Senior Adjudicator Adds Comments to MSR Tune Selection Discussion

barry  By  Barry Donaldson

Following last week’s letter from Alex Gandy from Halifax, Nova Scotia, regarding comments on his tune selection for the Former Winner MSR event at this year’s Northern Meeting, I thought, as was one of the judges involved in the selection of the competitors’ tunes, I might be able to add something to the debate.

The following are my considerations on this matter, however they are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the considerations of my fellow adjudicators.

In a major piping event such as the Inverness Former Winners, one which attracts a larger audience than other smaller events, it is important to try to avoid repetition of tunes. This is not always entirely possible but I would always endeavour to select as many different tunes as possible. This can be difficult when there are 20 plus competitors each submitting six tunes for each discipline and when there are a number of very popular tunes which are regularly submitted.

I am also aware of certain tunes preferred by some of the competitors, particularly as they have been successful with them at previous events. Such pieces performed well will undoubtedly receive favourable attention and consequently the submission of such favourites is not an uncommon practice. The more experienced competitor will have built a selection of at least six tunes (for each discipline) which he or she has had success with. The less experienced player may not have this comfort to enjoy.


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The mix of six different tunes over three disciplines (Northern Meeting preference) to some extent makes the judges selection more interesting particularly when considering style. Take for example the different approach one may make when playing Kantara to El Arish and Knightswood Ceilidh, Cameronian Rant and Inveraray Castle or The Little Cascade and Neil Angus MacDonald. If a player submits tunes with diverse styles I am inclined to choose them as it provides an opportunity to hear how the player will present and interpret two different styled pieces in each of the three disciplines. It is not uncommon to hear the first tune played extremely well with the second losing momentum or, more importantly, conflicting in rhythmic/melodic style.

If a competitor submits an easier piece I would have no hesitation in selecting that notwithstanding it is a senior competition. At this level I would expect the performance of such a tune to have flair and individual interpretation thus making it stand out. One of the best Strathspey and Reel performances I ever heard was Iain Morrison in the late 70s Uist and Barra playing Monymusk and the Traditional Reel. Many would say ‘easy tunes’, however what he did that day was musically outstanding and deservedly took first prize. That said, all things being equal, the easy tune is unlikely to withstand the test against a more difficult piece.

Competitors who include easy tunes alongside more difficult ones should understand that judges will not necessarily select the more difficult piece. If the simpler piece is selected, it is not to make life easier for the competitor and if they are unable to deliver above and beyond that which his fellow competitors are doing with more difficult pieces, then failure is on the cards. I would suggest this is more the norm than the Iain Morrison scenario and makes for easy adjudication. In other words unless you have something special to deliver with a relatively easy tune then do not submit it.

Be careful with tunes that are uncommon and seldom played. I know a judge of former times who refused to listen to this type of tune irrespective of how good it was played. His take was ‘how are you supposed to know if it is played correctly’?

Finally, tune selection by the competitor is crucial and I do feel that some performers at this year’s event did not give enough consideration to this important area.

• Read P/M Donaldson’s report from the 2016 Northern Meeting Former Winners’ MSR competition here.


3 thoughts on “Senior Adjudicator Adds Comments to MSR Tune Selection Discussion”

  1. There’s something discomforting about the line, “how are you supposed to know if it is played correctly?” Drumming judges are frequently presented with an array of individually composed scores and can somehow make good judgements regarding the performance.

    I guess piping judges have anorensiddicult time with this?

  2. How do we get to hear new tunes played then? Or should I say less known tunes, surely it’s up to everyone playing or judging to make sure they know what music is out and make sure they learn it.Its great to hear other tunes played as well as the classic tunes that are still being played now and im sure the less known tunes could soon become classics in time.

  3. I appreciate the difficulty judges take on, but as someone keen on hearing old arrangements, I’m afraid the same comment about judging unknown tunes sticks in my craw. This is the reason why competitions become about who can play the best Highland Wedding. If it comes down to needing note readers to split the hairs in top competitions, they might as well provide a list of set tunes. Seems like judges who want to avoid the unfamiliar aren’t doing the music any favors.

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