Opinion: Time for a reset
The rest of the 2020 competition year is for all purposes done. Pipers and drummers are, for the most part stuck at home, and gatherings of any substantial number are prohibited.
It’s a situation none of us wants, but it is necessary to beat a disease that is otherwise beyond our control. Everyone, to a person, is trying to make the best of it, finding new and different ways to get things done, discovering that many parts of life can continue with technology, with ingenuity, and with creativity.
We’re all changing and adapting to the times. Meetings and competitions are online; we’re learning new repertoire and improving our skills.
The competition piping and drumming world has been in a rut for a long, long time. Most everyone seems to want change, but change has been almost impossible.
Why? Mainly because of time. We simply have not had the time to allow change to sink in, to try new things, to give creativity time to gel. No sooner than we try something substantially new do we declare it a failure because it didn’t receive 100% adoption. So, we go back to the same-old safe. Competition formats. Musical genres. Money-wasting associations. Bad habits routed in traditions that no one has the time to confront, much less change.
The last two months have demonstrated that we can embrace change for the better. We can rise to the challenge of doing things differently. And with possibly another six months, a year, or even longer before things get back to the previous normal, we have the luxury of time to adjust even more.
Associations don’t need in-person meetings. If most businesses on earth can manage their business using Zoom or some other platform, it’s evident that piping and drumming associations can dispense with expensive in-person travel and accommodation with the members’ footing the bill. Annual general meetings and other official gatherings can and should be online to enable far more attendance with no travel, financial or time restrictions. It’s the end of the gravy train for executives and administrators who are in it for the wrong reasons, and they will drop out.
The World’s won’t be the be-all, end-all. Again, we love the World’s. pipes|drums has given the event more positive coverage than any media outlet in the world for the last 35 years. But this crisis will remind pipe bands that the World’s or any competition is not everything. Community is more critical than cobbling together strangers to try to win a prize. More bands will have a chance to return to local roots, feeding more local competition and local performance with a locally-based and available group. The newfound appreciation for community will improve the sustainability of bands, associations and events.
Remodel the World’s. While the rest of the world reconsiders the value of that event, the organizers of the World Championships can rethink the whole thing. Endless streams of 200 bands and multitudes of events scattered all over a weather-susceptible park are not ideal for pipers, drummers or punters. Make the World Championship a true World Championship for the world’s elite bands. Call it something else if you need to (Champions of the Universe? InterGalctic Supreme Championship? Universal Championship?), and go ahead and hold the World Championship separately for the other grades. But stage a true Supreme Championship, just like any other sport or art, that is reserved for the very best in a comfortable venue that showcases the art to its fullest potential, on stage, performers facing their audience.
Associations will need to be creative. It’s a good bet that there will be a lot few Highland games, and possibly none for even a year. If associations are going to continue, they need to provide value for members and listeners. That means coming up with new approaches to competitions, performances, instruction and fun. The associations that don’t or can’t or fail to do that will be replaced by new ones that will.
Try new formats. If we hear another person say that pipe and competitions should be like Breton bagad contests that emphasize creativity, orchestration and performance, we’ll gag. But they are right, and they have always been right. So, now is the time to reconsider the worn-out constraints we traditionally inflict on bands and soloists. Allow them to deliver new and creative music, not the compulsory figures of MSRs, too-brief medleys and too-few judges with too much power.
We recognize that some pipers and drummers like things just so. They like the tradition and the familiarity of playing and hearing and doing the same things year after year. We respect that. But we think that the majority of competition pipers and drummers and members of associations want to try new things and are willing to implement changes, if only there were time enough to do that.
We are in a time of change. There’s now time to reassess, to be creative and to implement change so that, when we get back at it, we can embrace the familiar and the new.
And it’s about time we did.
Balmoral School to Zoom this summer
April 30, 2020