Thursday, September 30, 2010

Improving Your Piping

Not wanting to over simplify, but I think there is a formula, and it has to be put into practice.

1. The most important thing is a good sounding instrument. You can improve your playing by 100%, but play on a bad instrument and it still sounds bad! Get someone with an instrument you like the sound of to look at your bagpipes, make sure they are always clean and maintained in tip top condition and spend some money on reeds, a chanter, whatever is required. You can get away with a lot if you have a nice sounding pipe. There are a lot of tips in The Complete Pipers Handbook.

2. The next step is to establish a system of scalic exercises. Repeated to build strength of technique and stamina. Incorporate this into a solid and regular practice regime. Exercises, tune break-up (with a lot of attention to detail), playing on bagpipes. An article with examples is provided here.

3. Lessons concentrating on musicality are a great idea. Try to fix the technical issues before the lessons so you can concentrate on things you need to learn, not covering what you can fix yourself. many provide Skype lessons and face to face lessons, so there is now no excuse for not being able to locate a high quality tutor. Downloadable lessons are available at the school of piping website.

4. Play bagpipes like you are performing. Establish tuning times, how long it takes to settle the instrument and then play your contest pieces like you are performing. This will train your mind and teach you what you need to know about preparing your instrument.

I hope this helps a little toward steering those who have expressed a resolution regarding improvement. I am sure there are others with some good tips to share?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts on Drone Reeds

Over the years we would have trialled and tested nearly every drone reed on the market. There are a number of reviews posted on the School of Piping site, but it should be made clear there are a lot that have not reviewed. We will not, at this stage post reviews on products that simply do not work. (Some products we have not tested recently and to be fair to the makers we also will not post reviews on old products).

There have been a number of reeds that have been absolutely appalling. They either use so much air that they are unplayable (one set had tape stuck under the blades to keep them vibrating and used so much air that when they were set as efficiently as possible I still could not play the pipes for any length of time), or they just will not go. Some sets are impossible to balance and some are pitched badly or have aweful tone.

I think that there are so many of us willing to try whatever reeds are on the market that there are good sales even if your product is complete rubbish. There are always a number of people willing to jump on that type of cash cow. If they were not making drone reeds, they would probably be selling diet pills! One of the reviewers spoke to a reed maker who does not play the pipes. When asked if any quality players had tested his reeds before he put them on the market he said he didn't know any! I found this extraodinary particularly when his product was found the be seriously flawed and was not on the market for any more than a few months.

The other issue is the variance in bagpipes. Not every reed goes well in every bagpipe. You will see a few reed makers make reeds specifically modified for Naill bagpipes as an example, which are quite a flat pitched drone. Some other bagpipes are just difficult to reed and set up. Some are old and warped, cracked or just have bad bore designs.

I think many pipers have forgotten (or have never known) what drones with cane reeds sounded like. There are an infinite number of variances on how a cane reed could be set up, but if well set they had a "oneness", that most synthetic reeds are unable to replicate. They also had the ability to follow the chanter and if well balanced would tend to change in unison. I have heard a few lately that have been set up to be buzzy and sound like a synthetic reed (yes, that is possible).

Few synthetic reeds follow the chanter. Some are now so stable that they are producing a consistent pitch and have to be tuned to match a chanter that rises and drops in pitch with playing and temperature fluctuations. Some chanter reeds are more stable that others in this regard as well.

When testing reeds we look at ease of set up. Ease of balance and quality of tone and harmonics. We look at the ability to follow the chanter, by playing, putting the pipes down for a number of minutes and then playing again until they return to the point where they are again in tune with the chanter. We also comment on "oneness", where the drones sound like an overall umbrella of sound, not three individual drones. This is a quality that must be experienced to be understood. You can have three drones playing in unison, perferctly tuned, but you do not feel they are in sympathy and producing one overall sound. Volume is measured on a decibel meter.

