April 30, 2011

Mixed reactions to changes to Livingstone Memorial format

One of North America’s longest-running solo piping competitions has decided to make substantial changes to its format, and the modifications have been met with mixed reactions by competitors.

Since 1978, the William Livingstone Sr. Memorial Invitational Solo Piping Competition has held to a two-event format, with a Piobaireachd and Light Music events determining an aggregate winner. This year the organizers have decided to go with a more free-form, 30-minute-maximum performance for each competitor, with the only content stipulation being an own-choice MSR and the ground of a piobaireachd to be part of the overall performance.

“Over the last several years we have had great difficulty securing enough players at the highest level to accept our invitation to the Livingstone,” said Julie Stewart, president of the Niagara-Hamilton Branch of the PPBSO, organizers of the event. “After much discussion  with both players and those on the judging panel for this year, we have decided to  change the  format for  2011. So far the response has been good, but it is difficult to get just the right amount of competitors.”


The competition is scheduled to be held on Saturday, May 14th, at the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of Canada’s Officers’ Mess at James Street Armoury in Hamilton, Ontario.

Competitors will be asked to submit their MSR and urlar in advance, and the 30 minutes include all tuning time. The format is similar to the Lord Todd Recital Challenge held at the University of Strathclyde before the World’s each year, which features four premier pipers performing for as long as 45 minutes, with an MSR and piobaireachd ground the only mandatory content.

The changes have been received both positively and negatively by prospective competitors, some of whom who would normally compete have declined the invitation, including Gold Medalists Andrew Hayes of Ottawa and Bruce Gandy of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Gandy was the winner of the 2010 Livingstone Memorial.

“It was a tough call for me, as I want to support Ontario events, and I recognize their efforts to provide an entertaining product to the audience,” Hayes said.  “On the other hand, the lack of a full piobaireachd event is a major drawback in my view.” In a letter to the organizers he added, “I recognize that the approach adopted seems to be modeled on the Lord Todd event, which will likely be entertaining for the audience.   It is just not the type of event that I would attend.”

Gandy was more pointed in his comments: “I think that they have made a big mistake. There are so few contests now that hold true to the MSR and Piobaireachd format. I could see making the evening a medley, but not convinced they’ll get a pile of people coming with the change, which has to be the driving force for this change, lack of attendance. Overall, to make a radical change like this, I don’t think is healthy, and who’s setting the parameters on how to judge this also? If their ‘Lord Todd’ set-up works, then great, but I think it’s a shame that they have totally changed the event.”

By contrast, another long-time Livingstone competitor, Michael Grey of Dundas, Ontario, welcomed the changes.

“I’m happy to see this context try something new,” Grey said. “Short of asking that each player add a trio of back-up singers this format is about as interesting as solo piping gets. The contest has suffered poor crowd turnouts over the last few years, so I’m glad to see the organizers try something new and try and keep the contest alive.”

In recent years the daytime Piobaireachd competition has attracted a handful of listeners, while the evening Light Music – normally an own-choice March, Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe & Jig – brings in about 60 people. By contrast, the Todd Bar event has normally been a standing-room-only event considered one of the hottest tickets during the World’s Week schedule.


  1. While I did comment that I am not a fan of the changes, I also pointed out that I was going to be on two weeks vacation right before, only arriving home a few days before the contest so I would not have time to prepare, my descision to NOT compete was made easy due to that. I have enjoyed the Lord Todd events both as a player and as a judge one year and it’s known there that the judges are spread out amongst the crowd. It’s my hope that they figure out all the judging issues and that they get back to some of those crowds that used to show up in the 80’s Bruce Gandy

  2. It seems odd that when we are constantly battling on how to improve the standard, we let attendance dictate the type of competition to hold. While I’ve attended the Lord Todd contest but not the Livingstone; it seems to me that this could have been done slightly different. Maybe by simply scrapping the HP/Jig for a 10 minute medley? Not sure, just seems that by asking world class competitors to submit tunes with the same requirement as a grade 4 contest isn’t a very good idea i.e. the ground of a piob. I think the way it was is certainaly better suited at getting North American players ready for any big contest over seas. imo.

  3. My father started this contest with the Eagle Pipers Contest in Edinburgh as the model. That contest consisted of an M/S/R and a H/J. It was held in the height of the solo piping season, staged in Edinburgh, a hot bed of piping enthusiasm, and filled the hall routinely. After a while, I persuaded my dad to introduce the piobaireachd event, thinking to give the contest the cache of a major event. I may have been wrong to do that, but I don’t think so. In the many years that I attended as a player or listener, I doubt there was ever much trouble getting a good seat. Comparisons are odious as the saying goes, but it’s quite wrongheaded to compare the Livingstone to the Lord Todd event. That takes place in what has become meeting central for every piper and drummer in the world. The Todd is filled to spilling over every night, and what better way to have fun than to enjoy a pint and listen to the best on the planet? A ready made, not to say captive audience. As ever, geography is an enemy of piping in North America. No amount of tinkering with the format is likely to draw people from Detroit, Ottawa, Hamilton or Sudbury. I suspect the players could perform in native costume, or no costume at all, and we’d still have trouble filling a hall. But these events are hugely important and they must be preserved. The only way to do this is to follow the example of Bob Worrall’s management of the Sherriff. Many sponsors for modest amounts of money each, and bingo…financial stability. The event flourishes, and the audience can be large or small. The needs of the players are met, and that’s what’s important.

  4. I wonder if part of the attendance problem is the time of year. It may be good timing from the competitors’ point of view, since it’s a warm-up for them for the season that’s about to start — but from an audience point of view, it would be a lot easier to spend a day indoors sometime between November and April!

  5. After reading what Mr. Livingstone had to say about the event that he clearly has good insight on, and after reading some other articles dealing with competition formats, and how present our music to the public and so on, I ask this… Why does it need to be changed at all? This contest was started by a piper for pipers. Not as a fundraiser (correct me if I’m wrong please), or a huge concert. It’s very classy looking from what I’ve seen and there’s a lot to be said for having a regal contest that doesn’t involve glow sticks and after party, after parties. (see winterstorm). It sounds like the first thing to look at, is the date of the event. Start there. And then subtley make your changes. Maybe keep the original format but add on another. We are always quick to replace something, why not add to the events allure. Make it a destination event for competitors. The more of them you draw in, the public you’ll draw in. If that fails, see about getting some glow sticks.



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