Pipes and curling

The Women’s Curling World Championships (yes, they even have a world championship for that) are being held in Paisley, Scotland, just now.

Scotland is of course the cradle of curling and the home of Highland piping. In fact, many people will know that pipes are traditionally played at curling matches, particularly major ones. Apart from weddings, funerals, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ home opener, a curling match is one of the rare events when non-pipers look forward to hearing good piping.

Except, apparently, for Paisley, Scotland. There was not a bagpipe to be heard until well into the latter stages of the tournament. And no one but the visiting teams and their friends and family seemed to miss it.

Is it yet another case of Highland piping being appreciated most by non-Scots? “Overseas” competitors are routinely amazed at the relative little non-piper/drummer attention and attendance there is at the World Pipe Band Championships or the major solo-piping events.

Ironic, no?

August Madness?

Basketball fans in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Canada are currently enjoying the NCAA tournament. “March Madness” pits 50 or so top-ranked college/university teams that don’t always play each other in a seeded, “brackets”-style competition. Basically, one loss and you’re out. It’s one of the most exciting events of the year, even for those who don’t otherwise follow College Hoops much, since virtually every office, pub, or group of friends has a pool that anyone can win because the upsets are impossible to predict.

Solo-piping in Scotland and Canada has often had brackets competitions in its own “knock-out” format. The longest running is probably the one in British Columbia, and Scotland recently resurrected the original in Glasgow.

Since almost all of the bands are in Scotland during the week leading up to the World Pipe Band Championships, why not one year hold a pipe band knock-out? “August Madness” could be staged at venues throughout the city, creating far more excitement and anticipation than the way the contest is currently set up.

Bands would be seeded, and upsets would be sure to occur when favoured bands are a bit off of their game.

The RSPBA could absolutely rake in the money, too, of course awarding much of it to the bands for travel and prizes.

Pretty swish, huh?

Performance enhancing

Most people in North America will have heard about the current Major League Baseball scandal regarding players taking steroids for faster strength-building and faster injury-healing. Even though baseball had no official rules banning steroid use, players who may have been “juiced” in years past are being subjected congressional hearings and reputation-wrecking scrutiny.

Barry Bonds, maybe the greatest (stats-wise, anyway) baseball player in history, is suspected the most, since he’s added about 50 pounds of muscle as he’s grown older – something that just doesn’t happen without some chemical assistance.

What does all of this have to do with piping and drumming? A recent Poll on P&D Online suggests that about 15 per cent of pipers and drummers have taken beta-blockers to curb their performance anxiety. Golfers and snooker players, to name a few professionals, have been known to take this medication, typically used as a treatment for heart conditions. It appears to be common practice with recitalists on classical music stages.

After speaking with my doctor to make sure that there were no serious risks, I tried a beta-blocker once before a solo contest to see what would happen. The biggest impact seemed to be a feeling of nonchalence about the whole thing. I didn’t really care much about the result or whether I “got through it” or not. The contest was just sort of unexciting. I can’t remember if I played any better or not, and no listeners or judge said anything was extra-good or particularly bad. (But that’s usual anway, I suppose.)

How do pipers and drummers feel about competitors taking drugs to calm their nerves? Are beta-blockers fair game? How does that medication differ from the traditional dram before stepping onto the boards? Does taking beta-blockers break some unofficial code of conduct?

If the piping world’s equivalent to Barry Bonds or the New York Yankees admitted to taking beta-blockers for years, would his/her/their record and reputation be tarnished in a similar way?


Oban and Aviemore

There’s a bit of chagrin, as usual, with solo pipers applying to get in to the Argyllshire Gathering (Oban) and the Northern Meeting (Inverness, usually, but this year at Aviemore).

Every year a vetting committee comrpising folks from those events, a few Piobaireachd Society people, and a couple of reps from the Competing Pipers Association get together to consider the applicants and yay or nay their aspriations. No one except the people actually on the committee seems to know how it all works, except for the fact that each piper’s competition success record is considered and, hopefully, someone on the committee has actually heard the person play.

So far there has been more acrimony than usual about the some of the decisions. Andrew Hayes and Michael Grey, the two pipers who had equal points for the prestigious Ontario Champion Supreme award for piobaireachd, and who both have had prizes in the Gold Medals at Oban and Inverness, were rejected for this year’s Gold Medals. No explanation, just an impersonal automated e-mail telling them, in effect, that their realistic Gold Medal aspirations are pretty much over.

When will these events realize that, like the World Pipe Band Championships, they are extraordinary because of their internationalism? Isn’t it time they started to respect “overseas” competition standards? Shouldn’t they seek the unbiased advice of judges in overseas jurisdictions?

On the other hand, like the World’s, these are their events, and they can run them however they please. But they should understand that, with the rapid growth of high-profile, sponsored, big-money events in North America, the statures of the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting will certainly decline if they continue to disrespect the international pipers who have made the contests the great events that they are today.


Welcome to Blogpipe!

Over the last year, many Piper & Drummer Online readers have suggested that we start a blog. It has been on our long list of things to do . . . until now.

Even though it’s taken this long, I think Blogpipe is still the first of its kind for the piping and drumming world.

My aim with Blogpipe is to complement the approach that the Piper & Drummer magazine and Piper & Drummer Online have always taken: to spark open and objective discussion on piping and drumming matters, to ask questions, and, by listening to answers, make informed decisions.

How will Blogpipe differ from other content on Piper & Drummer Online? Well, the biggest difference will be that it will present more opinions and free-flowing thoughts. It will also offer readers more of an opportunity to contribute their opinions, so that others may consider them, learn from them, and form their own conclusions.

As with most things in the highly-competitive piping and drumming world, a small minority of conspiracy theorists will accuse me of having an ulterior motive. No bother. The truth is that it’s here only to float ideas and evoke intelligent and constructive online conversation.

To be sure, you won’t agree with everything you read on Blogpipe, and sometimes the truth hurts. But Blogpipe will never shy away from the politically sensitive or try to curry favour with anything.

Mark Twain said, “When in doubt, tell the truth,” and that’s a good maxim by which to live. Here, too, you may disagree, and that’s okay.

I invite you to visit often and contribute whenever you read something that sparks your own thoughts. Comments will be considered and the most thoughtful, informed, and fair will be posted. Dissenting views are encouraged and welcomed.

It’s all about open, intelligent communication so that pipers and drummers can simply make better decisions regarding the things to which so many of us so passionately devote so much of our time and energy.

I hope that you enjoy Blogpipe!

Andrew Berthoff


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