Leaving the games behind

I’ve realized that piping and drumming and pipe bands are gradually leaving behind Highland games. Almost all of our most successful and fastest growing and most respected events are those that don’t involve caber-tossing and sheep-herding and little sword-dancers with too-tight-hair and bitchy mums.

And the Highland games increasingly don’t want to put up with the bands and the solo pipers and drummers. Sure, they want the ambient sound of the pipes, but many games are finding that they can get that by hiring a guest band or two and that the Highland dancing piper is enough to make their games appear authentic.

And we bring it on ourselves, too. There’s usually little effort to attract a bigger crowd than friends and family. The desire to do that seems to be there, but the effort’s lacking.

But look at the World’s, expanding every year. Look at events like Winter Storm, the Glenfiddich, the Dan Reid, and the Mastery of Highland Arts concert in Seattle. These are events that are busting at the seams with people wanting to get in. They stand on their own, not a side-show curiosity away from the heavy athletes and Irn-Bru stalls.

I see piping, drumming and pipe bands increasingly going it alone and separating from Highland games where we generally feel we get short-shrift and games organizers feel that we’re too expensive and too much trouble. The RSPBA’s approach to their major competitions could be vastly improved, but it’s on the right track and I think it’s the way things are going.

We can put our music front-and-centre, and people will come. We have proven that it works better anyway than glomming on to the Highland games.