We are not trying to say that one set of reeds is better than another in our reviews. Many pipers will prefer one reed over another depending on their taste in sound, much the same as the variances between quality players using cane reeds or different sets of drones. We do want to highlight what the differences are and how the reeds perform. They are also testing in a variety of bagpipes. We hope that this will give pipers a choice as to what sound they prefer and how they should expect a reed to perform. If we have to fiddle with a reed too much to get it to play well, then obviously it is not a good reed for an inexperienced piper.

We also try to test reeds in a variety of temperatures, as we have found some that do not perform in extreme heat. Obviously due to our location we are limited with testing in really cold dry conditions, however it does get cold here in winter to the point where it is uncomfotable to play and we trust that will suffice.

If the reed is receptive to variation in set up, we will make comment on our finding regarding any modification we have adopted. We often try different bridles, and a number of makers have adopted our recommendations over the years. Often getting the sound or result you want is a matter of experiment and trial and error.

Drone reed reviews can be found at the School of Piping website.

Monday, September 20, 2010


For those who have an interest and want to learn the bagpipes, there are a few things that you should know. The first is that is a difficult instrument to play and you should not proceed without a good teacher. On average a student will receive one half hour lesson a week, which may increase to a full hour after some time.

What will I need?
You will need a practice chanter and a tutor book to start. This is not overly expensive, probably around $100- $150 for a suitable instrument for a beginner. Your teacher can probably advise you where to purchase a reasonable instrument at a good price. The practice chanter is a quiet instrument similar to a recorder on which pipers learn new material.

What is the process?

The learning process usually starts with a series of musical exercises. The scale, moving on to various embellishments and then, probably some small tunes thrown in along the way. Initially you will run out of material after a few minutes practice, but you should play the routine you are taught several times. Put the chanter down and pick it up and go over it again at a later time. As you progress your practice schedule will increase. Probably 30-45 minutes a day for a learner on some tunes is adequate. You should not worry if you miss a day’s practice, but ensure that you do not do it frequently. The purpose of practice is to develop muscle memory, correct technique and to memorise and remember the material. Later, on the bagpipe you will need to work on blowing technique and stamina as well. As with any musical instrument, practice and playing the instrument regularly are a part of life.

When do I play a bagpipe?
After playing several tunes at a reasonable standard it will be time to progress to the bagpipe. The time this takes will vary from person to person. Some organisations provide a bagpipe for learner pipers; others ask that you purchase your own. A suitable learner’s instrument can range from about $1,500 second hand upwards. There will be maintenance items and other small expenses along the way. Ask your tutor about the requirements for a bagpipe. Do not just go and buy something, there are some traps for the unwary. Lots of Pakistani made instruments are misrepresented on the internet and many people sell second hand instruments they know little about.

How important are lessons?
Regular lessons are very important. To miss a couple of weeks dramatically sets back the progress of a learner piper. To miss lessons frequently is very disruptive and can significantly impede progress. This is a musical instrument. To learn is sometimes a chore, but to play is fun and that should be the goal. Some parents seem to look at piping lessons like school and think students should have a break for school holidays. This is not the case. Piping should be looked at as one of the fun/physical activities that is used as a break from school work etc.

How do I join a band?
Some bands run classes for learners and there will be a direct path to follow to become a band member. There will be specific tunes to learn so that you know the band repertoire and some bands have a juvenile band or a development group that feeds into a higher level band. Some students learn from a private tutor and they will be able to give advice on joining a band. It should be remembered that when you join a band, it is as much your band as anyone else’s. You should therefore help to assist the band in fundraising, group activities etc. This ensures the future of the band and helps to repay the more senior members for the time they put in to
assist you or your child that is learning.

What about solo competitions, certificates and seminars?
Once proficient with a few tunes on the bagpipe, you will have the possibility of entering competitions as a soloist. Competition forms a significant part of the piping lifestyle. It is a good way to monitor your own standard and to gain some feedback. Another useful tool is to complete examinations through the local Associations. Seminars are often run by the local Associations and are a great way to gain additional knowledge, alternate view points and meet some of the local identities.

