Circle Sunday – Toronto Police at Cambridge

I make no apologies for the late post this week as I was enjoying a day out at Nationals Park. The weather was hot and the home team lost, but the beer was cold and plenty, and the seats were within heckle distance of the first base umpire, so no complaints from me!

I know my band is gearing up for Maxville, which is just a little bit over one week away, so this week’s Circle Sunday video highlights the Toronto Police Pipe Band. This medley is from the recently passed Cambridge games in Ontario, and I have to say it’s one of their better medleys in the ‘reconstructionist period’ of the band. In typical TPPB fashion, the band makes the entire medley their own in a seamless presentation, often taking well-known tunes and turning them on their heads with the Toronto flare. I like what they’ve done this year: they sound like a pipe band again!

Circle Sunday

Apologies for the delay in the Circle Sunday post for this week. Technical difficulties with my ‘trusty neighborhood internet provider’ kept me from posting when I wanted to yesterday, and I’m just now getting around to updating things.


The World Pipe Band Championships are quickly approaching, and I’ve been reading a lot of discussions about the new format for this year. Previously a one-day event, the Worlds this year are now going to be over two days, with the Grade 1 qualifiers split into two heats on the first day, and everyone in the final on the second day. The draw has been posted, and already it seems there may be some bugs in the system, though I’m sure the changes made were with good intentions.

The major positive of the new format is that it now levels the field for bands playing in the final: all bands now have to qualify to play, and all bands start fresh on the day of the final rather than some bands having had to qualify and play up to 3 times in the same day in varying weather conditions. Another positive with the new format is that bands traveling overseas are not cheated out of playing both the MSR and the Medley event at the worlds; with the cost of the trip to Scotland totalling in the hundreds of thousands for some bands, it’s a helluva long and expensive trip to play just one event lasting roughly five minutes, so the new format gives bands more bang for their buck in that regard.

Some drawbacks to the new format were noted in the pipes|drums article included the heats being not evenly spread, with heat 1 being comprised of mostly the pretty-much-guaranteed-to-qualify bands, and heat 2 being not as strong as the first. I’m not sure if the stacked deck in heat 1 was intentional, but without going into too much detail here, I can see why if it was and I can also see why that might be a bother for some and a benefit for others. Personally, with it now being a two day event, other than to give the judges more of a break I see no reason to split the grade 1 qualifier into two heats for any reason. Also, perhaps someone can enlighten me on ths, but I don’t see why pre-qualifiers had to go away either. There could very well have still been a qualifying event on day 1 while still pre-qualifying bands at certain events, but only if the RSPBA is willing to include major events overseas as pre-qualifiers (probably not very likely).

So, as I said before, I think there positives as well as negatives to the new format, and I’m interested in seeing how it plays out this year, and whether or not it continues in years to come; the new format has the potential to shake up the final result. Some have called for the Worlds to return to the old format: a free-for-all where everyone plays and what happens happens in a time when chanters pitched down around 470 and cane and sheepskin were more than ‘all the rage’ – they were all that was! So here’s a throwback to the 1987 Worlds, with the band who forged the way to the modern pipe band Medley: The 78th Frasers.

Circle Thursday is Now Circle Sunday!

So I’ve figured Sunday is the easiest day for me to actually remember to get something posted regularly, so here it is!

You’ll notice with many of these videos that I like Medleys. Call me a blasphemer, but MSRs are just repetitive and boring: once you’ve heard one Grade 1 MSR, you’ve pretty much heard them all in my opinion. Medleys really shine for me in that they allow for a bit of creativity within the genre, though it’s been argued that even they are becoming repetitive and formulaic in their construction, and the competition itself stifles creativity rather than rewards it.

I can’t deny the truth of any of those statements, but there are subtleties and differences between being creative within set unspoken rules of a competition for the purpose of winning (and why compete at that level if your end goal isn’t to win?) and ignoring all that and going out there and doing what you want anyway. Whatever your stance on that issue, Medley competitions are the most fun thing to listen to in competitive piping today I think, so here’s a great performance by Dowco Triumph Street at the BC Highland Games back in June. Nothing flashy here, just some damned good piping!

Thanks for reading! Remember to subscribe to stay up-to-date with the latest posts!

Circle Thursday (*cough*Sunday*cough*): And The Band Played On!

Apologies for being lax with the Circle Thursdays posts. Recent job changes have altered my schedule lately, and I’m just now trying to get into the swing of things again. Here’s a post to try to make up for some lost time.


