The world seems old and new

Look at me!The new system we’re using for the pipes|drums Poll allows for much more accurate results, since it’s a one-address, one-vote mechanism, meaning that folks can’t – for whatever pathetic reason – stuff the ballot box.

Over the hundreds of previous polls, I’d never thought to try to find out what age people were when they took up the pipes or drum. Two things surprised me about the results: 1) that more than a third of learners started when they were younger than 10, and 2) that a full 12 per cent started when they were older than 21. I didn’t think either response would be so large. 

I started when I was 11, and so am with the 31 per cent who began when they were 10, 11 or 12 years old. But 12 out of every 100 pipers and drummers taking up the instrument as adult learners? That’s amazing.

But, then again, if you take a look at the North American lower-grade solo competitions you will see that kind of a ratio, with people in their 40 and 50s and even 60s competing against very young kids. At first it looks kind of wrong, but perhaps that diversity also makes things interesting. I doubt that there are many arts that pit senior citizens against grade-schoolers.

I noticed at a piping and drumming school recently that most students were either kids or retired. There weren’t many in between. It perhaps further supports the notion that the demography of taking up the pipes or drum is very much for the very young or the very old. I wonder why.


Hmmm, a new piping rag has arrived in the snail-mail. Let’s read the report of this competition that happened three months ago and that everyone has already discussed ad infinitum on the net, watched videos of, and has already said every conceivable thing there is to say . . .

Plonker & District – good uptake to march. Good going here. Top hands a bit iffy in reel? Don’t like the tom-tom tenor drumming. Not my cup of tea. Crap.

Lumberyard & Son – what are they thinking with that opener? Not enough cane in those drones. Squeals hurting this band. Should get new chanters and reeds. Couldn’t smell any seasoning wafting from the circle. Crap.

Bloomers of Cardenden – not as good as I’ve heard them before. Tempi not like I used to play them in 1979. Didn’t like the tartan. Did I see the pipe-major hitch up his bag? Crap.

. . . and so on. That’s a slightly exaggerated parody, but this sort of absolute dreck has been the bane of piping “journalism” forever. It goes on today, even in these supposedly more enlightened times. I said this before, but it’s worth remarking on it again. For some strange reason people think that it’s okay to crack on our very best competitors after the competition is done, as if people can’t listen to the whole thing on the net and judge for themselves. As if anyone even gives a toss what the writer thinks about the competition as a non-player / non-judge.

What’s worse is that these bitter reports are usually by people who haven’t played in a decent band for decades, or been asked to judge a decent band competition, or, I would guess, even been asked to join a decent band.

Not on pipes|drums. Ever.

Rocking your gypsy soul

The Man

I don’t go to many non-pipe-music performances any more, but when Van Morrison is in town, as he was last night, he’s a must-see, no matter what the price. He played at Massey Hall on the same stage that SFU and the 78th Frasers have occupied. We, along with about half of the other 2600 fans, didn’t see or take seriously the ticket stating the start-time as 7:00 pm sharp. He and his nine-piece band started exactly at 7 as most were still filing in or waiting in line outside on Shuter Street.

It’s impressive to see such musicianship. No pre-recorded stuff to flesh out the sound; just 10 players doing everything there and then, often with great spontaneity. Even though Van the Man is legendary for wanting things just so, it seemed like the band wasn’t exactly sure what he would do next. Their eyes were glued to him all night and the band communicated with subtle body language that only they understood.

Van Morrison is Northern Ireland’s greatest contribution to world culture. Greater than Seamus Haney. Greater even than FMM. At 63 he’s as irascible as ever, but he continues to produce inspired music and a sound that a few have tried to imitate, but always comes across to me as what it is: an imitation. Despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to care what people think of him, he’s a true original.

It’s his devil-may-bother attitude that serves him so well. Pipe bands all too often play what they think people (mostly judges) want to hear, and it all too often sounds that way. Any piping people who see Van Morrison live will see terrific buttoned-down musicianship, but with honesty and spontaneity mixed in. It’s a good recipe to follow.