Sunday, July 13, 2014


Local musicians unite to form a new Highland-style pipes and drums band

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA (July 12, 2014) – Local pipers and drummers stepped up to fill a void in the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest opening ceremonies after the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums of Des Moines regretfully declined this year’s invitation due to a scheduling conflict.

With the Iowa Scottish Pipes & Drums unavailable, Irish Fest committee members needed to look no further than Cedar Falls to enlist the talents of experienced piper, Ross Schupbach.

Schupbach has played the pipes for about 15 years. He previously marched with the Thunder Mountain Pipe Band at Grand Junction, CO. Since moving to Cedar Falls, he has played at many local venues and community events, often performing as a duo with Russ Clarke, another Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums member with 10 years piping experience.

Rounding out the piper corps are Greg McConoughey, a veteran of the Detroit Caledonia Pipe Band, and two of Schupbach’s bagpipe students, Mike Knapp and Pat Morrissey.

“I knew at our first meeting we would be the best damn pipe band in town,” recalls Knapp.

“True, but we’re also the only pipe band in town,” testified Morrissey.

To compliment the piper corps, a drum corps needed to be assembled. Iowa Irish Fest committee member, Greg Tagtow, just happened to know a guy who could help. Tagtow contacted Ed Flack and introduced him to Schupbach.

Flack has performed three seasons as a concert drummer with the Waterloo Municipal Band and has an extensive background in field drumming through drum & bugle corps, high school and college marching bands, and the traditional American fife and drum style. He jumped at the opportunity to explore the Scottish Highland snare drum style which is famous for its rhythmic complexity and challenging techniques.

Drummer Elizabeth Collins brings two years of pipe band experience as a snare drummer with the Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes & Drums. Her understanding of the Highland drum style has helped enhance the drum section’s musical interpretation of traditional tunes.

Bass drummer Tom Blankenship supports the band with a steady current of low-end pulse. Blankenship has considerable drum and bugle corps experience and can play any drum in the line. Most recently, he played with The Drumslingers, an independent drum line from the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area.

Completing the drum corps midsection is Bill Brown on tenor drum. Highland tenor drumming is unique in the world of marching percussion in that it involves a complex series of mallet spinning techniques called “flourishes."

The Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums uniform consists of a Scottish cap called a “glengarry.” The glengarry worn by the pipers is solid black, while the drummers wear black trimmed with red and white dicing. Individuals add badges to their glengarry to represent a clan affiliation, military experience, or other preferred Celtic symbolism.

Each band member wears a white shirt and black tie. The kilt patterns, or “tartans,” are also an individual choice, usually representing a clan affiliation or military experience.

According to Pipe Major Schupbach, “In the beginning, my only concern was that we could all pull this off to a level that would sound decent to the average sober parade watcher.”

Band members now agree that in the short time since coming together, the group has exceeded all personal expectations.

“It’s amazing how well we have pulled it together,” said piper, Russ Clarke.

The members of the Cedar Glen Pipes & Drums feel honored and excited to perform at the 2014 Iowa Irish Fest. The band will lead the Opening Ceremonies Parade on Friday, August 1, at 4:00 PM.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


By Ed Flack ©2014

In the broadest of terms there are two ways to hold a drum stick: overhand and underhand. When both sticks are held with the same kind of overhand grip, it is called a “matched grip.” When the left hand holds the stick using an underhand grip while the right hand holds the stick with an overhand, it is called traditional, conventional, asymmetric, or mixed. Beyond this general description, the details of grip become more complex.

Holding the stick below the hand will allow maximum wrist-turning range (extension and flexion). It also allows a 180-degree range of forearm rotation, from the palm facing down all the way over to the palm facing up (pronation and supination). There are many ways the pivot point, or fulcrum, of an overhand grip can be applied. Two practical methods in common use are the index finger grip, and the middle finger grip.

Using the thumb and index finger creates a pivot point behind which the rest of the fingers are aligned to exert leverage by pulling up on the stick. The pivot point should be established slightly behind the stick’s center of balance (about 1/3 the distance from the butt end). This is an excellent grip for wrist and/or finger techniques. Switching between wrist and finger control is a simple matter of opening and closing the fingers behind the index finger fulcrum point.

WRIST: Lightly closing the fingers behind the grasp of the thumb and index finger will transfer control of the stick from the fingers to the wrist. The closed finger grip must not be too tight; the stick needs to have enough free play to bounce.

FINGERS: The finger control position of the overhand grip is established with a relaxed downward bend at the wrist. This allows the fingers to open and extend while minimizing wrist action. The stick pivots at a fulcrum point between the thumb and index finger with the middle finger and/or ring finger pulling upward in response to rebound.

