While You Are Waiting…A New Look at the Pandemic and Online Contests

Today we introduce a new, talented young writer to Piping Press, Dan Nevans. Writing in his own style, Dan has some reflections on the current pandemic situation and online contests. Piping Press is keen to encourage all young writers so if you have the talent and ambition please get in touch.

I’m just as sick of hearing about this COVID-19 carry on as you are. In fact, I’m so scunnered with it I’m only going to reference it at the start of this article and hit it with a solid, unwavering dingy (a Glaswegian term for intentionally ignoring something or someone) till the very end. 

You understand that the Corona Virus is a respiratory illness that can prove deadly to those with pre-existing respiratory and auto-immune disorders and diseases. So, there is no reason to tell you all that again. 

By Dan Nevans

You also appreciate the levels of restriction you are currently in. So, if you’re in Glasgow right now you’ll be lamenting the ongoing closure of the pubs and if you’re reading this in the far future then give my regards to your piping tutor who, for historical context, has asked you to go back and read this article about online solo piping competitions.

And if you’re reading this in the far, far future give all my best to our cyborg overlords governing humanity from their seat of imperial power on The Throne World of Titus Epsilon B. All Hail! Emperor Tyranotron! May the soldering on his brain connections never rust! 

Okay…. That was quite the flight of fancy, but I’m bored out of my mind and writing your own article you can throw in whatever nonsense is currently floating round the deep space of your imagination. 

If it wasn’t for playing my pipes and having long, highly detailed one-way conversations with the dog about the place of art in society and the cultural importance of piobaireachd, I’d currently be examining the tog count on the walls of a padded cell somewhere.

Since we’re all in this situation, I thought it was a good time to share my own online performance experiences this year while you are waiting for life to resume. 

Much like yourself, I’m missing the competition season. I had intended this year to take a break from pipe bands to focus on solo piping, writing a book and recording an album. I’ve certainly had the opportunity to compose and to write, but I was missing the thrill of competition. Two out of three ain’t bad I suppose?

I found myself in a privileged place pretty swiftly after The Events of this year began to unfold. Very quickly Finlay Johnston and Margaret Dunn were organizing the C.L.A.S.P. Spring Contest and I was asked to judge a couple of events at it.

The system the C.L.A.S.P. has been using for its contests is to have a judge adjudicate the contest by audio recording which is stewarded and collected the day before the judging begins. It’s a very time-consuming process but allows the competitor some semblance of a regular performance, giving them a steward as an audience to ensure the performance collected is the correct one.

By the time you read this article I will probably just have completed adjudicating again for the C.L.A.S.P., this time in a video submission contest. The difference here is that competitors must supply a video of their performance by a set date.

To judge these contests, we must use the same parameters all piping contests are judged upon:

  • Tonality
  • Musicality
  • Technical Delivery

Cut it anyway you want, but you will eventually boil down to these three concepts. The benefit we have as adjudicators in an online competition is that if we find ourselves unable to decide between performances, we can go back and listen again instead of making choices based on only the memory of the performance and some short notes made at the time.

Dan (r) with colleague Andrew Bova and the Worlds trophy won with Shotts & Dykehead in 2015

I found this advantage made both my decisions on the prize list and in the feedback of my crit sheets more thoughtful and detailed than I was previously able to provide in a real time adjudication situation. 

Both amateur and professional contests have been held by various bodies over the year. The C.L.A.S.P and the C.P.A have both held graded contests while pipe bands and piping and drumming societies have held contests for their members too. Even tuition providers have stepped up and organized events. The opportunities to compete are out there and continue into the winter. 

As an educator I’m always thinking about how to motivate and develop my students. I felt that Robert Burns’ mouse was rolling about laughing at all of us and the intentions we had for 2020. I began directing my students to the amateur and juvenile contests held online. I feel these events are as good an opportunity for feedback as is available at the moment. 

When I was a young lad my father used to say to me ‘Practice doesn’t guarantee prizes but you can guarantee that everyone else is practicing’ and ‘If you keep picking at it, it’ll never heal’. So, in an effort to continue my own piping education and development (and God willing, lift a prize here and there) I signed up for a few contests myself. 

