Crazy AGM Head

Let it all out.Paltry attendance by members at annual general meetings of associations seems to be a worldwide dilemma. Every year that I’ve been in piping and drumming I’ve seen, heard or read about people bemoaning the apparent apathy of members when a small percentage turns out for their AGM. (In fact, come to think of it, pipers and drummers don’t generally go to any piping and drumming events at which they aren’t actually a performer, which may tell you something about us.)

The recent PPBSO AGM was another case-in-point. Thirty-five of the association’s 1200-odd membership attended, or about three per cent. And, of those there, about half held an official role with the organization. It’s almost traditional for members not to attend these things.

I’ve made the PPBSO AGM now for 21 straight years, mainly because of my role either in publishing or with the Music Board. I have to admit, though, that it is one of my least favourite days of the year. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is, and I would suspect that that’s true of most who attend. They’re mostly there out of a sense of propriety or duty.

It’s odd to me that, with people so passionate about their piping/drumming avocation, they’re apparently so apathetic when it comes to meetings where significant rules and policies can often be determined and leadership is decided. Pipers and drummers inherently kvetch and moan their whole lives about judging and rules and results, but when it comes time to do something about them, they’d just as well stay home. Funny, that.

Maybe it’s the off-putting phenomenon of individuals who come out of the woodwork seemingly with the sole intent to make a fuss. There are always one or two people at AGMs who are very outspoken, but no one seems to know who they are or even recall seeing them before, never mind knowing if they’re even actually involved with piping and drumming. They make a scene at the AGM, then go away for 12 months. After a year or two, they go away for good.

At AGMs of publicly traded organization this occurs, too. As long as you own one share of a public company, you have the right to attend its AGM and have your views made known and your vote counted. You can stand up and make Steve Ballmer sleepless in Seattle if you own a bit of Microsoft.

There’s something about AGMs that tempts people – me included – into becoming argumentative and, at times, insensitive. Call it Crazy AGM Head. The affair this past Saturday was actually very congenial and relatively sedate, but I’ve seen meetings at which I swear folks came close to having a coronary right there, veins pulsing out of their forehead as they try to shout down one another. It’s probably the passion for the art kicking in, or maybe it’s a habitual need to perform. Whatever the case, after these meetings I’m sometimes a shade embarrassed of my conduct.

I understand why people wouldn’t want to dedicate a Saturday to such a thing. It’s not fun, and at times it can be downright difficult. But, ultimately, when measured against the big picture of a lifetime of commitment and dedication to piping and drumming, attending annual general meetings is relatively small pain for the greater good.

Ho-ho-ho

They call it a purple patch when you happen upon a sustained streak of good fortune, and over the course of the last three months Stuart Liddell has had one of the greatest purple patches for solo pipers in recent memory.

Since August he’s won the Dunvegan Medal, the Clasp at the Northern Meeting, the Glenfiddich Championship and London’s Bratach Gorm and Gillies Cup. Those are four of the very biggest prizes there are in piping.

So hearing Stuart play, jet-lagged and all, this past Friday in Hamilton, anyone familiar with his record probably realized that here was a guy at the top of his form, just coming off a sustained streak of big wins. (That there were only 30 or so people there to hear him out of a metropolitan area of about 10-million is a post for another time).

Who knows? Stuart’s purple patch may even carry on through the next year or even decade. But that night hearing him play right now was a rare treat. He’s known as much for his pipe band leadership as he is for his piobaireachd as he is for his competition light music as he is for his creativity as he is for his blinding hands as he is for his great sense of humour.

Here’s a sample from the night. Ho-ho-ho, indeed.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odcGOsxaz4g&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

Another list

Since I made my picks for the top-five competition band pipe-majors of all time, it’s only fair that I try the same for the lead-drummers. Both of these lists are prompted by recent pipes|drums polls, which proved popular and effective conversation-starters.

Granted, I know the ins-and-outs of piping more than I do drumming. The criteria for those listed on the drummers’ poll was less defined than the pipe-majors’. The drummers listed by and large were those who had some combination of World Drum Corps, World Solos or teaching achievement.

Before I give you my list, I have to remark on something else. Each poll entry could submit five choices. That means that, if a drummer were named on every submission, he would get 20 per cent of the overall vote. I may have relatively limited knowledge of snare drumming, but I do know this: Alex Duthart and Jim Kilpatrick should have been named on every submission. Since each received a less-than-20-per-cent share, that means that they both were left off of quite a few entries.

Maybe these submissions were from infants sneaking on to their parents’ computer. Perhaps they were mentally challenged. Or maybe they were from folks who are so vindictive and twisted that they would take leave of their senses. But not selecting Duthart or Kilpatrick makes my mind boggle.

Anyway, based on my admittedly limited knowledge, using competition success and teaching impact as criteria, here are my choices for the top-five pipe band drummers of all time.

1. Alex Duthart. No one has had a bigger impact on pipe band drumming as the elder Duthart. He essentially invented modern music for the pipe band snare, adapting concepts from Swiss-style drumming, and composing some of the most musical scores ever. He is to drumming what GS, Willie Ross, Angus MacKay and Donald MacLeod were to piping.

2. Jim Kilpatrick. While he is by a wide margin the most successful competitor in pipe band drumming history, with solo and band records that may never be topped, Kilpatrick would probably be the first to admit that he trails the legend that is Alex Duthart. But it can be argued that KP has made a bigger impact on the development of the snare drum itself than anyone, and his tireless teaching around the world certainly rivals, if not bests, that of Duthart. History may well eventually decide that Kilpatrick deserves the number-one spot.

3. Reid Maxwell. He’s won the World Pipe Band Championship Sash numerous times, and with two different bands. As a member of Dysart & Dundonald in the 1970s, the 78th Fraser Highlanders in the 1980s and Simon Fraser University in the 1990s and 2000s, Maxwell has won World Drum Corps championships in four decades. For my money, Maxwell is most responsible for SFU’s always terrific ensemble production. He’s taught dozens of top-flight drummers, many from scratch, and he still seems to have many playing years ahead of him.

4. Tom Brown. “Tam Broon” has played such a major role in the development of drummers in the West Lothian corridor over almost forty years with the Boghall & Bathgate organization that he has to be in my top-five. In the 1980s he made great use of the bass-section, experimenting with differently pitched tenors and a rhythmical bass that, along with a technically brilliant snare line, would lift Boghall further up prize-lists at majors.

5. Wilson Young. It may sound trivial, but Young was the first drummer to actually incorporate other percussion instruments into the pipe band. As Lead-Drummer of Red Hackle – a band that narrowly missed winning the World’s several times – Young partnered with Pipe-Major John Weatherston on several albums to raise the musical complexity of the modern pipe band. Wilson Young is an unsung pioneer of pipe band drumming.

History will determine whose names will live on, and who knows who the next Alex Duthart or Jim Kilpatrick will be? I’d love to hear your choices for the top-five pipe band snare drummers of all time and why.