Personality crisis

I’m pretty sure I know the main reason why competitive pipers and drummers are so often in disagreement about our avocation: it’s about a clash of two distinct types of personalities: it’s the creative versus the analytical.

The current pipes|drums Poll asks, “What do you like most about piping/drumming?” and readers can answer one of either “The creativity,” or “The competition.” It’s an admittedly unscientific attempt to determine how many of us are drawn to the artistic or the analytical sides of what we do. And polling shows that we’re 50/50. (Actually, about 52% chose “the competition,” but chances are the creative types are bending the polling rules, while the analyticals rigidly stick to them, because that’s what they do.)

We are involved in competition that uses art as sport and this has forever caused friction. We attempt to create “rules” to more equitably assess what piper or drummer or band wins a purely subjective event.

Take for example the recent stramash over Bagad Brieg’s six-second time overrun in their medley in the Grade 2 qualifying round at this year’s World’s. The error was either missed altogether or intentionally overlooked, and the band went on to compete in the Final, finishing third and winning the drumming.

In the ensuing discussion on the matter (during which,notably, both Brieg and the RSPBA have been deathly silent), opinions seemed to be split along 50/50 arty vs. anal divides. Those drawn to the artistic side more than likely couldn’t care less about such a perceived impropriety. “Six seconds? Who cares? They deserve the prize.”

The analytical folks who are drawn first to the competition side of our thing, are spitting with outrage that a band could be allowed to get away with such an infraction. “Even it were one-second – throw them out!”

It’s a fascinating case study in the tension we face at every competition, due much to different essential personality types. The artistic creators are in need of a platform for their art, and often settle for the competition stage. The serious composers more often than not become worn down eventually by competition and rules being placed on their creations. They might continue to compete, but in their hearts they probably don’t much care about the result.

The competitive analytical types just want to compete and get a result based on “the rules.” They don’t care much about what they play, only playing it well enough to win. They struggle with a judge liking something for purely subjective “musical” reasons, seeming to ignore pseudo-objective criteria like tone, attacks and time.

And inartistic analyticals seem to gravitate to bureaucracy. They love joining associations and gaining power so that they can create and uphold rigid rules. They’re often not even pipers or drummers, and instead are enthusiasts drawn in by sons or daughters doing the playing.

As with everything, there are exceptions. I admit that these are generalizations. But I think there’s something to this essential struggle of personality types. Look around and see what the rule-sticklers do for a living. More often than not they’re in professions that involve numbers and black-and-white yes/no options. The artistic types are usually in jobs that require flexible creativity. And if each type is unhappy about their work, it’s often because they’re doing something that doesn’t match their personality.

Arty readers will likely see this as an interesting take on our struggle, even if they don’t agree. The analyticals probably enjoyed the stats in the second paragraph but never got past the third.

Facebook: made for us

The long-time popularity of social media among pipers and drummers is no coincidence. Social networking has been labeled antisocial for many years, as the world bemoans the fact that no one actually talks to each other anymore, choosing instead to accept as many “friends” as possible on Facebook.

I wish there were stats for this, but my hunch is that the piping and drumming community outpaced other groups in Facebook uptake in the early days of the social platform. And is it any wonder? We pipers and drummers are, by and large, a bunch of introverts attracted to the solo spotlight, so the narcissistic nature of Facebook is a perfect stage for our “look at me, me, me, me” mentality.

Sitting on my amateur psychologist’s couch, I think that most of us are attracted to the whole kilt-wearing, noise-making, parade-walking, centre-of-attention instrument as a convenient means to step into the spotlight without having to say a word. We let the spectacle do the talking. When we’re at piping and drumming social events, we generally thirst for a bit of Dutch Courage to allow us to intermingle, taking the edge off of actual encounters with – yikes! – other humans.

As with everything, there are exceptions. There are the odd extroverts in piping and drumming. They stand well apart from the near-silent majority. They do their strange thing and are generally celebrated freaks in our little self-centred community. The rest of us would much rather be in the basement, hammering away at the practice chanter or drum pad, standing before a mirror gazing longingly at our own image without the bother of others. Our best performances invariably are shared only with an audience of one, and perhaps the family pet.

I’ve said before that solo piping and drumming is a selfish conceit. We might kid ourselves that others actually care, but in truth we compete solo for strictly personal reasons, each of which we resolve on our own terms. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. My diagnosis: it is what it is. If it makes you happy; do it.

And Facebook provides the same release. Look at me! Listen to my doublings! What a wonderfully colourful kilt I’m wearing! Here I am guzzling a pint! I won! I’m in a parade! I have a thousand “friends”!

Facebook is the world’s biggest massed band. We’re friends with everyone and almost no one. Our common bond is our music. Our keyboard becomes a surrogate practice chanter or pad.