No ask; no tell

Not Bob Nicol.The late great golf teacher, Harvey Penick, used to say something like, “Don’t give advice unless you’re asked.” Of course he was talking about golf, and the habit of some hacks who aren’t much better – or even far worse – than their playing partner of telling them what they’re doing “wrong.” Try moving your feet apart. Your grip looks bad. You’re taking your eye off the ball . . .

We face these irritating people in piping and drumming all the time. You’ll have finished your competition performance and some know-it-all will come up and start telling you what’s wrong and what you should do to fix it. Often these officious folks will be rank amateurs who couldn’t play their way out of the proverbial paper bag. Sometimes it will be busy-body professionals or judges, and they’re just as annoying.

The rule of thumb in piping, drumming and pipe bands should be: don’t offer your opinion or advice unless you’re invited to do so by the performer. If you break that rule, no matter who you might be or how good you are, you’re really just a dink.

I remember coming off the boards at the piobaireachd at Crieff games one year and practically being accosted by a famous teacher-judge-Claspy-piobaireachd-guy. He was almost breathless he was so anxious to tell me everything that I did “wrong” in my performance. I bit my tongue and let him bloviate at me, but I really wasn’t listening, much less interested, in his opinion. “Who the *%&# asked you?” was all that I was thinking.

There’s a famous story of a young Bill Livingstone who was similarly confronted at a Scottish games in the 1970s by Bob Nicol, half of the Balmoral Bobs. Nicol apparently ranted on at him about how dreadfully unmusical and “wrong” his tune was. Nicol, who was perhaps accustomed to Scottish pipers just politely accepting his unwelcomed counsel, was reportedly stunned and mystified by Livingstone’s response: “Well, that just fries my ass!

Judges are asked to provide their opinion of a performance via a scoresheet and/or the final result. Beyond that, they have no real business arrogantly lording unsolicited advice at competitors. No matter who you, it lacks tact.

It’s simple: Unless you’re asked, keep your advice to yourself.

Heavy-Cam

As a sequel to Glen-Cam, here’s Heavy-Cam. I asked a few of the heavy athletes at the Cambridge Highland Games if they’d be interested in donning my little video camera. They were more than willing, and Todd Turnbull of Hamilton, Ontario, kindly strapped it on while attempting an 11-foot-high toss of the 56-pound weight.

I had hoped to time things with the caber tossing, but the weight thing coincided with the break in my action. Maybe I’ll get that caber fare in the future.

I may approach a Highland dancer to wear the camera, but would worry that the strap might slip down over his/her eyes, which, come to think of it, would be excellent video.

Ladies and gents, here’s Heavy-Cam:

And here’s normal, third-party perspective video of Todd Turnbull on the same weight-toss attempt:

We pipers and drummers do our competition thing at the games, but all around are other contests – heavy events, dancing, sheepdogs, tug-o-war – with competitors just as passionate about what they do. Evidenced by the soaking-wet Heavy-Cam strap after Todd was done with it, these competitors put a lot of effort into their thing. Always appreciate new perspectives.

Thanks to Todd Turnbull for being such a good sport even in heated sporting competition. These athletes were very congenial and welcomed an outsider’s questions and slightly off-kilter idea. We pipers and drummers can be a stand-offish bunch, so we can learn from these friendly giants, too.

Please don’t try this at home

God only knows how kids find time to practice today. There’s so much more to do today for everyone. It’s no wonder that every other kid is accused of having attention deficit disorder. Life itself is one giant distraction.

But I’m sure I had – and may well still have – ADD. I not so long ago brought to you a few photos of me as a spotty adolescent regaling strange folk on the pipes. Here are a few more, which serve to underscore the mystery of how on earth I ever survived as a piper.

Life's a lark.As mentioned, my dad would take pictures of everything we kids would do. But, looking at these photos, who can blame him? If he didn’t go and die on me, I would ask him today what might have been going through his head when he saw me doing these things with my practice chanter. A few possibilities:

“I wonder if this is healthy for that boy . . .”

“That can’t be good for posture . . .”

“. . . Is there another instrument that allows such a slacker attitude?”

The image above is pretty self-evident: me twittering away at a crossing-noise-rich rendition of “Highland Laddie” or something. There’s that 1976 commemorative St. Louis Cardinals’ cap again, and you’ll remember the low-rise Converse sneakers. The hairstyle would be courtesy of my mother’s home barber kit – or, rather, a result of me avoiding it.

