There seems to be a few grey areas in pipe band drumming, and in the pipe band idiom in general. One of those areas that seems to be a hot topic worldwide is how should a pipe band drummer compose their drum setting for a Strathspey?
From a young age the idiom was drummed into me – Strong, weak, medium, weak. i.e. A strong accent on the first beat of each bar, a weak note on the second beat, a medium accent on the third beat and a weak note on the fourth beat. Pretty simple, right?! Well, it still seems that people have conflicting views on this.
When a pipe band drummer plays the Strong,Weak, Medium, Weak perfectly through a whole strathspey they get criticised for being to monotone and predictable – and to be honest I must agree. Also, some drummers believe that Strathspeys should have very few triplets in them – I recall a top drummer saying that he uses a rule of no more than 4 triplets per line (this includes subdivision of triplets such as 5’s, ratamacues etc). I have tried this but it really feels insipid. Yes, it matches the melody. But it’s a little uninspiring and lifeless.
There is the other field of thought where pipe band drummers feel that the snare score should enhance the lift of the melody. This involves a lot more triplication and off beat accenting. Pipe bands who play this style sometimes get criticised for being “too jig like”. But to be honest, I think this creates great feel. The corps’ that I personally admire have way more of the triplet feel and groove going on. Growing up in the Northern Ireland pipe band scene provided me with the opportunity to listen to some of the greatest Strathspey composers of all time! Bobby Rea, Andrew Scullion and Harold Gillespie all penned some of my all time favourite Strathspeys.
I guess it all comes down to personal preference and your background of learning. At the end of the day, as long as the Pipe Major is happy – then that’s all that counts. Many judges will comment on the sheets (or in the beer tent afterwards) that the Strathspey is the clincher when it comes to winning the contest. All in all, it’s a pretty important style of tune for us all to grasp! Perhaps we should the opinion of a highland dancer on this front?
I’d be totally keen on your thoughts on how a Strathspey should be played – or even an example of a band that you think plays them brilliantly!