July 31, 2007

G. Brown, M. Dunn and D. Murray locked in at Lochearnhead

Lochearnhead, Scotland – July 21, 2007 – On a dry and warm day at one of the most scenic games in the world, results were scattered at Lochearnhead. The event is traditionally judged by members of the Royal Scottish Pipers Society, which comprises players who have never competed successfully in serious solo piping events but, for the first time in memory, the contest welcomed two of the most respected judges in the world for one of the light music events.

“It’s a start,” said one well known piper.

1st Glenn Brown, Milton, Ontario
2nd Douglas Murray, Fife, Scotland
3rd Michael Gray, The Highlanders
4th William Geddes, Edinburgh
Judges: Alan Forbes, James Burnett

1st Margaret Dunn, Glasgow
2nd Alan Russell, Kelty, Scotland
3rd William Geddes
4th Alex Gandy, Dartmouth, Canada
Judges: Bruce Thomson, John Ross

Strathspey & Reel
1st Douglas Murray
2nd Alan Russell
3rd Margaret Dunn
4th Gareth Rudolph, Glasgow
Judges: Andrew Wright, George Lumsden


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  1. I can understand your perspective, coming from that tradition in Scotland, where the tradition is no real structure. But times have changed, and, unfortunately, Scotland’s solo scene has not changed with them. I dare say that many, if not most, RSPS members are professionals” in their work lives. They gained their standing as actuaries

  2. It would not be easy, but nothing worth doing is, as they say. All of the associations mentioned went or are going through the process of moving from non-certified judges to an accreditation process. Because the RSPBA and PPBSO essentially run their contests in a turn-key manner, it’s easier to ensure that only accredited people judge. I believe that the EUSPBA’s events are each run by the games organizers themselves, making their system similar to Scotland’s, in that every contest can be different if the event so chooses. A first step would be agreement that accreditation is necessary. As Colin mentioned, competitors might be afraid of speaking up for fear of reprisal on the boards. But if enough spoke with actions and words, reform would be possible. The obviously experienced and able judges (all former successful competitors, I might add) who have the respect of competing pipers perhaps could be grandfathered” by careful consensus. This has occurred elsewhere

  3. I have to disagree, Neill, and I think so too do the vast majority of competing pipers. Judging solo piping events, particularly at the top levels, at times comes down to splitting microscopic hairs. Detecting these nuances I feel is impossible without having played and demonstrated your ability on the boards for at least 10 years. Just as band-only pipers should not be judging solo events, solo-only pipers should not be judging bands. By your token, these gentlemen pipers” should be accepted to the RSPBA panel

  4. Andrew, ………at least 10 years” Would 9.5 years be OK or what about 8 years; how about 6 years? What is so special about 10 years. The logic of your argument doesn’t seem so sound when considered like that. In support of my point there have been a number of quite notorious “**** ups” in judging and some have involved judges who met your playing critereon; similarly there have been some involving judges who didn’t. Of technical competence is required but think about this too: a person who has competed for your required 10 years but has no analytic ability

  5. I believe Gavin competed during the mid-1970s, took a break, then returned to it in the 1980s. Maybe 10 years of public performance” is more apt. Someone like Iain MacInnes would make a first-rate light music judge

  6. On choice of judges at Lochearnhead George Lumsden was judging there in the 1990’s, and Donald MacPherson as well. Though I think both of them are honorary jolly boys.

  7. Both George Lumsden and Andrew Wright are members of the Jolly Boys” and it is not the first time that ex-professionals who are members of the RSPS have judged at Lochearnhead. Is the point that is being made in the report that other members of the RSPS members of the RSPS are not fit to judge just because they have not competed nor won professional competitions? If so why not say that for it’s a point worth debating? For the record and in the spirit of openess I am a member of the RSPS and have judged at Lochearnhead but have not competed in nor won a professional piping competition.”

  8. It is an important topic to debate in the open, so let’s do it. Scotland is the only established solo circuit that doesn’t have a formal examination system for judges, much less criteria for sitting exams. Many people judging both big and small events in Scotland would never be allowed to sit the exams of associations around the world. In short: those who haven’t successfully walked the solo boards are not allowed to judge solo competitions. It’s ironic that Scotland’s solo scene, while it sets the world standard for overall depth of quality of playing, has no cohesive structure. It’s also remarkable that success around the Scottish games apparently has a huge bearing on who is accepted to the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering — this while the standard of events outside of Scotland are often every bit as good, AND with a carefully controlled and monitored judging and reporting system. And there’s more irony for you!

  9. You raise some valid points. However, Lochearnhead has always (for many years) been judged by members of the RSPS. If the quality of judging was questionable, then why do so many of the big name soloists still enter – particularly when I am sure there were other contests taking place on the same day?

  10. Could it be that some just like to compete and have another go at getting a few prizes so they will be accepted to the big events? Or perhaps some are afraid to rock the boat, since some of these judges sit on benches at those big events? Shouldn’t piping, drumming and band judges become judges by merit, earned respect? If anyone doubts that, then there should be formal criteria and testing – like any other serious domain that requires careful judgment. The RSPBA thinks so, so why doesn’t Scotland’s solo scene?

