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 writing one word) I mean psychological “self talk”: ambiguity, uneasiness and worry all rolled up in one tidy ill-timed inner conversation.
Take my most recent competitive endeavour: last Saturday’s Livingstone Invitational contest. Based on my experience I’d say I was pretty prepared. I’d practiced well. I’d done all the things I know to be good preparation. But, whoa … the chatter inside my heid would surely alert the dullest of CIA operatives.
A (seriously) condensed play-by-play went something like this:
Pibroch – His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie – Ground, line 2: “what is that guy in the front row saying to his friend? I bet he doesn’t even know the pibroch. Why is he talking? Etc.
Variation 1, singling: “I love this variation. It would be great 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 – same names…he should judge more often.”
Taorluath Doubling: Guy coughing up a storm in the front row: “Stop it for gawd sakes … Will the judges let me play again if I break down? … ”
Crunluath Singling & Doubling: “for eff sakes, hold that first note longer idiot”
The light music in the evening was similarly wierd – or wierder. 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: you know your tunes so well complex performance-intrusive thoughts happen in tandem with the show. Surely, what ends up happening is a a testament to the wonders of the human mind and body.
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. It always seemed too analytical, just too much of a muchness, full of all that intuitive common sense we (me) associate with self-help books. Anyway, it’s on my bookshelf. 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. Ever. Here’s one: Ballymena Concert, August 1987, solo during a 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band concert: “last jig: please let me finish without breaking down, I’ll devote my life to God”. I believe this might be dubbed, “bargaining”, by those in the know. True story, as Kenny Eller might say.
So, while I must admit, much of what happens in the mind in mid-performance puzzles me, I have to say, without any reservation, practice and rehearsal is everything.
Don’t ever (ever) under-estimate the value of good preparation. Just watch the mid-performance promises you make.
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