Published: May 31, 2001

Judges should not perform

[Originally published as an Editorial]

Pressure is rife in the piping and drumming world. We seem addicted to the thrill of stress, of trying to play as well as possible at all times, whether it’s before an audience of thousands or a single person.

Competition is perhaps the most alluringly pressure-packed forum we have. While in theory it should be no different from practicing in the basement, there’s something about performing in front of a judge that really puts most people on edge. That’s true of any competitive activity, really, whether it’s playing in the World Series or at the World Pipe band Championships.

Pipers and drummers get so worked up over competition that they even have to resort to taking medication to overcome their nervousness. Whisky is a traditional solution for many with stage fright.

What about the person judging the event? All too often the judge can put additional pressure on the competitor, and some even seem to enjoy the power trip. Judges will tap their feet, they’ll squirm, they’ll scribble away during the entire performance, unfairly distracting the already anxious piper, drummer, or band.

With that in mind, here are our top four suggestions for judges:

1. Please don’t tap your feet – if you must pound out a rhythm, do it with your toe inside your shoe.

2. Please cut out the histrionics – some judges habitually sway and even shuck and jive to the music to demonstrate how into it they are. Please, stop it. Not only does it distract the competitor, it looks ridiculous.

3. Please don’t finger along – the judge who fingers with the performance invites the contestant to watch his hands. The judge is not the pipe major, nor should he feel the need to prove to the competitor that, yes, he indeed knows the tune being played.

4. Please write as little as possible during the performance – anyone who has judged knows that it is virtually impossible to listen closely and write coherently at the same time. Retain your thoughts in your head, save the comments until the end of the performance, and write quickly and concisely. If you must write during the performance, at least wait until the player’s back is turned.

A judge who draws attention to himself either on purpose or unintentionally is in some ways irresponsible. Strictly speaking, the judge’s role is to call the contest as he hears it. He is not the performer. He is not there to give lessons. He should only think about being as unobtrusive as possible, while at the same time accounting for his decision as clearly and succinctly as he can.

It’s hard enough for a competitor without the added distraction of a gyrating, finger-twiddling, foot pounding judge. The performance is the competitor’s, not the judge’s. In sporting events, a good official is one the fans and players don’t notice during the entire match. Piping and drumming are no different.

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