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Tag Archives: Competition

What motivates you to compete?

A friend of mine is working on an academic paper, and recently asked me what motivates me to compete. I’m not doing as many solo competitions as I did in the past, but it’s still a valid question. There has been a lot of discussion on the merits and drawbacks of competition, but that’s not the topic of this post.

The question was simply this: What motivates you to compete?

My response to him was this:

Solo competition is one of the few opportunities a piper gets to play for a truly informed audience, even if that audience is only one person. For me, solo competition is a chance to get an assessment of my playing ability from an objective source.

Solo competitions give me a reason to practice. Unless I have a performance coming up, I’m not likely to get the pipes out to just play, like how in school I wouldn’t sit down and do math problems unless they were assigned (although I have to admit that that now that sounds kind of fun). Preparation for a competition also keeps me honest in my playing, to make sure that I seriously practice and don’t just play. When I know the audience knows what it’s supposed to sound like, I’m pretty inspired to practice hard to make it right.

I also found competitions a chance to build character. It’s terrifying to be in front of a judge, and when you willingly subjecting yourself to that you learn a lot about yourself. I love the feeling of being nervous, and it’s so satisfying to mentally conquer the fear, suppress the nerves, and play a good tune. It’s a rush, and honestly that’s what I enjoy most about competing.

So what about you? What motivates you to compete?

The internet: bringing you the best in the bagpipe world

In my last post (months ago… yikes!) I promised that I might be posting on a more regular basis. Looks like I’ve let that go. Now that I’ve gotten settled into my new area a bit, I’m starting to get back into the piping mindset, and since I’m thinking pipes more often, maybe I’ll post more often. I promise nothing, but keep an eye on this blog just in case. Anyway, coming up is an event that all pipers should know about.

The internet can be the piper’s best friend, especially for those of us who are somewhat isolated from the piping world at large. I do my best to try to follow the results from big events in Scotland and my friends on the east coast, and without the internet it simply wouldn’t be possible for me. But with the internet, I can follow the news of the piping world at pipes|drums, listen to recorded performances on Pipeline, and even watch the World Pipe Band Championship live.

This year, there’s another premier piping event the world will be able to watch live: The Glenfiddich Solo Piping Championship on Saturday October 27, 2012. The Glenfiddich is generally considered to be the world championship of solo pipers, and the ten competitors are invited based on the results from major contests through the previous 12 months. This year’s listincludes some of the familiar names like Roddy MacLeod, Jack Lee, Murray Henderson, Stuart Liddell, Willie MacCallum, and Gordon Walker, as well as some newcomers, like Callum Beaumont, who won the Northern Meeting Clasp this year in his first appearance in the event.

Coverage is available through the National Piping Centre’s website, and will begin at 10 a.m. local time, continuing through the end of the piobaireachd and MSR competitions. Be sure to tune in if you can.

The Worlds Returns to the Internet in 2012

Good news for those pipers and drummers out there who aren’t planning to go to Scotland this August: The RSPBA has announced that the BBC will once again stream live coverage of the World Pipe Band Championship on August 11. The stream has been immensely popular in the previous three years that it’s been streamed, and I expect it will remain so this year.

Start planning your Worlds parties now!

Mark Your Calendars: USPF Championship June 16 in Newark, DE

A competition for the elite players of North America, the United States Piping Foundation Championship takes place next weekend. Details:

United States Piping Foundation Championship
June 16, 2012
Amy E. DuPont Music Hall (map)
University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware, U.S.A.

The competition is open to any North American professional or grade 1 piper, and the competitors include pipers from the eastern U.S. and Canada.

This year marks the first time I’ll be playing in the competition, and though I’m not expecting to be anywhere in the prize list I’m excited to be playing. I heard some great music when I went for the morning last year, but I was struck by the complete lack of audience. It was was really disappointing to see that the audience consisted almost entirely of other competitors. For such a high-profile event that’s been happening for over 20 years, I would have expected a larger crowd of knowledgeable spectators.

I feel this event doesn’t get the publicity that it should, so I’m doing my part to spread the word. If you’re able to attend, I encourage you do to so, even if it’s only to watch a few tunes. Both amateur and professional piobaireachd events start in the morning, with the MSR happening after lunch.

