Pipe Major Responds to Comments About His Band’s Medley at the British Championships

scottish power pb logoThe statement below has been received from P/M Christopher Armstrong of Scottish Power Pipe Band. It follows yesterday’s critique by PP Editor Robert Wallace on the performances in Grade 1 at the British Championships held at Paisley last Saturday, May 21. 

P/M Armstrong, who is pictured above, writes: ‘It’s always interesting to read your thoughts on all the bands’ performances after a contest, and as the Pipe Major of ScottishPower Pipe Band I thought I’d share with you a few notes from my perspective. 

‘Your critique from the British Pipe Band Championships got me thinking about the various aspects of the performance you highlighted and the reason behind, or application of, the tools employed in the construct of our medley. I’m not big on the explaining music and justifying its reason because I generally enjoy it for what it is, but here’s my attempt.

‘A shaky start where the low Gs and B harmonies clashed throughout the opening tune.’ That’s interesting from the perspective that the harmonies in the opening tune, a good strong George McIntyre composition which uses the A mixolydian mode, are utilised to compliment this mode which is widely used in Western Music. Basically, this mode is an A major scale with a flattened 7th; i.e. if it was a major key you would have a G sharp but the pipe scale being what it is has a G natural. In order to harmonise correctly in this mode you need the B and low G as the G major/E minor chord are present where you use them. Kilmaho is a fantastic double tonic tune, changing between A and G in every phrase pretty much.
‘Slow air went on a shade too long.’ This is also interesting as one of the ‘formulaic’ medley construction tools, I say formulaic because there are only two (it seems) agreeable formats for medleys to take currently, is to employ the use of a slow air which fits within a particular time constraint of around 1:15/1:30 minutes long so as not to go on too long. A quick check of the duration of previous years’ medleys will confirm this. Again another subjective area, but this tune was used for its majestic qualities having been sourced from another Celtic nation’s repertoire – the Isle of Man. The addition of the 2nd and 3rd line harmonies in the 2nd part help to highlight the melodic line and add a slightly more complex rhythmical structure to underpin the strong melodic line, this rhythmical enhancement being echoed in what the drum corps add to the piece.
And there was absolutely no melody whatsoever in the first jig – the harmony did not help’. This is perhaps of the most interest to me personally. The Electric Pumpkin is the only jig we played, of six parts construction. Composed back somewhere in the region of 1996, this tune is somewhat old hat and I noticed quite a few people fingering along with the band during tune up which is always a great compliment to any composer. This tune (and I hate analysing my own compositions) has great rhythmical and technical qualities and some fantastic opportunity for Jake [Jørgenson, ScottishPower’s Leading Drummer] and the corps to really come to the fore, which they do very sympathetically and tastefully. The addition of the harmonies is not an effort to improve a weak tune as there is no point in playing a tune which requires harmonies to do so. The tune, in a D major key, benefits from the addition of the harmonies in the last two parts from the aspect of ensemble and adding a point of interest as it progresses to its strong conclusion. These harmonies help highlight the technical demands of the birls and challenging note groupings  within the tune.
‘In the end, I generally accept music for what it is whether I like it or not. Your comments got me thinking more along the theoretical aspects of our new medley’s construction and having done this I can now better appreciate why I enjoy playing it. 
‘I think there may be some educational value in the information above so please feel free to publish this on your Piping Press site if you find it of educational value or otherwise. 

Chris Armstrong.’