Musical Playing:

Is there anyone besides me who is getting tired (or is it jealous or envious?) with some of the pipe pieces that seem to have more of the  air of a finger exercise rather than a piece of music?

Music should be written and performed for the listener, not for the composer or player. Many "mainstream" composers, modern classical for example, as well as some university-based music department individuals, seem to be writing music for the intellectual and technical challenge, not for the ear of an audience. I suppose there's nothing wrong with this in one sense: innovation is generally a good thing, and all things change over time anyway. Sometimes, though, it seems that this ignoring of the listener has gone a bit too far, in both other musical disciplines and in piping.

I have been reading from other piping jurisdictions about how delighted everyone is that the pipes seem to be finding a public venue which is truly public and not limited only to the already initiated. To paraphrase something from the Piping Times: Maybe we can begin to get away from the competition scene and put the pipes where they rightfully belong - on the stage. I'm not sure I agree with this sentiment, for the fact is that street bands have always primarily been performers, and a competition is a type of performance in any case. There is, however, the beginning of a shift for the good and the great bands to more involvement in public and stage performance. These thrill sometimes huge crowds anxious to hear not only the "auld tunes" played well but to hear new tunes, which might be described as of the "Celtic Rock and Roll" variety. The new stuff. The "clap your hands and tap your foot" stuff.

However, some of this music is so thoroughly frenetic and confused it serves only to alienate or alienate further both the aficionados and the "piping challenged" who are listening for a good robust tune but getting "Hah! Look what I can do with my fingers." instead. Just as throwing one's carcass madly about and rolling around on the floor has in some circles become defined as "dance", so it sometimes seems that throwing one's fingers madly about on the chanter has become defined as "music".

This is not to say there are not some very intricate, and very good, tunes out there. There are. They can only be played with a maximum of ability, agility and confidence. Many of them are relatively new and written by composers both locally and internationally. They are characterized by plenty of delightful and unexpected musical "hooks", innovative finger work, challenging execution, and sometimes hair-raising difficulty. Some them are also characterized by an excitement which gets an audience to its feet and the blood of other players flowing more quickly. Some even have a recognizable melody. Notice the word "melody". To be melodious a composition has to have something in it besides difficulty, intricacy, and "thae tricky bits". There has to be a discernable tune buried somewhere in there.

Sure, everyone has different tastes, and what is one person's musical porridge is another's champagne. Nevertheless, I, for one, have heard repeatedly from both beginners and veterans, amateurs and professionals, that it would be in the best interest of them, the listener, and of piping as a whole, if fewer finger exercises were played as an exhibition of dexterity and more tunes played as an exhibition of musicality. Musicality, dexterity, innovation, and execution can all be embedded in the same piece, can they not?

"Musical" conjures up images of not only great fingerwork and execution (not to mention sound), but putting together all of the elements to present something other than the reproduction of a bunch of symbolic black blobs on a white page. Musicality respects the listener and does not present just a bunch of notes strung together with no apparent purpose other than to prove it can be done.

What do you think?

Rorri McBlane
Editor, B.C. Pipers Association Communications