What is so good about learning to play the bagpipe?
Aside from the pleasure of performing and enjoying music, the opportunities open to pipers are numerous. There are a number of organisations that offer full-time employment to pipers. There are numerous opportunities to compete locally, interstate and overseas. Festivals are run in most countries around the world as well as tattoos and other events of significance. The friendships made last a lifetime. The discipline, teamwork and skills learnt will flow on to all parts of the student’s life. What is most important however are the challenges and enjoyment obtained and sometimes the privilege to be a part of something very special.

There is more information to be seen at the school of piping website and “The Complete Pipers Handbook” is the ultimate guide for getting started on the bagpipe and as a useful resource for teachers. It is available here:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tune selection for lower grade pipe bands.

This is an interview that was conducted by Alvin Chung of the Hong Kong Pipers Society with Brett Tidswell. I thought it may be of interest.

Q: What general guidelines should band leaders follow, when it comes to setting up a band repertoire? (especially for learner or lower grade bands in Asia)

A: I have always been of the philosophy that music selected should teach the band something. Look at the basic idioms of piping and ensure that they are encompassed by tunes that will teach the band how to play these types of tunes well. They obviously have to be musical and entertaining, but there should be some sense of direction and a teaching plan behind the music selected at a lower level.

Q: Apart from marches, which most uniformed or youth groups in Asia tend to play for parades, what other sort of things should learner bands here be playing?

A: I think all bands should play a good selection of march tunes of various time signatures, but also basic strathspeys, reels, airs and maybe even some simple jigs and hornpipes. The suggestions that I made above apply here.

Q: When it comes to setting up medleys for lower grade bands in particular, what should leaders pay attention to?

A: I think with medleys lower grade bands need to be careful not to over reach and play music that cannot be controlled by the band. I think musical tunes, within the bands playing capacity, but still giving the members a challenge are important. Good key and idiom changes between tunes makes for a more interesting medley. Music may need to be re-arranged or modified to suit the band's capability.

Q: “A band can only be as strong as its weakest player”
But playing easy tunes all the time may just bore seasoned players to death. How do we find a middle ground?

A: This is always a difficult problem, but can be addressed by having a tiered structure of music, where the upper echelon are learning some additional more challenging sets. The weaker players however should always be put slightly above their comfort level, so that they have to work and improve.

Q: “Picking tunes a level higher than what my band is will drive players to progress faster”?
Is that wisdom or rubbish? What are the pros and cons?

A: I think this is often a bad plan. Usually it just results in band playing technically inaccurately and out of control and serves only to have band members practising a lot of mistakes. Tune selection has to be challenging but also realistic. I rarely see it succeed and result in improvement.

Q: Could you name a few underrated tunes, which an average band in Asia should seek out and explore?

A: I am a big fan of some of the old favourites. Played well tunes like Cabar Feidh, Earl of Mansfield, Brown Haired Maiden etc. can be a delight to listen to. You should always mix it up with some more contemporary pieces to make for a varied and entertaining repertoire.

Q: Any concluding remarks? Any further questions relevant to the topic but not covered here?

A: I think the main point is to have a plan of attack, a purpose for the music and a direction in which to take the band. I hear far too many badly played "itchy fingers" and simialr tunes. Keep the repertoire simple, challenging but realistic. Aim to keep the playing technically accurate, with correct phrasing and expression and at a level that the band can control. I think this makes for better music, a greater chance of improvement and ultimately more enjoyment for the performer and listening audience.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Having played in Pipe Bands for over 34 years, with almost 20 of those as a Pipe Major, it strikes me that there is a very different art form to playing in a band, than being in a role that involves conducting and driving a performance.


Having recently played in a pipers role, it was essential that I attended practice with a bagpipe set up as the band wanted and in perfect condition. Why should the Pipe major spend time working with my instrument when obviously there are more pressing issues. Before each practice my instrument was given a short blow just to ensure it was sounding at its best and steady.

