MacStig Picks His Favourites from a Fine Selection of PP Lockdown Essays

Ireland’s Seamus Russell gave us an insightful piece on the background to a painting held by the Black Raven Pipe Band [above]. The painting of the band at the off with banners flying certainly caught my eye, writes MacStig.

Seamus deprecatingly said it wasn’t an entry for the Piping Press Arts Competition but I think it deserves an honourable mention and the story was engaging. 

Betty Ann Muckle’s memory piece ‘The Glen is Mine’, reminding readers of John Wilson (Edinburgh & Toronto), was both evocative and highly descriptive.

One of the photographs that enhanced Betty Anne’s essay

I could almost see the peaks of the mountains and taste the soup she mentioned. I quote, ‘John loved the mountains. On her bedroom wall, Margaret had a large photo of him at Lake O’Hara, BC, taken not long before he died. We both agreed we were glad he got to such a beautiful place after surviving the ugliness of war.…..’ All important in the collective memory of the far and wide piping and pipe band community. Highly commended and a very talented contributor. Read the full story here.

The short tribute written to Flight Lieutenant John Cruikshank VC and his 100th birthday was not really an entry for the competition but I wanted to mention him anyway.

We should all be thankful for men like him. The link to piping through the composition written for him by David Mason was elegantly done and the stature of the man came off the page.  

The series of interviews with Stephen Creighton are also getting a mention from yours truly, though not entries, strictly speaking.

He is a World Champion, an understated world class player with a hint of vulnerability and the curious mix of confidence and occasional self doubt but enough drive to walk through disappointment and be his own man.

The Mighty Creighton……he came across as a drummer, a drummers’ drummer and a man who speaks truth, plays his highly musical scores with panache and that trademark side strike of his.

A leader and a great raconteur, his story poured out of him on to the Piping Press page and, I could well imagine sitting listening to the craic with a pint of something in hand. To Mr Creighton, the subject of the story, the plaudits. A decent job by the writer too; he should think about a career in journalism. 

George Barlow brought us an entertaining piece on ‘Futz Piping’ and I’m delighted he explained the term rather than let it hang there like a dodgy F. He kindled the thought that there simply might be playing for playing sake, just enjoying the experience and the music: ‘Our instrument, even though it is only nine notes, when properly tuned and in the hands of a competent musician, conveys an array of emotions to the listener.……’

George Barlow contributed a fine essay

A tremendous reminder that the competitive line of the instrument has a bench or perambulating adjudicators looking for the most minute variations and errors, perfection the goal and often at the expense of letting rip.

George is clearly a thinking scholar of the art form in its various guises and we are richer for his thoughts being committed to the page. If it wasn’t for social distancing he would get a silver star on his shirt collar and a ‘well done’ stamp on his hand.

Also gaining an Honourable Mention is Jack Lee’s piece on Donald Shaw Ramsay’s 2/4 March composition for Jimmy Young. What a great insight and recording, letting pipers hear how the man himself expected it to be played.

Jack Lee wrote tellingly about the tune Jimmy Young

These discoveries of provenance and appreciation, by top notch players like Jack, are crucial in cataloguing the history of the medium. Read more.

Ian Forbes wrote from experience in his reminiscence piece of championships gone by and what many remember as the glory of Cowal. He evoked memories for many I’m sure and the descriptive prose conjured up summer days and what to some will seem like the utter madness and sass of pipe bands.

Playing down the road at Cowal

There is so much excitement and ‘pre match’ anticipation from Ian’s writings that they leap from the page and, coupled to the great photographs, he gave us a thoroughly entertaining read and walk down a familiar memory lane….. 

When we re-assembled, it was time for some serious tuning-up to prepare for the contest. For many of us, Cowal was by far a more prestigious event than the Worlds and we were all buzzing with anticipation…..’

You could almost hear the beer tent chatter and hubub, and that the march past was always interminable, even then. 

The writer (left) also reminded us of the import and influence of the Boys’ Brigade in Scotland as a catalyst for hundreds if not thousands of young boys and their subsequent advancement to the senior pipe band ranks. Maybe that in itself is a subject matter for someone to tackle and add to the considerable writings on the subject in this and other publications.

I also read the impressive piece from young Brodie Watson-Massey. He raised some excellent points in a discursive essay. It would easily glide through an English exam – if there was such a thing this year. It also gets extra credits for being a personal view and from his real life experience. 

There were the finer points of learning an instrument – the hard wire skills, cognitive expansion, pushing memory and recall. All useful in other areas of learning too.

Brodie Watson-Massey

Further, there is the teamwork, responsibility for individual and collective practice in a band or orchestra. Timekeeping too, managing a diary and scheduling time amongst everything else going on at school both academically and socially. This generation of pupils is one of the busiest ever. 

It is clear where the conclusion points to and for a further topic I’d challenge Brodie to come up with a solution or plan (other than just finding money). But he highlighted a very important matter worthy of debate and to be raised more regularly by us all. A great essay and an A+ from me. He wins the Piping Press adulation and a voucher for £40 worth of music downloads from the PP Shop. 

In all the Lockdown Essay Challenge was a worthwhile way of filling in some time rather than what we would be doing at this time of year. As the diary dates of championships, games and competition flit by it’s hard to be positive. Our subset of the wider world will be impacted for good as the new normal settles, although change will have to be embraced otherwise ‘the end is nigh’ for some bands and organisations.

I’ve read analysis of the economic impact of the pandemic by those who know; it will be grim. Our task? Keep it going. To all of you, stay well and, in the words of the song, ‘For I know we’ll meet again some sunny day’. Over and out.

  • The Piping Press Artwork Challenge closes on July 31. There’s still time to submit your paintings. Send to usual address.

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