I’ve always held that piping, especially solo piping, is one huge massive headgame – played often by those of us with huge massive heads.
First, by “headgame” (and really it should read “head game”, but I like the diagnostic certainty implied by writingÂ one word) Â I mean psychological “self talk”:Â ambiguity, uneasinessÂ and worry all rolled up in one tidy ill-timed inner conversation.Â
No matter how prepared I am for an event – competition, recital, whatever – I am always amazed at what I allow to happen on the sidelines;Â by sidelines I mean inside my big square head.Â
Take my most recent competitive endeavour: last Saturday’s Livingstone Invitational contest.Â Based on my experience I’d say I was pretty prepared.Â I’d practiced well. I’d done all the things I know to be good preparation.Â But, whoa … the chatter inside my heid would surely alert the dullest of CIA operatives.Â
A (seriously) condensed play-by-play went something like this:
Pibroch – His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie – Ground, lineÂ 2:Â “what is that guy in the front row saying to his friend?Â I bet he doesn’t even know theÂ pibroch. Why is he talking? Etc. Â
Variation 1, singling: “I love this variation.Â It would be greatÂ played with harmony in a pipe band. The judges look bored. Don’t look at the judges”
Taorluath Singling: “Judge John MacKenzie [in evening dress] looks like John M MacKenzie’s photo from the cover of his book – wow – sameÂ names…he should judge more often.”
Taorluath Doubling: Guy coughing up a stormÂ in the front row:Â “Stop it for gawd sakesÂ … Will the judges let me play again if I break down? … “Â
Crunluath Singling & Doubling: “for eff sakes, hold that first note longer idiot”
The light music in the evening was similarly wierd – or wierder.Â I won’t bore you with details.
Anyway, good preparation can be a funny thing in a competition and a double-edged blade: on the one hand, you know your stuff; on the other:Â you know your tunesÂ so wellÂ complex performance-intrusive thoughts happen in tandemÂ with the show.Â Surely, what ends up happening is a a testament to the wonders of the human mind and body.Â
You’ll know, I’m sure, that there’s a book around, “The Inner Game of Music“. I’ve never managed to get into it – and I have tried.Â It always seemed too analytical, just too much of a muchness, full of all that intuitive common sense we (me) associate withÂ self-help books. Anyway, it’s on my bookshelf.Â I think I will have a good look inside. Who knows.
Regardless, I have to say, what I have described here is not too far off what has occured through every damned public performance I have ever given.Â Ever.Â Here’s one: Ballymena Concert, August 1987, solo during aÂ 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band concert: “last jig: please let me finish without breaking down, I’llÂ devote my life toÂ God”.Â Â I believe this might be dubbed, “bargaining”, by those in the know. True story, as Kenny Eller might say.Â Â Â Â
So, while I must admit,Â much of what happens in the mind in mid-performance puzzles me, IÂ have to say, without any reservation,Â practice and rehearsal is everything.
Don’t ever (ever) under-estimate the value of good preparation.Â Just watch the mid-performance promises you make.
M. Â Â
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