Published: April 22, 2005


Been thinking about “authority.” It’s a word you hear and read a lot in high-brow piping circles. There must be “authority” to everything we play. Settings of set tunes aren’t acceptable without recognized “authority.” The Piping Times purports to be an “authority” on piping.

I’m all for knowledgable and respected people providing advice and constructive criticism to others, and if that’s authority, great. But in musical terms, what constitutes authority? Who suddenly has a right to be an authority on the way the music should be played? Why do we always try to limit our music to something that has already been done and established and accepted?

I’ve always found it funny that winning certain prizes makes people an authority. Gold Medals won by those who really know only a handful of tunes are suddenly catapulted into “authority” territory, while guys who toiled in the contests for years who know more than 100 tunes and every one of their settings are overlooked.

A friend of mine was asked by a judge after he played in a piobaireachd contest, “Who is the ‘authority’ for the way you played that tune?” His response was, “Me.” It was as if the judge needed some recognized name attached to the tune to award a prize. Not having that gave the judge enough courage to leave my friend out of the prizes. What a crock.

Shouldn’t we stop using “authority” as a crutch for our own broken courage, and simply play and award prizes to the music that we like?

“I fought authority, authority always wins,” sang John Mellencamp before he had the courage to banish the “Cougar” name given to him by music-business “authorities.”

It’s time we banished the word “authority” from piping. It’s creepy.



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