Jimmy McIntosh: the pipes|drums Interview from the Archives – Part 4
In Part 1 of Jimmy McIntosh: the pipes|drums Interview from the Archives, the late piping great discussed the piping climate of 1994, including problems between the EUSPBA and the PPBSO, testing and accreditation,, including problems between the EUSPBA and the PPBSO, testing and accreditation, and other issues of the time.
In Part 2, he went into more detail about the teaching styles of Robert Brown, Robert Nicol, Willie Ross and Donald MacLeod, and here, in Part 3, McIntosh talks about his favourite tunes, getting into the Cameron Highlanders as a “band boy,” and the evolution of the historic Naill pipe chanter, among many other topics.
Part 3 went into McIntosh’s little-known pre-solo piping career with pipe bands as the pipe-major of the Grade 2 NCR Pipe Band in the 1950s and ’60s.
Jimmy McIntosh passed away in his ninety-sixth year on February 8, 2021, leaving behind a legacy of study and teaching, impacting hundreds of pipers worldwide.
This is the final installment of the four-part interview.
pipes|drums: There seems to be a divide between Jim McIntosh and the Ontario piping scene. First, how do you respond to that statement, and, if you admit there has been a problem, perceived or otherwise, how can it be repaired?
Jimmy McIntosh: I think there has been a problem, and I recall the problems Ontario has had with the late John Wilson and Bill Livingstone. I have the minutes of the 1982 EUSPBA executive meeting before I moved to the United States. The president at that time, Donald Lindsay, and the executive committee were making efforts to get an agreement of reciprocity with the PPBSO. I was asked to go to Toronto as part of a delegation along with four other people. We were to meet with the Ontario executive to try to come to some agreement. Only four Ontario judges turned up to meet us.
I imagine that the divide has come about because of the EUSPBA’s decision on judges. There’s a rule –not made by me – in our association that anybody on our judges’ panel, if they wish to remain on the panel, has to be a member of our association. They also have to attend one of our judges’ meetings every two years. It was my idea to start the judges’ meetings, just as it was my idea for The Piobaireachd Society to start their judges’ meetings. Organizations have to try to get people to talk together face to face instead of behind each other’s back – it’s the sensible and civilized way to conduct business.
Once again, I didn’t make those rules, but as president of the association, it is my responsibility to see that it is carried out. One or two Ontario judges on our panel and some of our own people were removed from it, and I was blamed.
In August of 1992, I got a letter from Henry Roberts [then president of the PPBSO], stating that judges on the PPBSO panel had to take the PPBSO’s exams. I thought that I would support the PPBSO and take the exam. We were asking people to fulfill our requirements, so we should respect Ontario’s requirements. Joyce and I went up there, and we took the piobaireachd examination, and all the other EUSPBA judges were removed from the PPBSO panel until they took the Ontario exams, as were some Canadian judges.
In the EUSPBA, we don’t ask Ontario judges to take our exams. The judges who are on our panel are only asked to attend the judges’ seminar once every two years and pay a yearly membership fee of $25. That’s all.
p|d: What’s the reason for such a rule?
JM: If our association is going to progress, the people with the most knowledge are on the judges’ panel, and if all they do is judge, then the association is getting very little from their knowledge and experience. We decided to have a judges’ meeting every year and try to improve. We get a lot of benefit from the meetings. If the Ontario judges who were previously on our panel are really experienced people, then we would welcome their input into our association as well. They could choose if they wanted to stay on our panel, and all they had to do was attend the judges’ meeting every two years.
I regret that these people, for whatever reason, decided not to do that because the same people who were previously on our panel and decided not to fulfill our requirements are the people who in Ontario are asking me to fulfill your requirements. I can’t understand it; there’s something wrong somewhere. But it’s not me, I have never at any time refused to help people in Ontario with tunes when I’ve been asked about tunes or designing bagpipes as I have been asked in the past and have helped.
An Ontario judge who was judging there went around telling these people that he had a copy of a letter that I had sent around all the Highland games telling them not to hire Canadian judges.
We went up and took the examination, and I haven’t been notified yet if I passed. We’ve had no personal notification from the PPBSO. I’ve never consciously done anything to harm the PPBSO or the people in it.