Personal practice.

Working on the tunes at home is important to ensure that band practice becomes a musical rehearsal and not a private lesson for one or two individuals. I do not know of any musicians who do not do private practice and still adequately perform at rehearsals.


When the band is playing, spending your time watching the Pipe Major (who is conducting the band) is essential. Instead of just standing and playing the tunes, it is important to watch the Pipe Major's hands and try to play as closely as possible to his style and example. This way you improve at a rehearsal without someone having to intervene.


Next it is important to use your ears. Listen to the sound of your instrument and compare it to the sound of the band overall and also to the musicians on each side of you. You need to blend as closely as possible with both. If there is an issue around you, it will be your experience and listening to the overall sound that will guide you and ensure that you contribute to the sound and not detract from it.

Be an anchor.

You must also contribute to the musical performance. watching the Pipe Major will help, but there are times when bands increase tempo and rush to the ends of parts or tunes. The experienced player will not be dragged along, but will hold back, still ensuring that they do not stand out as an individual in the performance.

Attacks and finishes.

Attacks and finished are all important. These are learnt through drilling and discipline. You should practice them and try to improve them every time they are undertaken. Good instrument maintenance, knowledge and understanding help tremendously.

Attend regularly.

Without all members present practices are difficult. It is not just you that is practicing, but the whole team that is learning to perform together. You would be surprised how ineffective a practice is in reality with one or two players missing.


Most bands struggle to raise money and attract new members. You should realise as a member of a band it is you that "owns" the band and as such you can contribute to recruiting, fundraising and the overall impression the band leaves on outsiders.

Enjoy the privilege.

playing in a band is a privilege. The senior members of bands put in huge efforts and sacrifice a lot to make the bands a success. Ensure that you contribute and you will enjoy your involvement and success of the band.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Upcoming Piping Events - Adelaide

The R U Brown Piobaireachd Society is holding its Silver Chanter Competition on 5th Nov 2010 at the Blair Athol Uniting Church.

A further Contest will be held on 1st April 2011 at the same venue.

The R U Brown Piobaireachd Society will be holding its Gold Medal Competition at Scotch College Adelaide (Carruth Road Torrens Park)on the 8th May 2011. There are normally over 100 pipers competing in various events throughout the school. International and local judges will decide the winners of the events.

The night before will see a recital held in the School Chapel where pipers of International renown will perform. Seminars and lessons will be conducted in the week following the competition. Keep an eye on the society website for further information.

Accomodation for adjudicators is provided at the Regal Park Motor Inn, 44 Barton Terrace North Adelaide and a bus provides transport to the events. Competitors are free to take advantage of the bus if space is available.

Generous travel allowances are available for competitors in the senior events as well as prize money for winners. Details are on the website.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone at the events again next year.
For further piping information visit The School of Piping Website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010



There comes a time in every piper’s life when they will be asked to play at a wedding, funeral or even a formal party. There are many similarities between these performances, particularly with tuning.

The best advice I can give is to ensure that your bagpipe is going as well as possible and is played before you leave home. It is going to have to hold tune for some time and there are a few “tricks of the trade” to help.

Taking a booking
Usually someone will telephone or ask you personally if you will play at a wedding or party. Often a funeral director will call and ask if you are available to play at a funeral. You should get personal particulars, including a contact phone number (in case you need to call in the event of an emergency), the venue location, a date and time, details of the event and any special requests or requirements the client may have. There will usually be some tune requests or details of when you are required to play. Many ask for advice on what is commonly done. Remember to clearly establish a fee, any deposit required and where and when you wish to be paid. You may wish to get them to sign a contract. Write all details in a diary and do not forget about the event. These are major stepping stones in people lives that they will remember forever.

