OT: 13 October 1934 – A.D. Hamilton “Pipes and Drums”

The Oban Times, 13 October, 1934

Pipes and Drums

 294 Hillington Road, Glasgow, 1 October, 1934

Sir,–Allow me to express my appreciation of “Craigellachie’s” letter of September 8, and also thank him for his kind compliment to me.

For years I have tried to inculcate in the minds of drummers the need for a little study of melody, because a slight knowledge of the tune is a valuable assistance in the playing of the beatings, moreover it teaches a true meaning of rhythm. I am aware that to many drummers my ideas on the subject may seem a little revolutionary and more in keeping with orchestral work than with pipe music, but surely the time is past when drummers are content to be simply an important but necessary part of the band. While my ideas may seem a departure from the orthodox methods, may I say that I am not unacquainted with the historical development of pipe bands, inasmuch as I come from a family of army pipe and drummers going back to three generations, and have, therefore, studied the subject closely.

I agree wholeheartedly with “Craigellachie” that drummers should not “dominate the whole band,” etc.; in fact I made it a strong point in my lecture to the Pipe And Association in the Highlanders’ Institute, Glasgow, last year. For years I have argued and taught that the drum (while not being subsidiary to the pipes) should follow the “Tempo of the Melody and be a Rhythmical accompaniment to the Tune.”

Let me develop this point. While the nature of the pipes makes the volume constant, expression can be given through the medium of phrasing and grace notes, etc. The drum, however, can modify volume; it can either be played soft or loud, according to the performers wish. Through this medium the drummer has a splendid opportunity of showing his musical ability and control by the sound he produces. It is obvious to the drummer, surely, that his instrument ought to be used for the purpose it was intended, and he should give a variation of light and shade throughout his beatings.

The present method of playing by ninety percent of drummers is likened unto a thick black line, the same monotonous shape and thickness throughout, never altering the volume, and entirely disregarding rhythm and phrasing. There is not a single phrase in pipe music that has a corresponding exercise in its counterpart, the drum.

If the drummer can imagine the pipe tunes written on one line instead of up and down the stave, he will then be able to arrive at the foundation of his beatings–a little alteration here and there introducing corresponding rhythms to kill the monotony. If he then got the pipe-major to play the tune over, he could listen for little effects that might be introduced, and he is bound to arrive at the correct musical setting for the tune. The beauty of this method is that no two drummers will arrive at the same setting, but all settings are bound to have the ultimate result of suiting the tune. This affords a splendid opportunity of showing the instructor’s knowledge of the various corresponding exercises which may suit the rhythm, but be so different in effect, and therefore giving the adjudicator a better chance of arriving at a true verdict. All drum beatings in every type of band only have their values in the tune they are meant to suit; counter rhythm can be used for effect, but should be very sparingly used.

“Craigellachie” asks my opinion as to whether the pipe judge or drum-major should handle the points for time. I am afraid that question is a bit too much for me, as time is an equal factor in the tune as well as the beating. Personally I am of the opinion that the present system of adjudicating is at fault because bands are being judged as two different units, and neither the pipe judge or drum judges paying any attention to the best ensemble of pipes and drums.

There are many more points I should like to go into, but I fear I have already taken up too much viable space.

I am, etc.,

A. D. Hamilton