September 28, 2007

Hatfields and McCoys

Git awf ma land!
So much of the piping and drumming world involves competition that I think it attracts highly competitive people. The notion of “art for art’s sake” has never really worked that well with bands and soloists who primarily want to do well in competition. Our desire to win can sometimes get the best of us, and even cause us to suspect the worst of our fellow pipers and drummers.

For decades now I have been intrigued by cross-town pipe band rivalries. I’ve been a member of bands in Canada, the United States and Scotland, and have observed the interaction between groups that share the same region. All three of those places have rivalries, but they differ in intensity from country to country.

Scotland: rival bands may seem to resent one another, but at the end of the day they’ll share a laugh and a pint together, not letting the competitive fire get the best of them. It’s usually a quietly supportive community with an atmosphere of respect. The “Boo Brigade” (thanks, RW) that haunts some of the Scottish-based online forums is really a tiny minority of muckrakers, and is really no reflection of the vast majority of UK pipers and drummers.

Canada: there is very little serious animosity between bands from the same city or region. In fact, bands tend to intermingle and completely respect each other. Yes, they go head-to-head on the field, and compete for players, but I can’t remember anything a congenial atmosphere before, during and after a contest. Like the country itself, the scene is peaceful and just a bit bland, but ultimately produces very high standard bands.

United States: some of the points above hold true, but it seems that in many cities with more than one band there exists an ugly feud. I’ve noted that in otherwise successful piping and drumming cities there are situations where cross-town bands seem to despise each other.

Learning piping in St. Louis (home of the 10-time World Series Champion Cardinals), there was always this weird (in hindsight) back-biting that went on between bands. I went to college in St. Paul, Minnesota, and there was a very similar atmosphere there. I bought into it, and was as much to blame as anyone for perpetuating it. Maybe years have softened my perspective and readers will tell me I’m deluded, but it just seems to me that all too often US cities end up under-achieving in quality because they can’t find common ground with their rivals.

So what happens? Well, often two or three pretty good bands – usually Grade 3 or Grade 4 – will co-exist in the city, rather than having one or two really good band(s). Perhaps that’s what some people prefer, but I also often see people in those cities shake their head, wishing that one day an “all-star” band could be created. Occasionally, these places seem to get everyone together and great things happen for about a year, until it crumbles and a new feud begins.

My comments here aren’t intended to do anything but raise a point, or a concern, about these situations and, as always, to try to evoke constructive dialog. About 15 years ago I wrote what I intended to be a well intentioned editorial with observations about why piping and drumming in the US might be hindered or under-achieve. Due to my failure to get my points across clearly, it was misinterpreted and I received a lot of derision and abuse, with people attacking me personally. I learned a lot from that, and understand (occasionally, anyway) when some things are better left unsaid.

But every time I hear about viciousness between cross-town bands, regardless of what country they’re from, it saddens and frustrates me, especially when there’s so much musical talent and potential that could be realized if they only got together.

Often when you observe a situation from the outside you can more easily see a solution. To me, anyway, the solution to rivalries that get the better of people is to find camaraderie from common ground, which is always the music itself. After all, it’s only piping and drumming.




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