This year’s order of play and tune selections:

Amateur Piobaireachd, 9 a.m. start

Judges Peter Kent and Jim Stack

1. Nathan Wahlgren, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee
2. Kathleen Brown, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart
3. Andrew Donlon, MacIntosh’s Lament
4. John McGrath, MacGregor’s Salute
5. Ross Davidson, Battle of the Pass of Crieff
6. Sean Regan, The King’s Taxes
7. Albert Defusco, Lament for Mary MacLeod
8. Sean Poyntz, MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute
9. Avens Ridgeway, A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick
10. Mary Wallace, The Bicker
11. Kirk Brunson, Lament for Donald of Laggan

Amateur MSR, afternoon start

1. Mary Wallace: The Argyllshire Gathering, The Islay Ball, Dolina MacKay
2. Avens Ridgeway: David Ross, Tulloch Gorm, The Cockerel in the Creel
3. Nathan Wahlgren: Hugh Kennedy, Tulloch Castle, The Sheepwife
4. Kirk Brunson: The Pap of Glencoe, Susan MacLeod, The Blackberry Bush
5. Sean Poyntz: MacLean of Pennycross, Maggie Cameron, Cecily Ross
6. Albert Defusco: The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Caledonian Society of London, Bessie McIntyre
7. Andrew Donlond: Abercairney Highlanders, Inverary Castle, The Grey Bob
8. Kathleen Brown: Jeannie Carruthers, Caber Feidh, Thompson’s Dirk
9. Sean Regan: John MacFadyen of Melfort, Lady Louden, John Morrison of Assynt House
10. John McGrath: Duke of Roxeboro’s Farewell to the Blackmount Forest, Dora MacLeod, Broadford Bay
11. Ross Davidson: South Hall, The Ewe w’ the Crooked Horn, Lochiel’s Away to France

Professional Piobaireachd, 8:30 a.m. start

Judges Reay MacKay and Colin MacLellan

1. James Bell, The End of the Great Bridge
2. Brian Meagher, Lament for Donald of Laggan
3. Dan Lyden, Fair Honey
4. Ben McClamrock, The Bicker
5. Duncan Bell, The Big Spree
6. Nick Hudson, Lament for the Viscount of Dundee
7. Liz Cherry, Salute to Donald
8. Alex Gandy, Catherine’s Lament
9. Elliot Smith, The Fingerlock
10. John Bottomley, The Blue Ribbon
11. Derek Midgely, I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand
12. Andrew Carlise, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay
13. Palmer Shonk, Tullach Ard

Professional MSR, afternoon start

1. Alex Gandy: MacLean of Pennycross, Arniston Castle, Neil Angus MacDonald
2. Nick Hudson: Abercairney Highlanders, Tulloch Castle, Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran
3. John Bottomley: Colin Thompson, Inverary Castle, Pretty Marion
4. James Bell: Portland Castle, Blair Drummond, The Smith of Chilliehassie
5. Elliot Smith: Pipe Major Willie McLean, Susan MacLeod, The Cockerel in the Creel
6. Dan Lyden: The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh, Caledonian Society of London, Lt. Col. D.J.S. Murray
7. Brian Meagher: The Braes of Castle Grant, Islay Ball, Alick C. MacGregor
8. Liz Cherry: Jeannie Carruthers, Cabar Feish, The Man from Glengarry
9. Andrew Carlisle: Kantara to El Arish, Inverary Castle, Bessie McIntyre
10. Duncan Bell: The Crags of Stirling, The Piper’s Bonnet, John Garroway
11. Derek Midgley: John MacDonald’s Welcome to South Uist, MacBeth’s Strathspey, John Morrison of Assynt House
12. Palmer Shonk: The 93rd at Modder River, The Bob of Fettercairn, The Sound of Sleat
13. Ben McClamrock: John MacFadyen of Melfort, Tulloch Gorm, Broadford Bay

How do you spend your piping off season?

Over the past few months our competitive season came to an end in the eastern US. Everyone seems to deal with the time off a bit differently, and after you’ve been piping for a while you develop your own way of handling it.

I find the off season to be a good chance to go over the pipes and check for maintenance issues. Last weekend I rehemped all of the tuning pins, checked the hemp on the stocks, checked the bag for leaks, and that kind of thing.