The index finger grip is well-suited for lighter playing such as in concert bands and orchestral settings because it makes it easy to lightly squeeze the stick for pressed techniques. This grip also offers precise rudimental control for field drumming because it is effective at braking rebound and for controlling taps, diddles, and grace notes.

Setting the stick’s pivot point at the middle finger was taught by Haskell W. Harr, Earl Sturtze, and many others.[1] It is sometimes called the “Spivack Grip” in honor of Murray Spivack (1903–1994). Spivack was a Los Angeles-area percussion teacher who did not invent this technique, but did a lot to help promote its use. Among his many successful students are jazz luminary Louie Bellson and funk aficionado David Garibaldi.

Spivack explained the grip as a three-finger hold that begins by cradling the stick beneath the palm in the crook of the first joint of the middle finger. The hand is turned palm down and the stick is allowed to pivot freely with a seesaw-like motion. According to Spivak, the fulcrum point needs to be as narrow as possible because “The narrower the fulcrum or balance point, the better the stick will rebound.”[2] With the middle finger established as the fulcrum point, the thumb and first finger are then brought together to guide the stick, touching it very lightly. The third finger (ring finger) and little finger remain relaxed in their natural curl around the back end of the stick, but not touching it. Do not allow the little finger to stick straight out.

This grip has a very loose and relaxed feel, allowing an uninhibited rebound that produces a good quality of sound from the drum and a lot of power when higher volume is needed.

Being comfortable with grip variations will prepare you to adapt to different musical situations. Some grip methods are best for powerful playing, and others are better for speed. Changing grips as you play will distribute physical effort over a range of muscles to increase endurance and reduce the risk of repetitive-use injuries.


1. Haskell W. Harr, Drum Method: For Band and Orchestra, Book Two (Chicago: M. M. Cole Publishing Co., 1938), 70;  Earl Sturtze, The Sturtze Drum Instructor (Ivoryton: Reissued by The Company of Fifers and Drummers, orig. 1956), 6;  Wm F. Ludwig, Sr. and Wm F. Ludwig, Jr., W. F. L. Drum Corps Manual (Chicago: Ludwig Drum Co., 1948), 6.

2. Murray Spivack: A Lesson With Louie Bellson, performed by Louie Bellson and Murray Spivack. Director: Sandy Feldstein, (1995, Van Nuys: Alfred Music Publishing Co., 2010). DVD.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


By Ed Flack, ©2014

I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Nick Attanasio a few months ago (10/24/13). A former member of the Sons of Liberty, Attanasio played bass drum in that group with Les Parks, Bobby Thompson, and Jay Tuomey. His innovative and ground-breaking bass drumming style during the 1950s has earned him a place in the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame.

I’ve read about the Parks stick-grip method and the playing positions he taught in articles by Ken Mazur (a student of Jay Tuomey). I was looking for more information about the way Parks used the right-hand grip. My cousin, Mike Flack, had been in contact with Mr. Attanasio and arranged an introduction so I could talk with him.

Nick told me that Parks was “the leader of the Sons” and the style they all played was “directed by Les Parks.” He told me that to play snare drum with the Sons that “you had to adopt the Parks method.” All snare drummers in that group had to use the same grip method and playing techniques.

Parks was of the “modern school” of drumming. A graduate of Juilliard, he was a fine concert/symphonic percussionist as well as a dance band drummer. Modern stylists believed the elbows should be closer to the body to increase power by drawing the weight of the hands, sticks, and forearms toward the center of gravity.

Ancient stylists (1800s military origin) used a wider playing position, desribed as “around the tree” with the elbows away from the sides. The strike angle of the hands is a little higher than the modern style. Ancient stylists use some right-hand wrist-bending, but stroke power is primarily generated through forearm rotation (pronation and supination).

During the early 1950s, Parks took the modern theory to its ultimate conclusion by positioning the elbows not only closer to the sides but also to the back of the back (when the sticks are lowered to their horizontal playing position). This affected the angle at which the sticks approached the center of the drum by making it more narrow. Another Parks innovation was to bend the right wrist slightly to the outside (ulnar deviation) just enough to align the stick in a more direct extension of the forearm.[1] With this orientation, the right-hand stick can be raised and lowered by bending the wrist in a hinge-like fashion (flexion and extension).

Parks and The Sons of Liberty called this system of bone alignment and summation of muscle groups (from shoulder to elbow to wrist to fingers) the “S” or “power train.”[2].


1.  Ken Mazur, “The Perfectionists: The History of Rudimental Snare Drumming from Military Code to Field Competition,” Percussive Notes 43/2 (April 2005), 20.

2.  Ibid.