Review of Juvenile World Solo Drumming and International Tenor Drumming

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Soon he swaps the leathers for his furry onesy and heads off to the woods to join his ursine friends Yogi, Pooh and Paddington for his well-earned hibernation….he is the Piping Press’s MacStig. But we couldn’t let him go before he completed his report on the World Solo Drumming….

It was after the weekend that was, with a reflective moment on a grey skied beach, the sheer depth and strength of the younger cohort hit me. You can say what you like about the YouTube generation, the Instagram or Snapchat Snowflakes, this collection of drummers clearly put in the hours to develop rudiments, technique and follow the lead of the best tutors of the Highland style snare and tenor drumming.

They watch, listen and learn from their heroes, their teachers, their peers and are arguably better taught than any generation before them. They’ll have their moments too and the competition for their time is peaking at between 14 and 18 years old, with academic requirements, sports, other music, peer group pressure and no wonder a large number simply disappear from the lists. We should applaud and encourage them all and those who assist in bringing them on, teaching them, help them turn out on time and at the right place. In some cases fly them thousands of miles to do this thing. Bravo the under 18s. 

In that frenetic October Saturday exactly one week ago, a Saturday that delivered Steven McWhirter as the nine times World Champion, the Juvenile sections yielded not one or two World Champions, but ten, with five in the International Tenor Championship and five in the Snare category too. All sponsored by Andante Percussion and has been for a long time. Now a very long way away for those who remember draughty old halls south of the river, with rickety chairs back in the day.

The youngsters in the various Juvenile strands won’t know of any of that historical perspective, indeed they live in the moment, play the drum in front of them, and the old timers are the old timers. They have time on their side and the future is theirs to create musically and point its direction. The next ‘great’, as I described Steven McWhirter, may even have been playing in one of those Juvenile sections on the day itself. I certainly saw enough glimpses of brilliance to believe it so. 

Unique to the Scottish system, the Juvenile Grade for Bands allows players under the age of 18 (with an adult Pipe Major) to compete in what is arguably the only alternative to being a World Champion in the adult camp. Grade 1 is the supremo and all others rank behind it. Juvenile, being set apart, is the other World Championship. In the drumming solos, the groups are segregated by age and standard. 

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For instance Section 1 (for both Tenor and Snare) play a March Set, is for those Under 14 on the trigger date (1.11.17) and playing in Novice A or B and Grades 4A and 4B. Section 2 is for the same standard of player but Under 18 years old.  In Sections 3 to 5 we have March, Strathspey and Reel sets and for players in Juvenile, or Grades 3, 2 and 1.  Age grouping are Under 14 in 3, Under 16 in 4 and Under 18 in 5. Note that with the cut off the previous November (to accommodate those who will age out) you will find a high number of Section 5 competitors already transitioned to Grade 1 bands from Juvenile. 

The top Snare Grade was Section 5 MSR (the under 18 cohort) and the first minute of each player was captured by the RSPBA digital team and broadcast on Twitter within minutes of it happening. The RSPBA then released the full competition recording and it is there to be watched. The winner, Rachel Thom [pictured top receiving her prize from Nigel Hodgson of sponsors Andante], the first-ever female winner of the section, I reckon. Rachel recently stepped down as lead drummer at West Lothian Schools pipe band and has joined Glasgow Police Pipe Band for the 2019 season. She follows in the footsteps of last year’s Section 5 Winner, also of the Polis.

Lachlan Kyle, a regular feature in prize lists, of North Lanarkshire Schools, wasn’t far behind, nor Chloe Taylor, a past champion at a younger age and now full-time Conservatoire student, in her second year with Jake Joergensen’s Scottish Power Corps, where another group of talented youngsters are gathered.  The chasing pack was a bit further back, but some have another year in the Section and others are already wearing the G1 kilts. Of note, I thought Louise Bentley of NZ Police played well, with unmistakable flashes of SFU and Reid Maxwell in style. Oliver Gardner too, another of the Scottish Power brat pack (in the nicest way) having been a pupil of his lead drummer at George Heriot’s School previously.  I thought Bilsland of Inveraray was strong, although the judges were split (he scored 10 and 4) and young McCollom from FM was in the hunt too, but scored 12 and 5. 

