October 21, 2012

Personality crisis

I’m pretty sure I know the main reason why competitive pipers and drummers are so often in disagreement about our avocation: it’s about a clash of two distinct types of personalities: it’s the creative versus the analytical.

The current pipes|drums Poll asks, “What do you like most about piping/drumming?” and readers can answer one of either “The creativity,” or “The competition.” It’s an admittedly unscientific attempt to determine how many of us are drawn to the artistic or the analytical sides of what we do. And polling shows that we’re 50/50. (Actually, about 52% chose “the competition,” but chances are the creative types are bending the polling rules, while the analyticals rigidly stick to them, because that’s what they do.)

We are involved in competition that uses art as sport and this has forever caused friction. We attempt to create “rules” to more equitably assess what piper or drummer or band wins a purely subjective event.

Take for example the recent stramash over Bagad Brieg’s six-second time overrun in their medley in the Grade 2 qualifying round at this year’s World’s. The error was either missed altogether or intentionally overlooked, and the band went on to compete in the Final, finishing third and winning the drumming.

In the ensuing discussion on the matter (during which,notably, both Brieg and the RSPBA have been deathly silent), opinions seemed to be split along 50/50 arty vs. anal divides. Those drawn to the artistic side more than likely couldn’t care less about such a perceived impropriety. “Six seconds? Who cares? They deserve the prize.”

The analytical folks who are drawn first to the competition side of our thing, are spitting with outrage that a band could be allowed to get away with such an infraction. “Even it were one-second – throw them out!”

It’s a fascinating case study in the tension we face at every competition, due much to different essential personality types. The artistic creators are in need of a platform for their art, and often settle for the competition stage. The serious composers more often than not become worn down eventually by competition and rules being placed on their creations. They might continue to compete, but in their hearts they probably don’t much care about the result.

The competitive analytical types just want to compete and get a result based on “the rules.” They don’t care much about what they play, only playing it well enough to win. They struggle with a judge liking something for purely subjective “musical” reasons, seeming to ignore pseudo-objective criteria like tone, attacks and time.

And inartistic analyticals seem to gravitate to bureaucracy. They love joining associations and gaining power so that they can create and uphold rigid rules. They’re often not even pipers or drummers, and instead are enthusiasts drawn in by sons or daughters doing the playing.

As with everything, there are exceptions. I admit that these are generalizations. But I think there’s something to this essential struggle of personality types. Look around and see what the rule-sticklers do for a living. More often than not they’re in professions that involve numbers and black-and-white yes/no options. The artistic types are usually in jobs that require flexible creativity. And if each type is unhappy about their work, it’s often because they’re doing something that doesn’t match their personality.

Arty readers will likely see this as an interesting take on our struggle, even if they don’t agree. The analyticals probably enjoyed the stats in the second paragraph but never got past the third.


  1. its zen and the art of motorcycle maintainance all the way isn’t it, the romantics v the classics, your pcs v macs, and hell to the no if we are ever going to see eye to eye, great book btw, well worth a read

  2. It seems that I’m artisitic by your standards. But does that mean that by considering the standard, it makes me analytical?

    I don’t see the problem with going over a time limit. It’s a childish criticism. Even if they went under the time limit by a few seconds it’s inconsequential. It should be about the best performance, but a cool tune or treatment with poor unison, should not override a performance with much superior unison but slightly less spectacular tune or treatment.

  3. Interesting comments Andrew. What are you though, analytical or artistic. My thoughts are that most people are both but in different proportions.

    1. No one is 100% analytical or 100% creative. We all have these personality characteristics to a varying degree, and in a varying ratio, which changes constantly. We do, however, end up emphasizing one or the other to a degree for the majority of the time, which ends up becoming our dominant preference, and, yes label.

  4. I think I have a foot in both worlds. I love the competition. And while I’m not the most creative, I admire the creativity of bands, composers, and performers. I’ve worked in the creative industry of radio, but I was in the news department. I worked in networking, which runs on explicit sets of rules, yet requires some creativity to troubleshoot.

