May 10, 2010

Let er dangle

The Livingstone Sr. Invitational assembled the usual excellent piping talent with the usual small crowd of solo piping devotees, familiar handful of young learner-pipers and the customary consternation by older pipers (me included) as to why, oh, why more enthusiasts and learners don’t bother to attend these state-of-the-art demonstrations of musical excellence.

Nevermind. Of note was a relatively older roster of competitors. Of the eight, I believe all but a few were younger than 30, and most were older than 35. That the winner, Bruce Gandy (age 39) may have been (marginally) the oldest may say something, too, about the current condition of top-drawer solo piping in North America – or at least those who want to travel to this contest.

By far the youngest of the lot was Gordon Conn of Calgary. I’m not certain of his age, but I’d say he’s probably 19 or 20. Gandy, Grey, Troy et al.’s performances were all excellent, but I would say that the most memorable playing for me on the night was the hornpipe and jig that young Gordon threw down.

Kids today seem to set as the solo piping light music benchmark not what might win a Silver Star (although I’m sure that’s important, too), but what guys like Stuart Liddell and Fred Morrison can do with their hands. While most competitors in this own-choice light music event went with tried-and-true hornpipes and jigs (e.g., “The Man From Skye,” “Allan MacPherson,” “Donald Cameron’s Powder-Horn”) , taking a calculated conservative strategy, Conn chose tunes that would allow him to – as the late, great Scott MacAulay would have said – “Let ‘er dangle.”


That Conn’s hornpipe (“Mr. and Mrs. J. Duncan’s Golden Wedding”) and jig (“Karen Nuttall”) were composed, respectively, by Gordon Duncan and Scott MacAulay, pipers who left us far too early, I know carried some additional meaning to not a few people attending.

I liked that Gordon Conn executed the tunes in an edgy, seat-of-the-pants style – exactly the way the composers of the tunes would have done it themselves. They were pipers who lived on the edge of the moment, and objective number-one was always fun.

Damn the prize. Scott and Gordon I’m certain would have loved to see Gordon Conn, a young piper with a huge career ahead of him, do what he did.


  1. Didn’t mean to offend…merely wanted to point out that us old dogs still have afew tricks up our sleeves……….young pups, watch out!

  2. I just recalled an instance at the Cambridge, Ontario, games in, I think, 1980. Scott MacSAulay played in the Jig and Hornpipe competition. Bob Shepherd was the judge. While everyone else played predictable hornpipes like “The Man From Skye” and “Crossing The Minch,” Scott played “The Mason’s Apron,” which, at the time, was a tune at the height of avant garde Highland piping. I think Shepherd awarded Scott the first-prize, and on his score sheet was one sentence: “Far . . . . ing out.”

  3. No bad at all. I once went ahead and decided I would just have fun and play The Troll toss, but to be safe I replaced the false F’s with throw on F’s and played Dunrovin Farm for my jig only to find out a judge didn’t show up and Sandy Keith (instructor) was now judging the contest……..went ahead and played it anyways, the end of the contest went something like this….weird glance, head shake, smirk. Came away with first and was of course told I probably shouldn’t do that too often.

  4. Yeah, I guess that seemed a bit surprising, unless you knew the history of Students playing for Sandy, it may be the second hardest way to get a first place, right behind playing at Oban with one arm tied behind your back. Wasn’t the point of my comment anyway.

  5. Keep believing that Jamie, alomg with everybody else who accepts prizes from their instructors without the slightest regard or respect to their fellow competitors.

  6. Well, it’s not like I’m dumb to the idea that everybody and their mother can find an excuse as to why they didn’t win on any day. But hey, maybe the associations could also make it a rule and or, make sure the judges they hire actually show up. And I’m out and done.

  7. …….Anyway, point was that it felt good to be received fairly well for playing something a little more fun and out there. Good on Gordon for playing something so entertaining and being well received by his peers.

  8. Hmmm… getting into a contentious topic area here……
    It is very difficult to avoid “conflict of interest” issues with a small society or group. Chances are that every player within a local society is known to every judge in one way or another, whether it be as a past/present student or competitor or other reason. With the best of intentions it is almost imposssible to avoid real or perceived favouritism for or against a competitor. Withdrawing from competitions isn’t really an answer as the point is to encourage people to play allowing for an improvement for the society as a whole, not the reverse. All we can do is approach the situation with an open mind and critique our own performances in conjunction with the judges’ score sheets and/or instructors to try to better ourselves for the next time. After all, isn’t that really the point?



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