Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Do you have time...?

A man sat at a metro station in Washington, DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32.

When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

This reminded me so much of the many buskers that line the Buchanan Street Mall in Glasgow during World's week. I always stop to listen, contribute to their coffers and scan the listeners stationed nearby - always with admiration for their attentiveness.... Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When Christmas Becomes Thanksgiving

The fall has passed by quickly - but not without incident. Here we are into the Christmas week and time to reflect on the past, present and future - no, not as ghosts but in truly real life fashion. In the past 4 months our piping community has witnessed too many passings for any season... for me with the untimely deaths of both Scott MacAulay and Duncan Gibson for sure. The Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band family is still grieving the additional losses of Jackie Fair and Isabel Davidson. Piping lost one of the last Robert Reid students in the passing of Willie Connell. For this, I will dedicate the present to an appreciation and thanksgiving for life, friends and family and extend best wishes for the future to all. May our immediate year ahead be full of promise and prosperity, in spite of the doom and gloom brought upon by the current recession. We still have our music making events like Winter Storm and other gatherings more important than ever... hope to see you in the New Year... Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Name that Piper

Strange the thoughts that go through your mind after an emotional event like the tribute to Scott MacAulay on Sunday last. So many friends gathered for a singular purpose - Mike Grey, Bob Worrall, Jim McGillivray, Ruth Sutherland, Rob Crabtree, Lynda Mackay, Jessica Dent, Rick Tersteeg were the performers - each adding a special musical tribute to the many remembrances of Scott. I read with interest the parallels drawn my Michael Grey in his blog (When Pipers Die) and this immediately caused me to recollect the one thing mentioned so often on Sunday - "I wish someone could do Name that Piper"...but that was a MacAulay/Dickie phenomenon that kept all of us in stitches some 20 years ago.... clever to say the least... their antics on stage or in a pub would bring tears of laughter to any of those caught in their satirical episodes. Well I remember them bringing the house down in Vancouver as their road show roared into the annual BC Pipers Indoors in the mid 80's. They immortalized the likes of Terry and Jack Lee, Hal Senyk, Jamie Troy and countless others. One could say that you had made your mark on the Canadian piping scene if MacAulay and Dickie "Named you!"... I remember, too, another form of the same that came from the pen of the late Joe Young, a cartoonist who published for the old North American Scotsman magazine. His pen was as mighty as any satirical sketch, for he too caught the ideosyncracies of those portrayed... Name that piper! Name that judge... no one escaped his wit.... fortunate we are, to have such lasting personalities around the piping scene...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Support for Indoor Events

Today might be the last real day of Indian summer in this part of the country. The chains and plow are on my tractor, so bring on the snow! But also, lets bring on the cold weather indoor piping and drumming events. In some cases, workshops - other cases, contests. And like other years, we have a full slate starting with the George Sherriff Memorial Invitational, November 15, organized by Bob Worrall and heavily endorsed by the Hamilton Branch of the PPBSO. Bob is also the headliner in an evening of piping and discussion at the British Shop on November 21. Billed as a Pipe Nite by owners Iain and Moira Donaldson, this is the first of a series of guest speakers and recitalists, one a month, during our indoor season. The AGM of the PPBSO is scheduled for the next day in Milton, ON. President Bob Allen has just completed his first year of a 2 year term and looks for support from the membership to successfully administer our P&D affairs for 2009. So by the looks of it, November is full. But we mustn't forget the other months as well. President Gary Moore of the PPBSO Toronto Branch has scheduled the Annual Indoor Games for April, the Livingstone Memorial is slated for May and the Agnew Harrison Drumming event around the same time - all under the auspices of the Hamilton Branch

Now in the past, attendance at these events has come under some criticism. We as a group want such events, but do we support them? When admonished for poor attendance at last year's Stratford Sessions, one observer claimed lack of promotion for the event - a similar response was put forth concerning the Toronto Indoors. I would give credence to that if it were 100% true, but I hesitate. In part, it is lack of awareness of our membership. Do you read the on-line journals like the PD Online - the Captain's Corner here - BobDunsire.com - The Pipe Band Forum - the PPBSO Quarterly? I dare to say that promotion starts with the pipe band public regularly accessing these websites for news and events. The days of the paper trail are over - no longer do we have rags like the Piper and Drummer Magazine. So support comes in many forms, but heading the list is attendance and close behind would be making the effort to be informed. So spread the word....