  11. Neill – Also in the spirit of openess – and this will probably cost me a couple of prizes here and there which is why almost no other competitors ever speak out – as a member of the RSPS could could tell me who Bruce Thompson is and what are his qualifications to judge? It is because of the instances of such completely unknown persons suddenly appearing and judging that I have never attended Lochearnhead Games, nor ever will. Perhaps it is a case of defending the indefensible – I may be mistaken and I stand to be corrected if Mr Thompson turns out to be a properly qualified adjudicator who has earned the right to judge professional piping. Colin MacLellan

  12. Colin Bruce Thomson is a member of the RSPS and is also the publisher/composer of a couple of books of pipe music. I have never heard Bruce play nor do I know what his qualifcations are to judge piping competitions. I agree 100% that the questions you ask are the right ones and deserve an answer which should come from the compettion organisers or the RSPS – I do not have any mandate to speak for either, but I will say that the Society has an obligation when nominating judges to ensure that they are competent. In relation to the comments you make and their impact on your appearance in a prize list a good judge would assess you only on your playing whether they were a member of the RSPS or not. All the best Neill

  13. Andrew, My reason for writing intitially was because I believed that the implication in the initial report that members of the RSPS who do not compete and have not won prizes in professionl competitions are not competent to judge is wrong. There have been some very competent judges from amongst the membership of the RSPS – David Murray, James Campbell, Arhie Kenneth, Alan Forbes etc. just as there have been some who were not. And furthermore some of the worst judges I know have been ex professionals of the highest playing ability. In relation to your comments about the RSPS what determines judging ability is the person not the organisation to which they belong. I support your view that judges should be formally assessed and undertake continious professional development and without that should probably not be allowed to adjudicate. However in addition there are some personal attributes which are essential which in my view cannot be taught and have to be selected for – I am thinking here about analytic ability, the courage to be able to argue one’s point of view, the ability to take an objective view, etc. In my experience of sitting on benches it is factors like this which cause the problems. All the best Neill

  14. Andrew I agree with you almost 100% on the assessment of judging competence – the only point of difference is that I am not convinced that a professional competitive record is essential, but in relation to testing, examinations etc my view is no certificate no judging! I have voiced that opinion at judges seminars in the UK and at the RSPS. Please take yes for an answer! All the best Neill

  15. The point is that a determined number of years of competing successfully at the top level demonstrates for all to hear a commitment to and study of the craft. It indicates that a piper has worked his/her tail off to unravel the nuances of the music to get an edge in competition. This is paramount. Your argument about analytical non-competence holds water in Scotland where there are no score sheets, no formal feedback, and, really, no accountability. Judges arrive, listen, determine first through fifth, jump in the motor and race home, usually not having the balls to hang around to discuss the result with any competitors. Everywhere else – including the RSPBA, of course – judges are held accountable for their decisions and analytical abilities. Why? Because they produce score sheets. They also have to complete a written portion of the exam, and go through simulated judging of a competition. If a prospective judge cannot render and account for a competent result, he/she does not pass the test. There are also formal protest / complaint processes. If competitors want to question a judge’s analytical competence, which they would be able to determine from the score sheet feedback system, it is easy to do that. There is also usually a Music Board in each association that monitors judging and judges. There’s none of that in the Scottish solo scene. The scattershot approach of the Scottish solo contests is charmingly old-world, but I guarantee you that it leaves the competitors frustrated and confused more often than happy and satisfied. And to think that acceptance to the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering is based almost entirely, as the President of the CPA confirmed, on one’s showing around these charmingly antiquated Scottish games, where there is lovely scenery and great history but, sadly, no system, little structure and no accountability. The mind boggles.

  16. Andrew, I agree with almost everything you have said. I will, however, have to side with Neil on the subjective nature of ’10 years experience.’ I may be wrong, but didn’t Gavin Stoddart only compete for about 8 years? In fairness (and you have brought up this point before, very adeptly) there are individuals who toil for years – studying, playing, and learning – but never win the big prizes, while others seem to ‘walk off’ with such prizes on their first try. There is a great deal to be said about ‘authority,’ and whether it is the degree of study or success that makes an individual compitent to judge a professional contest. However, shouldn’t other considerations mitigate a lack of 10 years’ experience? To use Gavin Stoddart again, wasn’t he the director of bagpipe music for the entire British Army? Didn’t this involve setting, ensuring, and maintaining the standards of players within that organization? I guess what I am trying to say is, shouldn’t those experiences, coupled with a brief, but illustrious competitive career, be enough?

  17. Andrew, A valid point, and that certainly clears up the matter for me. On my way home last night, I was thinking about other potential examples. I got to thinking: I don’t know if Terry Lee managed ten years at the Professional level, or not. However, your point is taken, and would apply in that case as well. Cheers, Gregor

  18. Having no other qualifications to back up my opinion other than being a pipe major and solo competitor: I’ve encountered poor judges that have been very successful competitors and vice/versa. You can’t guarantee that a seasoned competitor will make a good judge so why make that the main criteria? Although I agree fully that several years of professional level solo competition are necessary I would prefer to see less emphasis on the number of years competing and have more emphasis put on the educational requirements to become a judge through shadow judging” and comprehensive evaluations of the apprentice judge’s work. Once the apprentice becomes a judge perhaps follow it with a probation period with continued evaluation. I think being a judge is a skill separate and above that of being a skilled competitor and requires more emphasis on the education of new judges beyond what is currently practiced.”



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