Saturday, December 4, 2010

... To Make a Difference

Every so often you meet a person who has made a difference in his lifetime. In Canada, we have a national program of recognition called The Champions of Change. Those that qualify are deemed to be outstanding in their chosen field and in a huge way, have affected change in society in a positive fashion. Specifically chosen was a good friend of mine and to countless young people across this country - Mr. Robert Fraser, who for 53 years has taught upwards to 20 hours per week with the Lord Selkirk Boy Scouts. For some time now, Bob Worrall and myself along with John Fisher and Reagan Jones have been conducting workshops in Winnipeg for Mr. Fraser and his charges. Each year his teaching program has been rewarded with success after success. Below is the CBC Champions of Change profile submitted.... Congratulations Mr. Fraser:Top 50!

NAME: Robert Fraser
AGE: 87
VOLUNTEERS IN: Winnipeg, Manitoba
CATEGORY: Canada - Education, Community & Culture
ORGANIZATION(S): Lord Selkirk Boys' Pipe & Drum Band


When he was a young boy growing up in Scotland, Robert suffered burns to his hands and feet. Although originally told he would never walk or make use of his hands, he later met a man who volunteered to teach him to play the bagpipes - he just had to learn to play them backwards compared to how most people play them.

Robert wanted to express his appreciation for all the time his teacher devoted to him, but his teacher said that, to pay him back, Robert should spread the culture of generosity and teach others - and that he shouldn't charge money for his services.

As soon as Robert came to Canada, he kept his promise, founding his band in 1957 - and he's still at it, now helped by some former - now grown-up - students, who are helping teach new band members. Included among their many community activities is their "Scotathon," when they march around to local business, play a bit of music, and pass the donation bucket.

Diane Kotelko, whose son is in the band, nominated Robert, noting his outfit travels around the world, and came in 8th out of 26 bands at an international competition in Scotland this year.


To learn more about Lord Selkirk Boys' Pipe & Drum Band, visit their website at

To hear a recorded interview with Mr. Fraser, visit and download

Copyright CBC; Champions of Change

Thursday, November 11, 2010

... November 11

Today is November 11, 2010. I have my father-in-law, Lloyd, a veteran of WWII, in my thoughts. His health is failing him, but nevertheless, he keeps his spirits high. He writes some of the most loving poetry imaginable... about family and friends and of course, events in his long life. God bless him for that. And I reflect back on what Remembrance Day is all about, I see Lloyd reminiscing about his brother who was lost over the English Channel when his Spitfire failed to return from a mission some 65 years ago.... all part of the family fabric. Memorials now exist in France and Canada for both these brave souls - one still with us. Yes, November 11 each year has meaning!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

... The Instrument Can't Play Music!

You might be a little puzzled by the last two or three postings... but not me! For you see, I am reminded of something said by Victor Wooten in his book, The Music Lesson. "Music exists inside each one of us. An instrument offers different forms of expression and allows others to hear how musical you are, but you don't have to play a note to be musical. Music cannot be found in any instrument... an instrument laid on the ground makes no sound. It is the musician who must bring Music forth, or not." Music isn't created. It is there in each of us and there, just waiting to be discovered.

I make every attempt to truly listen to a performance, so whether the music is from the highland or lowland pipe, the guitar, the voice... whatever... it makes very little difference to me. The previous posts were some of my favourite pieces of music, each setting me adrift in a different world; each providing a mood for the listener. If I saw music as simply notes, I would be only observing a mechanical display of sounds, much like those of the rolls of the player piano of old. But such is not the case.

I am often reminded of what has become the norm in so many music classes - reading the notes with correct duration, but not really playing music. Music is a passion. It transcends obsession. It is a language and not an alphabet. Their are many voices and just because one plays a particular instrument, we shouldn't feel that it is only that instrument that plays that music. For sure, the instrument doesn't play music at all... it is you, the musician... and anyone can be musical whether they play an instrument or not! So enjoy your favourite music played by your favourite musician, regardless of what medium is used.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Galway Girl - Mundy with Sharon Shannon

One of my favourite performers of all time has to be Sharon Shannon. A few years ago I had the great experience of attending an evening with her and friend's at Dolan's Pub in Limerick. This video was taken at the same pub and gives you a feel for the atmosphere that is experienced perhaps only in the west of Ireland.

Cliffs of Dooneen - Paddy Reilly

A few years ago, John Walsh introduced me to a pipe setting of the Cliffs of Dooneen, a beautiful aire sung here by the great Paddy Reilly. I searched for these cliffs many times. According to the lyrics, you can see Kilrush and Kilkee on the west coast of Co. Clare. But like the evasive leprechaun, I never did lay my eyes on them. I am sure there would be a pot of gold at the end!

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fields Of Athenry - Paddy Reilly

How is this great Paddy Reilly song for stirring the emotions? Regardless of one's tastes in music, they are bound to swept up in its strong sentimental lyrics... I know I am.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How Times Have Changed...

Once again, Maxville has come and passed... as predicted almost. The West is still the best and the East isn't too shabby either. Ontario bands are certainly in a rut. If it weren't for a strong performance by the Rob Roy Pipe Band of Kingston, locals would be shut out in the top 3 grades... as it was, Grade 3 went to Rob Roy but hotly on their heels were the Great Lakes Pipe Band of Cleveland, Ohio and the Ulster Scottish Pipe Band from Philadelphia, so even the Grade 3 wasn't a slam dunk!

