September 28, 2008

Taken aback

That MSR was a bit cabaret . . .Colin MacLellan, in the Tip of the Day a few days ago, said that performers should never turn their back to the audience. We’ve already discussed at length the issue of the inward-facing pipe band circle, and I think Colin was referring mainly to solo performers.

You often see at big solo competitions the judges’ bench located at the rear of the stage, the judges facing the audience, putting the competitors in an awkward situation. Do they play to the audience? Do they face the bench? Do they stand to the side of the stage and face neither?

Some of the most amusing things I’ve seen at big events like the Northern Meeting and Argyllshire Gathering have been when the judges are at a table at the middle of the stage. The judges, and not the pipers, became the performers. They seemed to be conscious that the audience was watching them more than the competitors, whom they’re there to listen to, primarily, so they affected lots of histrionics, chief of them being of course the synchronized pen-diving when a competitor dropped a gracenote. Before indoor air was cleaned up, John Burgess’s displays of elegant smoking techniques were legend.

All competition organizers should remember to put the competitors and the audience first, and the judges second. The judges don’t matter to the audience, so they should be positioned, Pop/American Idol-like, so that the performers can face both them and the crowd.


  1. I got the same piece of advice about not turning your back on the audience by Gavin Stoddart at a summer piping school, and I’ve kept that in mind. It’s not usually an issue because I’m not playing for a large audience in my competitions, so I treat the judge as the audience and don’t turn my back on him/her. Once in a while I’ll forget, but it doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of the competition.

  2. Having just returned home from the Ottawa Police Services Memorial Invitational, I can attest to an organization that is doing everything possible to make this event as smooth and classy as Possible. The judge , Jim MacGillivray was positioned with his back to the audience and got the same view and listen as the audience so the players faced the crowd and the judge while they were playing. On another positive note, Jim should be congratulated for not ever diving to the pen (that I saw) while the players were playing. The proper placement of judges is important, but, it also should be noted that while some judges (me being one) perfer to make a note or two during the performance, with this setup, it can be very distracting to a player to be facing the audience and judge and then see the judge writing stuff down. Jim listened as though he were an audience member enjoying the performances of the players and this was a good lesson for all judges to see. It’s a shame that this was not recorded and video taken as well.
    Bruce Gandy

  3. If any piping judge I ever saw looked like Paula Abdul, I could understand why games organizers would want to put them front and center on stage. All things considered, piping judges are better off hidden in the audience, at least until things change!


  4. Kind of a really stupid idea for any type of performer to face the back of the stage while performing.

    You can put the judges anywhere, matters little to the audience as long as you don’t conduct a 45 minute awards ceremony in the middle of the whole show.
    Little old ladies tend to fly off the handle when this happens! 😉



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