You do have a say in what you will do at the event! I remember many years ago being asked to play at an Italian wedding anniversary. The gentleman asked me if I could get him a drum majors staff so that he could walk in front of me with a glass of orange juice balanced on his head (no joke). I advised him I was a serious musician and would not be made fun of. He came to my house to run through the details of the event (highly unusual) and I had actually doubled the fee to discourage him. I ended up playing at the event and he was so happy he apologised for thinking I would accept his antics and later booked me to play at his daughter’s wedding and his wife’s birthday. They were the nicest people and I was looked after very well at every event. I could have turned up, had everyone laugh whist he was the centre of attention and gone home feeling like an idiot.

It is important to be well presented at these types of functions. Generally pipers are paid, and therefore we should be as professional as possible in how we present ourselves and how we perform. You should wear appropriate uniform; I wear normal kilted day wear, including a jacket (no matter what the temperature) and always wear a hat. Glengarry or Balmoral are both suitable.

Properly press and polish your uniform as you want to look smart in appearance. I always wear a hat when I am performing. I consider my presence and appearance as part of the performance where appropriate. If I am positioned in a place where I appear as part of the ceremonial aesthetics, I will carry by bagpipe on my shoulder and wear my hat, whether in the church or not. If I am left to one side to wait to perform, I will lower my bagpipe and remove my hat if inside the church or chapel. I will also usually remove myself from view of the public (stand at the back of the church etc.)

There are always variations to the standard format. Some churches have restrictions (such as no pipers inside the church itself), so you should ask that the format has been confirmed with the church. You should place this responsibility on the client, so that you do not become embroiled in their disappointment and negotiations. Some may ask that you attend a rehearsal; I would suggest you could charge at least 50% of the usual booking fee to do so. Some ask that you later play the bride and groom into the reception, again you could charge an additional fee as it is very time consuming and usually involves waiting for a few hours.
The usual format is this:
• Play outside the church as guests arrive. ( Light march sets are appropriate)
• And /or just play the bride from the car to the steps of the church. (A slower march or air is suitable)
• Play the bride down the aisle. (A slower march or air)
• Play whilst the register is being signed. (Many request Amazing Grace or similar, let them know you will play one or two sets as this process often takes a long time. It can get tedious as photos are taken. Do not position yourself too close as the photographer will want to be talking to the couple and giving directions).
• Play as guests leave the church. (faster light march sets, strathspeys and reels, jig sets etc. are appropriate, I would suggest 5-10 minutes maximum and position yourself away from the venue, where you can clearly be seen but not drown out everyone’s chit chat ).
Garden weddings follow a similar format. I try to position myself in a shady position, not too close to proceedings. I take into account the fact that I am background music at some points and a part of the proceedings at other stages, so I try to position myself where I think I will sound the best.

When taking a booking ensure you know who you are talking to as they will be your liaison on the day. It may be a family member, so you will have to show appropriate sympathy and professionalism. It may be a funeral director in which case you can be more businesslike.
Again some will have firm ideas as to what they want, others may ask for guidance. There are many variations.
The usual format is this:
• Play the casket from the hearse into the chapel or play as the mourners and family arrive. (airs, hymns and slow tunes are appropriate)
• Play as the casket is lowered in the case of cremation. (Flowers of the Forest or Amazing Grace are often requested).
• Play the casket back to the hearse and then play at a graveside lowering in the event of a burial.
• Play as mourners leave. (Marches are appropriate, not too slow; this is when you perform for the “living”, after the funeral is over. Sometimes a family related Piobaireachd is requested.)

