London: B Grade Piobaireachd Review

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Scottish Piping Society of London Competition, Nov 1, 2014,
‘B’ Piobaireachd Review

10611176434_91c0f5ac30_oBy Andrew Wright

Competition reports and feedback, as a rule, tend always to centre on the very top level, with lower grade events mostly by-passed other than for the recording of the results. It is, however, at the lower level that the apprenticeship for the top is served, where performing skills are learned and honed toward the degree of perfection required to be a prizewinner at the pinnacle of the piping ladder.

In the ‘B’ Piobaireachd event at London the winning tune was The Blue Ribbon played by Ed McIlwaine from Vancouver, British Columbia. He was able to present this long piece as a complete harmonious package with all of the multi variations integrated properly together as regards tempo, accent and expression. Bagpipe and technique were superb. This performance could have taken a prize in a higher grade.

Matt Fraser was a close second with an excellent performance of Lament for the Viscount of Dundee. He presented the melody with smoothness and a high degree of expression. He knew exactly what to do with the tune except perhaps on some of the connecting notes at the phrase ends. Here he was searching for the length at times, the length that would give him a smooth transition to the next phrase or line. The fine instrument was in perfect tune throughout.

Sandy Cameron was placed third with his performance of the Red Speckled Bull. This is a long piece with much repetition of the same pattern on  the bottom notes through each variation. It was felt that the pattern could have been shown more clearly in the playing, thereby adding colour and animation to the performance.

Lament for Captain MacDougall  gained fourth prize for Sarah Muir. Overall the tune was played in  careful fashion with reluctance to show any difference in the length of the short notes. The overall effect was measured and cautious. Finger work and bagpipe were perfect all through.

Peter Hunt demonstrated good flow and expression in MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart and captured the mood of the piece. There was some uncertainty in the timing on some of the E cadences but the overall effect was harmonious and on a good bagpipe. He was awarded fifth prize.

Other strong performances were heard from Steven Gray with MacDougall’s Gathering, which after a lovely ground, lost pace and form all through the later variations. Here he was overdwelling on the top hand theme notes that follow the grips. Ben MacClamrock was very expressive in the ground and thumb variation of Macleod of Raasay’s Salute but the technical variations were stretched out of shape all the way through with a randomness in  length over all of the theme notes. Andrew Wilson played the Fingerlock but a very sharp E, prominent through the whole of the piece, spoiled the musical effect.


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Steven Leask played The Vaunting with good technical skill, but was very straight and measured with lack of colour in the phrasing – musical statement absent all through.  The King’s Taxes played by Anna Kummerlow had much to commend it in the ground but the timing fell away in the variations which followed. Top hand technique was excellent. The nameless tune Hiharin dro o dro was phrased well  by Jamie Elder but the drone tuning on the instrument was lost halfway through  the performance.

Twenty eight players entered and twenty-two played in an event which attracted competitors from the USA and Canada. The Scottish Piping Society of London competition is, as a whole, highly rated and respected by competitors, judges, and all who attend. The Society is to be thanked for the effort that goes in to the organising and putting this all in place.

These comments on the playing are the opinion of the author and are not necessarily those of the other judge.

For more from London click here. For full results and a pic of ‘B’ piobaireachd winner Ed McIlwaine click here.