Rush to judgment


A few weeks ago I wrote about the Rush-inspired medley that the Grade 3 Durham Regional Police are playing this year. The band (pipe) starts with “Tom Sawyer,” the (rock) band’s one hit – or the closest thing they’ve ever come to a hit despite a gazillion album sales.

I managed to get a recording of it at Cambridge, so here it is. You can compare it with the original prog-rock song from the Canadian power-trio, as they’re referred to by anyone who cares. The video is from – gulp – 1981.

I also wrote a while back about bands doing new things with familiar melodies, mentioning that Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” might make a good adaptation. That summer I believe Shotts included Coldplay‘s “Kingdom Come” in its medley.

I think that what Durham does works, especially for a non-piping Canadian audience. The band includes lots of content for piping aficionados, and so it can still be new and different and clever while also being “true to the idiom,” as some people like to say.

You might say that the recent pipe band trend of taking a very familiar tune and repurposing it in a new time signature and tempo (see Al-Cal’s take on “Crossing The Minch,” for example) is much the same idea.

I spent much of my lost high school years doing two things: listening to Rush and playing the pipes. I never thought that the two could be merged.

Rules of engagement

Donald Mackay’s resignation as Strathclyde Police pipe-major is, in a word, unusual. Obviously, family comes first, and a pipe band at the end of the day is just a pipe band. But I can’t think of an instance in which a leader of a top (or any, for that matter) Grade 1 band left mid-season, let alone three days before a major championship.

I would bet that, ever the gentleman and good guy, Donald was actually thinking of the band first. Perhaps he thought that stepping down now would allow whoever succeeds him to have that much more experience taking the band on the field before the all-important World’s.

There is the as yet unwritten (otherwise it would be written) book of unwritten-rules when it comes to pipe band etiquette. Most people in the northern hemisphere feel that April 1 is the last date that you can leave a band on certain good terms. Past that, and you risk leaving friends in a lurch.

Unless of course you have a damned good reason for departing, which, knowing what I know about Donald Mackay, he must have had.

In this age of mercurial commitment in all walks of life, I’m actually surprised that the traditional notion of how and when to leave a band isn’t contradicted more often. The extraordinary level of dedication that a top band requires, especially from the pipe-major and leading-drummer, makes playing with and sustaining a top-flight band unbelievably difficult.

Sometimes, real life is more important than the often unreal world of piping and drumming.

45 singles

What would White Jock do?I’m not sure if other associations do it, but the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario has traditionally offered occasional solo piping competitions for those 45 and older. (It used to be 50 and older, but that was changed for a reason I can’t remember three or four years ago. Strangely, there aren’t equivalent events for drummers, who always seem to demand equal billing to the pipers.)

I’m not sure what I think of this. On the one hand, I wonder why these players don’t just compete in the grade that matches their skill. If they play to a Grade 2 amateur caliber, then why not play in Grade 2?

On the other hand, I’m also undecided about older competitors competing against little kids, which is what often happens mainly in the lower amateur grades in North America. Part of me thinks that there should be an age limit to events, which I guess suggests that the “45 and Over” (sic) MSR event makes sense.

A major distinction, of course, is that 45+ competitions offer cash for prizes, whereas the amateurs get medals. But the money really isn’t much, and the handful of talented players who enter these events don’t seem to need the money that badly. I guess it pays for a few litres of gas, but the money isn’t by any means increasing commensurately with the price of pe’rol.

I’m still not eligible to play in the category, but I’m certain that I’ll never consider it next year. I’m not sure why I think that way. Why haven’t eligible top-players like Bill Livingstone, Bob Worrall, Jim McGillivray and so on ever entered these events?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy listening to these players. They almost always have a very good instrument, and a certain maturity to their playing that you don’t hear much in the amateur grades.

I’d love to hear your arguments for and against solo competitions for older pipers, so fire away!