South Africa’s pre-eminent solo piping competition took place in Johannesburg at St Benedict’s College over the weekend of 26 and 27 March 2022.
On-line competitions have been a wonderful way of providing pipers and drummers with a competition outlet over the last couple of years. A major advantage of these contests has been the opportunity for pipers to compete, even on an international level, without leaving home – and several South African pipers have done just that, with notable success.
By Chris Terry
But there is nothing like a live competition, held in a venue with good acoustic. The sheer physical impact of a Highland bagpipe at full volume is a very different experience from a video playback on a computer screen. And the camaraderie of a live competition is completely lacking in a mobile phone presentation recorded in one’s living room or back garden.
The Open events for the LM Millar Memorial Trophy, the ‘100 Guineas’, the senior contest, began in 1959 with prize money of one hundred guineas for the overall winner – a good month’s wage back then.
There were only eight competitors in the senior piobaireachd this year, down a little on numbers from recent years. The standard overall can only be described as rather mediocre from a competitive point of view, though it must be said that there was some excellent playing in between the indiscretions. It certainly felt as though the lack of live competition had had an impact on many players’ ability to get out there and do the job.
Gordon Grossett was given the beautiful Rory MacLeod’s Lament, and had moments of real excellence in his presentation of the ground. Regrettably later there were several memory lapses. He also needs to work out a plan for treating the cadences consistently.
Next on was Jonathan Visser with MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament (No. 1), but again his tune was marred by several lapses of concentration.
Frans Coetzee (pictured top), on next, was the eventual winner, with the Lament for Mary MacLeod. This was a competent, solid performance on a good instrument, though the tune didn’t really sing – it needed a little more light and shade, more attention to phrases, to achieve that.
Brian Mulhearn had travelled from Scotland for the occasion. His pipe was good, but Brian has difficulty controlling tempo, and by the time he reached the end of the gentle, lyrical Field of Gold, it more closely resembled the aftermath of a scorched earth policy! One had to admire the ability of the fingers to play crunluaths at that speed. The tune was error-free.
Emily Pentz followed Brian playing Lord Lovat’s Lament. Her pipe was singing, and her control was superb. Variation one had me holding my breath as she brought out the best in this lovely variation. Most unfortunately she went astray towards the end with the kind of major error that one cannot ignore, and which cost her a very high placing.
Michael Jeanrenaud followed with the Glen is Mine, but he had left his satnav behind and he wandered around the glen looking for the way out for most of his performance. He must have added an extra five minutes by the end.
Joshua Hogg followed him with the Unjust Incarceration. I have heard him give a spellbinding performance of this majestic tune, and was hoping for another. Unfortunately his high G took a downward dive from variation 1 on, and by the end it was absolutely ghastly. The drones had taken a different path too, so most of the last half of the tune became more and more unpleasant to listen to.
Thomas Fuller was the last competitor, and he gave us the Nameless tune Hihorodo Tra Cherede Che. He had his pipe going really well, but when he got to the final cadence of Variation 1 singling, he played a two-note cadence – and stuck with it through the taorluath and crunluath singlings. Lack of practice was a little evident in the technique in the crunluath variation too, but it was a well-controlled performance, with the errors relatively unimportant.
In the end, after considerable internal debate, weighing up all the various indiscretions against each other, I gave the results as: 1 Frans Coetzee 2 Thomas Fuller 3 Brian Mulhearn 4 Emily Pentz; Judge: Chris Terry
Open March (Eagle Pipers’ Society Silver Salver): Competitors are required to submit two pairs of marches, with one to be selected – a format that it is certainly much more entertaining for the audience than a single tune twice through.
By now the “novelty” of live performance had perhaps worn off a little, and a rather more consistent level of playing was shown. The event was won by Joshua Hogg, with a very classy performance of Jeannie Carruthers and Miss Elspeth Campbell – strong accurate fingering, a good instrument, and exciting, swinging music. Result: 1 Joshua Hogg 2 Jonathan Visser 3 Gordon Grossett 4 Brian Mulhearn; Judge: David Harris.
- To be continued. The Scottish Piping Society of Southern Africa (formerly of the Witwatersrand) exists to celebrate and grow the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe in Southern Africa. In particular, the Society promotes the performance, tuition and appreciation of piobaireachd. It is a non-profit organisation founded in 1946. The Society organises and hosts competitive solo contests, recitals and social events through the year. The Society is also the repository of an enviable historical collection of piping recordings, sheet music and literature which are held for the benefit of its members.
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60 lessons in three outstanding tutor books taking the complete beginner to intermediate level and introducing the classical music of the pipes, piobaireachd. All books have free audio and/or video back-up fully explaining the exercises, tunes and the required expression. Since they first appeared in 2015 these books have sold hundreds of copies worldwide. Price includes P&P of £5.