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?


Anonymous said...

You would probably make a good piping judge. Not such a good ensemble judge. Listen to the worlds G1 final and really listen to SFU vs St Lawrence O'Toole. I have my opinion, we should talk about it later.


John Miner said...


My reference to bands was purely... well, mostly hypothetical.

Bruce Copley said...

Hello John,

I read your article " Can competitive pipers actually enjoy bagpipe music ? " and really resonated with it. I am a multi instrumentalist who has just learnt to play my 107th instrument the GHB. I think that when any art form especially music becomes competitive it loses many of its subtle and inherent qualities one of which is its capacity to heal, balance and intergrate the human mind, body and spirit. Would very much like to chat to you on address is bruce.copley11

Yours in breath and rhythm

Dr Bruce Copley (Cape Town, South Africa)