Published: December 10, 2020

Opinion: What really matters is the music and the people

Our recent P-Ms’ Forum conversation with Chris Armstrong, Alan Bevan and Alen Tully of ScottishPower, SFU and St. Laurence O’Toole, respectively, was full of refreshing revelations, mainly because it was so frank and honest and, in a word, ground-breaking.

Such candid discussion by three leaders of Grade 1 bands, especially bands that were and presumably still are on the brink of winning a World Championship, was ear-opening. Usually, active competitors clam up, toe a party line, reluctant to suggest anything but confidence and strength.

But, if you haven’t heard the phrase enough, these are extraordinary times. The pandemic has reminded us that the piping and drumming hobby is, by comparison, insignificant and also that it’s the frivolous stuff that makes life so enjoyable. It also reminds us that we’re all vulnerable, and with that recognition comes realization and enlightenment.

Chris Armstrong’s admission that he has barely picked up his pipes since March was at once surprising and comforting, as was Alen Tully’s disclosure that, without competition driving him, he’s had to search for inspiration to play his chanter.

In the end, they’re just like the rest of us: human beings with sensitivities and vulnerabilities. We might recognize our own shortcomings, but we somehow might mistakenly think that our heroes don’t experience them, too.


Let’s all agree that clinically perfect music is unattainable. We then might be able to reset what all this stuff is actually about and get back at it sooner, with more happiness and emotional reward.


These leaders made it clear that they expect a significant decline in the number of competing pipers and drummers. Once the pandemic is for all purposes over, and bands can safely practice and eventually compete in-person, we could see markedly fewer players in the ranks of elite Grade 1 bands or Novice Juvenile or every band in between.

Without competition driving them, many pipers and drummers will discover other interests or find that once they set their chanters and sticks down for months, the motivation to get back into fighting form doesn’t return. Adults will appreciate the found time, while kids may well succumb to the constant barrage of other, less stressful, distractions constantly bidding for their time and attention.

It’s probably wishful thinking that there will be a full or even partial 2021 pipe band competition season in the Northern Hemisphere. We hope there will be, but perhaps there are benefits to another pause. Bands will need time to return to full form. Given that rosters will be smaller, they’ll need time to recruit new members or coax lapsed players back to the fold. It will be a process.

The pipe band competition machine can’t merely be revved up back to full throttle overnight. It will take months of commitment and patience to get back to the standards we expect of ourselves and that constant desire for unblemished, “perfect” performance.

Then again, perhaps this has also taught us that competition is not nearly as important as the camaraderie that comes with it. Maybe the pandemic teaches us that the cut-and-thrust of contests is secondary to the music and the people who play it.

None of us are perfect, and desiring flawlessness is a mug’s game. We’re all vulnerable and fragile. Blemishes and flaws make things human and beautiful, and music is no exception. Chasing the impossible can be soul-destroying, and many good souls have quit piping and drumming discouraged and frustrated.

Let’s all agree that clinically perfect music is unattainable. We then might be able to reset what all this stuff is actually about and get back at it sooner, with more happiness and emotional reward.

Perhaps our competition ethic can finally, once and for all, put the pursuit of perfection in the past. Let’s put the stuff that moves, inspires, and attracts us – the music and the people – first.

 


Related

P-Ms Video Forum: Armstrong, Bevan and Tully on pipe band life in the pandemic – Part 1


P-Ms Video Forum: Armstrong, Bevan and Tully on pipe band life in the pandemic – Part 2
December 4, 2020

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