August 02, 2010

In art, only hate itself should be hated

The only thing I really hate is hatred. When people say that they “hate” piobaireachd, a new pipe band medley, or, for that matter, any form of music or art, it bothers me. You can prefer one style more than another, or love a certain sound or sight, but why would anyone hate something as truly harmless as art?

You hear people in piping and drumming use the hate word frequently. “I hate that tune.” “I really hate what bass-sections are doing these days.” “I hate that band’s music.” It’s a word that, unfortunately, seems to be part of the piping and drumming tradition, perhaps borne of spite and envy and the ever-present need people seem to feel to compete on any level.

Some like to try to get a competitive edge by tearing down or belittling things they’re threatened by. Rather than minding only what they do themselves, they take a negative tack and discredit different approaches by using hateful language.

The other day I thought about different types of music. Like anyone else, I prefer some music more than others. But I can’t think of any music – whether classical, jazz, hip-hop or whatever – that I wouldn’t listen to and try to appreciate, if not enjoy.

My musical preferences run from hard rock to country to punk to bubblegum pop, even, and when it comes to music, I have many guilty pleasures. I was ridiculed mercilessly in the 1980s for admitting that I liked Debbie Gibson’s “Only In My Dreams” (which I maintain to this day is an intoxicating melody).

There is a sordid custom in piping to tear down that which threatens us. Dr. William Donaldson’s The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society is a seminal study of just such an example, in which piobaireachd was standardized by a group that set out to control the music in part by denigrating its history. The irony of ironies was that, when Donaldson’s book emerged, there was a strong and vocal attempt to – what else? – discredit his research, not to mention his training as a piper, each of which are impeccable.

There are those who are completely stuck in a hateful rut and, sadly, these folks all too often end up in positions of power. They try to eliminate things that threaten them by spreading hateful ideas, discrediting and belittling anything that is a challenge to their past and their status. They fancy themselves the protectors of some faith that really cannot exist in any art that wants to live in the present and future.

When it comes to art, the only thing to hate is hate itself.


  1. A very good post, Andrew. If I had written something similar I probably would’ve linked to a different band performance to underscore “that band’s music” – what am I like! I love the grand idea of your post but doubt I, for one, can ever reach the lofty, Dalai Lama-like heights of not “hating” some music. I think, too, when many of us say “hate” in a musical context (or, say, for instance, in a fashion context, like: “I hate it when guys walk around with their pants on the ground”, or, “I hate Debbie Gibson’s shoulder pads”), we really just mean we don’t like it. It’s not hate in that hatey-hate dictionary way.

    I do agree on the core of what you’re saying: we generally don’t bother much to check out tunes or music we “hate” on first listen. I’m not sure I believe many who say otherwise – I write that respectfully.

  2. “As truly harmless as art”?! This machine kills fascists! Perhaps the biggest insult to any artist is that their work is unable to affect others, positively or negatively. By saying such, you have sterilized art! I would argue that, in regards to art, is better to feel something, even “hate” or dislike, than nothing. Though one could never be integrated into our society if they always spoke their minds, I appreciate those who forego a heightened sense of decorum to saywhattheymean/meanwhattheysay. Agreed, take some time to come to a conclusion and formulate some reasons as to why. But if you’ve done that, I see no problem in expressing your opinion whether Hate or Love or Apathy or Whatever. If you remove hate as a genuine reaction to art, then I think you have closed the door on every other possible emotional response, devitalizing art altogether. But I agree with you, it is sad when “powerful” people force their opinions on others and attempt to squash the spread and diversity of art.

    PS- Debbie Gibson, yes!