    I also have a foot in both camps of Brieg situation. They went over. “Rules are rules.” But there’s also process. And not knowing the specifics of how that process played out, other than it didn’t play out properly, you can’t just allow it to filter down to “the rules”. The process broke down as well and fixing things after the fact doesn’t always work. The call on the field was the infield fly rule. It stands, and Brieg took down the Braves to move on to the NLDS. Sorry to everybody but Andrew for that last analogy.

  5. Martin, I agree that people are combinations, and from what I understand lean heavily to one side or another. I’ve taken several of those quadrant personality tests (e.g., Myers-Briggs) and seem to come up right in the middle of each quadrant. I like rules, but I like bending them when needed. I admire well-made buttons, and also like to press them. I’m terrible at math, but got as high as calculus without knowing how to do fractions or determine percentages. Still don’t get what “breaking serve” means in tennis. I don’t mind one way or another about Brieg, but object to inconsistencies or precedent being broken. There was a Grade 5 band at Maxville this year that had a meltdown in the heat. One piper stopped mid-performance and exited the circle, passing me while judging, saying, “It’s just too damn hot.” As ensemble judge I alerted the steward, and left the decision to the administrators of rules. They were DQed, as per the rules. Apparently another Grade 5 band earlier in the year also had a player quit and leave the circle, but were not DQed. I can live with either decision, but not the discrepancy. I think “rules” are usually bendable in competition, provided the competitor did not appear to intentionally break them, and that one competitor gains an advantage over another in not adhering to them. Go ahead and play an a mach in The Viscount. I’ll stop listening after the crunluath doubling, anyway.

  6. Pipe band competition is a sport, and as such, it operates according to rules. That said, I don’t think Brieg should have been DQed. They violated the letter of the rule, but absolutely not the spirit. They didn’t give themselves any advantage by playing for an extra 6 seconds. The RSPBA could have made a trivial rule change that would address this in the future: make the lower bound absolute and the upper bound discretionary up to a point. Instead, they’ve decided that they will absolutely enforce both the upper and lower bounds. That’s fine from a competitive standpoint, but IMO, it comes down on the side of potentially hindering the musical in favor of the competitive. Analyticals vs. creatives, indeed.

  7. I wonder how anyone truly considered “creative” could possibly have navigated through the first 5 years of bagpipes?

    Really wouldn’t the process of learning them alone be too redundant and painful for them. Could the truly hardcore “creative” make it past an e doubling for two weeks let alone piobroch & military style drill over and over without going on to the electric guitar or poetry where there is much more allowance for freedom of expression?

    My brother plays jazz on the sax- I play the pipes.
    I’ll let you decide which one is which.


  8. I love this post. I know where I stand, and most who know me know too. It’s been fun over this long career to fret ceaselessy about the music, and yet tweak the noses of those in authority (egad, why do we have so many of these characters?) who couldn’t play a note of most of what I write. Thought provoking stuff AB, and you’re sure to hear more from your readers.. The few comments posted so far already display the divide. Speaking of divisions, this post gives me good reason to stop thinking about tonight’s debate…a country divided in half down there, and the entire world in the thrall of the possible outcomes and various consequences of this election. Keeps our piping/drumming world in some perspective. But dear me, do listen to the many comments from “Ordinary Folks” about this election. Gives one the shivers. “Oh Canada!”

    1. I thought about the many lawyers who populate prominent piping: Livingstone, Hal Senyk, Malcolm McRae, Campbell-K, Rothiemurchus. One would think that law is about rigid adherence to code, but it’s really more about the creative interpretation of rules, right?

        1. And it appears that the lawyer Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, was very creative when it came to interpreting piobaireachd with apparently very little actual musical ability. Ironically that creative interpretation was aimed at making the judging process easier by “standardizing” a richly evolving art. Very analytical, that.

