The Evolution of Higher Standards
Yogi Berra, unintentional master of twisted English and bizarre phrases, is reported to have once remarked "When you come to fork in the road, take it". Buried in this apparently absurd bit of advice is a short history of
piping, solo and bands, over the last 25 years or so.
At one time, not really all that
long ago, the name of the game was "LegionBands". There are not many of my
generation who did not, at one time oranother, play for this venerable group of warriors.
Indeed, for manyplayers in many places this was the only game in town. Those bandsprovided
a base (and in many places still do) for what today are the
"better" bands who have honed their skills on enormous amounts of work andhigh level competition.
I now hear Grade 3 bands that, thanks to excellent teaching and masterfulpreparation, are better than some of the older recordings of Grade 1 bands.I hear Grade 2 bands that are better in all respects -- execution, tone,expression, ensemble; musicality - than some of the older Grade 1 championbands. I hear Grade 1 bands that can produce a sound and a musical effectthat is beyond anything I, at least, had even imagined. Competitions areoften fierce and very close. Concert performances on a grand scale happenmore often. The quality of the recorded music has attained new heights.Clever composers, arrangers, and players write and perform innovative andinteresting twists and turns with the instrument.
This is called evolution. It is
taking all (or both, if you want to be a
purist) the forks in the road.
Piping, for all its conservative nature and its sometimes dour andparochial practitioners, has never been shy of change. Terrified, perhaps.Afraid, maybe. Somewhat reluctant. A little edgy about messing withtradition. But change has happened. Mind you, sometimes the changes tooka millennia or two to become accepted. Some are not accepted yet, merelytolerated. I have a feeling that if Seamus MacNeil were alive he stillwouldn't like hornpipes, which he once described as " a joke for theprivate ceilidh, but they should never be aired on the competitionplatform". I've heard complaints about "kitchen piping" being anabomination, the current pitch being too high, the strathspeys too slow,the jigs too fast, the reels to round well, you see what I mean.
Nevertheless, people enjoy kitchen piping so much that we don't even callit that anymore. The current pitch sounds fine, the roundness nowassociated with jig and reel playing is widely accepted (or should that bere-accepted?), tempos are edging back up to where they were some years ago,and the quality of sound and of playing ability of both individuals andbands has shot through the roof. Technical advances and innovations inchanters, reeds, and bags now offer a wide range of options to beginner,amateur, and professional alike.
Yogi Berra is also reported to
have said "Let's pair up and walk around in
threes". Why don't we do that, and while we're walking around attempt to
answer the question:
Where do we go next?
Editor, B.C. Pipers Association Communications