P/M Ben Peterson of Greater Midwest Pipe Band (G2), gives us his take on a hectic competition day at Winter Storm a week or so back, pipers selflessly assisting and supporting drumming colleagues through the whole competition day……
While this event is far more than just the competitions on the Friday, to many, that day at Winter Storm in Kansas City, Missouri, is simultaneously the beginning of the competitive year and one of the most prestigious events of the season.
It is hard, if not impossible, to find contests of such proportion and with judging panels of such depth, nearly anywhere else, at least in the States.
Now in its 18th year the event has expanded tremendously and has morphed into the behemoth that it is today.
The folks at the Midwest Highland Arts Fund (MHAF), and the army of volunteers that they gather every year, work wonders as they wield the great number of contests, contestants, tuning rooms, and so on to produce an event that, though not without some minor hiccups, seems to flow effortlessly.
My morning began fairly early with a student who was playing in one of the amateur contests at 8am.
Not an exceedingly early time, certainly not for the average solo competitor in the Midwestern US, he ran through his warm-up routine stabilised his instrument, hit the critical phrases and breaks in his set and had a good run.
This was his first time in a contest this large. He handled the pressure very well and put on a strong performance. For him, this would be the end of his day until the award ceremony: about a 14 hour wait.
It would however, be 14 hours of soaking in some of the best piping and drumming that one could find in all of North America. Thinking back to when I was at his level, this was merely a dream.
It may not seem like much, but to those of us who once lived without it, this is bordering on the miraculous.
My own event wasn’t to begin for another five hours, and while I was early on in the group of nearly 30, I wouldn’t have to warm-up for a good long while.
During this time, I worked briefly with another student who would be performing in one of the three other locations that were housing competitions.
We worked through a timeline for his warm-up and prepped him for his first of two contests. It would be taking place around the same time as my own performance.
This left some time to listen to a little bit of one of the Open piping contests, this one for light music. Once I finished my own performance I knew that I would be running to begin almost immediately a series of six, yes six, tenor and bass contests, so it was nice to be able to take some time to relax and soak in some excellent playing.
It was clear from the few contestants that I saw and heard, that to no one’s surprise, the standard would yet again be excellent.
Finally it was time to get into my uniform and head to the warm up rooms for my contest. I know for me that the timing of this is critical. You want to have enough time to be prepared, and yet not too much time to overplay yourself or the instrument.
As often as I give this advice to students, I find it ironic how often I have to remind myself of my own guidance.
The time for my play came and I felt I had done what I could to get my instrument stable and set.
Some significant differing temperatures between tuning rooms and the contest room made this more of a challenge than I would have liked.
Just the same, I got through the set with no major errors. My playing was a little lacking in passion and emotion as I was trying to keep the technical side of my set strong with an instrument that was likely to sway considering the inconsistency of the preparation environments.
Afterwards I was ready to get on with the rest of the day’s events. I grabbed all my things and headed down one floor to find the bass drummer I needed to warm up with. A text message told me we were on in ten minutes.
The MSR being between five and eight minutes, this would leave us very little time to run through things, but we got a quick run in, played a strathspey to reel break, and we were off.
We had a clean run, and the bass drummer was pleased with her performance. There would be another 15 minutes until my next stint.
We ran through our set and got another clean run on the boards. Check and check. This left me with about 20 minutes to collect myself before having to head over to the Holiday Inn, a block away, to prep for two Gold Medal tenor performances an MSR and a Hornpipe/Jig for each of the two competitors.
They were playing the same two sets, thankfully. Playing for a good number of drummers this cuts down the workload. I do this accompaniment work every year at WS but it doesn’t get any easier.
As is typical, there was a great deal of activity at the Holiday Inn. A plethora of tenor and snare drummers. It always impresses me how well the volunteers and stewards manage these contests and their contestants.
They keep it all straight despite the amount of overlap between pipers and drummers who have to compete in their own events as well as providing accompaniment for their band mates.
A little jockeying of players took place keeping things moving along. As it always does, everything fell into place. In a blink of an eye, an hour and a half had passed, performances were behind us, and my day of playing had come to an end.
For once I was done by 4pm. My day usually continues until 6 or 7pm with the odd year or two pushing until almost 10pm before I can finally sit in on the awards ceremony.
This year though I was going to be able to take in a bit more of the open contest and actually watch some friends and students play their own events. It was a refreshing change of pace.
For me, having been to the WS awards ceremony for 16 of the 18 years, it is a pleasure to see how grand it has become.
It is amazing to see how refined the organisers have the process of moving through the awards without drawing away from the prestige that each individual deserves as they walk across the stage. It is a delicate dance, but one that the folks at MHAF have down to an art.
Late in the evening on Friday, a whole day had passed by quicker than I could have imagined. It was another excellent year attending the contests and getting the opportunity to partake in them.
And just like that, the competitive year is off to a start. This is an event that has solidified itself, on both a national and international level. There are only a few events in the world of competitive solo piping and drumming that exist on a similar scale.
It is something to experience to say the least. If you have the opportunity, chance the weather and travel to the heart of American Midwest to take in this event. As either a competitor and/or a spectator it will not be a disappointment, that can be assured.
All being well I’ll be back there in 2020.