Interview with Stephen Rooklidge – Shasta Piping Society (Part 5)

One of my biggest concerns with pibroch pedagogy is that it is directed toward competitions, which are the most antithetical events for audiences ever. As a result, we never train performers how to interact with an audience. We know this is important (studies have been done), and yet: no one teaches the art of audience engagement.

It is no wonder only a handful of people ever show up to these events: they are ignored, the piper spends an interminable amount of time tuning, and the performance is catered to the least potentially offensive interpretation possible.

It sounds like you have run your prize pipe events slightly differently. What else can we do to bring in a larger audience from the general public?

I agree that the few venues for soloists to play are competitions that do not foster appreciation from an audience. I doubt that type of setup will ever be changed significantly, and there seems to be a place for that for the folks who seek to get medals. Can’t take away the importance of that because many musicians make their wage by playing and teaching for that type of achievement.

We took a different path for the prize pipe event because we wanted to provide a supportive environment for the player after witnessing the cattle call of competitions for amateur players. Our limited tune requirements were the player must play a ground and first variation of two tunes back to back, and the selections must be from the David Glen collection. It was an all amateur competition, so the lower grade players could play the ground/1st var of two tunes but may not have the stamina to play through the final variations of an entire tune. The Glen collection was my own preference because the music scores were freely available and the scores were easily readable for modern musicians.

We also had tuning rooms available and limited stage tuning to one minute. To do that effectively, we had to keep room temperatures as even as possible, and the rented hall staff were a great help for that. We had short “air-conditioning” breaks to cool the rooms. During that time we offered light refreshments and a chance for the audience to chat, stretch, and see a collection of vintage pipes on display.

This event worked on many levels, but there were certainly things I would change. Our intention for the second event was to have an amateur competition for players who have never played a complete pibroch in competition before, but there was little initial interest and a local band was aggrieved because it was felt we were cutting into their ability to raise funds to compete in the UK. I think there was room for all events, but it was perceived as a threat to their funding efforts so we decided not to bother with pursuing it.

That is part of the difficulty with these small events; local bands have no stake in solo recitals and it is tough to get competent judges. It’s imperative to get a judge the competitors respect, but also to ensure the judge is experienced and adheres to the code of conduct of the local association, so there is no doubt of the integrity of the results. To attract good judges, the costs increase, which can be partially supplemented by holding a workshop for pipers. This type of thing needs local support that has to be courted. So we have a real dilemma: a solo event where the audience is large enough to support the costs; or enough paying players to support a funded workshop. The only other option is to get a sponsor interested in funding the shortfalls, which is what we did. It’s expensive, but maintains some individual control over the event; however, it’s not a sustainable model.

I think video presentations of pibroch on social networks is a way to generate interest in local events and these events will then encourage further audience demand for seeing presentations. Reaching beyond the normal audience of players into piping and cultural enthusiasts is important, but most of all the events that will bring pibroch to the listener has to actually be held and supported. It’s not the easiest event for volunteers to organize, but the payoff can mean the difference between inspiring new listeners and simply remaining relevant.

More to follow…


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