Kingston taking a more Scottish style approach to solos
Scotland invented solo piping competition, grouping players by age, those 18 and younger playing in “juniors,” those older than 18 playing in “senior” and, by and large, the same system exists today.
At first, the rest of the world copied it, and then tried to improve on it by creating a system of amateur grades categorized not by age, but by playing ability.
This year, the Rob Roy Kingston Scottish Festival is trying something new, going back to something old, by scrapping grades for solo entrants, instead dividing all contestants into age groups, regardless of playing ability.
It’s a simple approach: 13 and under, 15 and under, and 18 and under, said organizer Scott Bell, who has been running the spring outdoor contest for the last 15 years.
“We have found in the last couple of years that our event has become very large for a group of volunteers to handle,” he said. “We were looking for a way to reduce the number of solo events, among other changes, and thought we would try something completely different this year. When the Rob Roy Kingston Scottish Festival first started, we wanted to be a little different from the traditional Ontario Highland games.”
Over the years, the event has been keen to give new concepts a go, including having all four band judges assess ensemble only, with no delineation of piping and drumming sections. The competition has also operated outside of the local Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, happy to go its own way, even if it meant a reduction of entries.
“Over the years we got away from that slightly and started to very much resemble a PPBSO contest,” Bell continued. “When we looked to revamp the solos this year, we thought that we would try a different approach. Given our long-time commitment to teaching, we decide to place our focus on youth. We have abandoned traditional Ontario events in favour of three age category events in piping and snare drumming. There are lots of opportunities for players to compete in ‘traditional’ solo events over the course of the summer. This is something a little different.”
Bell is the leader of the Rob Roy Pipe Band organization in the Kingston area, and has led teaching initiatives for more than 20 years, producing along the way dozens of new pipers and drummers, including several who have achieved the Professional grade.
Bell added that the contest this year will drop the usual medals awarded to solo prize-winners, and instead attracted sponsors for each event, each donating more practical prizes. He said that sponsors will have their name prominently displayed in front of the contest and in the program.
According to Bell, entries so far have been slow to come in for the May 26th event, but he expects them to increase as pipers, drummers and bands finalize their plans.