February 28, 2002

Cut the hatchet-jobs

[Originally published as an Editorial]

The piping and drumming world is accustomed to reading competition reports in the piping media. Typically, these pieces comprise a player-by-player critique by someone who attended the competition, passing judgment days, weeks or even months after the prizes were awarded.

Each player or band typically receives a snippet, and each blurb has consistently negative criticism about how something or other didn’t suit the reviewer’s personal taste. Usually the first prize winner will get the most praise from the writer, and everyone else gets the hatchet.

The blurbs usually read something like: “The next player was Angus Jones. Angus got “Salute to the Living” to play. He started well enough, but soon his drones fell away, and all hope of winning was lost. Angus also holds the Cs in the second bar of the third line of the second variation, which doesn’t suit this writer’s taste.”

Band medley contest critiques are even more demeaning: “Poor intro. Slow start. Suspect taorluaths in march. One piper cutting out. Sound grew worse. Bad ending tune. Not their day.”

A year of practice gets cut down to a few petty lines in print, upon which posterity will base many assumptions.

But why do we insist on tearing down even our greatest players and bands? Why do we accept this style of journalism as a part of our tradition? What is the use of this tedious analysis so often written by someone who could never dream of performing to the same standard as those he or she shreds in print? The contest is over. The decision has been made. It does not matter what happens after that, and it’s downright insulting to have anyone distribute their comments.

If we think about competitions, we know of none that makes a judge’s critique available to anyone but the competitor being assessed. As with school exams, there is certain discretion when it comes to keeping a student’s grades confidential. Perhaps the bad journalism habit comes from the practice of negative judging. Instead of rewarding the positive aspects of a performance, many judges centre their attention purely on the negative. More often than not, destructive criticism is a signal that a judge can identify blatant mistakes but not subtle music. But that’s another topic.

For its part, the Piper & Drummer long ago banished these venomous contest reports. After a few admittedly small-minded stabs many years back, we came to realize that player-by-player, tune-by-tune, note-by-note rundowns did nothing but degrade our fellow competitors.

Remarkably, the performers in the very top events at the Northern Meeting, Argyllshire Gathering and World Pipe Band Championships are targets of the most vindictive abuse. The better the contest, the worse the abuse. Never mind that only 30 pipers in the world get in to the Gold Medals; all but the winner gets shredded in print.

We can’t stop the rest of the piping and drumming media from ripping at even our very best exponents of the art. We can only suggest that readers reject this unfortunate journalism tradition that is nothing but counterproductive to our art and demeaning to its greatest exponents.




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