August 02, 2015

New rules

I’m a moderate fan of Real Time with Bill Maher, and really like his “New Rules” segment. Spending two days judging an assembly line of competitors at Maxville, there’s hardly time enough to think about anything else between performances, but there’s enough collective moments to come up with a few new rules that we should apply to what we do.

New Rule: any solo piping or snare competitor who elects to warm up within 50 feet of a contest area should be given the choice between immediate disqualification or a public shirtless flogging by a fleet of tenor drummers wielding mallets dipped in Branston Pickle. I mentioned this in 2009, and it still astonishes me how apparently vacant-minded some players can be, oblivious to their surroundings and Competing Etiquette 101.

New Rule: every band competition should have an announcer who introduces the contestant, provides background, informs the crowd about what’s going on, and so forth. Graeme Ogilvie, who announces at the arena at Maxville each year, should give workshops. He’s a master of providing just the right amount of detail without boring people or insulting the competitors.

New Rule: any piper in a piobaireachd contest who tunes to a slow air will be required to play “Farewell To Nigg” 1000 times over without mistakes before he/she is permitted to compete again. Stop, stop, sweet fancy Moses, stop the slow air insanity.

New Rule: once the competitor starts, shut the ^&%* up. I can understand the occasional uninitiated loudmouth who doesn’t know protocol the first time at a contest, but the number of pipers, drummers and even association officials who yap away at volume within 10 feet of the person or band competing is appalling. Those caught doing this get to choose between paying a $200 fine payable to the impacted competitor or having their mouth washed out with 10-year-old Airtight Seasoning.

New Rule: for any piper who’s played more than three years, no more tuning your drones while sounding D. I understand the theory about tuning with D: it is the truest note played with one hand. But it sounds horrible. A good piper tunes to high-A and shows off his/her control and mastery of the instrument. Penalty for tuning with D: must administer one-handed thigh massages to heavy athletes in afternoon.

Those are a few new rules that I thought of over the weekend. You must have more, so fire away.



  1. Hilarious!
    I might add that Graeme Ogilvie is also excellent at providing well-timed and very polite reminders to audience members to be quiet during the performances. He truly is the best.

  2. All too true -and this from a neophyte watching all these competitions-when I can. However, why do “they” put tug of war contests next to piobaireachd competitions???No less any of the piping solo and band competitions anywhere ,any time?

  3. My favorite was the games organizers who put the caber toss right NEXT to the band circle. I remember watching the faces of one Gr. 2 band – those with the good fortune to have their backs to the um, tossers, and thus oblivious to the logs thudding to and bouncing off the ground behind them. But imagine the faces of those on the other side as two attempts turned into ‘ wobbly logs’ headed in the bands direction. I am still impressed by the focus shown by anyone who can stay on the tune with the rest of the band while their eyebrows exceeded the elevation of the hairlines.
    Someone in the games committee fortunately had the good sense to not do THAT again.

  4. Andrew, many of your New Rules made me chuckle out loud. Some Scottish games seem to be the epitome of chaos with starter pistols going off and a constant barrage of loudspeaker announcing all while one is trying to perform. One puts one’s life in one’s hands just trying to reach the infield circle without being run over by runners or cyclists. Too, I remember quite a while ago at Alma I was playing the open pibroch and some dude dressed in his idea of medieval Highland attire complete with shepherd’s crook ambles up directly in front of me and stares me in the face. Needless to say I didn’t or couldn’t continue. Tuning to “D” also drives me to distraction. I tell all my students that’s the sure way of identifying an amateur Always low “A” or high “A”. That’s why tuning phrases were invented to get from the high to low notes. And those who take an inordinate amount of time to tune their instrument usually resulting in their putting it out of tune should also be sorted or sort themselves. Cheers, Syd

  5. Most recent event had the 10 x 10 solo competition areas enclosed by the stringed plastic flags you see at car lots that included barely enough room for the judge’s table on the lumpy pocketed turf. Right next to the main drag between the blacksmith demonstration complete with hammer on anvil and the warming up of bass amp stacks for the upcoming boomchucka celtic wailers. It’s quite enough to steel yourself against the meandering googly-eyed courtiers and cavaliers and red-headed mattress thrashers, but the entire venue was directly under the airport flyway for weekend Learjets coming to Carmel. Welcome to Monterey.

  6. I once played an MSR on the boards and was joined by a highly appreciative Border Collie. She sat at my feet and, as many dogs do with the pipes, she joined in. Lovely dog. Just didn’t quite get the intonation right. I won on ensemble preference. A year later, I had a border Collie of my own. She does the exact same thing.

    As for tuning pipes to anything but High A. Put simply, DO NOT!

    Tuning to D is the hallmark of either a complete hack, or someone who was taught by one and blindly adheres to the advice. It is for someone who wishes to broadcast they can neither blow a true High A, nor tune against it, nor are they prepared to learn.

    Much worse than that is ‘tuning’ to a false E. This is an offense that is SO BAD you should be put in the stocks and pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables for an hour, then have your clothes burnt and be sent home on the bus. ‘Tuning’ to E just screams to a judge or audience ‘the next 5 minutes will be beyond unbearable’. This is malpractice in the extreme. STOP IT!!!!!

  7. Forgive me but can someone explain the no slow air tuning? I don’t get why that’s such a faux pas, the thing I really like about playing them myself is I can really hear the notes and the pleasing interaction with the drones when tuning is on. It seems that if you are comfortable playing a slow air and this ‘works’ for you when you tune, what’s the big deal?

    1. I think Jim McGillivray’s blog has a good description of what it’s like for a judge to sit through slow airs prior to the competition tune. On the strength of that, I decided to play most of the ground of Scarce of Fishing prior to my tune. It calms me and the judges seem not to mind. I have stumbled upon tuning phrases in older collections and think I’ll give that a closer look.

  8. Oh please.

    Tuning to D – if it works, it works. Crimeny. It’s just tuning (which is awful enough). I’d rather hear D than a bleeding, screeching high A anytime. But above all: I’d rather hear a pipe in tune. Use whatever notes you need.

    As for slow air – whatever. Me, I’d prefer a tuning prelude – there are several of them available, among the oldest compositions we have on written record. We never hear them on the boards, because nobody really spends the time digging deeply into the idiom and its history.

    Maybe that’s more important – learning the breadth and depth of pibroch if you’re going to compete. It’d give us something new to hear.

  9. The two items on tuning seem to have struck a nerve or confused people.

    It’s probably hard to understand when you haven’t been an adjudicator of 20-odd piobaireachds in one sitting.

    Slow airs, or, really, any tune: Competitors are there to play ONE tune. Instead, more than half of them also want to play a a slow air, or two. I’ve heard people play a 6/8 march before their competition piobaireachd. Go with the John MacDonald / Brocol method: a line or two from another piobaireachd that include the same notes / same key as the tune you’re about to play. Get in piobaireachd mode, not slow air mode.

    Tuning to D: No, it sounds horrible. It doesn’t work. D is the note most subject to sagging. Just listen to almost every lower grade band. Blowing a steady D is far harder than blowing a steady high A. The A should be in accord, as it were, with the drones.

    At any rate, is there an adjuidicator who actually LIKES these tuning methods? I haven’t met him/her. As Seumas MacNeill would have said, Why set the judge’s teeth on edge before you even begin?



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