July 04, 2008

Sparkle in the games

The Kincardine Scottish Festival is tomorrow, and, as I’ve said before, it’s one of the best piping and drumming events anywhere. It excels not necessarily because of the competitors it attracts (it’s pretty much the same level of bands and soloists as Georgetown), it’s because of the sense of community that the event generates.

This is a big deal for the small town, which is as proud of its Scottish heritage as any in Ontario, including the massive Glengarry Highland Games at Maxville.

But rather than try to grow Kincardine into a behemoth event, Kincardine is quite content being small and manageable. Band entries are capped at a total of only 25, and entries are on a first-come policy. That said, they do ensure that all grades are covered. Don’t ask me how; I don’t know.

I think pipers and drummers like Kincardine because of that integration with the community. The townspeople treat their guests with honour and respect. You feel just a little bit special when you’re part of the piping and drumming spectacle at Kincardine. They let you play on their lawns. They even let you use their toilets.

And I think pipers and drummers return the favour. Everyone seems just a little bit more positive, a little bit more polite, a little bit more respectful. That’s not to say competitors are anything but those things anywhere else. It’s just that the mid-summer atmosphere there is slightly more fun.

And the bands get to play in a natural amphitheatre with the crowd stacked around them, assured of an interested and positive response no matter what their grade-level. They’re also assured of shade, and extremely close proximity to the beer tent. These things can’t hurt.

While Maxville is North America’s competition crown-jewel, I have to say that Kincardine is the continent’s remote diamond. Like the sun that reflects off of Lake Huron, it also sparkles.

June 02, 2008


Mother Superior jumped the gunI’ve seen a few comments about bands that did well in Grade 1 at the Scottish Championships last week even though they might have had an early chanter at the attack and/or a trailer at the cut-off. Time was that I band with an early E might as well keep marching across the circle and straight to the beer tent to commence the commiserations. The judges would have put a quick end to their chances of winning.

Things are a bit different these days. Many band judges will see past a blip of two if a performance is otherwise excellent. I don’t care what 24 pipers you put out there; at least one is going to make a slip somewhere in that five-to-seven minute performance.

It used to be that judges would use such a blatant blooter to take the easy way to calling the contest. No one could argue that it happened, and unconfident judges, who have a hard time deciding what good or bad music is, would latch on to the mistakes that any dunderhead could hear.

We’re a bit more sophisticated now. By and large, judges are, in a word, better. I think that new attitude of music appreciation started with piobaireachd judging, actually. It’s far more common now that a player who made a note-error can still get in the prize-list. As Andrew Wright said, “I’d rather give the prize to someone who went off the tune than to someone who was never on it.”

A few weeks ago, at my real job, I interviewed someone for a vacant position. I went out to meet her, and said, “Hi Judy.”

She stuck out her hand confidently and said, “Nice to meet you, Adam.”

Adam? Adam?! I thought, Who’s Adam?! She immediately recognized her mistake and apologized profusely.

The rest of her interview went really well after her mistake. Her bad start was unfortunate, but I was willing to look past it and appreciate what she might be able to bring to my company. But I have to admit that I have already told the story to a few people, so it has stuck with me. Her bad attack didn’t do her any good, but it didn’t ruin her either.

To me, blips and blooters count the most when I can’t otherwise make up my mind. If two or three bands have excellent musical and tonal performances and there’s little to separate them, then an early chanter will become a deal-breaker. Otherwise, it’s just not that big a deal in the greater scheme of things.


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