Preparing your bagpipe
With most of these types of performances tuning time is limited and tuning during the ceremony is inappropriate. You should therefore ensure that your instrument is well set up and will hold in tune.
Play for a short period before you leave to ensure that everything is working and well set. Put your bagpipe down for a few minutes and pick it back up and play to ensure that it does hold.
When you arrive at the venue select the areas where you will play. Tune up in a similar atmosphere. If you are playing inside and you cannot tune indoors, pick a shaded/ sheltered area where you can tune up outside. Do not over tune your bagpipe. If you are only playing for a register signing and as guests leave the church or for a funeral ceremony, you may only want to tune for a few minutes. If well set your pipes will hold in tune. If you tune for 30 or 40 minutes they will change whist you stand around waiting to play and will never settle during the short performances.
If you have to play outside, decide if you will play in the shade or in the sun. If there is no option and you have to play in full sunlight and it is warm, try to tune in the shade and then play in the sun for short periods to acclimatise the instrument to the heat.
In the event that something goes wrong, it is advisable to continue playing in a professional manner. Fiddling with an instrument is not a professional appearance. Taking a set of small corks is a great idea to deal with an unruly drone or a reed that falls into a bag etc.
Get full particulars of the event, people involved, contact details and firmly establish a fee and time for payment. Always be polite, but be aware that you can offer suggestions and advice.
Know your instrument and set it up well prior to the event.
At the event, present yourself smartly, and perform professionally and appropriate to the type of event. Carefully consider and plan your tuning options and present with a nice sounding instrument. Select appropriate positions in which to perform. Do not get too close to the audience or participants in the ceremony if you have an option.
Remember that you are at these events in a professional capacity, so always act professionally. For that reason I tend to avoid joining in with the festivities at parties and weddings. I may gratefully accept hospitality, but will not remain to socialise. You do not need to be stuffy or rude, but I usually leave promptly after performing. These things are always up to your discretion though.

Always think about how you present to the audience and the position in which you will play so as to ensure that everyone enjoys your performance.

The most comprehensive guide available today for the set up, maintenance, refinement and performing of the Bagpipe is “The Complete Pipers Handbook”. The book also covers how to properly wear and maintain a kilt and uniform. Sales of this publication help fund the freely available school of piping website. Copies can be purchased here: School of Piping

To hire a professional Piper in South Australia contact

Amazing Grace - The myths dispelled!

Love it or hate it, the tune Amazing Grace has become synonymous with the Great Highland Bagpipe. It is requested almost every time a piper appears in the general public and therefore many serious pipers are not great fans of the tune. It is often stated that it is “not a Scottish tune”, or “it was originally a Gaelic air”, or it is an “African American spiritual”. Well, what is the truth and where did it come from?

The words are obviously a Christian hymn and were penned by John Newton (1725–1807) and were published in 1779. As a young man, Newton was pressed into the Royal Navy and after his service eventually worked as a sailor aboard a slave trading vessel. During a ferocious storm he called out to God in fear and this marked his Christian conversion. Some years later he left the slave trade and began studying theology, eventually being ordained in the Church of England in 1764. The hymn was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day 1773. It imparts a message of forgiveness and redemption, no matter how great one’s sins. Not all of the current words are attributed to Newton as there are later additions.

In 1835 William Walker joined Newton’s hymn with the music we now recognise. The tune was known as “New Britain” and had been an amalgamation of two traditional folk tunes known as “Gallaher” and “St Mary”. It is speculated that these tunes were Scottish Folk ballads passed orally by the predominantly Scottish immigrants of Kentucky and Tennessee or folk songs developed in Virginia or South Carolina, from where Walker originally came.

Issued to soldiers in two hymnals during the American Civil War the hymn became popular in a time dealing with so many tragic deaths. It also featured in an immensely popular anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. The simple and moving words and attractive melody saw the hymn becoming a popular African American Spiritual.
In the 1960’s it was a commonly used hymn by the African American Civil Rights movement and also by the opposition groups to the Vietnam War.