  9. Interesting topic. I did not even bother answering the current survey because it is so “black/white”. I don’t see much creativity in my neck of the woods but believe that is a good thing since there are very few professional grade players and the highest level band is grade 3.
    Competition should be good enough for the 90% or so who pick up the pipes/drums. Creativity should be reserved for the top 10%.
    I DO believe people should play by the rules BUT if/when a rule needs to be stretched or changed or even deleted, fix it rather than ignore it. I can guarantee if nothing is changed it will happen again.

    1. “Competition should be good enough for the 90% or so who pick up the pipes/drums. Creativity should be reserved for the top 10%.”

      Have to say, I absolutely, vehemently, disagree with this sweeping generalized statement. Competition does not define the instrument or its music – it is just one part in a much larger whole. To say that only the elite-of-elites should have the right to do anything musically creative is absurd, and does nothing but stagnate the music, its musicians, and the culture.

      Only the top 10% can do what they like while the others are required to be mindless drones because of some arbitrary ‘standard’…. absolutely ridiculous…. it’s music, an art, a mode of personal emotive expression. Competition barely even scratches the surface of the depths of the instrument, and what it means to people to be able to use it expressively and creatively.

      Say you don’t like what the bottom 90% choose to do, fine, but do not, under any circumstances, presume authority over those who do not fit under your umbrella.

      1. I agree with Kayla, bit i also undersand what Al was trying to express. We sometimes forget the real purpose of our mutual venture..to produce music and have fun while doing it. One downside to competing is that. in our version of it, we tend to suppress these two things via rules and their enforcement.

  10. Well Al, you certainly stirred a hornets nest there, didn’t you?

    With all due respect, I have to agree with Kayla. I’d be hard-pressed to assemble a list of names of ‘only those’ whose credentials were adequate to compose music for the pipes. The door should be swung wide open to any and all. Who knows when the next Mozart will walk through!

    Speaking to the topic at hand (competition, creativity, pushing envelopes, etc), I truly enjoy listening to new compositions, amazed at how someone has once again combined 9 notes (or more, in the case of Lee Family Christmas) into something new and wonderful, and the feelings they evoke. However, most of the music freshly created seems to be on the more complex end of the spectrum (same example), and beyond the capabilities of my 60 year old fingers. I do enjoy competition though – being able to wrap my hands around tunes that ARE within my capabilities, and I suppose that puts me squarely in the middle of both camps.

    I’m happy in knowing I’m not alone.

    Great topic!

    1. Bob and Kayla: In the very first sentence, Andrew used the word “competitive” as in COMPETITIVE pipers and drummers. I made my comments from that point of view and I stand by them.
      As Andrew also stated, there are not many “platforms” for creative pipers. In my “neck of the woods”, there are NO competitive platforms for creative pipers. Not sure if there are many anywhere…
      I have NEVER liked the fact that we have very few opportunities to show our creativity. I have never even liked it when certain judges have knocked players for playing the wrong so called “style.”
      Please, re-read the original article. I expressed my opinion based on the premise of competition and will continue to sit quite comfortably under my umbrella. I don’t want to hear a poorly tuned instrument or undeniable crossing noises and be told the player was simply being “creative.”

      1. Per my other comment, Al.
        It’s the enforcers and egomaniacs that are taking the fun and creativity out of things in your area. Don’t let them get to you.
        I guess, in a way, it is a kind of bullying…..hmmm

  11. Love that response from Kayla. Not biting the pen that freed her pent up artistic dynamic. It takes such an issue to unleash a fine response with her journalistic talent. More than just a clever turn of phrase or 2, it is the broad sweep of ideas presented so clearly with well crafted thoughts that captures my interest. The commitment to those beliefs of what she feels is right also resounds loudly. This is a folk form of music and sometimes (more often than not) just plain folk have their say in a direction that more adept and accomplished musicians would care not to follow.