The Grade 1 North American Champions for 2010 are the Peel Regional Pipe Band under PM John Cairns and LD Graham Brown. Congratulations to them as well as worthy runners-up, the 78th Highlanders (The Citadel) from Halifax, NS, under PM Roderick MacLean. Now Grade 2 presented few surprises as the City of Chicago and the St. Andrew's Society of Winnipeg split the top events with the CoC nudging in for the championship. Kudos to PM Pat Lynch of CoC and PM Wes Sheppard of the St. Andrew's. The Fredericton Society of St. Andrew was third with Rocky Mountain of Calgary and the Stuart Highlanders of Boston rounding out the top 5. With this result it would appear that the Ontario Grade 2 has been decimated... or is it guillotined?

The World's Championships is next on the list of majors. Canada will be well represented in the premier grade by SFU, Triumph Street and Edmonton Caledonia from the west and Peel Police and the 78th Fraser Highlanders from Ontario. The USA will have the City of Washington and the LA Scots entered. SFU is the only sure bet for the final as they are defending champions and already qualified. The other 4 bands just might share in elation and bitter disappointment as only 6 bands make it through the qualifier... and the contest is stacked! The Grade 2 this year also has qualifiers with two heats running simultaneously to select 12 finalists. The New Westminster Police, 6th last year, heads up a list that includes the City of Regina and the St. Andrew's Society of Winnipeg. Good luck to them all. Better still, let's hope for good plays and satisfying trips.

See you in Glasgow!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

... All Old Pipers Should Be Put Out To the Doubling Pasture

I received a very interesting email this week. The gist of the story centres around a 70 year old piper who wishes to compete - passionately rejects the aging process and wants to improve, which conflicts with his Pipe Major and instructor. Let the letter speak for itself!
"You all heard him play and each of you encouraged him to insert embellishments into the music. To be fair, his piping judge at the last contest said the same thing. I need your wisdom here. He is 70 years old. He started when he was 65. He's also got pretty severe arthritis in both hands. I am afraid that moving his focus and energies to embellishments will hurt the good things he's currently doing with his music as well as his personal enjoyment. He's now come back wanting to relearn the tune with all the embellishments. I'm heartbroken. So here you have it. Is this "hobby" as it is in the hands of adult (and senior) learners, not valid without full embellishments? Do embellishments take priority over sound, phrasing, expression, and overall music? When is it appropriate for an old timer to simply play the melody with limited or no embellishments? Should he quit and take up whistling? Here is my thinking:
1) He (and many others) will NEVER be able to play ANYTHING with full embellishments. His hands simply won't allow it without damaging phrasing, expression, sound or tempo.
2) It is probably good for these people to practice embellishments (e.g. rhythmic fingerwork) even though they may never put them inside a tune effectively. Even if they never find their way into his music, the exercises themselves can't hurt.
3) I think it's wrong for us (the piping world at large) to place this burden on someone who will never be able to effectively achieve that goal, given all circumstances under consideration.
I'd like your thoughts."
Well, after I hit the ceiling and responded, I thought it a situation that should be shared. I have arthritis. I collect Canada Pension (Social Security in the USA). Am I staring my eventual retirement home in a doubling, taroluath, birl, grip free pasture where all of us will reside in melodic bliss for the remaining years?... Good grief!

Monday, March 1, 2010

... Own the Podium !

I couldn't help but be moved by the last 17 days in Vancouver and Whistler, BC. The fact that Canada and Canadians were displayed front and centre on the world stage had so many similarities to the pipe band world. Not only did we have champions and medallists, we had spirit and undeniable Canadian humility. When Kevin Martin won the curling Gold, the CTV interviewer attempted to make this medal more important than his Silver in Salt Lake City. But Kevin set him straight with "that silver was very special", not to say that the gold wasn't as well. I liked that... a world class statement from a world class competitor. I liked the image of Jon Montgomery walking through Whistler Village, just out of doping control - handed a jug of beer - and he does the expected Canadian thing! He repeated on national TV with one of the CTV female commentators. Bravo for the refreshing side of Jon Montgomery! Not to be outdone, the Canadian women's hockey team with medals around their necks, celebrated in classic style with pints, champagne and cigars right on the ice at the Olympic arena. It sure looks good on us! But a couple of things did bug me. For one, the press built the "Own the Podium" hype just too much. Expectations were unrealistic. In some circles, rather than reacting positively towards our athletes' performances, I heard the very opposite. Comments like "Crosby has done nothing - the women's long track pursuit team blew it - or the column didn't rise in the opening ceremonies!" But in true Canadian fashion, the closing ceremonies certainly poked fun at the rising of the last column in a way that would make "22 Minutes" proud - a clown pulling the column upwards to the sky and Catriona le May Doan taking centre stage to light the flame. What other country would turn press and popular opinion disaster into a triumph of humour and a sincere "look at who we are". And as far as Crosby doing nothing, let that last goal go down in Canadian folklore right beside that of Paul Henderson - truly a fitting end to the most successful games in history. And like Paul Henderson in the hockey summit, Crosby toiled tirelessly and took a physical pounding like no other in the tournament. So take that you nae sayers and negativity merchants! Now if you missed the closing ceremonies, you missed a Hollywood production beyond anything that could be expected out of California! Avril Lavigne, Neil Young, La Bottine Souriante from Quebec, Nickelback, William Shatner, Michael Buble and of course, "I Believe" sung by Nikki Yanofsky and Annie Villeneuve.

Can you imagine if there was a pipe band "Own the Podium" - with sponsorship for development and travel even at 1% of the 120 million federal dollars budgeted for the current program? This would secure our pipe bands for the current generation and the next. It would take strong corporate involvement and grass roots teaching - but imagine! Can you say "I Believe"

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