World Solo Drumming Report – Praise for One of the Modern Greats, Steven McWhirter

Unlike the House of Commons, the House of Lords wasn’t sitting last Saturday, so our Lord of the Dance, MacStig, was able to attend the really big event and report for us from Glasgow….

In a parallel world, the baying rabble in the House of Commons chose to sit on this Saturday of all Saturday’s, the World Solo Drumming Saturday of 2019, where the only real question was, would Steven McWhirter ‘remain’ as the reigning champion and extend his haul to 10 titles, 9 consecutively, adding to his status as a contemporary day great?

Of course he did. The multiple championship winning hands of Kilpatrick and Duthart are joined by those of this Northern Irish son and maestro, who learned initially from his da’, then in the Hoy factory, the SFU Corps of Maxwell, and studied them all, Rae and others included. That melting pot of influence and ingrained talent might just have won a title or two, but hard work, diligence and a restless spirit of seeking perfection, to never be satisfied, wins 10. And I noted that several of his young Jedi at Dollar Academy hit the lists too. 

By MacStig

They came from all over and setting the ‘prequalified’ debate aside, the chances of making it to the Adult final from Round 1 were extremely limited, but squeezing through the eye of the needle, proving quality wins in the end, were finalists Andrew Lawson and Neil Bruce of Shotts, Blair Brown of St Thomas, Mike McKenna of SLOT and Eric MacNeill of Dunedin, Florida, not New Zealand. (You had to be there.) 

A long day for them and perhaps some running on empty towards the early evening and the very impressive Hornpipe & Jig sets which sent figurative fireworks heavenwards. Whilst on that subject, did the finalist who ‘stopped’ then started again really outscore four others? It caused a few gasps at the final for sure and, along with some very wide scores, the chatter will continue. 



Adjudicators had a busy day and hats off to them in the main, although some of you might be baffled by disparities between some of their scores, and specifically heart breaking for a Juvenile who lost first place on an Adjudicator Preference for the second year in a row. That’s rough. 

Of the pre-qualified Adult semi finalists there were immediate fallers at their first hurdle, whilst five Round 1 qualifiers usurped them and moved on to the final. Yes, six of the 10 prequalified semi-finalists in Semi 1 failed, as did six out of nine in Semi 2. 

I don’t know what the answer is, but perhaps the regional qualifiers will become better attended and competitive over time, although as a compensator the Round 1 early morning heats may well become less attractive. It might be that a grading beyond what is simply an Open category for ‘adults’ is needed to encourage those who are not pro or semi-pro players. Cast your eye down the list of finalists; most are and it shows.

As I’ve said before, precious few Grade 2 or beyond drummers are having a go. Of the estimated 180 snares in the whole of Grade 1, around one third, or just over, competed. Of Grade 2 players, fewer than the fingers on one hand. 

The March Strathspey and Reel final sets (the ones not drawn at the semi final stage) provided much of the standard fare you would expect. Plenty of weddings, rants, place names and people’s names. The biggest test of technicality, purest of rudiments linked together, pacey tempo and the dressage of the tournament.

The Hornpipe & Jig provided the glitz and glamour, the bling, zing and fling. Imagination, the chance to go for it awith freestyle of a sort, within the slightly wider boundaries. They are all online and whilst you won’t get the atmosphere, the murmur of the substantial audience or the pulse beat of the event, they are there for the record. I often find it pointless looking at one performance as it is a contest of relativity however, they are there for posterity.

And heaven bless the accompanying pipers, standing to the side but dealing with the heat and pressure of giving their best for their friend and colleague. In one semi-final the piper played a different march than the one drawn and by telepathy or evil eye, the drummer got him back on track to the right time at the right bar. It was impressive and for the record, the drummer made the Final. You know who you are. Admirable stamina from all the pipers and not once did I get a sense of simply coasting. To the men and women supporting drummers all through the multiple contests going on at the Cally, well done. 

Now for the opinion the doesn’t matter. Mine. McWhirter was miles ahead again although McLees was closer in the H&J than anyone else for me, and Mike McKenna is always chasing the heels. I’d have had Willie Glenholmes and Derek Cooper higher in the order perhaps but at the margins. My top six was right in five and I did think the H&J mishap would relegate Mr Joergensen out of the list, something he must have thought too as he turned up for the results in civvies. 

The stand out was a slick and clean March, Strathspey & Reel from the champion and his go to Mason’s Apron to close the Jig. Simply the best. Watch the clips if you weren’t there and young drummers, indeed all drummers, should watch the dynamics and light and shade. Whilst you are often focusing on simply getting through cleanly, and the volume button is forgotten, it shouldn’t be. The 10 times champion’s own score writing, interpretation and use of parts of old standards, is epic. 

You see, the thing about those who are eventually looked back upon as legends is that they are rarely hailed as such in real time. Fast forward a decade or so when someone who played in Juvenile 1 or 2 last weekend is standing in the Adult final, and voices are saying, ‘she has a bit of McWhirter to that ‘Mason’s Apron’. 

When the dust settles, the trophy is back on the shelf it has been sitting on for some time. Monday comes and his teaching week starts again, there will be slots filling in the diary for far flung places, workshops, master classes and concerts. Then this quietly spoken man, who knows what he wants from his drum, and knows what he needs from his corps players, will go to select his prize of yet another full set of Andante drums for Inveraray & District Pipe Band. Again. Andante has been sponsoring the event for 19 years, and in 10 of them McWhirter has won. 

So there you have it, Steven McWhirter the 2019 World Solo Drumming Champion, his tenth, nine in a row and next year awaits. 
Over and Out.


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