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Appraisal by Jock Agnew

It has long been the concern of some LBPS members that while the annual competition is fun, informative and entertaining, it has failed to attract the serious attention of the outside world. And the ‘outside world’ means, to many, the Highland piping community.

The committee has done much (and put in a great deal of unsung work) to promote the bellows pipes which we enjoy playing and listening to. Indeed the past piping recitals which were put on to include many aspects of piping as well as Border and small pipes has at- tracted much attention, and been recorded and made available to a very wide audience by Greentrax. It was following on from this line of approach, I suspect, that the committee was prompted to come up with the idea of an Invitation Recital Competition.

Each member of the committee was asked to submit a shortlist of players they’d like to hear, and the final list was picked from those with the most votes. Of those players invited to take part, some couldn’t or wouldn’t, and the final list was influenced accordingly.

The event was given a lot of publicity - albeit at fairly short notice. It was held in St Anne’s Community Centre, Edinburgh, on the evening of the regular competition; that is, Easter Saturday. Each competitor was introduced by Hamish Moore, and a strict time limit of 15 minutes was allotted to each performance. Anyone over the limit was penalised. There were no formal judges. Each member of the audience had a voting slip to show who, in their opinion, should be placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd. There was also a space on the voting slip for sug- gestions, comments and criticisms. Here are all those received:

*They are all winners!

*Excellent evening. Very difficult to choose, but competitive element good for making you really conscious of how the music is affecting you. Conclusion: everyone wins.

*No competition in future: have recital. At £50 or more for each. Ridiculous to judge.

*The venue is terrible! A much more professional environment is required. It feels as though we were in a classroom. The musicians are much too accomplished to be in such a setting. The atmosphere is cold and incredibly rehearsed. Truly an embarrassment to those who have practised to be here. A much more relaxed setting is crucial and quite possible!

* Have the players behind a screen and the running order not published, in order to get rid of pre-judgment (sic) any prejudices the audience might have, whether positive or negative. I think it would produce even more interesting results. A carpet for the players feet.

It is, of course, impossible to convey the music of the evening using only the written word. But the atmosphere - ah, the atmosphere. The expectant silence as each ‘competitor’ pre- pared his pipes, broken only by the occasional sound of traffic from the night outside.


The attentiveness throughout each performance as we listened to well tuned pipes playing with grace and precision. The enthusiastic applause as each player finished his own per- sonal programme - for the rules allowed each player to choose his tunes with the proviso that at least one must be a Border tune. Of these last I identified three Dixon tunes, and was pleased to hear Over the Dyke played with the last two strains omitted - nice to know that others find those particular strains difficult too!

The order of performance was on the drawn-straw principle, and Jon Swayne led the field with tunes played on his distinctive sounding pipes - he used two sets, one in A and the other low D (I believe). Fin Moore followed with, would you believe, a set of Hamish Moore smallpipes in A.

Allan MacDonald also played smallpipes (C I think), and included Piobaireachd and a Gaelic song with pipe accompaniment. John Saunders used both smallpipes and Border pipes, and produced some boogey which helped emphasise the relaxed approach of the ‘contestants’. Malcolm Robertson played Border pipes and Gary West finished the evening playing his choice of tunes on D smallpipes.

The final audience decision put Gary first, Malcolm second and Fin third. And I find Gary’s performance all the more impressive since he was (I found out later) going down with hepa- titis.

So did the evening achieve its objectives? I counted 44 in the audience, of which only a handful had not been at the competition during the day. Maybe an Easter weekend is a difficult time to attract a large audience. And it certainly raised several issues, some of which were aired over the internet; like whether an audience should or could be a fair judge when monetary reward is involved; and the whole issue of competition playing - who wins who loses.

In my view such an incredible evening should happen again, provided the relaxed approach to it can be maintained by audience and competitors alike, but not necessarily as an annual fixture. And I strongly believe that the approach of individuals to such an event is heavily influenced by whether their mind focuses on the word ‘Recital’ or ‘Competition’ when they look at the title.