Blackjock!

If you’re on the side of expanding our pipe band music, is there a better place to try that than Las Vegas? Vegas “is what it is,” as they say, but, really, it’s the most untraditional place on earth. I shouldn’t say that. Its tradition is this: no tradition.

As pipes|drums reported, the planners of the April 2011 $2-million pipe band gamble are considering creating a Grade 1 “Concert” competition event in addition to the traditional Medley and decrepit MSR events. They’re being super-accommodating, asking the bands themselves for their thoughts as to how the Concert competition could work. There’s really no need.

It’s Vegas, baby. If there were ever a place simply to see what happens, and let bands do whatever-the-heck they want, this is it. Personally, I would not have any problem with a band of Elvis impersonators, or a couple of Bengal tigers, or scantily clad showgirls tarting up their tartan show. Musically, bands can simply let ‘er dangle (as I write that, I’ll always hear Scott MacAulay’s voice), and go for it. Set a limit on time, but only for scheduling reasons. Fifteen minutes, no-holds-barred. Maybe require that Highland pipes have to be used at least some of time – but that’s it.

A few years ago there was talk, and even negotiations, with Florida’s Disneyworld to create the pipe band extravaganza that Vegas subsequently landed. It seemed like a good idea, until it became evident that the good people at Disney just saw it as a large group to pay to get into their theme park. For all they seemed to care, it could be a trombone festival, just as long as you brought your money.

At the time, there was something odd to me about placing a pipe band competition in the land of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but it’s even more counter-intuitive to hold it in Las Vegas. If I were to identify a place on earth that is the polar opposite of the traditional Scottish world of piping and drumming, it would have to be Las Vegas.

Please, don’t mistake me. I think this is a golden opportunity. I love juxtaposing things in surprising and counter-intuitive ways. Mash-ups are one of the most interesting developments in music and the arts as a whole.

I have nothing against Las Vegas, but there’s a reason why its art museum closed in 2008. The only culture that people who go to Vegas want is no culture at all. Hold an anything-goes Concert event, have fun, let it all hang out for a weekend. Let it happen in Vegas.

And whether it then stays in Vegas is up to the pipe band world to decide.

Bagpipes: instant celebration machine

Chapmen billiesHappy New Year to all, and here’s hoping that 2010 is a great one for everybody.

There’s probably not a person out there who’s at times at a loss for what to do on New Year’s Eve. Statistically, those who hit the town for big public countdowns are few, and rare with those, ahem, of a certain age. A piper-friend of mine said that his daughter ridiculed her parents for not having any New Year’s Eve plans, when of course the solution is right under his blowstick.

Pipers have it easy, if they want it. The ability to play the pipes is a license to hold a celebration virtually any time, any place. At least in Toronto, everyone likes the pipes. I can’t remember meeting anyone here who says that they dislike the instrument, and in fact most non-players enthusiastically say that they LOVE the sound and almost always connect it with an emotional memory: a wedding, a funeral, the 48th at the Leafs’ home openers, the sound of a piper playing across the lake at their cottage in August, or even New Year’s.

Where I live we like to invite a few drouthy neibors over for a cup of kindness, and then seconds after midnight go outside for a round of “Auld Lang Syne,” “Scotland the Brave” . . . and then inevitably, by request, a reprise of “Auld Lang Syne” on the street. People come from their houses, glasses charged, wishing everyone the best. Last year it was minus-17° for a risky one-minute, in-and-out, blackwood crackling performance; this year a balmy 3° kept folks around for a good half-hour. The pipes at New Year are now an annual tradition.

At least once a year, the tone of your pipes can be guaranteed to ring – ring in the New Year, anyway – fou and unco happy. Orrabest.