I’ve also been trying to play once or twice a week to keep myself in something resembling piping shape. I didn’t do that last year, and when the band started up on pipes again it took me a good few months to get to where I had been. I’ve decided I don’t want to do that this year, so I’ve been playing to avoid that. Not seriously practicing, but playing tunes I enjoy just to keep both myself and the pipes functioning.

I’ve also been looking at new music, both for the band and myself. Band practices lately have been pretty enjoyable. We have an all-new medley for 2012, and we’re working together as a band to get harmonies and breaks arranged. It’s fun to sit around the table and throw out some ideas, then run through them to see if they work. The tunes were selected by the pipe major, but the final arrangement has been very much a joint effort.

So how do you spend your off season? What do you do to prepare for next year? Any other wisdom or tips for other pipers?

Should the judge be able to end a competition?

I recently posted about breaking down during a solo competition, and this post is related to that. My advice is that no, you shouldn’t break down in a competition if you can help it. There’s always something to be gained by finishing your tune, even if it isn’t a prize.

But what about when that breakdown comes from outside the player? Earlier this week I was reading rules for the gold and silver medal piping competitions at Winter Storm, which in my mind is the premier competition in North America. Each of the rules pages has this in it:

The Judges are empowered to stop any Competitor while playing if, in their opinion, the play is such to bar him/her from any chance of winning a prize.

First, keep in mind that these competitions are limited to open or professional grade players, who will have a lot of competition experience. Judges’ comments, for them, aren’t as important as they would be to a new competitor. These folks are more focused on prizes, and going off a tune or losing a drone is likely to take one out the running entirely.

Even so, I can’t imagine any judge hopping up from behind the table and chasing a competitor off the stage. Maybe it’s just that I’d never do that if I were a judge, and I can’t picture any of the numerous judges I know doing that either.

I’ve never seen that rule listed for another piping competition at any level, but I also have to admit that I haven’t really looked. Do the Gold Medal contests in Scotland have that clause in their rules? I don’t know. If you’ve ever come across something like that, or seen it in action, please let me know.

Is it ok to break down in a solo competition?

This is a question that I have been asked from time to time. If, while playing a solo competition, you make a mistake or have an instrument malfunction, is it ok to just stop playing? There are, obviously, two answers: YES and NO. I’ll explore each one.

YES. The obvious downside of breaking down is that you know for certain that you won’t place in the contest. By quitting in the middle, you earn yourself a disqualification and, in the EUSPBA at least, hand your point to those who do finish.

Then again, it is a competition, and if you make a mistake that eliminates you from the prize list, why bother continuing? Well that depends on why you compete.

NO. This is my general response when I’m asked this question, especially by pipers who are new to competition. As a new competitor, the goal should be to gain experience rather than win a prize. Fighting past rough spots and getting back on the tune is only going to help you, and it also gives you the benefit of the judge’s comments on the rest of the tune.

You can probably guess that my preferred response is NO, especially for newer competitors. There’s always something to be gained by fighting through your errors, even if it isn’t a prize.

Change your mental approach with online an competition

Jori Chisholm of Seattle is running his third online piping competition of the year, and as far as I’m aware it’s the third online piping competition in history. This is a pretty neat idea, and a good use of technology that is now widely available.

As an aside, he’s extended the entry deadline so there’s still a few days left to register if you want to get in on it.

I’m registered for a few events this time around, and for the past few weeks I’ve working on material and recording my videos. As I’ve been working on that, it’s occurred to me that an online competition requires a different state of mind than the traditional in person competitions.

For the online competition, competitors enter events by submitting a video recording for each event. The contest rules state that videos must be recorded in a single take, but there is no limit to the number of recording attempts a competitor can make. This is where the online competition differs most from a traditional one, where a player has exactly one shot to get it right.

Errors made in a traditional contest, whether they are note errors or memory slips or result from instrument issues, weather, or distractions, can eliminate players from the prize list, but they are done and in the past. If that happens to me in a competition, I accept that there’s nothing I can do to change it, and I move on with my day.

With an unlimited number of attempts in the online competition though, I’d bet that most videos submitted for this contest don’t have those issues. There’s no excuse for sending in a video with wrong notes if you have another chance to fix it. Indeed, there’s no excuse for sending in a video with any performance less than one you’re satisfied is the best you can possibly play.