In contrast, 18 months ago, I had a riot on my hands here. I was inundated with phone calls from branch chairmen and pipe-majors following the Celtic Classic competition. An Ontario judge who was judging there went around telling these people that he had a copy of a letter that I had sent around all the Highland games telling them not to hire Canadian judges. I called this judge and said we needed to talk. We met on a one-to-one basis, and I told him that I had heard he had a letter he claimed I had sent to games. He started hemming and hawing, and I asked again where the letter was and to show me a copy. He said he didn’t have it, that another judge had it. I asked who the other judge was, and he said it wouldn’t be right for him to tell me. I said, “Look, you’re coming into our association and interfering and causing trouble, and that’s irresponsible behaviour, and now you’re telling me that you can’t tell me. I think that there’s an obligation for you to tell me.” He finally said that he really didn’t have a letter. There was no letter. This situation just caused unneeded trouble in our association.
p|d: What can be done to patch things up?
JM: We had a meeting in 1992 at the Ligonier Games, and we again discussed reciprocity between panels. And I said that if you want reciprocity, you must be prepared to accept our panel, and the PPBSO said no. If we want reciprocity, we’ve got to accept each other’s judges’ panel. If you don’t, you’re really only talking about selective guest judging. So I said at that time if this situation is to be resolved, both associations have to make a decision that, if we want reciprocity, we have to standardize things like the judging fee, the way judges are treated, the requirements for both band and solo competitions. Both associations have got to decide if they really want to do these things. If we do, we have to sit down around a table and put everything on the table and start discussing it as equals.
We should put everything, including the actual judging exams, on the table, and we’ll all evaluate it and treat each other as equals.
p|d: But you must admit that some people on the EUSPBA judges panel haven’t proved themselves in competition outside of the eastern United States and perhaps don’t have the respect of those they would judge. They might have passed the exam, and it might be a very difficult test, but many would say that with enough education and coaching, anyone could pass it.
JM: I agree, and I think this applies to the PPBSO panel as well. When we took the exam for piobaireachd, I came out on top in the examination, and Joyce came out second. I don’t know who made the decision to put Joyce on B Piobaireachd because I don’t know who makes those decisions in the PPBSO, but it seemed to be based on personality rather than principle. Who has the authority and knowledge to make that decision?
Last year a piping judge was invited from the States to judge at Maxville, who has taken none of the PPBSO tests. If we’re going to solve the problem, then let’s both sit down around the table and make up a composite exam.
There’s a difference between someone who comes to your house every now and then and someone who comes on a regular basis every weekend.
p|d: Maybe it’s not in the interest of anybody to have reciprocity. Maybe the PPBSO should just keep their rules, the EUSPBA keep theirs, and each continues to invite people to judge as desired, and everyone is happy.
JM: I agree. Each organization should keep its panels and rules and have guest judges. But there’s a difference between someone who comes to your house every now and then and someone who comes on a regular basis every weekend. We would have an understanding in our association that we should have the use of our own judges, and they shouldn’t be away adjudicating in Ontario most of the time after we’d done all the work with them – and vice versa. I think that would be a simple way around it and there wouldn’t be any bickering and backbiting in that at all
p|d: Sounds like it would just be going back to what it was originally.
JM: That’s right. I have never set out to do anything to harm Ontario. I’ve never been that way. If I were in Ontario just now and a member of your association, I would be looking at things the same way.
p|d: What, if anything, can the eastern United States piping scene learn from Ontario?
JM: I think there is room for us both to learn from each other. This association has to learn to be independent. Ontario has for many years been an independent society. The PPBSO has done things to be self-sustaining, and that’s good because there is something wrong when you have to depend on other people to do your work for you. That’s a flaw in our administration; we have to learn not to have an inferiority complex. American pipers always look to their heritage for just a wee bit of Scottish blood, and if they have that wee bit of Scottish blood, it makes them feel like they can be better players. We’ve got to say that we are American, but we’re musicians, the same as the bagpipe is a musical instrument. We’ve all got 10 fingers. There is no difference between us or the Scots or anybody else.
Our solo players have got to learn to be much more single-minded, and that’s what the Ontario solo competitors appear to be. Ontario pipers are more single-minded about being good, about just making their presence more positive. We also can learn from the Ontario solo players about the quality of the bagpipe.
p|d: And how can Ontario learn from the United States?
JM: The Ontario society could learn from us how to treat their judges when they come into the association. There’s a feeling down here among the judges that they’re not terribly keen to go up to Ontario to judge because of being treated poorly.
The PPBSO could learn from our Friday evening competitions, giving the solo player a more professional environment to play in. Most of our major games are holding Open events on Friday evening now, and they have a great response.
