Online Piping Competitions

June 10, 2020 on 7:01 pm by Michael Grey | In Pipe Bands, Random Thoughts, Solo Piping, Tips | No Comments

Hats off to New Zealand. This past Monday (June 8) marked the first day since February that there’s been no active cases of Covid-19. Among many other pleasant pre-pandemic freedoms, the country can again hold public events without limitations on numbers. Thinking of piping and pipe band competitions the Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands’ Association enjoyed a pipe case full of good luck in the timing of their final contest of the year. Presented in the South Island city of Invercargill on the weekend of March 13, the organization’s national championship came in just under the quarantine wire. I thought at the time it would be the world’s final pipe band championship of 2020. And I may be right (sadly). Barring, of course, some kind of online “championship” – just the kind of post-apocalyptic thing New Zealand pipers and drummers can take off their to-do – or worry – list.

To state the obvious: As pipers are hard-wired to compete the demise of competitive opportunities, like the games, has not been a good thing for pipers – and their sensitive bagpipes (or, for that matter, sensitive pipers and their bagpipes). Like the electric panini grill and veggie juicer the bagpipe, too, easily sits ignored in the house when there is nothing to compel its use.

I’m glad to see many groups and organizations draw on available technology to create places for pipers to play in a time of quarantine. It’s interesting, too, to see that it’s been organizations beyond governing piping and pipe band bodies (including schools, bands and individuals) who, for the most part, have been first to the game to use technology and just do something, anything, for pipers gagging to compete.

A few weeks ago I was presented with the opportunity to judge an online piping contest. I grabbed it. Like many, I also had time on my hands. I was curious to see what it would be like, feel like. I wasn’t disappointed: I discovered first hand.

My assessment of performances were all through the speakers connected to a MacBook. YouTube compressed sound through small speakers (tinny like foil) is a far cry from the real-life tones of Eden Court Theatre (the home of the Northern Meeting, Inverness) or, for that matter, Embro Games. Just to state the obvious. Were drones in tune? I could mostly tell. Both tenors going? Maybe. Maybe not. Competitors played in their kitchens, workshops, back yards and, I think, in one case, an apartment storage locker, all festooned with tartan (nod to Bill Livingstone) and the usual competitive gear. And each valiantly played their heart out.

I’ll be both relieved and happy as a piper with a tuneful, steady set of pipes when the necessity of online competitions passes. And it will. Online contests (and performances) serve a purpose for a moment in a germy time but are a cold and soulless surrogate for plein air piping. It’s pretty hard to beat real-time tunes and real-time victories.

First, big thanks to all who have stepped up to make these online events happen. In a pandemic, clearly, these things can keep pipers interested, especially young people – so important to the lifeblood of the art form. I italicize the word events because, I suppose, while the online happening is an event of sorts, for me, its not (so much), in that it lacks the notability of what can make the gathering of people great: mutual presence, atmosphere, shared space, energy and unpredictability. All these things can come together to create greatness – or not. This I think, more or less, is why we compete. So, until the next in-person gathering we tread water. That means piping online. And so we’re making the most of it.

A few suggestions for competitors – based on my one-off judge experience:

* Even if it is a pre-recorded tune start with clearly stating your name and the tune(s) you’re about to play: “Hi there, my name is Michael Grey and I am going to play the march Sprig of Ivy” (I also suggest you use your own name and the tune(s) you are actually going to play).

* If it’s a march contest do not march. I found the sound variance that marching often created not all that appealing. Stand in situ and lay out your tune.

* Look good (if you look good you sound good). Wear a kilt. Even if not required by contest managers I say go big or go home. Get your kilt on; you’ll likely play better.

* Image: imagine you’re playing at your favourite spot in the world that is outside your quarantine place. Think it. Play it. Do it. Push through the cold compression of the internet.

And good luck. Luck matters.

Here’s hoping we all have more of that sooner than later.

M.

PS. Oh, and wash your hands and stay two metres apart (unless you live in New Zealand where pipers can pass around shared pipes at a party). Imagine.

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