AusTex Bagpipes

Great Highland Bagpipes for all occasions
Throughout Austin and Central Texas


Part the Second: The Music and the Never Ending Fight for Attendance

Posted by on August 25, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Competitions for a pipe band generally consist of two events: the March, Strathspey and Reel (MSR) and the Medley. For a Grade 3 band the MSR has to consist of a 4-parted 2/4 march, a 4-parted strathspey and a 4-parted reel. The medley is set of tunes, typically dance tunes with a slow air thrown into the mix, which has to last between three and five minutes from beginning to end.

Simple enough, eh? But what tunes do you play? There are tons of classic pipe tunes to choose from, as well as a lot of newer less known tunes. Here are a few tricks in selecting tunes that I have learned (mostly the hard way) over the past few years:

• Most importantly, choose tunes based on the skill level of your pipe corps. It doesn’t matter how easy you think Balmoral Highlanders is, if some of your pipe corps is struggling with it, you may want to rethink your selection. There are no point bonuses for difficulty.

• Don’t be afraid to strip some of the more difficult embellishments out of the tune. If the corps can’t play that pesky D-doubling in unison, take it out!

• Pay particular attention to picking some tunes that the judges will be familiar with. It is much harder getting the judges’ attention if you are playing a bunch of obscure tunes. My latest theory is to start a medley with a technically simple tune that has a nice musical melody, throw any interesting but obscure tunes in the middle (some that I have written) and finish with a couple of fairly well known tunes.

• Play tunes that everyone in the band likes to play. You’re going to be playing these sets for a while, make sure that they are fun to play! Keep it fun!

• Always have someone who well knows the capabilities of your drummers to write your drum scores! A Grade 3 drum corps playing Grade 1 scores (or even harder) will never bring back high scores from the judges.

• If you’re arranging your 3-5 minute medley and it times out right at 5 minutes, you may want to think about trimming it down. Again, no bonuses for pushing the limit!

• If you’re going to go to Scotland and challenge up in the warmup games the week before the Worlds, make sure very early that your medley is long enough for the higher grade! A 3-1/2 minute medley is good for Grade 3, but the Grade 2 medley has to be between four and six minutes! (There is a story here which I will relate later.)

There is an important phrase nestled in that list: Keep It Fun! And that is a big challenge sometimes when you are dealing with a volunteer organization and members of widely varying skill levels. If you simplify the repertoire too much, the more skilled and experienced players get bored. Do the opposite, and the less skilled and experienced players get frustrated. Bored or frustrated players tend to miss a lot of rehearsals.

This is compounded by the fact that you are dealing with a group of folks who have jobs, families and other hobbies. [I mean come on! Isn’t your life supposed to completely revolve around the pipe band?!?!? I keep offering to talk to players’ bosses and spouses about letting them have more time to practice and spend with the band, but no one has taken me up on it. We have some smart band members!] Sometimes life just gets in the way of pipe band. So I try to “keep it fun” as much as possible…and with varying success.

Here’s my current strategy:

• For competition sets, select tunes of moderate difficulty. Easy enough to allow the up and comers to play, but hard enough to challenge them. And hard enough to keep some interest from the established players.

• Select some fun and more challenging tunes to include in your gig sets.

• You’re going to hammer at your competition sets during most rehearsals, but finish off the evening with some of those more difficult and fun sets.

• Don’t be afraid to add more tunes and swap gig sets around! Keep everyone challenged!

I’ll let you know how it goes…

Next episode: Playing with Pitch


Categories: The Run to Scotland 2015, Pipe Bands

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