Bands are funny fickle things. We subject ourselves to all kinds of torture, personal flogging, and extreme weather conditions, all for 6-10 minutes of what we hope to be solid gold out on the field for a few judges. We’re taught that no matter what happens, just-keep-going! Don’t stop playing until the end, and for god’s sake don’t miss the cut off! I like to think that we push ourselves as hard as any professional athlete, and while a pipe band competition isn’t quite the same as a ‘footie’ match, it is without question a sporting event.

The below video of the New Zealand Police in 1994  is a perfect example of just how hard we push ourselves as bandspeople. I have heard stories of things like this happening, of people literally dying in massed bands due to the extreme heat, but I have never actually seen it happen for myself. It’s shocking to see, and even more incredible (but not surprising) to see the band finish the medley. I’m happy to report from the comments on the video that both the pipes and the piper recovered and were just fine after the event.

National Piping Centre, Winchester, VA 2013

I’m here just now in Roddy’s classroom at the National Piping Centre’s Summer school here at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. It’s nearly the end of the week, and it’s been quite a ride so far between classes, practice, and socializing, so I’ve not had much time to get on and post updates like I had planned. But, I’m here now with a quick update to say how well everything is going so far.

There are a number of very talented young students at this year’s school, and I’ve enjoyed meeting all of the new faces who are just attending this school for the first time–(One of them professed to be a reader of my blog! How exciting!!). Everyone has been working hard this week, and the progress I’ve seen from the students has been phenomenal, so it’s most certainly paying off. I know I’ve certainly enjoyed being able to get my pipes out for a blow a couple of times each day, though I think my pipes have enjoyed it more than I have!

Tonight we’re gearing up for the end-of-week concert put on by the instructors for the students and the general public; it should be a great show!

Circle Thursdays!

Thursdays shall hence-forth be dedicated to Pipe Bands and their respective ‘circles’.

Kicking off the string is a video of the St Thomas Alumni Pipe Band in the Grade 2 circle at the 2012 Worlds, where they were awarded 2nd place overall in the Final.

Absolutely fabulous medley construction, in my opinion. Highly entertaining all the way through!

E-Learning with the National Piping Centre

Today marks the kick-off for the National Piping Centre’s E-Learning program! It’s more than well-known that I’m a bit of a fan of the Piping Centre, so I’m obviously very excited for this new venture of theirs. In my experience, the Centre has always had a very logical and streamlined approach to teaching, and it looks as though the e-learning program will be just as excellent. I’m planning to register for the program myself, and will hopefully post some reviews about the program in full once I’m in it, so stay tuned for updates!


The band sounds good, Jimmy!

Last night was the 45th annual National Capital Scottish Festival at Rockville High School in Rockville, MD. My band, MacMillan, was one of several bands there supporting the fundraising event for the Rockville High School Pipe Band in the free concert. This was, I think, my third year performing at the Scottish Festival; it’s a great event for a great cause, and I highly encourage everyone to make donations to the Rockville High School band and their scholarships.

Here’s a clip of the MacMillan Grade 3 band; I’m in the trio at the start of our third set, which is the second half of our competition medley. We’re really sounding good this year! I’m proud of the work we’ve put in thus far, and I look forward to a great season.

Competition Commentary: Southern Maryland 4/27/2013

It was an uncharacteristically warm day at the Southern Maryland Highland Games this past Saturday. The forecast earlier in the week had predicted a high of a mere 60 degrees farenheit at best, but when the day came it could not have been a more perfect climate for a pipe band competition. Unfortunate for me since I used the weather forecast as an excuse to wuss out and scratch my solo events in advance. However, while I regret not playing, I also realized that there is only so much that I can do in one day, and not playing solos in the morning really enabled me to relax and focus on what was important: my bands.

The Southern Maryland Games mark the start of the season for many bands in the Mid-Atlantic region of the EUSPBA, and it certainly was for my band(s), the MacMillan Pipe Band. We’ve been working hard all Winter to prepare for this season, so it’s great to finally get ourselves out there. After being cooped up inside for six months, there is nothing better than being outside at the games playing your instrument in the circle.

Overall, we had a really nice outing for all three bands, and while the grades 4 and 5 would have liked a more favorable result, it gave us a benchmark and a platform to build on for the rest of the season. I’m proud of the work we’re putting in and have confidence that we’ll be even better as the season progresses.

The MacMillan grade 3 band received some great comments on our medley; though we were yet again the only band in our grade, comparing ourselves to our past performances at the same contest puts us far beyond where we were this time last year. The hard work is paying off!

Here’s a video of the Grade 3, definitely some adjustments to be made and blooters to be hammered out, but we rocked it!