I think Ontario could learn from us on compiling the judges’ exam and our judges’ program. Our program is much more comprehensive. We give judges a graduate exam beforehand, which is 12 piobaireachds, MSRs, etc., and we ask them to play at random from those before examiners to make sure that they have playing ability to begin with. Then we give them a judges’ seminar. Ours is more detailed and comprehensive than the PPBSO’s. Unlike Ontario’s, our exam is conducted without revealing the candidate’s names until after test scores are complete. We give a written paper on piobaireachd and another on light music, and then give them live performances to judge. I bring in people to play different grades, and I tell them to play things wrongly. Six piobaireachds and six MSRs are played, and the candidates sit with crit sheets and write the criticisms for each of those performances. This is tested against a master sheet.
The examination papers are then sent to examiners. The sheets are only numbered, with no names on them, so the examiners don’t know whose papers they are marking. The successful competitors are sent a letter congratulating them. The people who fail are sent a letter telling them that they have failed, that they may apply again, and that they should study in this particular aspect before they will be invited to try again. The successful candidates then go for a season as apprentice judges, sitting with experienced judges, and their criticism sheets are sent to the examiners. The examiners then advise them as to how to write more positive criticism sheets.
I have said that the judges should be used to improve the standard of playing through criticism sheets. A judge isn’t just there to give a placing, but to provide positive help to a competitor by their criticism sheet. That’s our program, and I think it’s superior to what’s being done in Ontario.
p|d: What do you think of the Association of Piping Adjudicators?
JM: I think the whole situation is a tragedy. It gives a very poor picture of the piping world. I only have second-hand knowledge from talking to people in Scotland and some of the members who were over here last summer, and I can understand some of the feelings they have. I agree with some of the things the APA stands for, but I think that their method of going about the business is totally wrong. As soon as the APA was formed, they started changing all of their objectives. At first, it was judges’ fees would be equal to the top prize money, and then they changed it to something else, and something else and then something else. I agree with the reservations they had about some of the people judging some of the competitions. But when the APA formed their list of judges, the first thing they did was to invite some of their friends on to the panel. That undermined the whole thing. In trying to form the APA it was wrong to damage The Piobaireachd Society.
I’ve lost some friends because I’ve done things for the membership rather than for them. I won’t compromise myself to remain friends with someone. I can’t do that.
By forming this other association and turning around and leaving the Piobaireachd Society, the APA were immediately saying more or less that the problems they were trying to solve are the fault of The Piobaireachd Society. I’m not saying that The Piobaireachd Society shouldn’t shoulder some of the blame, but part of the problem is that until they have some system of testing or examining people to be judges, it doesn’t matter if someone has won the Gold Medal or not. I’ve put myself forward for examinations. If you know what you’re talking about, and you know your stuff, then it’s easy. What’s the problem with doing an examination? You could say I’m not going to do it on principle, but that’s a poor reason for not doing something for piping. Although you’ve won the Gold Medal, it’s no guarantee that you’re going to be a good judge. I’ve sat with people who I would have thought had all that, and I didn’t think they were good judges. There’s no guarantee that a great competitor is qualified to judge, especially for competitions at the level that The Piobaireachd Society usually judges. What other form of art or music would you become an adjudicator or examiner in without doing some type of testing? It just wouldn’t be entertained.
Maybe I’m obsessed with helping, but it has been my life. I don’t know any other way to think than to think about helping piping and standards and so forth. I’ve lost some friends because I’ve done things for the membership rather than for them. I won’t compromise myself to remain friends with someone. I can’t do that.
p|d: Seumas MacNeill said that it’s in his blood that he has to correct people. Is it in your blood to teach and improve things?
JM: I remember Seumas MacNeill saying something to me at the Timmins school one time. Some of the students were sitting around playing their practice chanters, and I passed, and this youngster was playing something, and it was wrong, and I just had to stop and put my dinner tray down to correct him. Seumas remarked, “You know, you’ve just got to be thinking that way. It’s just the way you are.” It is just the way I am.
It hurts me that people have a conception of me being a troublemaker and that I want to be at odds with people. I don’t. I just have to do things the right way. I hate to see people being misled and wasting their time.
p|d: What would you still like to achieve in your piping career?
JM: I’d like to play at Inverness again. I’d like to compete in the Clasp when I am 70. I love Inverness. I always felt that it was special. It would appear that I might be to blame for the troubles between our association and the PPBSO. I’d like to resolve this issue before I finish as president.
p|d: And what does being awarded the MBE for services to piping mean to you?
JM: I feel very honoured. All my teachers, with the exception of Bob Nicol, were similarly honoured, and while I don’t class myself with them, it is very nice to feel I have made a contribution that was thought worthy of recognition. It also brings recognition to our association and, I hope, to American piping. I’ll still be working as hard as ever for piping.
Stay tuned to pipes|drums for another in our series of extensive and exclusive interview with the greats of piping and drumming.
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