It’s safe to say that all pipers and drummers are inspired to play because of the playing of others. When we first hear a band or soloist perform, there’s something about the sound of the instrument that makes us want to do that. If we’re lucky, we’re exposed to quality playing from the very beginning, to set a benchmark for the standard that’s possible if, after quality instruction, we practice really hard.
About the only podcast I listen to regularly is National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered.” If you like popular (mainly rock) music, I highly recommend it. They did a show recently called “Tunes That Got You Through Your Teens. It was a little maudlin at times but, as ever, it reminded me of the many hours I spent as an adolescent listening to . . . bagpipe music.
It got me thinking about the piping and pipe band recordings that inspired me to practice and, since that and baseball were about the only things I remember doing back then, I guess this music helped me “get through” my teens. Fortunately my Dad liked pipe music before I ever touched a practice chanter (a made-in-Pakistan, bought-in-Edinburgh sheesham wood model he gloppily glued back together at the neck after my brother – I’m sure it was my brother – anonymously sat on it), so as I learned I had some great examples of world-class playing to which I could aspire.
If I had to pick two tracks, though, that inspired me as a kid to practice it would be these (you can click on the links to hear a snippet):
“Lament for the Children” – The Art of the Bagpipe – Pipe-Major John Burgess. Goodness knows where my father found this record from the 1950s featuring one of the all-time great figures in piping history. It’s from “Folk-Lyric Records” of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – about as far removed as you can get from Burgess’s stomping ground (although I’m confident he would have concocted a great time if he ever had a walkabout in Baton Rouge). I would listen to the full track repeatedly, and practically memorized the little story about Padruig Og MacCrimmon losing seven of his eight sons to plague in one year. Looking now at the list of tracks on the LP I see that I learned every one of the tune on the record and competed with many of them. No coincidence there.
“Jigs” – The Pipes of Scotland – Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band – This was one of those compilation albums that Fiesta, another obscure American record company, co-opted from various LPs. The record featured the Edinburgh and Glasgow Police, the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders and Invergordon Distillery. I think the Edinburgh Police track must be from 1967’s Capital Parade, and it comprises “Banjo Breakdown,” “Butter Fingers” and “Caber Feidh.” It was Donald MacLeod’s “Butter Fingers” that got me. I couldn’t understand how they managed the fourth part with its staccato effect of going down the scale (the high-A’s lost in the drones), but I loved it and wanted to learn how to do that.
The lost effect of the album cover was important, too, with these albums: young Burgess in Cameron’s regalia; the mass of bands marching down Princes Street. For the longest time I wondered why the Edinburgh Police Pipe-Major, Iain McLeod, was hitching up his bag when such an important photo was taken, but that I also figured out later when introduced to the ignominy of the massed band.
The “All Songs Considered” show taps listeners for the tunes that got them through their teens. I could identify with most of them that were in sync with my teenage years, but they also included tracks from the 1990s that feel to me like they were just released. It’s all relative. While I still think of something like, say, Masterblasters, to be new, there are of course many who were in their adolescent years when the Victoria Police released the CD.
Every piper or drummer has recordings that saved them. Those are a few of mine. If you want to share yours, fire away.