  3. I agree there’s hating and hating. I can say I hate the fact that it’s another dull rainy day here in Scotland, but actually if truth be told I like the contrasts. But you do hear people saying they really do hate certain things- music, modern art-whatever. And that can be expressed with real venom. Well in my experience, that hatred is usually a projection of some internal disgust within the person himself/herself. The person who barricades themselves in to a ring fenced enclosure, but would love more than anything else, to be free, is perhaps understandably going to spit and snipe at those out there who have that freedom that they so desperately seek for themselves. So it’s more a reflection of a conflicted struggle within the person who hates, rather than any true assessment of a kind of music or piece of art, or whatever it is that the hatred is supposedly aimed at. And yes, a liberal sprinkling of jealousy and envy just to spice the whole thing up. At least the person hating, is feeling Something, which might be marginally better than feeling nothing at all. But a wee bit of love somewhere in the mix would be no bad thing.

  4. Over the last 50-100 years we’ve really seen a “watering down” of many terms, labels and emotions. Hatred indicates a deep-seated emotional and visceral response that commonly implies covertly or openly some lack or reasoning or objectivity associatated with it. This over application is often used as a point of emphasis, eg I dislike, am bored by, don’t understand piobaireachd, but as a point of emphasis I will over respond and use the word hate.

    Similarly we have Seinfield’s notorious “soup NAZI”. Well, he wasn’t a NAZI at all, just a dogmatic and overbearing short order cook. He was not racist, genocidal, or an attempted world conquerer and enslaver. The increasingly common usage of NAZI limits and belttles the profound historical, emotional and terrifying impact of that label. It also implies that one has to be crazy, psychotic, neurotic to be a NAZI, when the truth is many NAZI’s were quite ordinary people who did terrible, terrible things. Things that, give the right circumstances any of us may be just as capable of doing.

    What this has done is watered down the impact of language and expression. What terms do I use when I really and truely HATE something, or someone is really and truely a NAZI, with all the terror and cruelty that that term should evoke.

    Laguages have many subtleties, textures and neuances(sp), too many of us (myself included) describe the world and our interactions as if we never grew out of our teenage years, when everything was black and white, crystal-clear and we had all the answers and for that matter all the questions.

    Maybe we should use the expression and interpretation of language in same way we express and interpete a piobaireachd.


  5. I have to agree that in this context, “hate” is generally used as a euphemism for “don’t much care for,” much as “love” is used as a substitute for “like.” I may say a “love” rice pudding, but don’t expect to find me in bed with it. Having said that, music elicits strong emotional reactions. Just as I’ve heard performances that make me feel elated or inspired, I’ve also heard performances that have made me feel disappointed or even angry. In piping I feel this when what should be an uplifting performance is compromised by poor judgement in one area, or when a performance is so poorly presented or executed that it does the opposite of what it is meant to do. I might say I’ve come close to hating the latter on occasion because it puts in a very bad light the art form I’ve dedicated my life to.

  6. What a great selection of comments. I didn’t mean to suggest that the throwaway colloquial use of “hate” should be interpreted literally. Perhaps saying “hate” is everywhere, but I do think it’s particularly well-worn in piping circles and we were an early adopter of its casual use. Interesting that both Kent and Nick bring in Nazism/fascism, real or figurative. A fundamental tenet of fascism is to undermine and discredit that which threatens — and that practice is completely hateful, and it happens ALL THE TIME in piping and drumming. I’m not suggesting for a minute that we have to love everything, particularly if we’re to continue with competition and judging. But we should at least respect things that are different, listen closely, learn from them and then draw our own conclusions. This business of summarily discrediting things we don’t bother even to try to understand should be part of piping’s unenlightened past. We should reject those who routinely spread hatred.

  7. Just a simple observation, but “hate” doesn’t mean you are ignorant of something. “Hate” itself is the generic word, and implies that one is inflamed with extreme dislike – it doesn’t speak to the person’s knowledge or insight.

    By dissmissing and rejecting anyone who claims to “hate” something aren’t you foregoing the opportunity to “respect things that are different, listen closely, learn from them and then draw our own conclusions”. Maybe that person has a very infomrned viewpoint that is that they “hate” something, maybe they will even be able to very clearly articulate what they specifically hate about it.

