I was watching the movie Superbad again the other day. Seth, played by Jonah Hill, says about some girl’s boyfriend who he can’t compete with, “He is the sweetest guy. Have you ever looked into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard the Beatles.”
The hilarious crassness of Superbad aside, people talk about moments that changed the course of music. The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Clash and London Calling. Nirvana’s Nevermind. Your choices will vary.
But how many game-changing musical moments has piping had? Not those that inspired you on a personal level (we all have those), but musical moments that altered the direction of everything. It’s an interesting and debatable question. Here are a few that I would suggest.
1957 – Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band debuts selections of small strathspeys and reels – never before had pipe bands ventured outside of marching tunes or “heavy” MSRs.
1967 – Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band‘s rendition of “The Old Woman’s Lullaby” – a groundbreaking pipe band take on ceol mor, complete (or replete, as some people may still believe) with cymbals and other colouristic percussion.
1980 – General Motors Pipe Band performs a glissando, or “slide-note,” in “My Lagan Love.”
1987 – 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band, “Journey to Skye,” Balleymena, Northern Ireland – first suite by a pipe band, composed by a jazz musician, no less.
Maybe not enough time has passed yet to decide whether the Toronto Police’s 2008 “Variations on a Theme of Good Intentions” should be included, but it may well be.
Interestingly, I’m having a hard time thinking of solo piping examples. Certainly many of the compositions of G.S. McLennan and Gordon Duncan, for example, moved the art in a different direction, as have those of other tunesmiths. But by and large groundbreaking new musical artistry is made by individuals, but made famous by pipe bands. Perhaps there was a precise moment when G.S. first performed “The Little Cascade” in public. I don’t know.
And, yes, Donald MacPherson is credited with being the first to refine consistent tuning of Highland pipe, and bands like Strathclyde Police, Field Marshal Montgomery, Simon Fraser University and Victoria Police have set standards of tuning and unison, but not sure if they sent the music in a completely new direction.
What are other examples of great musical moments in piping and drumming and pipe bands that turned things upside down?