April 27, 2014

Greater expectations

At 83.5" × 108.7", Caillebotte's "Paris Street, Rainy Day" is a big picture.At the recent PPBSO judges’ seminar there was an interesting section on the various solo piping and drumming grades. The gathering of about 25 adjudicators separated into smaller groups to discuss and determine what our expectations are in terms of tuning/tone, musicality and technique ranging from Grade 5 to Professional.

Obviously expectations of competitors rise along with the grades, with expression and music perhaps being the last piece to master in the complicated puzzle. That’s fair. Our master musicians at the top are those who have the technique and the tone – those are givens. But what separates the good from the great is expression, musical nuance and sophistication of delivery.

Not all judges, though, are up to the task of separating that musical nuance. Too many judges fall into the trap of looking for the easy out: they look for technical problems, like a dropped doubling or a slightly flat note, and they either ignore or are unable to recognize the bigger musical picture.

To me, apart from a corrupt adjudicator, these little-picture thinkers are the worst judges. They sit there and wait for an objective technical error, rather than reward the subjective musical side.

In addition to judges expecting more of competitors as the grades rise, competitors also expect more of the judges. By the time a piper or drummer reaches the top amateur and professional grades, they should expect to be rewarded for musical superiority, and they expect that, at the very least, they are assessed by adjudicators who are actually capable of making that judgment call.

The famous Andrew Wright famously said, “I’d rather give the prize to someone who went off the tune than someone who was never on it.”

Anyone can hear and punish technical mistakes. It takes a superior judge to recognize and reward superior music.


  1. Very well said! There’s no point (or little point) in bands becoming more and more finely attuned on the musical side (now that technicality and matters to do with the instrument itself are at such a high level) if in competition the things that can really separate the sheep from the goats are not being acknowledged sufficiently or recognised for what they are, purely because judges are incapable of handling them. You mention Andrew Wright and I must say I’ve found myself thinking if there were more of him, it would be a very good thing. I once sat in a class in which he spoke for about ten minutes about how to approach (never mind actually play) a note in the Ground of a Piobaireachd . But what he was involved with there was the absolute fine detail, the thinking behind the note, the mindset with which to approach it, and WHAT a difference that made to actually thinking about the music and playing it. He used the example of how to step on to a bus–the bus approaches and stops, and he talked about the different ways you could step onto the bus, relating that to how to approach and play this particular note. Such an approach is common in high level tuition on other instruments, so why not the bagpipe? How nice it would be if all judges were looking for sophistication, finesse, fine detail in the music, subtlety, nuance, etc rather than ‘wrong’ notes, early E’s, length of medleys, etc etc etc. Just realising this is the double of a post I wrote on Dunsire Forums recently on harmony writing. Bring on sophistication and nuance, and give the wrong notes and missing gracenotes a rest!!! Aim higher for all our sakes, and expect more.

  2. I don’t know, say a multiple choice checklist and a score out of 10 for each item on a crit sheet and the judge can focus on the best and worst grade of his/her choice and tally them up. it would be more accurate than you think, as the number of events go up, wins and results are less valuable anyway. just mass producing results now as the piping community is hardly the bespoke world it once inhabited



Forgotten Password?