Packing it in

John Cairns’s recent decision to stop competing in solo piping is food for thought. His bowing out at a relatively young age and when his most recent contest was the Glenfiddich Championship probably strikes some as odd. After all, why would someone playing at the top of his game pack it in?

As some know, I’m a firm believer in going out on a strong note. Too many guys keep hammering away at the solo thing after their prime is well past, and whatever reputation they built over many years can turn into a heap of smouldering blackwood after a summer of playing that didn’t meet his or her usual standard. Maintaining a personal standard is an incredibly demanding and pressure-packed thing to do, and more often than not it gets the better of even the best players.

On the other hand, who cares if someone wants to keep at it? If they’re enjoying competing and performing, isn’t that all that matters? Some people seem to like to tut-tut when they hear competitors not playing as well as they once could, but, really, why should they care?

It’s a strictly personal decision. Playing well and exceeding your own standard often results in personal enjoyment. The end must justify the means, of course, and I’m sure that John did what was right for him. I for one will miss listening to his competition playing but remember it well.


Digital meets analog

A work event on Tuesday when Google came to the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, to recruit some of Canada’s brainiest. This sign was just the thing.


Short shrift?

The thought that the Maxville people are suggesting canning the PPBSO’s Professional Piobaireachd event seems to be confusing a lot of people, including me. There are conflicting stories about it, so who knows what will happen?

I do know this: associations need to do a better job of promoting and communicating what they have. Now, I voluntarily sit on the PPBSO’s Music Board, so I’m as much to blame, I suppose, as the next person. But somewhere along the line, if the North American Championship is even considering pulling funding from the most prestigious single solo piping event on the continent, what does that say about us?

The fact that the Maxville folks aren’t already selling tickets for the Professional piping events is an opportunity missed. They aren’t to blame. They probably look at it naturally as an expensive headache with no ROI. The event itself is shunted around the park and for the past few years inhabits a spot under a tree with  toilets on one side and a pedestrian thoroughfare with thousands of people shuffling by not even realizing that the piper playing could be a Gold Medallist or Clasp winner on the other. You gotta see it to believe it.

It’s another example of pipers and drummers and an organization not doing a good job at promoting and marketing its unique and specialized product. Oh, the outrage! Maxville may want to pull the plug on this near-60-year-old event!

Really, now. Who can blame them for not knowing what they don’t know?


Leaving the games behind

I’ve realized that piping and drumming and pipe bands are gradually leaving behind Highland games. Almost all of our most successful and fastest growing and most respected events are those that don’t involve caber-tossing and sheep-herding and little sword-dancers with too-tight-hair and bitchy mums.

And the Highland games increasingly don’t want to put up with the bands and the solo pipers and drummers. Sure, they want the ambient sound of the pipes, but many games are finding that they can get that by hiring a guest band or two and that the Highland dancing piper is enough to make their games appear authentic.

And we bring it on ourselves, too. There’s usually little effort to attract a bigger crowd than friends and family. The desire to do that seems to be there, but the effort’s lacking.

But look at the World’s, expanding every year. Look at events like Winter Storm, the Glenfiddich, the Dan Reid, and the Mastery of Highland Arts concert in Seattle. These are events that are busting at the seams with people wanting to get in. They stand on their own, not a side-show curiosity away from the heavy athletes and Irn-Bru stalls.

I see piping, drumming and pipe bands increasingly going it alone and separating from Highland games where we generally feel we get short-shrift and games organizers feel that we’re too expensive and too much trouble. The RSPBA’s approach to their major competitions could be vastly improved, but it’s on the right track and I think it’s the way things are going.

We can put our music front-and-centre, and people will come. We have proven that it works better anyway than glomming on to the Highland games.


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