Taken aback

That MSR was a bit cabaret . . .Colin MacLellan, in the Tip of the Day a few days ago, said that performers should never turn their back to the audience. We’ve already discussed at length the issue of the inward-facing pipe band circle, and I think Colin was referring mainly to solo performers.

You often see at big solo competitions the judges’ bench located at the rear of the stage, the judges facing the audience, putting the competitors in an awkward situation. Do they play to the audience? Do they face the bench? Do they stand to the side of the stage and face neither?

Some of the most amusing things I’ve seen at big events like the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering have been when the judges are at a table at the middle of the stage. The judges, and not the pipers, became the performers. They seemed to be conscious that the audience was watching them more than the competitors, whom they’re there to listen to, primarily, so they affected lots of histrionics, chief of them being of course the synchronized pen-diving when a competitor dropped a gracenote. Before indoor air was cleaned up, John Burgess’s displays of elegant smoking techniques were legend.

All competition organizers should remember to put the competitors and the audience first, and the judges second. The judges don’t matter to the audience, so they should be positioned, Pop/American Idol-like, so that the performers can face both them and the crowd.

Ryders on the storm

I like to play golf more than I like to watch it, but I still like to watch it, so I watched some of the Ryder Cup on Sunday. A lot of people get excited about it because a team of golfers from the United States takes on a team from Europe, so it’s one of the few times when the individualistic conceit of golf becomes a rah-rah, back-slapping, high-fiving, knuckle-bumping sport.

Unga-bunga, my son.The Americans are really good at celebrating their success and thumping their chests before the crowd. The Europeans are trying to ape those antics, but the site of the motley Englishman Ian Poulter doing his best impression of Tiger made me cringe. It ain’t natural, squire.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about a Ryder Cup equivalent for the piping and drumming world. If the Spirit of Scotland can be the 11th best band in the world after playing together for only five days, could the concept be broadened in a Ryder Cup-like format? What if Scotland were pitted against all of the Commonwealth countries in a series of events where a single band from each side would be formed, comprising players that qualify somehow and a number of “captain’s picks”?

There could be the familiar MSR and 5-7-minute medley events, but also match-play quartets, trios, mini-bands and even points-based solo contests.

Since the United States would be left out due to not being a Commonwealth country, they might supply the judges and the lessons in over-the-top victory celebrations.

What side do you think would win? Who would be the non-playing captains for each side? What events might there be? What players would make up the teams?

Pushing the parameters

Attack!Back in June I speculated that the traditional pipe band attack might be becoming less important than it used to be. After listening to Grade 1 performances at the 2008 World’s, I’m convinced that it’s true.

Ten years ago bands would set aside large lots of practice time to perfect their attack. Punching the E’s in perfect unison was thought to be critical to success. While just about every band that I’ve heard so far had an audibly okay attack, I don’t think I’ve heard any that, as they say, flattened the grass.

There were also several instances of trailing drones that didn’t seem to impact a band’s result terribly much.

When it comes to competition, most bands will concentrate on the things that they think are most important to success. These days, those things seem to be tone and music. Bands focus on these areas because they feel that excellence in these areas will being the biggest return from the judges, so they invest the most time and effort in them.

The trend and the talk seem more and more toward MSRs being judged with an ear to technical precision, and medleys being less about accuracy and more about the overall musical effect.

Further evidence of that trend is that the musicality of MSRs often seems to be completely ignored. The tenets of excellence that a great solo player strives for aren’t heard much by most bands, and, when they are evident, it seems most judges either don’t recognize them or simply don’t care.

Perhaps it’s time for two sets of parameters – one for medleys; another for sets – to be spelled out to judges in detail.