Ad newseam

We salute your change.Quite a few pipes|drums readers sent a heads-up about the drum-major with the Cleveland Cleveland Firefighters Memorial Pipes & Drums quitting his band after he got in trouble for “making eye-contact” (read: winking and waving like Benny Hill) with President Obama at last week’s inaugural parade. Apparently, protocol strictly forbids even looking at the new president, although the Chosen One waved or winked or whatever back at John Coleman.

(It reminded me of the rock-star, Prince, 20 years or so ago, communicating with his “people” during his tour only by telepathy. No one was allowed to speak to him, including his girlfriend at the time, Sheena Easton, who was soon dumped for not being able to know what her wee purple man was thinking . . .)

Similar to the previous¬†discussion on advertising acceptance, deciding what qualifies as pipes|drums news can be a difficult call. While “Colemangate” grabbed the attention of entertainment-focused outlets like CNN and “Good Morning, America,” I didn’t think it deserved the attention of pipes|drums. It wasn’t about piping / drumming; it was about one person’s breach of protocol.

Potentially, the “news” that could have been reported on pipes|drums could have been about the attention that the story got from mainstream news sources – the news becoming the news, if you follow, but still I didn’t think the story was about piping and drumming. Never mind that it was a drum-major, it had nothing to do with the actual playing of a bagpipe or pipe band drum.

Piping and drumming-related things occasionally garner mainstream attention. Often, it’s a piper who gets arrested for “noise pollution” when playing in public, or it’s some regulation that says that bagpipes are potentially dangerous to workers or soldiers’ hearing.

Personally I find that stuff tedious and I think most readers do, too. But occasionally, like when the mainstream media sensationalized Hugh Cheape’s 2008 book about the Highland bagpipe as being a relatively modern invention, it crosses into pipes|drums news territory.

If Obama had covered his ears, rolled his eyes and declared pipe bands Satanic when the Cleveland band marched past, well, then that would have been a pipes|drums story. But a drum-major doing what he did didn’t qualify as piping and drumming news, and the mainstream coverage of it was not about piping and drumming, either.

Qualifying quality

Meet your maker.At least twice a month for the last 20 years I’ve received inquiries about advertising from companies based in Pakistan. These outfits say that they make Highland pipes, but also list Uilllean pipes, custom pipe-banners, reeds, drums and all manner of things associated with pipers and drummers. And for 20 years I’ve consigned all of those messages to trash.

But they keep asking, and each time a message gets through my junk filter, I feel a pang of guilt. After all, they’re just trying to make a living at making stuff that clearly a segment of the piping and drumming population wants. The Pakistani companies’ money is just as good as that from any other business, and perhaps it would make sense to allow them to advertise. pipes|drums can always use more support to plow back into the not-for-profit magazine.

My first practice chanter was made in Pakistan from sheesham wood that was painted black. It tasted funny. My dad, bless him, picked it up at some shop on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, along with Captain John MacLellan’s revised Logan’s Tutor, with the hope that maybe one of us kids would take it up. For the next year it lay around the house. One of us sat on it, and the thing snapped from the F hole on down. My dad dutifully glued it back together.

The following summer I expressed an interest in learning after hearing the Toronto Gaelic Society Pipe Band playing in number-one-dress at a festival in Earth City, Missouri, in July, on an asphalt parking-lot under broiling sunshine. My first lessons were on that Pakistani chanter, my left thumb sticking to the syrupy glue that dear old dad used for his earnest repair job. I was onto a Hardie chanter after a few months.

I don’t know how many serious pipers started with a Pakistani practice chanter, but there must be a fair few. The knee-jerk reaction is to think that whatever is made there is not up to the minimum standard that readers of pipes|drums demand, but I have seen some made-in-Pakistan custom banners and embroidered items and thought they were pretty good. But perhaps to a professional embroiderer they’re just as inferior as the pipes.

Is it wrong not to allow Pakistani companies to advertise?

Tuned in

I caught part of the inauguration of Barack Obama. All very impressive – even the new President’s bumbling of the oath-of-office, which finally showed, in a much needed way, that he’s human.

I liked the stellar and politically correct quartet of cellist¬† Yo-Yo Ma (Chinese-American), Itzhak Perlman (Israeli-American), clarinetist Anthony McGill (African-American) and the half-finger-gloved pianist Gabriela Montero (female-American), who all are at the top of their tree when it comes to their instruments. Of course they played an arrangement by the Hollywood classicist, John Williams, since there’s nothing more Hollywood than Washington, DC, these days.

Watching them, I couldn’t help thinking that all of us pipers and drummers have been there: sitting around in the freezing cold awaiting our turn to play. (Sometimes this happens in August in Scotland.) Pipers harp on about keeping four reeds in tune, but I am sure that sustaining the intonation of four cat-gut strings or 88 pieces of piano¬†wire is at least as challenging.

And then playing together and (roughly) in-tune before an audience of a gazillion or so. Terrific.

I have a lot of time for Ireland (before the Euro, anyway) and other countries that put their greatest artists, and not always their politicians, on their bank notes. I like that the inauguration included great music and poetry. It bodes well for people like us.