Across in Section 4 (Under 16), the top three was swept by the island of Ireland, and no surprise that Conor Lawlor (SLoT) and Ashley Fyffe (Police Service N.I.) tied on points, with Conor getting the preference. Only one point further back in third was Closkelt’s Daniel Mulcahy. All three were exceptional and getting the proverbial bus ticket between them was an adjudicator’s nightmare. All scores were broadly in line with a few minor place differences, but for the George Heriot’s drummer placed overall 6th, with a 1st and 8th. Again the top end was dominated by graded band players (there is no Juvenile in Ireland or Northern Ireland).

Section 3 (Under 14) yielded the most electric playing and I’d venture that the top three or four, maybe five, would have given the Section 5 cohort a run. They wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Adult Heats either – although they only have one MSR set. As was written in a preview piece, the young 78th Fraser’s talent, Blair Beaton, came to defend the title he won last year and was exceptional. A big risk to play more than the required four parts per section, but ably dealt with and off he went home with the Andante Cup, already sporting his name from last year.

Ewan McDonald of Boghall, in 2nd, edged his band-mate Kerr McQuillan also, I’m told, juggling a promising football career, into 3rd. Precocious talent that knows no fear or doubt from all three. Similarly, Arren McWilliams of PSNI, strolled in, played well and might be scratching his head at the widest score margin in the Section of 2nd and 7th – he finished 4th Overall. Then the youngest in the field and farthest travelled….from St Thomas Episcopal, Texas and the Brown ‘drumming studio’, another highly capable and well-mannered young gentleman, Sebastian Arguelles. He picked up a prize in 2017 and was on the list again in 2018.
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To the tenors, and I could only watch some parts of this as the contests started in the afternoon, just as the various finals were kicking off. The same section splits and conditions yielded former prize list name Gemma Dandie of Boghall in Section 1, a step up from her previous year. In the older Under 18 March Section, always with the shortest competitor list as most have moved to upper level bands by then, it is worthy of mention that the far traveled Indyana Bridgman of Scots School, Albury, Australia, picked up the Andante Cup. 

In the March Strathspey and Reel Contests, Section 3 (Under 14) Adam Montgomery of (the Mighty) Quinn (I put that reference in for the benefit of Big Rab) took the honours, with Jordan Baillie pupil Roma Miller of Preston Lodge High School taking 2nd. We should look out for more of Jordan’s pupils in the future for sure, as they learn from one of the very best around. 

Section 4 saw Aofie Bissett of SLoT ahead of the pack, with her lead drummer Mr Creighton accompanying, and aside from the piper losing count of the parts, easily a Grade 1 performance.  Jamie Blair of Ravara tied on points with Melissa Parry of the well-regarded George Watson’s production line, and he got the preference for 2nd. 

All in all a well organised competition given the complexity of numbers, categories and required accompanying pipers and snares (for the tenors). Many of these top talents could, and indeed are, playing in the upper echelons of the grade system. In the six MSR categories, five were won by Grade 1 players and the sixth by a graded player. The Juvenile title is a misnomer and it should be simply be the ‘Under 18 Competition’, with a cut off date on the day of the contest. The current set up leaves the vast majority of corps and lower graded players with no outlet for their solo playing, and that is something to be considered too. In the far-flung places the graded solos tend to be featured in the morning and bands in the afternoon. All fine if you have small numbers of course. I don’t know the answer, but it should be debated. 

Not just a single ‘Piper of the Day’ plaudit from me, but The “Pipers of the Day” for the Juvenile Sections, goes to the ‘Boghall & Bathgate Collective’, with what seemed like multiple players in most sections – a great credit to the teaching programme there and the camaraderie of the pipers for their youngest drumming assets. Over and Out.

• Full results from the WSD here. Read MacStig’s earlier report on the 2018 championship here.

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