Stargell's a bum!The photo at left is classic “multitasking” – before the woeful word was ever invented. One can have too many hobbies and, for me, it was and always will be piping and baseball. Note the Cardinals vs. Pirates game on the little black-and-white Magnavox TV. This would most certainly have been on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, since only a handful of games were actually broadcast in 1979, or whenever this was taken. My parents loved cats. They (the cats, that is) had the run of the house, and here one is enjoying my own caterwauling while washing behind her ears, indicating that a rain delay was imminent.

I’m sure that Willie McCallum or Roddy MacLeod never practiced as kids with such an appalling lack of focus, evidenced of course by the difference in the their solo success and mine. I’m certain that their dads never allowed them to merrily do things half-way.

But, there you are. My practiced ability to do several things at once may be my problem, but, as I sit here doing three things at once, I hope it’s to your benefit.

10 tips to get judges

Working on a verdict.At least in North America, it seems that securing accredited judges is often a challenge for piping and drumming competition organizers. I’d assume the same might be said of Australia and other areas where either the number of judges is scarce and/or the geography is vast.

I don’t want to come across as presumptuous, and I’m always honoured to be asked to adjudicate anywhere, but following are a few tips that might help contests get more confirmations from the judges whom they invite to their event. Chances are you’re not involved with organizing any competitions, but if you compete and note that some events have a hard time attracting different or even enough judges, these may be a few of the reasons for that. 

  1. Compensate appropriately. There are far worse things to do than listen to piping/drumming all day and spout off your opinion, but organizers should understand that adjudicating is both hard work and time-consuming. Often, judges have to take a day off of work to get to your event. A day of vacation can be precious. If you want excellent judges, compensate accordingly, and be clear at the outset about fees and expenses.
  2. Don’t nickel-and-dime with small stuff. Unless he/she happen to be a close friend, most judges dislike being billeted at a volunteer’s house. Spend that relatively small amount on a decent hotel. Ask judges about other expenses they incurred – e.g., airport food, taxis – and cover those reasonable costs.
  3. Communicate. With your judges in place, make sure that they know the whats, wheres and whens of the weekend. Don’t assume that they’ll just figure it out. Inform them of all travel arrangements to and from the airport, the hotel, the contest and any planned events. And make certain that each judge understands your competition rules and policies, and has a reference sheet to refer to, if needed.
  4. Organize meals. Make sure that judges are fed and watered. Doesn’t have to be five-star dining, but arranging breakfast and sandwiches on the day with enough time to consume them in a relaxed manner goes a long way. Offer optional organized dinners on the Friday and Saturday for those who wish to attend.
  5. Beverages. A coffee or tea in the morning and soft drinks in the afternoon. Simple, but often forgotten.
  6. Get enough judges. You should never try to squeeze another event into a judge’s already full schedule. Rushing through competitors can make a miserable day for the judges and not great service for competitors either. If your contest is popular with competitors, make sure you plan accordingly. And understand that judges need a pee just like the next person (see “Beverages” above), so ensure that breaks are scheduled.
  7. A beer or two. After standing judging a score or more of bands, most judges are gasping for a pint by the end of the day. Getting off the field only to find a massive line for beer tickets or a stowed-out tent is a drag. Providing each judge with a few tickets in advance, or welcoming him/her to a hospitality area with a cold one in hand is a great touch.
  8. Settle before leaving. When judges are told, “Your cheque is in the mail,” they inevitably wonder if they’ll ever see it. Judges occasionally get stiffed, so make sure you deliver an envelope to them no later than noon. Judges talk, and if you’re late with payment, word will get around.
  9. Say thank you. Yes, judges should always thank you, but expressing your appreciation goes a long way for the future. Follow up a few days later with a card, or at least an e-mail message.
  10. Ask for feedback. Chances are, experienced piping and drumming judges have seen a lot more competitions than you ever will. Tap them for their thoughts on what you did right and areas that could be improved. It’s free, expert advice that most judges won’t offer unless asked. 

I realize that all of this may sound just a bit precious. Believe me, these tips are only intended to help, since some competitions might not realize or appreciate the work involved with adjudicating. It’s enjoyable work, for sure, but it is work, so looking after these fairly simple details can help make your event even more popular with adjudicators and competitors alike.

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