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.