Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Can competitive pipers actually ENJOY bagpipe music?
I have a problem. I love the bagpipes and would like to think that I love good bagpipe music. Having been trained in the competitive tradition from the beginning, I find it very difficult not to be critical of even the best piping out there. I love to talk piping with my piping friends. A typical conversation might go along the lines of:
“Did you listen to (insert a top 3 band)’s medley at the worlds? Yeah, did you hear that under-blown B in the slow air? That was terrible! Yeah, and they just haven’t been bringing the sound the last couple of years, I mean, their chanters sound thin on the top hand and they aren’t getting the same blending with the drones as (insert other top 3 band). Their medley really lacks creativity and is very predictable.”
This is just a fabricated example, but is not too different from conversations I have all the time. The other day I was doing some soul searching, so to speak, about why I play the pipes. Are pipers really in love with the music, or are they just obsessed with getting better and succeeding at competition? When I listen to a good piping album I noticed that it is very difficult for me to listen without fingering along and analyzing every bit of technique or subconsciously thinking about how I would handle that technique if I were playing. At the same time I’m listening to the drones and chanter, the steadiness, the intonation, the blowing, etc., etc. When I get around to actually listening to the MUSIC, it’s really more of an analysis of phrasing, timing, etc. rather than enjoying the emotional experience of music.
I love bagpipe music, but how can I re-learn to actually listen to the MUSIC, rather than merely analyzing the conglomerate of elements that are going into the music. If I could keep the skill and knowledge I have now, but go back to the mind frame when I was a beginner and find that passion I used to have for the music I think this journey would be more fulfilling. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I’m obsessed with it, it’s just that I wish I could hear the MUSIC in the music again.
This is not a knock on competitive piping, it’s forever linked to piping tradition. I love competitive piping and get much fulfillment from it. It’s just that sometimes I feel like more of an athlete and not a musician.
Am I alone in feeling like this? Is it even possible to change this frame of mind? I want to listen without fingering along. I want to listen without thinking about technique. And it’s not just limited to listening. I want to re-learn how to play MUSIC, and not just play technique, tone, and phrasing. Can this be done? If so… how?