The shoe that goes on the other foot often precedes the shoe that drops upon one’s head. Over the years I have developed a Highland Games kit extra to the essentials of instrument and uniform. Useful items that, chucked in the back of the car on games day, can improve the quality of a competitor’s day out regardless of competitive success. These items include:

  • An Umbrella
  • A Folding Chair
  • A Wide Brimmed Hat
  • A Cape
  • Welly Boots (Wellington Boots), One Pair
  • Hand Warmers/ Gloves
  • A Bath Towel (Douglas Adams sold me on this in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and I’ve found literally hundreds of uses for a full-sized towel around the games)
  • A Packed Lunch
  • Sunglasses
  • Wet Wipes
  • A Beer Koozie
Dan’s not the only one to carry a brolly. Here Jamie Forrester provides cover for Peter McCalister at Oban 2019

All this stuff is packed away gathering dust just now. There’s nowhere to go so any outdoor gear is useless. Indoors however, the extra equipment is radically different. To compete you’ll need:

  • A camera capable of recording your performance without clipping.
  • An audio recording device.
  • A computer you can extract the recording from to submit it. 

You’ll also need a performance space, quiet neighbours, an understanding housemate/ spouse, hunners (a lot) of time and a happy go lucky outlook in life to stop you being driven to the drink when listening back to your recordings. 

A great philosopher once said, ‘To gain an understanding of another person, observe their behavior when confronted with a mirror’. Perhaps that is the personal lesson we have been given the opportunity to learn in these online contests?

No competitor can come away from a competition now and make confetti of their crit sheets, ignoring the advice. Our strengths and weaknesses are there to hear for as long as you are willing to keep them on your hard drive. If you find yourself unable to listen to your own performances without despairing then please, follow these bits of advice:

  • Make a list of what you like and what you don’t like. Often, we find that the list of what we like is longer than what we don’t like.
  • Accept the problem, work on the solution. No one likes a moaner. 
  • The road is long and the path is different for everyone. Take your time and do what’s right for you. No one else’s future playing matters as much to you as your own will. 

Over the summer I’ve had my own ups and downs with online contests. Some successes and some disasters, just like any other season I guess? Now, as we settle into a long winter of restriction tiers, Netflix binge watches and FINALLY a Christmas Day without Aunty Jennifer’s Bailey’s fuelled account of meeting Dappy out of N’Dubz in Marks and Spencer on Argyle Street that one time, we can think more philosophically about our music. 

Piping has survived every kind of natural and man-made disaster you can think of: wars, famines, social unrest and plague have come and gone and still the wild highland sound tubes have continued on. 

And they will continue through this too. But they can’t do it alone, so I implore you pipers of the world to get the pipes out, get practicing, get online and give yourself the fighting chance you deserve not just to continue the legacy of pipers through the centuries but also to prepare yourself for when the skies clear, the vaccines are released and the world begins to return to the level of freedom we knew before. 

  • A native of Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, and third generation piper, Dan Nevans is a 20 year pipe band veteran and an Honours graduate from the University of Strathclyde’s BA in Applied music. A World Pipe Band Champion in 2015 with Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia and a Silver Medal level solo piping competitor, Dan has been a professional piping tutor since 2012 and a member of the piping tuition team at the National Piping Centre since 2016. Dan lives in Glasgow with his wife Katrine and peculiar pet dog (his description) Rocky.

3 thoughts on “While You Are Waiting…A New Look at the Pandemic and Online Contests

  1. Excellent article! I love the positivity of Dan’s take on online contests. Having just completed my first virtual competition, I believe I learned more about my playing and hopefully performed better. Because of the of videotaping, looking at the playback, and doing it again and again, I pushed myself to do my best. But, I still miss going to the games!

  2. On a wet, drich morning what better than to read Dan’s funny yet very interesting account of all that plagued the piping season that wasn’t in 2020. Power to the elbow of all those who provided opportunities for performers to keep their fingers nimble.

    My version, I’ll have you know, was located in my garage. Yep and it is no surprise that I won every ‘competition’ as I refused to let any other pipers join me in my daily rant…..in MY GARAGE !.

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