November 23, 2007

Sherriff reckonings

I really enjoy listening to the next-generation of top solo pipers, and I had that chance again at the George Sherriff Memorial last weekend. Starting at 10 am and going till about 11 pm it’s a big day for the judges, and even bigger for the competitors.

Lots of things that I’ll remember, but here are a few that stand out:

  • Faye Henderson’s “Lament for Captain MacDougall.” This was a performance that would have stood up very well in the Gold Medal competitions at Oban or Inverness, and, with the right bench, it could well have won it. It was a great example of a lament that can still have very short notes – an expertly built and shaped tune on a perfect pipe. Fifteen years old, she will have to compete in the “Juniors” in Scotland for another three years, meaning that she will probably be back to the Sherriff several times.
  • Tuning, tuning and more tuning. Funny, the French word for tuna is “thon,” and audience and judges suffered through several tunathons from a few competitors. Some players screwed away at their drones for more than 10 minutes (seemed like eternity), and we all know that when a pipe is not settled after four minutes, that dog just ain’t gonna lie down no matter what. Here’s a tip to all competitors: don’t tune for more than five minutes. It won’t matter. However, never feel like you need to start too soon if the pipe’s not in tune before four minutes have passed. While there were a few instances of excessive, futile tuning, there were also a few times when a competitor started too soon. Practice timing your tuning to understand your instrument.
  • Alastair Lee’s professionalism. Another competitor with an enviable piping pedigree, 15-year-old Lee is a mini-Uncle Jack. Same bold technique. Same posture. Same competitive focus. Can you say dynasty?
  • Brittney-Lynn Otto’s “Little Cascade.” Forget the relatively tedious “Cameronian Rant.” For my money, G.S.’s masterpiece is the most challenging and thrilling tune a competitor can deliver, and Otto shook off the afternoon’s troubles and did just that. Terrific hands!
  • 6/8 marches. Forever people have said, “No one knows how to play 6/8 marches any more.” They were probably saying that in 1955. Compound time is easy as long as it’s round. As soon as note values are chopped up, many pipers struggle. I know I do. There’s a reason why 6/8 marches are the domain of bands: they generally need drummers to provide light and shade.
  • Slooooow playing. I know the trend is to play marches at no more than 68 BPMs, with strathspeys and reels to balance, but I like them livelier. There was a bit of sluggish light music, and those with relative up-tempos, like Ben McClamrock, immediately got more of my attention. A 2/4 march ain’t nothing if it ain’t got that swing, and it takes a rare player to get swing from a 2/4 at 64.

I could go on for a lot longer about this excellent event – venue, organization, meals – and the many excellent performances, but I’ll stop there. YMMV.




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