Published: January 16, 2007

Depth of vision

The December issue of Piping Today, the quarterly print magazine of the National Piping Centre, arrived today. It’s by far the best publication that comes out of Scotland. (Price is $9.25 per issue for Canadians.)

In it is a puff piece about the Competing Pipers Association and its president, Simon McKerrell. Simon’s a really smart person, a lovely piper and a nice guy, but he says something that caught my attention. Talking about the always contentious selection process for the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering. The contentiousness usually revolves around non-UK pipers not getting in to the big events.

“Major prizes from overseas are taken into account,” McKerrell says in the article, “but the depth of field in Scotland ensures that the emphasis is placed on the Scottish track record. The depth of field in the other countries is just not great enough.”

To generalize that the Scottish games circuit is better than those of British Columbia or Ontario is, in a word, uninformed. I’m not sure if Simon has ever competed in these places, but I believe he has not. A quick browse of some of the Scottish games results from last year, and one will quickly see that the “depth of field” at most events is not that great. And the judging can be mysterious, if not downright laughable.

Scotland has no system for judging. Scotland has no unified grading system for competitors. Scotland has no set requirements from one competition to the next. Scotland does not even provide formal feedback to competitors. And from this rather haphazard approach comes superiority?

Simon’s sweeping statement essentially says that where you live has a great deal to do with whether you get to play at the big events (which, by the way, have become much bigger than they ever could have been exactly because of the interest of foreign players).

You only have to look at the rapid popularity and sound organization of events like Winter Storm to see that other non-Scottish options to Oban and Aviemore will be a reality quicker than these places may realize. But strangely, it seems that many of the Scottish events would be fine with that.

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