Editor’s Notebook: Hopeful Signs for 2022 Season/ Dale Brown/ Ken Eller/ Northern Meeting 1971

Whether coincidental or by design, the considerably more positive statement which has appeared on the RSPBA website subsequent to my comments of last week regarding the forthcoming pipe band season, are to be welcomed.

The Association is working hard on the majors (judges, stewards, compilers), is filling in gaps on the minors, and has their promoters, our cash-strapped Scottish local authorities, in constant and close contact.

The feeling in Washington Street is now that barring interference from politicians or some unforeseen covid-like lurgy set on blighting humanity for a further period, the season will definitely go ahead.

I hope to have more from the Association soon.

Thanks to everyone who responded to Dale Brown’s article of a few days ago. As is usual, several have not read his piece accurately – not an uncommon failing. People who look at these things tell us that the average reader takes in nothing north of 70% of any polemic – especially when emotion is triggered.

Dale’s main concerns were on the lack of new, quality, ‘competition’ MSRs being played by bands and soloists.

He writes: ‘That Bruce Gandy and Chris Armstrong have put a few books together to me are simply the exceptions that prove the rule.  To say there has been a musical explosion I think is a bit of an exaggeration, but I have a stack of relatively recent books about twelve inches high. 

‘The salient question is who is playing this music?  Sadly the answer is no one.  If the purpose is to play a certain cadre of music over and over and over to reach absolute perfection (not humanly possible) you are killing the purpose and soul of the instrument.  Retarding the spirit of the pipes.  In other words becoming stagnant.

‘Pipers, generally speaking, have limited repertoires.  Memorisation certainly plays a part, but I also see too often a lack of initiative on the part of the player.’

From Ontario ‘Captain’ Ken Eller writes: ‘I loved the article on the ‘big’ marches. In fact, your photo of Shotts after the Worlds 1952 (in Ayr I believe) brings back many memories.

‘The drum corps of this band emigrated to Canada in 1953 and became the founding corps for the Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band. In the photo I recognize John Kirkwood Sr. (L/D), Jim Kirkwood, Tom Weir and Jackie Fair.

Ken (r) and the Clan

‘The process of emigration was facilitated by the late Hugh MacPherson (Edinburgh and a past Chairman of the SPBA). I had the good fortune to play in the ‘Clan’ for 26 years with all of these ‘founders’ and eventually became the band’s pipe major.

‘On an aside, John Kirkwood Jr. would eventually follow Alex Connell as L/D of the Strathclyde Police, Tom Weir would become President of the PPBSO here in Ontario, and Jim Kirkwood would father two talented sons, Lindsay (piper) and Graham (drummer). They all left their mark playing in the band.’

Ken, an official RSPBA adjudicator, hopes to be over this summer judging at at a few minor contests and the Worlds.

A tidy up of my previous info on the results from Inverness in 1971. On September 17, the Press & Journal newspaper had this picture of the winner of the Marches, Iain Murdo Morrison, then a corporal in the Queen’s Own:

As is often the case the headline belies the accuracy of the story. And now from the Scotsman newspaper the following day, September 18, 1971:

That’s Fiona and Katriona in the picture and Donald won the Clasp. It is interesting looking at the programme. Here we see among other competitors listed: Willie Connell of East Kilbride, obviously not yet emigrated to Canada, Farquhar McIntosh of Broadford, Skye, Willie McBride of Prestonpans (Donald’s father), Major Dan Bonar of Malta, Willie Dickson, Dundee, Fred Morrison, Bishopton (young Fred’s father), Tom Speirs, Duncan Watson c/o Irvine Place, Aberdeen, (or no fixed abode, take your pick!), Breton Jean Francois Allain, of Maryhill, Glasgow, HJ MacKenzie of South Australia, John Wilson of Lady Mary Row, Campbeltown (a fine piob at the Highland Club on Monday), Iain MacFadyen then of Rutherglen, NZ’s Stuart Finlayson listed as at Clydebank, Iain Fraser, Carrbridge, Harry McNulty, Edinburgh Police, Harold Senyk of Victoria BC, listed as at Bob Hardie’s address in Bishopbriggs, William Wotherspoon of Watson Avenue, St Andrews, and many more. Sixty-nine entrants in all.

1 thought on “Editor’s Notebook: Hopeful Signs for 2022 Season/ Dale Brown/ Ken Eller/ Northern Meeting 1971

  1. Thanks for posting Dale Brown’s follow up response. I’d be interested in hearing more about the thoughts behind his post. The salient question is indeed, “who is playing this music?” But the answers and the reasons for that is a different discussion and well outside the premise of the original post. Mr. Brown made a number of objectively false statements in his post that represent a misreading of the landscape I think. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all to say there has been an explosion of new music. A stack of “recent” publications may reach 12 inches, but Mr. Brown stated clearly that he is lamenting the lack of new music over the last 50 to 60 years. A stack of publications over that span, from “top” pipers and all, would measure well more than 12 inches. Mr. Brown began his post with mentions of four great players from what we might consider the “golden age” of competitive piping. Cherry-picking aside, if you can’t pick four of equal caliber from a more modern era, then you have not been paying attention. I suppose matters of taste could establish a premise for arguing that the work of four chosen modern composers are not of the same quality as those past masters, but then we are again in a different discussion. But, how many tunes do all of those great pipers mentioned at the start of Mr. Brown’s post have to their name? And how many of them are competition 2/4s? John MacColl has 70 tunes or so, G.S. has about 60 in his book plus scattered others in other sources, Willie Lawrie (his untimely death notwithstanding) and Roderick Campbell each have only a handful to their name. In total. Across idioms. I’m puzzled by the standard being applied here. If you cherry-pick your modern “top echelon” to four or five pipers, then I suppose there is a point, but there are a great many more to choose from who can be considered “top,” many of whom who have the corresponding compositional output Mr. Brown is missing. Again, we are back to the salient question: “Where is the will to play this music?” THAT is the real discussion, but it must first depart from the acknowledgment that the body of work and the “genius” clearly does indeed exist, not making wistful and plainly inaccurate statements that “great players seldom have possessed in equal measure a superb creative composing skill set.” A composer such as G.S. MacLennan comes around once in a generation. But, we have seen many generations pass since his time, with great composers in each, including our current one. Whether the tunes from those composers merit the sobriquet “classic” is indeed a discussion worth having.

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