Oban and Inverness possibly considering limiting entry for Clasp, Senior Piob
The Argyllshire Gathering at Oban and Inverness’s Northern Meeting are possibly considering limiting entry to the prestigious Senior Piobaireachd and Clasp piobaireachd competitions, respectively, due to concerns about the number of competitors and duration of the competitions in 2023.
Both events have traditionally been automatically open in perpetuity to pipers who have won one or both of the Highland Society of London Gold Medals.
The Piobaireachd Society is responsible for creating the annual prescribed “Set Tunes” for the Clasp, Senior Piobaireachd, Gold Medals and Silver Medals held at Oban and Inverness. The gatherings are not hide-bound to follow the lists, which are only recommended by the Society, but they have always done so since at least the 1920s.
In 2022, the Piobaireachd Society went unorthodox with its Senior and Clasp events list. Instead of a more typical one-year list of six or eight tunes to choose from, contestants had to pick and submit six tunes from a list of 54 extra-long and challenging piobaireachds. Rather than the list being only for one year, it would remain for five years, until 2027, with pipers having to alter what they submit in successive years to avoid repetition and promote variety.
The system appears to have resulted in more pipers than usual entering because many could draw from music they already had in their repertoire. With a more significant entry and much longer tunes on average, the events ran for more than eight hours, setting organizers, competitors and judges’ teeth on edge.
With tuning included, many compositions mean a piper would be on stage for 25 to 30 minutes. The 2023 Clasp and Senior Piobaireachd had entries of 23.
“With a closing date, we will be advised of who is competing much earlier in line with the other competitions.” – Torquil Telfer
Torquil Telfer, an organizer of the piping competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering, confirmed that they are considering their options, but one possibility is creating a deadline for entering the Senior Piobaireachd, something the competition has never had. Theoretically, a piper who qualifies to play in the event could show up that morning and be permitted to play.
“Essentially, competitors could show up on the day of the competition, but this did not happen in practice,” Telfer said. “With a closing date, we will be advised of who is competing much earlier in line with the other competitions.”
Telfer stressed that by moving the Former Winners March, Strathspey & Reel – an event whose contestants qualify by winning the A-Grade light music at Oban – to the Argyllshire Gathering Halls.
“This has resulted in being able to start before the Senior Piobaireachd has finished,” he added. “Previously, these followed each other in the Corran Halls.”
According to sources close to the Northern Meeting, the Inverness competition has not yet discussed the matter but will likely come up at the next organizational meeting.
Reportedly also under consideration is grading those eligible to compete in the events. Presumably, those that a committee deems unable or unlikely to win the prize would have their entry rejected. The possibility that the entries to the Former Winners’ MSRs at both gatherings might be limited has also been alleged.
Perhaps the most famous qualifying competition for individuals is the Masters Tournament for golf at Augusta, Georgia. Like the Clasp and Senior Piobaireachd, Masters Champions are eligible to play in the event for the rest of their lives without question.
While that rule remains, older Masters champions like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson have been encouraged not to compete, and more recently, past champions in their sixties have also been dissuaded.
One piper eligible to compete in the Clasp and Senior Piobaireachd, who spoke on condition his name not be used, “Tradition is very important. It always has been the case that winning the Gold Medal or qualifying for the Former Winners MSR gave you the automatic right to enter that event. Why change now?”
When asked if the Competing Pipers Association had a collective opinion on possibly limiting entry to the world’s top non-invitational piobaireachd competitions, President Derek Midgley said that the organization has yet to discuss the matter.
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