By The Editor
A week on Saturday the RSPBA Music Board is hosting a meeting of all Grade 1 pipe majors and leading drummers. The main topic for discussion in what is billed as a ‘ground-breaking event‘ is the future of the pipe band medley.
The current shutdown has afforded an opportunity for those at the top of the movement to get off the treadmill, think outside the box, go left field and put into practice all the other clichés associated with forward thinking.
It is ironic that it will take a world shattering event, the pandemic, to get bands to seriously consider playing, henceforth, in concert formation; for that is the truth, inconvenient for some, that we must now face.
With a mindset mired in the past and the ‘it was good enough for ma faither’ outlook shared by many, it should be no surprise that the majority would be happy to stick with the military circle, first formulated in 1938, as the prime mode of pipe band music delivery, backside to the listener, and contrary to the performance practice of every other ensemble in the history of world music.
But the virus trumps all that. Concert formation it has to be guys – aerosol spray and possible face to face transmission of the deadly bug make it compulsory. The circle is dead, gone, finito and thank goodness for that. Just wait and see the audience reaction and the musical improvement that comes from this simple restructuring.
Next, the medley. It is 50 years exactly since I stood outside the circle and listened to a Shotts band winning the Worlds in Aberdeen at the first ever medley championsip.
P/M Tom MacAllister and L/D Alex Duthart led the way into a new dimension in pipe band music. It was thrilling, innovative. Bands of the era all played their part in endorsing the change. Over the years the music developed, pointed stuff gave way to even lines. Reprises and counter melodies, harmonies and rhythms didn’t always work but demonstrated the peak of piping and drumming versatility.
‘The medley has become as stale and formulaic as the MSR…’
All good, but for the last 20 years the medley has marked time. Stuck for somewhere to go, pipe majors started playing dubious material nobody wanted to listen to, adjudicators included. The upshot is that the medley has become as stale and formulaic as the MSR but without the equivalent musical demand. Half a century on from that great Shotts win it is time for change. Don’t you feel the moment, the hand of history?
I say do away with the introductory rolls. Let bands start as they please either marching on or in situ. Let them have a couple of other instruments to enhance the show. Allow every band in the G1 Worlds final 10 minutes set up time. The era of the tartan roadie could be upon us. We have to follow the lead of our Breton cousins here. If we do we will take the pipe band into another dimension just as we did in 1970.
‘P/Ms and L/Ds….the chance won’t come again. You can make history….‘
The crowds at these shows in Brittany speak for themselves. My worry is that over here the popularity would detract from the March, Strathspey and Reel. Well, make it the tie breaker. Bands equal on placings? The best MSR gets the shout. That way we protect this important traditional format – the one that guarantees continued excellence of technique and control and the highest levels of unison playing.
The P/Ms and L/Ds zooming in on August 15 must not squander this opportunity to do something really significant for the movement. The chance won’t come again. You can make history; you can turn a deeply negative year into something positive by providing a 2020 vision, a future you will be proud to say you had a hand in shaping.