Pipe Band MSR Poll Findings and Comment Thereon

By Robert Wallace

Our poll on March, Strathspey and Reels in pipe bands drew the second largest response of any we have so far conducted with hundreds of readers taking part. (The largest was on restricting band sizes.) Thanks to everyone for their valuable contribution. 

The findings show that the vast majority care about the future of band MSRs, they do not want them to die, they see them as the true test of excellence in pipe band performance. Here’s what we asked:

And the response:

So you see, people do care about the traditional format. The problem is the empty benches at the Worlds. People are sick of hearing the same tunes time without number. They are sick of hearing bands playing safe, looking for that clean run that sets them up for the Medley.

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What to do? The answer lies with the authorities, the judges and the bands themselves. If they, the bands, get large doses of opprobrium for playing the same Medley year on year, why do they get away with it where MSRs are concerned? Peer pressure could turn this round almost overnight. ‘I see you’re out with Lord Alex again Terry,’ ‘how many years is it that you’ve been playing it now?’

‘Don’t know Richard but you’re one to talk. Pretty Marion? Pretty repetitious more like.’ That sort of thing. Pipe majors need to start caring what people think as regards this stuff. Two years and an MSR should be sent to the gulag.

As regards performance, a weighting should be introduced, ‘MSR preference’ to be used in the event of a tie, much as they do with the World Solo Drumming. That would focus minds much more on the first run at Glasgow Green. And judges should start marking down those bands clearly intent on doing nothing other than playing safe. Yes, a band might have the unison, the sound, the technique but if that can only be delivered by notching down the tempo to some dreich, uninspiring procession of cold clinicality what is the point?

There is nothing finer than listening to a Grade 1 band really going for it in a quality MSR. To hear ultra difficult technique accomplished crisply and together by circa 20 pipers, with a drum corps urging them on through the Brigadier Cheape, Miss Elspeth Campbell etc  is a feast for the ears scarce to discover but a joy when one does.

March, strathspeys and reels are the thinking man’s (and woman’s) pipe band music. Here we have, or should have, an understanding and precise demonstration of phrasing; it will be enhanced by quality technique of the highest order leaving us marvelling at how it was achieved with such pin-sharp unison at such lively tempi. It will be the very antithesis of the Medley – unencumbered by harmony, tom-tom drumming, pop corn loony tunes. It is the heart of the matter, the purest test of a great pipe band.

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2 thoughts on “Pipe Band MSR Poll Findings and Comment Thereon

  1. I wonder if there would be any future in the idea by having tunes listed by levels of difficulty and that the music should be scoured for tunes never played but are worth reviving and these be offered to bands as worthy of consideration.

  2. Whilst precision is an indispensable element to the quality of output by any band, sometimes one wonders if this drive for exactitude is at the expense of lyricism and expression – I think the term is: “Agog extress.” MSR is never more enjoyable when one hears a band producing a truly ‘musical’ performance – especially in the srathspey, that is felt at a deeper level by those privileged to hear it. If one listens to a typical Scottish dance band, strathspeys and reels inevitably produce the impetus to tap one’s feet or even dance. I ask the question, does this happen in pipe band performances these days?

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