Going Home, Going Home

Poor Melinda. She sings circles around everyone for three months and gets sent home by the discerning American public.

And how often do we see this in piping competitions? Quite a lot. Bands and soloists are clear winners to everyone but the judges. The winners are happy, of course, and it’s not their fault that they were awarded the prize. Meanwhile the runner-up who deserved the award has to regroup and fight another day.

Subjective competition can be a tough, sometimes soul-destroying effort. Competitive pipers and drummers are a very strange lot: they keep coming back for more hoping that their next performance will get the benefit of the doubt and the top prize.

They say that hack golfers will have at least one shot per round that is as good as any golfer on earth can make. No matter how pish they are, they will keep coming back for more based on that little thrilling bit of hope that says, Yes, I can play this game.

Pipers and drummers cling to that one part, or even that perfectly-played phrase that compels them strap on the kilt again the next weekend, bound for personal glory.

Steady on

At the Livingstone Invitational on Saturday a friend remarked that it’s now usual for professional-level solo competitions not to have a single player make a serious blunder, much less a breakdown. This is true. I can’t remember listening to a big event in the last few years where someone has completely lost the bottle.

Competitors don’t necessarily play to a higher technical or musical standard, but they do avoid “shooting themselves in the foot,” as the person said. The eight pipers at the Livingstone “got through it,” as they say, with relative ease. Some were clearly on edge, but never to the point of crumbling.

And this included a few very young players, like Will Nichols, Jacob Dicker and Lionel Tupman, all of whom showed up ready to play their best. There was not that much, really separating many of the competitors

The professionalism in professional-level solo piping continues to rise. Solo pipers today mean business, and they’re not going to let mental blunders due to nerves or lack of practice put them out.

Listen to the dissin

I’ve done about 70 full-length interviews over my 19 years of putting together the Piper & Drummer and pipes|drums. I do them because I am personally interested in what the interviewees have to say, and I have some compulsion to make sure that at least some of their first-person thoughts are preserved for historians.

I gain at least some new different insight from every one of them. Part 1 of the current Fred Morrison Interview is no exception. He opened my eyes to the perspective of many, many people, and caused me to think of competitive solo piping in a slightly different way. Here’s the excerpt I’m thinking of:

FM: But I’d absolutely no intention of going out there and playing controversial music that would put people’s noses out of joint. I mean, there’s absolutely no gain in that in me. It’s not respectful. If I were going to go round the games, I know the crack and I know the style of music that’s required. And, to me, it’s not the only style of music, but it’s a style of music that I’m going to acknowledge and do and play to the best of my ability.

p|d: Your point about respecting the music is very interesting.

FM: Yes. Those great guys are sitting on the bench and I have heard them giving great performances themselves. That’s the style that they were brought up in and I was brought up in and I’m not going to go and start harassing people. I acknowledge what they’ve done and if people like solo piping, great, because it’s a great thing to get in to. I’m not going to start criticizing a great scene. I know the style required and, if you go to the Northern Meetings, it’s a great, exciting event. It’s fair enough to play in that style.

For me, that is a fascinating debate. Is it disrespectful to introduce a new style to a tradition? Is the task at hand simply to imitate what’s been done forever? Should judges be the keeper and protector of the tradition?

There are many, many enlightening aspects of Fred’s interview, but, for me, this one point hit home the most.