The annual solo piping championship run by the United States Piping Foundation since 1988 has decided to restrict the event to contestants only from North America. The move comes after it was announced
that the Glenfiddich Invitational Championships, probably the world's most prestigious solo piping event, would no longer consider the USPF and the Silver Chanter at Skye as qualifying competitions.
Organizers informed prospective competitors about the change in eligibility in the past week, and on the USPF website that "The Professional competitions are open to all North American players."
Maclean Macleod, head of the USPF, when asked if the move was in response to the Glenfiddich Championships no longer accepting the USPF Open event as a qualifier, said, "No . . . The reason our Open competitions are restricted this year is simply a matter of finances. The stated object of the [USPF] is to improve the standard of play. We are now well aware that in Scotland one's face must become familiar on the competitive circuit. All Americans are not millionaires and it is the Board's opinion that worthy American candidates may find the burden less wearisome with the assistance of financial aid. The total Open prize monies total $6,000 each year plus an Atlantic air fare.
"Do we deprecate the fact that in recent years the Glenfiddich has canceled the Canadian and U.S. venues as qualifiers? Of course we do. We find it difficult to understand why a company that derives a substantial portion of its profits from North America should isolate itself when it comes to the arts. In 1995 I was privileged to act as Fear-an Tighe at Blair Castle and noted that five of the 10 contestants were from Canada, the Antipodes and the U.S. Surely this indicates that piping is not the prerogative of the Scot."
Winners of the USPF have not always gained an invitation to the Glenfiddich, and the competition was not considered an automatic-invite event. USPF aggregate winner Ann Gray of Calgary (2006) did not receive an invitation to Blair Atholl.
The change has been met with some consternation on both sides of the Atlantic.
"As an anonymous observer, I'm disappointed and saddened that not one contest in North America is considered rigorous enough to merit qualifier status," said one prominent piper who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But I also recognize the relative thinness of the field here. We have I believe, only two gold medalists actively competing in Canada and the US, and they are a continent apart. We probably should not be surprised, but it continues to mean that pipers who want to prove their merit, must invest the time and money for the annual Scotland pilgrimage."
The competition has attracted competitors from the United Kingdom on several occasions, part of an overall trend that has seen Scottish and Irish solo pipers frequent prominent North American competitions.
Macleod said that Competing Pipers' Association contacted him by e-mail about the matter.
"The President of the CPA . . . wished to know why our organizing committee decided to take our present course of action. [He] further states, 'This would be helpful so that we can advise any CPA members who are intending to enter.' Do we detect a veiled threat? We would hope not! While in investigative mode, the CPA might redress an egregious situation which occurred in 2006. The USPF Open contests fielded 13 players that year. Six were former Gold Medal winners and seven were Regional winners from throughout the U.S. The adjudicators, one Scottish and one Canadian were highly respected Senior Judges appointed by the Joint Committee for Judging. To our astonishment, Glenfiddich rejected our overall winner on the grounds that the contestant, a Canadian, was 'not known to the piping audience.' Unbelievable - but true! In all fairness, the administrative staff does a tremendous production job each year and are masters in the art of producing usque-beatha, but I know of no staff member who is a piper. Whoever is their piping adviser/s should hang their head/s in shame, shame, shame."
"As with any other issue in piping, we simply represent the interests of our members," CPA President John-Angus Smith commented to pipes|drums. "I wrote to Mr. Macleod and asked for clarification on behalf of CPA membership as many of our members have competed at the competition in the past. There is no veiled threat or any other intent other than to communicate clearly the entry conditions of each piping competition that is of our interest to our members, and to promote an open, meritocratic piping infrastructure. Clearly we are disappointed that a restriction based on geography has been applied, rather than more qualitative criteria, but we also recognize that entry criteria are at the discretion of the competition organizer."
"This is a disappointing decision and certainly goes against the building of a worldwide piping community. It will undoubtedly make the competition weaker," said one UK-based piper who also spoke asking not to be attributed. "What would happen if the Argyllshire Gathering or Northern Meeting decided only UK players could take part?"
"I do wish we (meaning everyone on this side of the pond) would continue our efforts to present first-class piping events without caring one way or the other about what is going on on the other side of the pond," the well known American –based piper and adjudicator Albert McMullin responded when asked for his opinion. "If the only events getting attention are over there, it lessens the chances of events over here ever getting the interest and competitors they deserve. Very few North American people have the funds to go to limitless events. Most would do just as well and get just as much experience competing against the best over here, beating them and then going over there."
Macleod added: "With the proliferation of contests in Scotland and the relatively short distances round the circuit, we really wonder at the CPA's interest in our affairs. The likelihood of a piper crossing the Atlantic with the sole purpose of competing at the USPF Open is extremely remote so why all the fuss?
The USPF competition will be held this year on June 18th at the University of Delaware's Amy E. du Pont Music Building.
Maclean Macleod was awarded the Balvenie Medal for services to piping at the 1995 Glenfiddich Championships.
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