This has caused some frustration for me as I’ve been recording my videos, since I hate listening to myself play. I never sound as good on tape as I thought I did when actually playing, and though that feedback can be valuable it’s really hard to listen to. I’m not the only one who feels this way; even Angus MacColl has said he’s never heard a recording of himself that he’s been completely happy with.

The result of this is that I’ll be sending in videos that I’ve determined to be “good enough,” but there’s will be that nagging feeling in the back of my head that it’s not the best performance I could have recorded. This is compounded by the fact that in all likelihood the determination of “good enough” will probably be made due to time constraints.

The online competition is a neat idea, and one that I think should definitely continue. I’ll have to come to grips with my mental approach to the competition though, and as I do it more I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

Pay no attention to the man behind the table

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I spend a fair amount of time on the boards as a solo competitor. Solo competitions are something I really enjoy, and I plan to continue them for the foreseeable future.

Over the years, I’ve heard stories of things that happen to people while they’re competing. In almost all cases, they all the result of members of general public who don’t understand how piping contests work. They’re so excited to see someone playing pipes that they don’t notice the person sitting at the table writing on a clipboard. I’ve heard of people who pose with competing pipers for a photo, or try to talk to the player or the judge.

I have witnessed people walk between the piper and the judge, games staff try to move the table or canopy while the competitor is playing, and a sheep dog run through the middle of band’s competition circle. In one of my own competitions, a games volunteer drove a golf cart up and parked it at one end of my marching area, and the driver then tried to engage the judge in conversation. He looked insulted when the judge yelled at him to go away.

This weekend I came face to face with a photographer while I was competing. The tent was near the entrance to the grounds, maybe 50 feet off the path coming in from the parking lot. The guy was walking in as I started my hornpipe and jig, and I saw his face change when he realized “Hey, there’s someone playing bagpipes!” He walked over and took some photos of me while standing in various places: behind the judge, next to the judge, in front of the table, and between me and the judge. I did a nifty sidestep move to maintain eye contact with the judge.

I did make a mistake in my tune (it was the jig by that time), but it wasn’t because of the photographer. It was far more likely that because I hadn’t played that particular tune for a month. (Why would I be playing a tune in competition that I hadn’t played for a month? I said that I enjoy competing, not that I was always smart about it.)

I’ve been looking for any of the photos, but haven’t managed to find them. I don’t know what paper or organization the guy worked for, but if you happen to see a photo of a very cold-looking piper who looks like me and is wearing a raincape, please let me know.

How do you determine the best pipe band on the day?

Like them or hate them, band competitions are a fact of existence for most serious bands. It’s pretty much the only opportunity a band will have to play for an experienced and appreciative audience, and it’s a way for bands to be able to compare themselves to other bands.

Human nature has shown that pretty much any activity we engage in will become competitive at some point; it seems to strike an evolutionary need of ours to compare ourselves to other people who do the same activity. So in the piping and pipe band world, at least the part of it that I see on a regular basis, competitions are a big part of life.

I contend that pipe band competitions don’t do a very good job of determining which band is best. Here in the eastern US, almost every competition I attend with my band is a single event, so the bands have just one run to attempt to demonstrate their superiority. There’s not a lot that can be learned from a band in those few minutes, and the single event doesn’t determine which band is better, or even which band is better on that particular day, but rather which band had a better run in those five minutes in the circle.

I propose that the EUSPBA expand their band competitions to include all events for each band grade. Two contests would be a much better indicator of which is the best band on the day.

All the pipe band organizations in the world have determined that bands should be able to play a medley and MSR in order to be considered a grade 1, 2, or 3 band. Why not make them demonstrate that they can do both on the same day?

I’m thinking about golf tournaments here, where the winner is determined by the aggregate results of four rounds of golf over the course of four days. In order to win, a golfer must put together four strong rounds of golf, and at the same time making a few bad shots doesn’t necessarily take a golfer out of contention.

It’s still really hard to determine which band is best after only a few minutes of playing, but having the bands play twice in a day would be a better indicator than a single performance.

I understand that there are logistical challenges that may from essentially doubling the length of the band contest, and those must be addressed. That’s the topic for another post, so stay tuned to figure out how I solve that problem.