Highland Games

Teresa Unkrur leads the massed pipes and drums off the field at the closing ceremonies of the 2005 Bellingham Highland Games

Teresa Unkrur is a drum major with the Tacoma Scots Pipe Band. Earlier this Summer, at the 2005 Bellingham Highland Games, she agreed to sit down for a brief interview following the closing ceremonies.

The Interview[]

Highland Games: how long have you been with the Tacoma Scots?

Teresa: I think I've been with them officially now for about 4 or 5 years as a substitute drum major. We have a senior drum major who does the majority of our events and when he's not able to make it, then I substitute in for him.

Highland Games: Can you tell us what the difference is between a drum major and a pipe major?

Teresa: A pipe major is the person who is in charge of directing the band, making sure that everyone knows the tunes and that everyone knows the tunes the same way because sometimes tunes can vary a little bit from song to song. The pipe major also makes sure that as a band, we sound and function as one.

On parade, the drum major is the one who is typically in charge of the band. And on parade, it is the drum major who stands out in front of the band and leads the band en masse forward and directs the band via his or her mace - this long baton that I carry. Mace signals let the band know when to start, to stop, to turn, to countermarch, to march in place, to stop playing altogether, and so forth.

Highland Games: Are you the one who gives the beat, or does the drum section give the beat? In other words, do they follow you, or do you follow them?

Teresa: In theory, it is the drum major who is setting the tempo. Typically, the drum major sets the tempo by the cadence when he or she gives the command, by the center, quick march, or whaever. But sometimes, the drums will set the pace once you get started.

Highland Games: How does massed bands drum majoring differ from leading the Tacoma Scots or any other single pipe band? Are there any special problems that you face in working with massed bands?

Teresa: Most of the time, the main signals are the same from band to band, although sometimes some bands get used to doing things a certain way - some are more regimented, more military, some are not. So there can be a little bit of minor confusion at massed bands, but drum majors in general, when there is more than one, usually also try to keep their signals the same. If we're countermarching, we're all using the same countermarch signal. If we're halting the bands, we're all using the same type of maneuver to do that. If we're cutting the band off, we're all doing the same thing. So that there's no confusion, at least en masse. There may be a little bit of confusion when it is one drum major doing something slightly different than what another band is used to seeing or following.

Highland Games: Does it ever happen that - especially in massed bands - that you lose control of the band, for example, not following the beat, or something, and what do you do in that case?

Teresa: Fortunately, that's never happened to me. Once you're off and marching, things go very smoothly. Sometimes, someone might forget to call a tune. That happened at this event once before where we had to stop and start again because there was confusion about what the song was actually going to be, but fortunately that hasn't hapened to me.

The Games are a big event for the bands, and they are here to compete. That's their major purpose. Maybe opening and closing ceremonies isn't as important to them as is their competition. So they are more reluctant to come over and get lined up right away. They want to get off the field as quickly as they can so they can get back and practice and tune to make sure everything is perfect for competition which is their goal. That is what they are here to do.

But the crowds, of course, love to see the bands en masse. And that is what we are here for, is to please the crowds. It is always fun to perform for them. Of course they love to hear Amazing Grace. And they love to hear certain songs, and the bands play them ad infinitum, over and over again, and that can get a little monotonous for them, but I think when they hear the applause and the cheers and the pats on the back afterwards and people saying "Gosh, that was great. That meant so much to me. I love to hear that song." People like that, so it makes it all worthwhile.

Highlnad Games: Do you have a background as a player - a drummer, I presume?

Teresa: I have very little background as a drummer. I've been studying some tenor drumming, not as much as I probably should be, because most drum majors do come from the ranks of drummers. We have a son who is a piper and that is how we got involved with the band, and then it just sort of moved forward from there - I got asked to participate as a drum major. So I took lessons, went to several drum major camps, followed a lot of people, watched a lot of people, and try to do my best when I am on the field, to look accomplished, and professional, and regimented, and hopefully do a nice job for our band as well as the others.

Highland Games: That was my next question: what sort of training goes into being a drum major?

Teresa: I went to a camp. But the history of drum majoring comes from the military. So there is this set regime, and the regalia, all of that, if you will, that has been passed down through the military into the civilian field as well. But for those such as myself who have no military background, there are certain schools around the United States where you can go and get some instruction. I myself went to Simon Fraser's program several years ago and worked with them. They brought in a drum major from New York who helped us with dress and deportment as well as marching and flourishing and thngs like that. Flourishing is when you're tossing the mace in the air, as an example. It was a very helpful and wonderful program. Then there are other schools around the country. I have gone down to California and worked with a couple of drum majors privately who have competed in Scotland to get some instruction from them as well and that's been very beneficial.

Highland Games: How about the outfit that you are wearing? The one you are wearing today is rather simple by comparison to some others which I have seen. I have seen some very ornate and elaborate drum majoring outfits. Is the outfit a self-designed affair?

Teresa: What I'm wearing today is my band uniform. However, there is a uniform which is referred to as their number one, which is where you'll wear a doublet usually with a drum majors baldrich, and a drum sash with a very pretty plaid worn over the shoulder and then usually with a Balmoral cap like I'm wearing now or with a feather bonnet. And then of course if you have awards or special ranking you can wear all of that on your sash or baldrich and look very regal.

The above interview is copyright © 2005 by James F. Perry and is hereby released under the terms of the Gnu Free Documentation License. Please note, however, that while the GFDL concerns the copyrights to the above material, the subject of this interview may enjoy, and in fact should be presumed to enjoy, certain rights to privacy and publicity associated with his name and image and that these rights are rooted in public law. Users of this material bear the sole responsibility of determining whether or not such privacy/publicity rights are implicated and of conforming to whatever public policy regulations exist regarding same.