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Music The music played by pipe bands generally consists of music from the Scottish tradition, the Irish tradition and the Breton tradition, either in the form of traditional folk tunes and dances or music from the Western tradition that has been adapted for pipes. Examples of typical pipe bands forms include marches, slow airs, up-tempo jigs and reels, and strathspeys. In recent years there has been a great deal of emphasis placed on new forms, especially the suite. A good example of a suite for pipe band is Don Thompson's composition Journey to Skye (1987).
In conventional pipe band music, each section of instruments has a different role in the music. Generally speaking, the pipers deliver the melodic and harmonic material, while the side drummers provide a rhythmically interactive accompaniment part. The tenor drummers provide the fundamental rhythmic pulse and the bass drummer anchors the rhythms, providing a strong and steady beat. The roles of each section are broken down further below.
The bagpipers are responsible for providing all of the melodic material in the music. Generally speaking, all of the pipers play a unison melody on their chanters, with their drones providing the harmonic support and filling out the sound. These unison melodies are often quite complex and demanding. It is this complexity that provides much of the musical interest.
When harmony is written within the pipe section, it is usually a two-part harmony, and is usually scored in a 2:1 ratio (with two thirds of the players on the melody and one third of the players on the harmony part). Because of the limited range of the chanter, the harmonic possibilities are somewhat limited, but well-written harmony in a pipe band setting can be extremely effective. Pipe band harmony is sometimes referred to as 'seconds', although this simply refers to a second part and not to the interval of a second. In fact, intervals of a second are rarely found in pipe band harmony parts, except in passing. Instead, it is the consonant intervals which are stressed, such as perfect fourths and fifths, and even more commonly, parallel thirds and sixths.
In contemporary arrangements, a merge between harmony and melody known as 'counter-melody' has been aired. A counter-melody is similar to a harmony part, but is distinguished because it has a melodic line of its own. Counter-melody can take a completely different thematic approach and can dramatically change the flow and atmosphere of the melodic unison. This technique is relatively new in the pipe band circuit, and in most cases require skill and timing to achieve in full unison.
The drum corps of a pipe band consists of a section of drummers playing Highland snare drums and the bass section (see below). In the early days of pipe bands, rope tension snare drums were common, but as the technology evolved, so did the music. Pipe band drummers now play on drums with very tight, knitted kevlar heads, designed for maximum tension to create a very crisp and strident sound. Due to technological innovations and changing aesthetics, this crispness has become an integral part of the pipe band sound. Since today's drum is so facile as a result of its design, players are often able to execute extremely complicated and technically demanding rudimentary patterns.
The pipe band drum corps is responsible for both supporting the piping with a solid rhythmic foundation and sense of pulse, often creating an interesting contrapuntal line unto itself. The line played by the drum corps (referred to as the 'drum score') is usually based on rudimentary patterns and can often be quite involved, with solo, unison and contrapuntal passages throughout. A popular pattern in many scores is for the lead drummer to play a phrase, and the section to play in response. This technique is known as seconds (sometimes referred to as chips, or forte).
While standard practice in pipe bands is for the pipe section to perform the traditional or standard arrangements of the melodies, including gracenotes, drum scores are very often composed by the lead drummer of the band. In competition, one of the adjudicators grades a band on how creative their scores are and how well they fit the piping - this aspect of the judging is known as 'ensemble'.
The bass section (also referred to as a midsection) usually consists of a section of tenor drummers and a bass drummer. Their role is to provide rhythmic support to the entire ensemble. In this respect, the bass section allows the drum corps to delegate their timekeeping responsibilities and allows more freedom in the drum scores.
Generally, the bass drum provides a steady pulse, playing on the downbeat and on the strong beats of the bar, and the tenors support that pulse, often adding supporting beats, accents and dynamic interest.
Tenor drums in their modern form are a relatively new addition to the pipe band. While pipe bands of yesteryear would often include tenor drummers, they would usually be "swinging tenors", players who would swing their sticks for elaborate visual effect but who would rarely play. Today's tenor drummers play pitched drums, and careful thought is given as to which pitches to use and at which times. The pitches help provide melodic or harmonic accompaniment to the bagpipes; creating a more dynamic flow between the drum corps and the pipe corps. In some cases, five or six tenor drummers have been used, providing a palette of individual pitches for use in a variety of musical situations. The swinging also known as flourishing has developed somewhat into an art form, with drummers playing and swinging in unison or sequential flows. Tenor drums are also still commonly played on a soft harness, or sling, instead of the typical marching harness used by the snare drums, but shoulder harness tenors are now used by several pipe bands.
Pipe band sections
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