February 22, 2007

Big MAP attack

Okay, I am going to say it: the whole RSPBA MAP thing is a crock. The more I think about it, the more it does not make sense. I have written positive things about MAP in the past, but I have since changed my mind.

The intent of the Musical Appreciation and Presentation initiative is to train newer pipers and drummers in “the fundamentals.” That’s great, but I have decided that what went on before was training people just fine. The Grade 1 standard today is higher than it has ever been. In fact, standards throughout the grades have risen dramatically over the last 20 years. Yes, synthetic things are making it easier to create good tone, but people are playing better than ever, too. And this has happened without MAP-like dogged adherence to classically boring tunes.

MAP is a step backwards. The teaching trend in piping and most musical instruments is to get kids playing tunes and on the full instrument quickly. My daughter started piano lessons at age five, and was playing actual songs in a matter of weeks, and coming up on two years later is still enjoying it and doing well. The traditional notion that piping students have to spend a year or more on the practice chanter before touching a set of pipes is today considered wrong-headed by most. There’s less emphasis on mastering scales and technique and more on engaging the student in something fun.

Playing “Greenwoodside” all summer is not fun. It’s Jack Bauer-esque torture. Listening to it again and again is even worse. I suggest that MAP is more about making it easier for judges and using fewer of them so as to cut costs, than it is about furthering the art of the pipe band. It’s about some artificial preservation of old standards.

Sound familiar? It will to anyone who competes in piobaireachd competitions. And no kid has ever wanted to take up the pipes because of piobaireachd. Piobaireachd for the last 100 years has been subjected to its own MAP-like doctrine that says it must be this way or else. There is a strong school of thought that the effort to standardize piobaireachd settings was really an attempt to make the judging of the music easier at a time when the people doing the judging couldn’t carry G.S. McLellan’s spats, let alone determine if he played a better “An daorach mhor” than Willie Ross.

I suggest that MAP just begs kids to quit out of sheer boredom. It artificially clings to something that just isn’t. It props up tunes that few, if they had a choice, would seriously want to play, and no one, but no one, would want to play them all summer long with no one else listening for fear that their ears would start to bleed.

I may still change my mind on MAP. But no other association in the world is adopting it. And, if it indeed is the right thing to do, then we will see a huge number of Grade 4 UK bands promoted to Grade 3 next year. Don’t hold your breath.




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