I’ve been going on for ages now about the standard competitive pipe band performance configuration, “the circle”. This arrangement makes no sense to me. Yeah, everyone can see the hands of the person leading the band, and that helps unison and timing of rhythmic transitions, but what about the many and varied down sides, the good reasons not to perform in a circle?
Consider first the audience: How many other performers in the world – in any discipline – perform with their backs to ticket-buyers? Outside of Cirque du Soleil and professional farters [check out the link - this is a real thing!] I can’t think of any. It’s an approach to performance that is at once self-conscious, insecure and not a little bit rude.
What about presentation of sound? The circle creates drone-heavy and melody-light (relatively speaking) ensemble. Crisp and well-tuned harmonic and technical wizardry is lost in the abyss of a grass-hole. The circle is just not optimum for presenting varied pipe band voices.
The other day I was talking to the band guys and trying to sell the idea of playing in an outward-facing circle – one eye-to-eye with the audience, with adjudicators. Sound would be unleashed, performer’s faces would be uncovered and a new glorious day of pipe banding would dawn. Peace even – who knows.
In all seriousness, the real arguement in favour of inward circles, the one with any backbone, is the one that talks to the importance of visual queues.
Think for a moment and consider the remarkable case of Dame Evelyn Glennie. Profoundly deaf and still a percussionist of international reknown (she plays the pipes, too, by the way). She has tapped into all her senses to become the musician she is, including performing in bare feet to feel vibrations of sound in the moment.
She’s a great example for us.
We in pipe bands just need to adjust our perspective, tap into other senses, other musical queues and other possibilities – look outward, maybe even upward — and not so much inward.
Inside-out circles: I’d love to try that at the World Pipe Band Championships.
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