  8. I didn’t HATE it, but it wasn’t AWESOME or BRILLIANT either. Unfortunately, without such terms we’d all respond like numb over-medicated types. It was OKAY I guess.

    As we all know, competitve piping can be quite divisive. I don’t know if it is so much the idiom itself as it might be our common ancestry. Perhaps there is something to the theory of genetic memory. Except now we have replaced disdain for neighboring names and tartans with the way one pulses a strathspey….

  9. What Andrew points out is perhaps symptomatic of twist-mouth negativity, which I’m happy to report seems to be on the wain in piping. Negativity is difficult to avoid in a system where you start with a perfect score and deduct points as mistakes are made, especially as the assesment itself is vulnerable to the pressures of personal taste, petty politics and commercial concerns. Piping is a conservative tradition, and so change comes slowly after debate and consideration. The more debate the better, but stay positive.

  10. I hate that Andrew has put together another subject that we have all comonly agreed on in one way or another! But not really. It’s funny that as I read Michael’s first comment, it was exactly what I thought about when reading the article, then I read the next comment and agreed with parts of that as well, then the next one and so on and so forth. So let me go the slight wayside and point out and quote Andrew.
    “I’m not suggesting for a minute that we have to love everything, particularly if we’re to continue with competition and judging.” Right there, on the boards and in the circle, is where we have our “art” judged, and right away in one shot! We don’t have the ability to put it up on a wall of some gallery for people to come by and look at it, maybe crinkle up their face the first visit, stare blankly the second visit, and maybe appreciate on the third visit. There’s more in mind right now, but I haven’t the slightest clue how to put it down here with out taken up three pages, so if you get what I’m saying or getting at, thanks. Good subject matter Andrew.

  11. That’s a good point Jamie. I can’t see how the judges in Grade 1 can judge a contemporary medley straight off without having heard it before, know something about what it is, or even have seen the score. They’re almost bound to HATE it first time round. In all likelihood it won’t sound like music, there won’t be a tune in sight of a traditional nature, and they won’t have a clue what the heck is going on. On a second hearing they might find a little more to relate to – a snippet of a melody heard earlier, for instance and they might like it a little better or at least be more willing to give it a go. On a third, fourth hearing, the likelihood is they’ll grow to accept it more and even, who knows– like it. Some might WANT to stop at the hating stage. Others might (might) be willing to proceed beyond that into the possibility of finding something more in it. As things stand, there seems little possibility of a judge getting beyond the hating stage. Heck, I’m well into contemporary music, improvisation and all that stuff, and I would never take on judging a new piece based on a few minutes performance of it. I’d want to have got to know it first, studied it quite closely, know what it was about and what was going on in it- then I might feel qualified to judge the thing. I know the article wasn’t about the TPPB ,medleys in particular or any one person’s reaction or comment on them, but it’s difficult not to have those things in mind when reading the piece or responding to it.

  12. Thanks, kind of what I was getting at. Funny that you mentioned Toronto though, as they did cross my mind at some point. In my opinion I would have love to have seen a two year run with the “Intentions” Medley, just to get some people more used to the idea, but then why not just continue to evolve the wheel, by making the norm a new style medley each year? Anyway, I give it up for the judges that enter contest with their open minds, and when something isn’t familiar, they get to the basics of what they know and can hear. Maybe they would get too carried away with the music if they were familiar and not judge on the technique as much, and then you’d have people complain about that too. I think now withYoutube being available if I knew I had to judge a band in any grade, maybe it’s Durham Regional Police and the Rush medley in gr.3 or Glengarry and the whole cutting off the pipes completely in gr.2, and I had heard they had something different, that I might at least look it up to know what to look for as far as breaks go, cutting out of the pipes and all that jazz. Just came into my mind, but maybe Toronto is the Superlative Conspiracy of the pipe band world?



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