No ask; no tell

Not Bob Nicol.The late great golf teacher, Harvey Penick, used to say something like, “Don’t give advice unless you’re asked.” Of course he was talking about golf, and the habit of some hacks who aren’t much better – or even far worse – than their playing partner of telling them what they’re doing “wrong.” Try moving your feet apart. Your grip looks bad. You’re taking your eye off the ball . . .

We face these irritating people in piping and drumming all the time. You’ll have finished your competition performance and some know-it-all will come up and start telling you what’s wrong and what you should do to fix it. Often these officious folks will be rank amateurs who couldn’t play their way out of the proverbial paper bag. Sometimes it will be busy-body professionals or judges, and they’re just as annoying.

The rule of thumb in piping, drumming and pipe bands should be: don’t offer your opinion or advice unless you’re invited to do so by the performer. If you break that rule, no matter who you might be or how good you are, you’re really just a dink.

I remember coming off the boards at the piobaireachd at Crieff games one year and practically being accosted by a famous teacher-judge-Claspy-piobaireachd-guy. He was almost breathless he was so anxious to tell me everything that I did “wrong” in my performance. I bit my tongue and let him bloviate at me, but I really wasn’t listening, much less interested, in his opinion. “Who the *%&# asked you?” was all that I was thinking.

There’s a famous story of a young Bill Livingstone who was similarly confronted at a Scottish games in the 1970s by Bob Nicol, half of the Balmoral Bobs. Nicol apparently ranted on at him about how dreadfully unmusical and “wrong” his tune was. Nicol, who was perhaps accustomed to Scottish pipers just politely accepting his unwelcomed counsel, was reportedly stunned and mystified by Livingstone’s response: “Well, that just fries my ass!

Judges are asked to provide their opinion of a performance via a scoresheet and/or the final result. Beyond that, they have no real business arrogantly lording unsolicited advice at competitors. No matter who you, it lacks tact.

It’s simple: Unless you’re asked, keep your advice to yourself.

Heavy-Cam

As a sequel to Glen-Cam, here’s Heavy-Cam. I asked a few of the heavy athletes at the Cambridge Highland Games if they’d be interested in donning my little video camera. They were more than willing, and Todd Turnbull of Hamilton, Ontario, kindly strapped it on while attempting an 11-foot-high toss of the 56-pound weight.

I had hoped to time things with the caber tossing, but the weight thing coincided with the break in my action. Maybe I’ll get that caber fare in the future.

I may approach a Highland dancer to wear the camera, but would worry that the strap might slip down over his/her eyes, which, come to think of it, would be excellent video.

Ladies and gents, here’s Heavy-Cam:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1j2db0F56w&w=400]

And here’s normal, third-party perspective video of Todd Turnbull on the same weight-toss attempt:

We pipers and drummers do our competition thing at the games, but all around are other contests – heavy events, dancing, sheepdogs, tug-o-war – with competitors just as passionate about what they do. Evidenced by the soaking-wet Heavy-Cam strap after Todd was done with it, these competitors put a lot of effort into their thing. Always appreciate new perspectives.

Thanks to Todd Turnbull for being such a good sport even in heated sporting competition. These athletes were very congenial and welcomed an outsider’s questions and slightly off-kilter idea. We pipers and drummers can be a stand-offish bunch, so we can learn from these friendly giants, too.

Please don’t try this at home

God only knows how kids find time to practice today. There’s so much more to do today for everyone. It’s no wonder that every other kid is accused of having attention deficit disorder. Life itself is one giant distraction.

But I’m sure I had – and may well still have – ADD. I not so long ago brought to you a few photos of me as a spotty adolescent regaling strange folk on the pipes. Here are a few more, which serve to underscore the mystery of how on earth I ever survived as a piper.

Life's a lark.As mentioned, my dad would take pictures of everything we kids would do. But, looking at these photos, who can blame him? If he didn’t go and die on me, I would ask him today what might have been going through his head when he saw me doing these things with my practice chanter. A few possibilities:

“I wonder if this is healthy for that boy . . .”

“That can’t be good for posture . . .”

“. . . Is there another instrument that allows such a slacker attitude?”

The image above is pretty self-evident: me twittering away at a crossing-noise-rich rendition of “Highland Laddie” or something. There’s that 1976 commemorative St. Louis Cardinals’ cap again, and you’ll remember the low-rise Converse sneakers. The hairstyle would be courtesy of my mother’s home barber kit – or, rather, a result of me avoiding it.

Stargell's a bum!The photo at left is classic “multitasking” – before the woeful word was ever invented. One can have too many hobbies and, for me, it was and always will be piping and baseball. Note the Cardinals vs. Pirates game on the little black-and-white Magnavox TV. This would most certainly have been on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, since only a handful of games were actually broadcast in 1979, or whenever this was taken. My parents loved cats. They (the cats, that is) had the run of the house, and here one is enjoying my own caterwauling while washing behind her ears, indicating that a rain delay was imminent.

I’m sure that Willie McCallum or Roddy MacLeod never practiced as kids with such an appalling lack of focus, evidenced of course by the difference in the their solo success and mine. I’m certain that their dads never allowed them to merrily do things half-way.

But, there you are. My practiced ability to do several things at once may be my problem, but, as I sit here doing three things at once, I hope it’s to your benefit.