The Inner Game of Inner Games

May 15, 2007 on 7:58 pm by Michael Grey | In Tips | 2 Comments

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. 

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; by sidelines I mean inside my big square head. 

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.



  1. So how is that deal with god going???

    “last jig: please gawd let me finish without breaking down, I’ll devote my life to God”

    I think I’ve made similar deals myself.
    It’s great to see that someone of ur stature have the same issues that I do. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one that is a head case. I used to get so nervous that I would lose feeling in my hands.

    It will be interesting to see how I handle the stress this year. This is my first year completing in…well 15 years. I quit playing in 92 and started back in 04. This will be my first season competing is solo’s. I hope I can at least partially lay to rest my head games.


    Comment by Reid — May 16, 2007 #

  2. I am sure you will do fine, Reid. Everyone experiences some level of stress – good prep will carry you through. Mike

    Comment by mike — May 16, 2007 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Dunaber is using WordPress customized and designed by Yoann Le Goff from A Eneb Productions. feeds rss Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS.