April 30, 2008

The hard truth

I don’t know why I never thought to ask it before, but the recent p|d Poll asking if band members think would get better competition results if their band were to play easier stuff is another eye-opener.

More than 49 per cent feel that they might get better results if their contest material weren’t so difficult. So why do their bands play pipe music and/or scores that are too hard?

Maybe it’s an extra challenge for the band. A little short-term pain for long-term gain. Maybe they think that judges will reward them for degrees of difficulty. Maybe the pipe-major’s just hard-headed.

I would say that bands playing material that’s too difficult, to the detriment of unison and tone, is in my top-three most-common problems, particularly in the lower grades. It’s often difficult to detect just how difficult a tune is on first listen, and a tune that might suit the pipe-major’s hands could cause finger contortions from the balance of the pipers.

Maybe they should be, but the truth is that bands are rarely, if ever, rewarded for “hard.”

I remember playing “Eileen MacDonald,” one the hardest jigs there is, in a band medley one year. It’s a brilliant tune, but really ill-chosen no matter how talented a band’s pipe section. We hammered away at the impossibly tricky third part all summer, and not a single judge complimented us for having the courage to play it. Instead all those ever-so-slightly-out-of-unison low-G strikes were easy-pickings for judges.

The sole acknowledgement came at the World Championships when the late great Pipe-Major Angus MacDonald said, in his always surprising voice, “Aye, you boys played ‘Eileen MacDonald.’ Hard tune, that.”

I think most judges enjoy a well-blown, well-timed rendition of something simple and melodic. But there is something to be said for keeping the troops interested, and challenging content can do that.

But when it comes to most pipe bands, usually the easiest way to keep players interested and to attract new pipers and drummers is to win.




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