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sham or Shame

I have heard it all now.... announced on the PD Online tonite was a vote-in poll for the best bass section at the 2008 World's.... now give me a break and give the pipe band community some space. Just at the time pundits are criticizing the contest format, the judging format and the concept of the qualifier, the PipesDrums Online posts this charade? Holy smokin', I just can't get my head around the concept of judging by international opinion. Come on guys...get your thoughts in gear. Lead drummers like Reid Maxwell, Jim Kilpatrick and Drew Duthart have won the World's by adjudication. What creditibilty would they have if they were issued their prize by an online poll? I can see it now - winners of the World Pipe Band Championship and the Julilee trophy - by the vote of no one who was there - SFU...... where's the thinking here? And who are the smart ones? ... anybody who does not participate and only recognizes the real thing - a World's adjudicated on Glasgow Green, plain and simple!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

... Longevity

How many of you will be around at age 90? ... and even if you are, will you be able to entertain yourself with the occasional tune?...have the same energy as a man half your age?.... well, congratulations to Ken Thornton of Creemore, Ontario. He began the pipes at the age of 84 and fulfilled a life long ambition to join the RCMP by parading with them in Ottawa shortly afterwards. We, at the Ontario School of Piping had the privilege of assisting Ken along his journey and now watch with great pride as he celebrates his 90th b-day this weekend. As far as pipers go, Ken is a middle aged youngster... and watch for him celebrating his 100th, only a decade away.

Ken Thornton is living proof that age is only a figment of the imagination. Pipers are living longer and sustaining a high level of competence well into their senior years. The Grade 1 scene used to be for the younger set only. In my time, players looked to retirement from the big grade often in their 40's. But now, musical life doen't seem to begin until much later. Hell, I recall John Weatherstone, the Silver Fox, on the field with the Red Hackle...well into his 60's. Even today there are Grade 1 pipe majors in that age bracket and maturity doesn't seem to arrive till at least the early 50's - check out the PM's of the top bands in the world!...so there is hope for me yet....just might have to mount a comeback...thanks for the inspiration, Ken Thornton. In your honor, I think this evening I will hoist a few Creemore's.

Monday, October 13, 2008

... on the Melodic Line... Boghall to play 8 tenors in 2009...

Rumor has it that Boghall and Bathgate are planning to play 8 tenors in their 2009 corps (bobdunsire.com - Bass Sections Forum - September 30,2008). TyFry must be on cloud nine with the potential for all those new mallet sales! I wonder if TyFry blue will replace TyFry pink... But I digress, there was no better response in the forum than that of Peter Hendrickson, formerly of AlCal and now with SFU.

"Just like in all other genres of music... everyone plays the melody... all at the same time, right?

Once I played this jazz gig, and it was with a piano player. So, I was like, "how many notes does a piano have?" I brought 88 tom toms to the show and I was able to play everything HE played. It was awesome... and he even told me so afterward! He said, "FINALLY, someone to play with that makes MY role less significant!"

I was just trying to use all the skills I learned in music school. What they taught me was to, and I quote, "always play the melody! Rule number one... always play the melody." If you're playing in a group that has a melodic instrument (instrument designed to play melodies), and you are playing a "rhythm section" instrument, like uh, the drums, you must always tune the drums in a way that you can play all the notes that the melodic instrument is playing already. This way you can play EXACTLY THE SAME!!!

