’m not saying that flourishing shouldn’t happen. But, as a judge, I am occasionally distracted from the music by the impressive choreography happening between the pipe-section and snare-line.

If complex flourishing is allowed and encouraged in the competition circle, why not have the pipers do a little two-step or the snares execute a wee French can-can? Maybe that too will visually enhance the performance. Maybe not.

Further, if the point is to play music as well as possible, don’t the odds of missing a crucial musical beat increase the more a tenor-drummer flourishes?

I like the display of mid-sections as much as the next person. Some of it is mesmerizingly entertaining. But should bands that are striving to play perfectly tuned and executed music to impress judges also be trying to distract visually?

Dress purrin


Up yours!
Our cat, Lexy (or, formally, “Lexy M. Catskill”) is a 23-pound mound of fatty fur. He will turn 16, all things being equal, in February. He sits around all day seeking warmth, food and a kitty-littered place (thank God) to excrete. That’s all he does. He’s a part of the furniture. No, wait, with his size, he is the furniture.

He was never what you would call a lap-cat. In fact, he’s the anti-lap-cat. He’s more like an attack-cat. He tolerates a bit of scritching on the head, but if anyone pats him below the shoulder-blades, watch out.

At his age, he’s noticeably winding down. He barely even bothers to bite us any more. When he swipes at Annabel, it’s hardly with the vigour he showed as a young feline on the prowl. It’s only a matter of time when the big beast goes to a better place, although, I can’t imagine what would be a better place than what he has here.

Even with his foibles, we will miss him when the time comes to say goodbye. He has an impressively thick, orangey coat. You might now know where this is going.

Would it be wrong to use his fur for a sporran? It’s a shame to waste such a thing, and, it seems to me, that wearing him as part of a resplendent Highland ensemble would be a great way by which to remember him. Re-use and recycle, after all.

Come to think of it, he’s large enough to make one of those antediluvian bass-drummer aprons from. You know, when the big guy in the middle used to don a bear- or leopard-skin back when such things were available and not abhorrent to sane people.

Has anyone ever heard of a kilt-wearer memorializing his or her past-pet in such a way?

Closer to the art

Closer to the Peart.

We are the priests
Of the temples of syrinx
Our great computers
Fill the hollowed halls


– Peart

When I was a kid I absolutely loved the prog-rock “power-trio” Rush. I thought their lyrics were awesome, and no one could beat Neil Peart the drummer, what with his massive kit, gongs, and handle-bar mustache. Way cool.

I probably saw them in concert five or six times when they’d come through The Loo. Along with Clan MacFarlane and Guelph and General Motors, they were part of my interest in all things Canadian, and probably subconsciously had something to do with me eventually landing here.

Actually, I occasionally see Rush’s lead-singer Geddy Lee walking around the downtown area that I work in. He goes to Blue Jays games, and seems like a regular guy with an extraordinary voice, which Rolling Stone once described as “something between Tiny Tim and Donald Duck.”

Listening to Rush stuff now is a cross of humour and embarrassment. They’re so pompous and over-the-top that I have to wonder whatever possessed me to take them seriously. The drumming in particular is awkward and over-cooked – it’s appalling. Peart can play, but he’s too often going at it on his own, jamming far too much into simple melodies, and taking the limelight from the band. His drumming is like his lyrics: self-indulgent and introspective.

Of course you frequently see that in pipe bands. The drum section that in your youth you may have thought was brilliant because of its technical abilities, you later realize is not really contributing anything to the band. In fact, overly complex scores that distract from, rather than complement and highlight, the melody do great harm to a band – any band. You never see drummers older than 40 in any musical genre trying to do too much. They learn that less is usually more when it comes to accompaniment.

Pipe band drumming and ensemble judges should always ask this question first: Is the drumming enhancing or detracting from the melody? If the respective answers are no and yes, it’s not a good drum section, no matter how clever it might sound on its own.