As I write this, I’m preparing for the second day at the Glengarry Highland Games, the site of the North American Pipe Band Championships. It’s a two day event, with amateur solo piping and drumming events taking place Friday and professional solos and bands on Saturday. I spent a good part of yesterday at the games, floating around and watching some of the solo competitions. I sat in on a few of the Gold Medal (Canada) performances, and it really scratched my piobaireachd itch.
I happened to hear a bandmate play in her grade 3 piobaireachd competition. It wasn’t a tune I was familiar with and it sounded pretty nice to me, but she said afterwards that the judge had chewed her out for the version of the tune she played. Her instructor had given her a setting different from the “accepted” one, and the judge didn’t like it. As a result, this very talented and promising young piper did not appear in the prize list.
I’m not pleased with the judge’s reaction in this case. In a lower grade contest such as this one, players are still new to piobaireachd and play tunes chosen by their instructors as taught by their instructors. This particular piper didn’t know one version from another and was just playing what she had been taught. The judge should take that into account and make his decision based on the performance itself. Regardless of what setting was played, how well was it played? That’s the only thing that should factor into the contest results.
What I’m most upset with here is the student’s instructor, who is teaching students her own particular setting of this tune. I’ve pondered the subject a bit since yesterday, and I think I’ve decided that you shouldn’t mess around with the old tunes. Stick to the authoritative sources. An orchestra performing a Beethoven or Mozart symphony wouldn’t dare change notes on the page. There is certainly room for interpretation (listen to the same piece of classical music performed by two different conductors and you’ll see what I mean), but that doesn’t involve changing what’s written.
As for piobaireachd, leave the old tunes untouched. Notes are notes, and the composer had a good idea of what he wanted when he assembled those tunes. Feel free to add your own interpretation, but do so within the notes that are written.