Just as I Would’ve Played It

July 18, 2010 on 4:42 pm by Michael Grey | In Music, Pipe Bands, Solo Piping, Tips | 1 Comment

A while back I was going on about how I thought most of us go about listening to music – specifically, bagpipe music. My ramble was around how we should try and get over the discomfort we feel (that’s the delicate way of putting it) when we hear musical interpretations outside of what we’re used to hearing – or playing.

There is one comment that lands on the adjudicator’s score sheet from time-to-time that strikes me as egomaniacal in the extreme (and if I think about it, as an occasionally itinerant judge guy, I may’ve even scratched out the words at some point over the years – surprise). But most of us learn and move forward. Anyway, the line goes something like this: “Beautiful/lovely/fabbo rendition; just as I would’ve played it“.

The comment is meant to be the apex of praise meaning “you’ve played like me, welcome to the rarefied world of me”…or something like that…the comment assumes that the person writing the crit sheet is the last word, the sole arbiter of good style, good music. And, I suppose, strictly speaking, a piping judge is just that, for the time s/he is sitting and taking in a competition.

The you’re-playing-like-me comment is, of course, meant with the, um, best intentions, but I wonder: if that is the best of golden praise is this kind of comment helpful in the broader context [corporate-speak alert]? I suppose from the point of view of those who view bagpipe music as a sort of precious museum piece; a static, unchanging, and slightly fragile thing, well, this comment works – it makes sense: we’re all “tradition-bearers” dammit and the tradition must be passed unchanged from one generation to the next in a bullet-proof box (maybe one like that natty Louis Vuitton World Cup trophy case).

For me, comments like this are not helpful. Bagpipe music is brilliant. A tip of the hat to the Scots, inventors of the modern world. Like the people who invented it the music is resilient, formidable and, like all great art forms, tailor-made for evolution. It stands on its own without any need of the good-intentioned propping up of judges or Gollum-like fawning.

Yesterday I read a comment on one solo piping judge’s scoresheet: “engaging”. Great comment. I suggest the listener’s engagement, the degree to which a musical rendition moved a person, is one of the best – if not the best – criteria for assessing the merits of a musical performance.

It’s not often easy to keep an open mind. But when it comes to listening to music, at least, an open mind is a state we should all strive for.

Easier said then done.


1 Comment

  1. I liked what Duncan MacGillvray said about ‘broch,
    ‘you’re allowed to deviate’. That memo, I dare say, wasn’t publicly released….

    Comment by matt — August 23, 2010 #

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