14th Annual Balmoral Classic US Junior Solo Piping & Drumming Championships Results and Report

By the Editor

Over last weekend I judged the Balmoral Classic junior amateur championship contest held annually in the US. This year it was a virtual event and thanks to excellent organisation it worked very well. My fellow judges, Jim MacGillivray (Canada) and Scott Walker (US), were sent video recordings of the pipers’ piobaireachd and MSR entries towards the end of the week.

We came together on Saturday to make up our lists before the prizes were read out to the assembled Zoomsters by MC extraordinaire, Arthur MacAra.

The overall winner was David Stulpner who is from Perth in Western Australia. He placed first in both categories. His piobaireachd was Corrienessan’s Salute. The melody was a little ‘stiff’ in the ground and he was nippy with the connecting notes in the taorluath, but the pipe held well (as much as you can tell accurately online) and overall produced what was clearly the winning tune.

Second prize went to Gillian Blaney from Nova Scotia with the Battle of Waternish. There were a few missed taorluaths but she expressed the melody very well on a nicely set instrument. Third went to Katherine Miller who played the Lament for Captain MacDougall. The urlar phrases from F were not musically delivered – work needed here. She also needed to push to the grip notes in the doubling. That aside, well worthy of her prize.

The remaining places went to Hugo MacKay who played Beloved Scotland (tight crunluath, misses, expression issues in ground), and Sebastian Benedetto who cut the connecting notes in Black Donald too severely. 

Result: 1 D Stulpner, Corrienessan’s Salute 2 Gillian Blaney, Battle of Waternish 3 Katherine Miller, Lament for Captain MacDougall 4 Hugo MacKay, Beloved Scotland 5 Sebastian Benedetto, Black Donald’s March. 15 played.

David Stulpner again won out in the MSR with a solid Inveran, Inveraray Castle and Bessie MacIntyre. This was a better contest than the Piobaireachd though the breaks to the reel were often stretched out and hesitant. This must have come into North America via the bands. The simple rule for a smooth transition is to make the first beat of the reel another beat of the strathspey. David was not guilty of any fault here.

Second prize went to Katherine Miller (weak doublings in the strath.), third to Alexandra Knox (indifferent pipe costing her; excellent control, pointing and finger), fourth to Rhys O’Higgins (satisfactory, but lacked expression) and fifth to Harrison Little who would have been placed higher but for note errors in Susan MacLeod.

Piping Champions Overall
1 David Stulpner
2 Katherine Miller
3 Gillian Blaney

On the Sunday of the weekend I held a workshop for the pipers with Jim Kilpatrick doing the same for the drummer. It was pleasing to be able to catch up with Jim. Any sort of meeting in these times is worthwhile and Jim, the great percussion maestro, told me he still played regularly and was busy with online workshops and masterclasses. Strange that here we were only a few miles from each other in Lanarkshire, Scotland, conversing via the US online.

My workshop was well attended and in an hour and a half we went through many of the basics of good blowing, posture, fingerwork and ceòl mòr expression. Taking Struan Robertson’s Salute as our tune, I got all the students to sing lines of the ground in turn all using their own form of local canntaireachd.

At the end I tried to impress on them that they were tradition bearers, that the bagpipe was one of the world’s great instruments and that they had a duty to give it their best study.

You can watch David Stulpner’s winning MSR performance below. There’s also the winning drummer Thomas Carruthers and music from fiddler Alasdair Fraser:

Credit to everyone at the Balmoral team for a very well organised, properly respectful and dignified event. It was as close to the real thing as it could be in the circumstances. And we must not forget MacCallum Bagpipes and David Naill who supply significant prizes for the competition.

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