What recession?

Passion fruitThere’s no denying that times are tougher for many, but I couldn’t help but notice that, overall, things stayed pretty much constant in the piping and drumming world this past year. The World’s and Maxville, to name a few, were as well attended as ever. I didn’t observe any substantial decline in piping/drumming-related businesses beyond the usual handful of companies giving up on business. To be sure, subscribers to and sponsors of pipes|drums continued to increase.

Again, I appreciate that many, many pipers and drummers may have tightened their sporran-strings, and some may have encountered very hard times. I wouldn’t dream of minimizing that. But I do think that, by-and-large, most pipers and drummers will always find a way to travel to competitions, to purchase those new reeds, to pursue their passion.

And that’s just it: passion. Anyone who is afflicted by the competition piping/drumming disease understands that it’s a hobby of passion. And any industry that is based mainly on such devotion is going to be, I think, on pretty solid economic ground.

There is always the small percentage of pipers and drummers who get fed up and abandon the scene, never to appear again. They lose their passion for it, which perhaps they never really had. But the rest of us march on, and find ways to feed the addiction no matter what the financial challenge.

Last winter, with stock markets tanking and the threat of global economic depression looming, I figured that the piping/drumming market would be severely impacted. I watched for considerable numbers of bands canceling trips, losing sponsorships and hemorrhaging personnel. I thought for sure that the trickle-down effect would mean many failed businesses and a substantial shake-out of the bagpipe manufacturing, reed-making and Highland wear industry.

Instead, to my pleasant surprise, things in our little world appear fairly constant. It’s a micro-economy built on passion.

Judging judges

The current pipes|drums Poll indicates that almost 90 per cent of the world’s pipers and drummers feel that “associations should have a system for competitors to provide feedback on judges.” With such overwhelming desire for competitors to judge judges, you have to wonder why it doesn’t happen more often . . . or at all.

The only attempt I know of to tap competitors for their opinions on the merits and abilities of adjudicators was when the Competing Pipers Association did a survey of its members maybe 10 years ago now. It was done by traditional post, and respondents were asked to grade a list of maybe 75 pipers who had judged events. From that, the CPA was able to work with the new Joint Committee for Judging, and weed out not a few obvious people who clearly did not have the respect of those they judged. And, as we all know, if a judge isn’t respected, the result isn’t worth, as Seumas MacNeill once said, a proverbial pail of, um, spit.

So what’s stopping the world’s piping and drumming associations from asking their members for feedback? I can’t think of any good reasons but the familiar matter of time, since such a program would take concerted effort not just to execute, but then act upon.

I suppose also that not a few judges out there may feel a little threatened by such an initiative. Every piping and drumming judge – at least outside of the UK – was once a competitor, so he/she has experienced the frustration of receiving an ambiguous or even insulting score sheet, or an adjudicator with poor decorum, or the stinky air of blatant conflict-of-interest. Personally I would be very suspicious of any judge who loudly protested a well constructed feedback system.

And by “well constructed,” I mean a system that assures that competitors can respond in confidence, assured that their identity is never revealed but that their opinions are considered equally.

By hearing the compliments and complaints of competitors, I would think that each organization could then learn and work to improve conditions. Judges can learn to be better. The results become more respected and credible. Bring it on.

Credit piping

I owe a lot to piping. In fact, I would say that almost all of the best things in my life are due, in some way, to the fact that I decided to take up the instrument at age 11. If you’ve played a long time with any kind of commitment, I’d guess that you too owe a lot to piping.

I’m thinking this now because today’s my fourteenth wedding anniversary. More on that later.

I had truly dreadful grades in high school. I was bored by every subject but English, and always did my homework at school because I was so busy practicing or playing with the band. But it was piping that got me into Macalester College, because it had a piping program and they thought I’d help it (little did they know). Macalester is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States (according to a recent New York Times’ survey), and they still support a very good Grade 3 band.

And Macalester had (and maybe still has) a program with the University of Stirling, so, despite my now mediocre grades, they thought – because I was a piper – that I deserved to spend my third year there “studying.” Somehow I did okay there, but most of my time was committed to playing with Polkemmet, getting lessons from truly great people, and practicing all. the. time.

After that I spent more time in Scotland, and it was there I met Julie Wilson, daughter of Martin, longtime piper with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. Julie played with Craigmount High School and then the Grade 2 Deeside Ladies while she was at Aberdeen University studying to become the neuroscientist she is. Credit piping.

Because of piping, I managed to be accepted as an immigrant to Canada, because piper-friends pulled for me in ways I’ll never be able to re-pay. And my first job in Toronto was through, yes, a piper in the band I joined here. Credit piping.

Then piping got me my first “career” job because a real publisher was so impressed that I worked to publish and edit a piping and drumming magazine just because I liked it, so he hired me. And that led to my next career direction. The eye of my current boss – whose father was from Uist – was caught by the reference to bagpipes on my CV. Credit piping.

After 14 years of marriage and 25 years of being together, Julie and I have much to show for it, most prized of all is the cheeky and brilliant (takes after J.) Annabel, fount of delight. The three of us understand, I think, just how serendipitous piping has been to our lives.

I’m often asked why on earth I do all this pipes|drums / Piper & Drummer / blogpipe stuff, especially when I don’t pocket a penny from it. First answer is because I enjoy it, and as long as many others enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it. The other answer is that, in some ways, it’s a debt of gratitude for all of the above, repaid word-by-word.


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