    Maybe the analytically skillful bending of a genre’s rules does not suffice in musical trend. The left hemisphere’s verbal, conscious realm of survey may not realize what the right hemisphere’s intuitive and artistic creativity is all about. When the common listener repeatedly retorts that new blending of idiom rules does not resonate with them (within whatever nationalist differences), then maybe we need to rechart the course. There’s no accounting for artistic reception but there often is that public reckoning. Truth’s seeming beauty and beauty’s truth may be obscured by the currency of social, creative negotiation in selecting what they, the audience, wants. Will Glenfiddich tomorrow showcase creativity unfurled – or tight, competitive rudiments on an artfully restrained rein? But in this vein – is there a simple and compositional counterweight to such direction of the GHB idiom?

  12. What a messed up, self-obsessed bunch we are 😉 Maybe we should each just seek some therapy, rather than wind each other up all the time. Ha ha! I wonder if other musicians build forums and have identity crisis debates like we do…? Maybe some questions shouldn’t exist, as they serve no purpose other than to cause more friction and self-analysis etc. There’s no point analysing which side of the brain applies here as one’s ego knows no bounds.

    1. Other musicians are just as messed up. Believe it. But, they don’t necessarily meet for head-to-head competitions like we do. However, they do compete in other ways….record sales, awards, publicity, prestigious gigs, etc.
      That being said, though, no one has a clipboard when they listen to musical performance in a bar or a concert hall……they just listen to and appreciate what is being played.

  13. I agree that musicians, as a species, are generally a basket case. I know and am also related to many who play in rock bands etc. But I don’t think original rock bands, for example, critically pull apart each other’s sounds and styles unless they’re cover bands (like pipe bands are for the most part). They tend to be a little more indifferent to other bands and worry about what they’re doing more. This is due to the lack of limitations.

    People who play in street bands also clog-up various pipe band/piping/drumming forums with all manner of opinions, so I don’t think it’s just the competition players who are ‘competitive’ per se. Indeed, I don’t even think it is competitiveness at play in many cases, just rampant and unchecked egos in hobby that seems to be getting more air time than it ever has (internet). Most opinions were once saved for the beer tent. Now the ‘beer tent’ is at one’s fingertips, and can deliver all manner of opinions that would otherwise not be uttered to someone’s face. It has also given rise to the ‘askhole’ – that person who seeks your advice, only to either ignore it, dismiss it, or simply use it to validate what they claim to already have ‘known’. One other forum is notorious for this and is really just now a circus. You’re more likely to see less emotive rants on a mother’s group forum than certain piping sites these days.

    I don’t think there’s a personality crisis at play. I think the one pursuit brings together an enormous cross section of people, personalities, skill levels and belief systems (often all aligned to ability, or ultimately shape it). Endless debate seems inevitable on that premise!

  14. Ever since this topic appeared I’ve been trying to cut my brain in half and it isn’t working. There must be a third space between the analyticals and the creatives. It’s an odd one. You see plenty of pipers and drummers out there who don’t give two hoots about the music, the accuracy of the expression, the art – they just want to get out there, create a big noise and kill off any challengers. It might as well be football. They’re only ‘creative’ in their inventing strategies to kill off the opposition. It’s like an oxymoron. At the opposite end you could think of the creative piobaireachd player, lost in his art, interpreting the music, analytical in his attention to the ‘pulling’ and the ‘passing over’ this or that note, where to hold, where to treat a note as an approach, where to place the note. And so on. It seems to transcend the very idea of competition. But I can see how you can be analytically creative, or creatively analytical. As for the ‘six seconds over’ thing, what’s the point in people sitting dreaming up rules and then not sticking to them. Its like bad parenting. Inconsistent and unfair perhaps, but there again, in this case who gives a toss? In a giant list of inconsistencies, discrepancies, unfairnesses,- how much does it even register. I’m for an integrated approach. Paying close attention to detail and concerned with the samll bits that make up the whole, within a creative context. Or using creative ways to attend to the detail and find the components within the whole. Creative workshops for judges. Get them all to lie on the floor and spell out the first letters of their names with their body shape. Get them to draw squiggles on their clipboards according to what they think of this or that band. It could only be an improvement could it not? I find analysis very creative and when being creative I feel very analytical. Finding it hard to separate them.



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