The last gig I played where I just kept good time, provided energy and forward momentum, didn't get in the way of the melody and provided a solid foundation, making the rest of the band sound awesome... I got fired!! Man, I couldn't believe it. It was with Quincy Jones, if I remember correctly. A man I respected for years and always wanted to play with. Anyway, he pulled me aside after the gig and said "son, if you EVER pull that kinda crap again you will NEVER work in this town." He continued with "YOU ARE A DRUMMER!! Haven't I taught you ANYTHING?!?! You must ALWAYS play the melody... you must always play the melody."

Now, after years of study, I have finally realized that THE most important element in music is the melody. So, if it is the most important element, I ask you this... WHY... are we not ALL playing it?

Thank you very much,

Peter Hendrickson
(reprinted with kind permission of the author)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Boot Hill

I was walking the other day down the High Street near Glasgow Green and decided to take a leisurely stroll of discovery through Boot Hill, the local graveyard. In front of my eyes was the Pipe Band Grade 1 section - tombstone after tombstone... a virtual family history of the Grade 1 scene over my 50 years of hangin' around. On my left was the Guelph Pipe Band, interred next to the MacNish Distillery... further down the path was the Clan MacFarlane nestled in beside Bob Hardie's Muirheads and Sons - right in front of the City of Victoria and Hal Senyk's Triumph Street. There was the Red Hackle and DUT, Renfrew and the BCal Airways, Black Bottle and Invergordan Distillery with Toronto and District and the City of Toronto in the newly landscaped Ontario area... and a fresh grave...no tombstone yet, but a freshly painted sign...the Windsor Police. Sad reminders all of past greatness...and what's this on my right? ... a freshly dug hole ... must be a funeral coming by soon.... curiously, I exited back to the High Street and took a window seat in The Diggers, the local watering hole. Sure enough, it was not long before a drummer-less cortege meandered through the front gates and down to the open grave... The Clan Gregor Society! I said a wee prayer as my eyes welled with sadness...another has passed on.


and I sipped my first pint of the day.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

... on Leadership

So the highland games season is over and competitive bands are retreating into the woodwork to either lick their wounds, change leadership or the direction in which they are moving or simply improve on this year's performance. All these changes involve player ups and downs. For the competitive band, it seems there is no let up to the personnel or musical issues to maintain their spot in the pecking order or to advance to the next level. What does bother me though is the loss of a band like the Windsor Police. Can it rise from the ashes as did the Toronto Police just a year earlier? I doubt it, since the prime ingredient to a top level band is leadership. Every band has it - FMM with Richard Parkes , Shotts with Robert Mathieson, SLOT with Terry Tully and the list goes on. Name a band and its Pipe Major will immediately come to the fore. Windsor evidently sought a new leader but were not successful and let me tell you from experience, that leaders are not so much created from within the band as being born with the talents to successfully satisfy the many minds and egos that come together in Grade 1. So internal searches just are not the answer. You have to laud the Peel Regional Police for luring John Cairns away from a successful career in the SL-78th Fraser Highlanders. Obviously, they examined their direction, analyzed their needs and did their homework. A good leader will attract players as well. Take for example the HOE, Shotts and Dykehead this past year - 13 new players in their ranks and another successful season. Will Peel be the success story for 2009? Top players are in short supply and bands of today must spread their net far and wide to acquire the numbers. I recently talked with a friend of mine who is Pipe Major of a Grade 2 band. Through no fault of his leadership, the numbers have dwindled recently - some leaving for school - some retiring - others taking a leave of absence. Essentially downgrading is the only answer to remaining competitive. With this comes the hope of once again being able to attract players over the short term - idealistic in a confined and very competitive market. So what can we do to maintain a stable number of top flight Grade 1 and 2 bands? I think the answer lies with strong leadership and training programs ! So, all you leaders out there, prepare to take over bands at the upper level. Perhaps within Windsor Police lies the talent to field a Grade 2 band. Now find the leader!

Chapter 3 -  Brasil Caledonia The new generation of players that was under training was still not ready when the band started to compete...