In 1972 The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards recorded “Amazing Grace” combining both their Pipes and Drums and Military Band. The arrangement opened with a solo bagpipe which was joined by the Pipe Band and full Military Band. The track quickly rose to number one in the charts in the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Australia and by 1977 had sold seven million copies. It also reached as high as 11 on the US charts.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had only been formed in 1971 by the amalgamation of the 3rd Carabiniers and the Royal Scots Greys. Pipe major at the time of the recording was Sgt. A J Crease and the Bandmaster was WO1. C I Herbert. We have been unable to confirm the suggestion that Tony Crease was summoned to the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle and chastised for “demeaning the bagpipe” following release of the recording. We doubt this as the Director of Army Bagpipe Music at the time Capt. John MacLellan later published the score in one of his many books of tunes for the Highland Bagpipe.
It is without any doubt that this recording created the strong link that the Bagpipe now shares with the tune “Amazing Grace”. Many recordings (both good and bad) have been made since further cementing the relationship. A recent recording and new arrangement by soloist Brett Tidswell combined with backing by folk musician Marcus Holden can be found on the album “Scotland the Brave” and is only available here: School of Piping

Monday, September 6, 2010

After thoughts regarding the World Championships


It has been a few of years since I had the opportunity to attend the World Championships and this year I was more than delighted to accept the opportunity to compete with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band at this prestigious event and of course some lead up competitions.
I arrived in mid-July and competed at the European Championships in Belfast. The band gained a respectable fourth place and seemed delighted with their third place in piping. The following weekend the band put in a strong performance at Bridge of Allan where we won all elements at the event, setting us up for a good run the following weekend at the “Worlds”.
The set up of “arena one” at the World Championship event has changed with a larger grand stand and the location near the grassed hill. This makes it easier for spectators to see the competing bands and also for fellow competitors to see the other bands without fighting the crowd. It was good to see spectators sitting on the hill enjoying the event from a distance but still being able to see and hear the bands. The large screen also makes it easier to get a close up view of the action. It is however one of the things as a competitor that I found I had to ignore. Not a hard job, but certainly something that competitors should be aware could easily distract their attention.
Overall as a competitor the event seemed to run very smoothly. The only distraction during our preparations for the event was one band blocking the entrance to fine tuning leaving our band to have to fight through the crowd in single file to get past. Not ideal at this crucial stage.
The weather was very nice, but the sun coming in and out seemed to affect the balance and sound of some of the bands. Obviously getting drones perfectly set and maintaining a balanced top hand are considerations in this type of weather.
I gained the impression leading up to the event that St Lawrence O’Toole was the popular favourite and they did not disappoint. They clearly were thrilled with the result as was the crowd. Terry Tully gave a touching and heartfelt speech. Some surprised this year in the results and an unfortunate mix up between third and fourth place. We gained a seventh place overall, which due to some small errors I did not think reflected the potential that the band could have achieved. A strong accurate sound, some talented young players and a lot of interest in the band bodes well for a strong future.
I do have one criticism of the events that I have attended that I personally think needs some review. I have heard numerous complaints from spectators and bands alike about the drawn out nature of the final ceremony. Playing in the centre bands is a hard chore after the day’s events and the long procession of bands marching past and being announced seems to have little favour with the audience. Whilst it is nice to acknowledge the bands it does seem very long winded. A small note is that some of the podium members need to be careful to sit appropriately in a kilt, especially when “regimentally” attired.
Having all bands move onto the arena together in an organised manner, play the salute; prize announcements and the winning band in each grade then being given the opportunity to march off individually in front of the audience and other bands could be the highlight of each event. This could dramatically reduce the length of the final ceremony and make it more spectator friendly.
There are moves afoot overseas to trial an open circle format. This makes the even a little more spectator friendly and also gives the opportunity for bands to present their performance to a fixed judging location. Surely preferable when considering balance, harmonies and other ensemble concerns. The contests in Brittany that I have seen have a significantly larger panel of adjudicators, seated in front of the bands. This gives a focal point for the performances and less chance of personal preferences and large discrepancies in placings interfering as significantly with the final results. We saw some significant variation in results at this championship, especially in the qualifying rounds meaning that only one adjudicator prevented some bands from progressing to the final round.
Congratulations are due to the organisers for the continuing improvement of the event which is obviously the world’s premier pipe band competition.