Aboyne Games Announce More Details of 2020 Competitions

By Ian McLaren

Below are details issued on behalf of Aboyne Highland Games about its decision to move some of its piping competitions online this year following the event’s cancellation due to COVID-19.  Aboyne is believed to be the first Highland games in Scotland to introduce virtual piping competitions this year, a move that will provide solo pipers with a platform to play competitively. 

Demand from pipers led to the number of entries being capped at 32, of which around two-thirds of entrants are UK-based and the remaining third from America.  The pipers will play live on Saturday, 1 August – the day on which Aboyne Highland Games was due to be held – and an audio recording of their performance will be made by stewards via a video call. 

Aboyne Highland Games is moving three of its piping competitions online as part of pioneering plans to mark its games day. Organisers announced in May that this year’s games was being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, halting 95 music, dance, and athletics competitions. 

Now, in an effort to provide a platform for solo pipers to play competitively this year, organisers have taken the decision to run a trio of live piping competitions online on Saturday, 01 August. 

The online competition is the brainchild of respected piper and piping convenor for Aboyne Highland Games, Dr Jack Taylor. The move will see the open competitions for the piobaireachd, march, and strathspey and reel being run virtually. 

The competition will see two heats of sixteen pipers, with five going forward from each heat to the final.  Each piper will submit their choice of six piobaireachds, three marches, three strathspeys and three reels.  The tunes that each piper will play will then be chosen at random from their submissions and given to them on the morning of the competition.

Moving the competitions online has been made possible thanks to the support of Royal Deeside grocer and delicatessen George Strachan Ltd.  The retailer, which has shops in Aboyne and Ballater, is sponsoring all three competitions.  George Strachan Ltd is a long-time supporter of Aboyne Highland Games, having advertised consistently in the event’s programme since adverts were first permitted in the publication in 1966.

Calum Brown playing at Aboyne last year

Pipers will play live on Saturday, 01 August – the day Aboyne Highland Games was due to be held – with the audio recording of their performance being overseen by stewards via a video call.  The audio recordings will then be sent to the judges, who will review the performances the following week, before five finalists from each heat are selected.  These ten recordings will then be judged by different judges, with winners announced thereafter.

Dr Taylor said: “The response we have had from pipers to take part in this competition has been excellent.  Among those due to perform are a few who have won Gold Medals for solo piobaireachd piping at the Northern Meeting or Argyllshire Gathering, so we are anticipating a high standard of competition.

“More pipers are due to play than usually participate in the solo competitions at Aboyne Highland Games and there is the added interest of some joining us from America.  We are the only Highland games in Scotland to have introduced this format so far this year, which is exciting. 

“Several indoor piping competitions have also been run online in recent months.  We felt that being able to offer solo pipers the opportunity to compete this year was important for them individually and collectively as a piping community, and also for us as a games.

“On the day we are aiming to recreate our usual competition setting by having the pipers performing for us live, with our stewards overseeing the audio recording of each performance through video conferencing software.  Each piper will then submit their audio recording of that performance, which the judges will base their assessment on, factoring in that there may be variances in the quality of the audio recordings.  It will also be interesting to see how they adapt to not seeing the piper during judging.  I am looking forward to hearing all the performances on Saturday, 01 August.”

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said: “Cancelling this year’s Aboyne Highland Games was done with a heavy heart, but for the right reasons.  Moving our three open piping events online shows how Highland games can adapt and innovate, just as they have done historically.  This online competition is an excellent way for this year’s Aboyne Highland Games to still have a competitive element on games day, one which is very safely socially distanced.

“The generous support of George Strachan Ltd in sponsoring these online events ensures that pipers have more opportunities to play competitively this year.  Jack and his piping stewards have done an excellent job to bring this competition to fruition and we look forward to hearing the performances when we post them online in early August.”

In addition to the online piping competition, the committee of Aboyne Highland Games is currently finalising details of how they plan to mark games day on Saturday, 01 August.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August.  The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.  Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy.  Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com

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