Ina MacKenzie

Walking the line between traditional and modern composition

I mentioned in my first post that the Dunedin Highland Games and Festival was held on Saturday, April 1, 2023.  One of the fantastic components of the Games is the bagpiping, drumming, and pipe band competitions.  As one of the organizers of the event, we take great pride in making sure that the Games bring in respected adjudicators from all over the world.  We want to make sure that competitors have value in participating at the Dunedin Highland Games by receiving assessment from highly regarded players and adjudicators.  One of the additional benefits of this is the opportunity to spend more time with these world-class experts on piping and drumming during their stay in Dunedin.  This year, three of the adjudicators who traveled in from Scotland and Northern Ireland, stayed on for a few days holiday following the Dunedin Games.  The result was a lot of fun and several great conversations about the City of Dunedin Pipe Band’s performances at the Highland Games, and ways the performances could be tweaked or modified to improve our competitive edge later this summer at other Highland Games in North America.

One topic centered around a suggestion to replace the band’s opening tune to our medley selection with a modern take on an old classic hornpipe, Ina MacKenzie.  Tackling a classic tune like this can be a lot of fun, but also comes with competitive risk.  Ina MacKenzie is a traditional tune and melodic line that would be familiar to a knowledgeable piping audience.  That familiarity can be a welcomed aspect to a band’s performance, especially as the tune would be considered “old school” piping.  However, the idea for the band to use this tune includes several suggestions to “tweak” the arrangement, presenting the tune in a fresh and unique style.  This involves some syncopating the melodic line in places and building a rhythmic theme that resurfaces in each part of the tune.

There’s a fine line when working on a drum score for a musical project like this that is going to be used for a competition set.  Tastefully integrated, stylistic musical twists can be rewarded very positively in competition.  However, one can take things too far and risk being accused of “musically butchering” a classic.  I have been working hard on the arrangement for this piece and will be rehearsing a lot with the City of Dunedin Pipe Band between now and our travels to the Chicago Highland Games, on June 17th, when we will debut this new medley “opener”.

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