November 20, 2007

A non-competitive renaissance

Parlour pipes only.Someone told me about an article in a recent Piping Times, the Glasgow-based monthly print digest about piping in Scotland. I don’t get the publication, so I haven’t read it. But I understand that the Barry Donaldson-written piece bemoaned the decline of quality piping in Scotland, how the Northern Irish and North American bands have been laying some whup-ass on the Scottish bands for years, the future’s bleak, etc. I think that’s the gist of it.

Competitively, I would agree. There are fewer Scottish Grade 1 bands than ever, and the eight in the Grade are more than twice outnumbered by non-Scottish bands. And yes, for the most part, up and down the grades at the World’s non-Scottish bands are winning.

In the solos at Oban and Inverness, if it weren’t for the selection committee’s predilection toward Scottish applicants (reportedly two-thirds of the spots are reserved for UK players), there would be far more success by “overseas” competitors than there has been.

Whatever. To say that the standard of Scotland’s competitive piping is in decline may be true, but it misses the bigger picture. The truth is that more Scottish pipers are choosing not to compete altogether. In fact, I would say that Highland piping Scotland is in the middle of a surge. It’s just not on the competition stage.

I hear more inventive applications of pipe music coming from Scotland than anywhere in the world. Piping Live! has quickly become more about the new and different than the competitive and traditional. Scotland has discovered, more than anywhere in the world, that piping and pipe music can actually be fun. What a novel concept.

While the rest of the world obsesses about winning competitions – and I think actually regressing when it comes to what it plays in those competitions – more of Scotland’s pipers are interested in pushing the boundaries and possibilities of the music itself in a non-competitive way. And that’s anything but a decline; it’s a renaissance.




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