August 31, 2005

Challenged competition

The Todd Bar Recital-Challenge
Strathclyde University
Chris Armstrong, John Cairns, Angus MacColl, James MacHattie
7:30 p.m., August 11, 2005

Think of the biggest competitions in solo piping and immediately the Glenfiddich, the Northern Meeting, the Argyllshire Gathering spring to mind. But certainly the annual Lord Todd Bar Recital-Challenge must be starting to get consideration for the upper echelon of piping events. With more than 200 attending this year’s competition, this free-form contest allows four invited pipers to bring out their best, from piobaireachd to the quickest-of-quick light music, with an audience clearly appreciating it all.

It would be impossible to take anyone through all four performances in words and give them justice. Suffice it to say that each of the four players held their own and proved that they deserved to be on this esteemed stage at the Lord Todd Bar.

Ultimately the variety of musical style and preference that each piper brought was unique, from Angus MacColl’s nimble-fingered, perfectly presented and well-selected content to Chris Armstrong’s mesmerizingly quick-fingering to John Cairns’s ringing and robust pipe to James MacHattie’s well-considered and tasteful choice of music. There was something here for everyone.

The contest was assessed by five mystery judges, who were not known to neither audience nor competitors. In the end, Angus MacColl of Benderloch, Scotland, was the choice to win the University of Strathclyde Silver Medal and a cash prize. But it didn’t really matter to the audience when emcee John Wilson announced the winner. Wilson’s understated presentation was perfect, since everyone at this event had heard a full two
hours of some of the best that the Highland piping world has to offer.

The 25-minute play-whatever-you-want format is a proven success, and it may well be the future of big solo piping competitions, if indeed a contest is what’s needed. The audience was present at the Lord Todd Bar Recital-Challenge not to see who wins, but simply to hear good music. Long may that spirit continue.


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