Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scottish Pipe Band Championships 2012

Saturday was cold. Very cold.

The day began at 6am, when I woke from a blessedly refreshing sleep, and proceeded to get myself ready for the competition. So, breakfast, teeth, shave, shower, dressed... I packed my bag for the day, lamenting that my plan to have "interesting lunches" for the season had already fallen by the wayside - I had two chicken sandwiches, a bananana, and some almonds for lunch, plus two yoghurts for snacks, two packets of crisps just because, and a big bottle of water. (This was later to be supplemented by chips, a Mars, and quite a lot of Irn Bru - it was a tough day.)

And then along to catch the bus. That was 7:30.

The journey to the competition was okay, if dull. I spent most of the time reading a large section of my current book, which I'm not really enjoying, although it is very interesting to see all the stuff that was, er, lovingly adapted for Discworld.

We arrived much earlier than planned, but that was probably a good thing as there is always the risk of bad traffic. So, we had time to explore the site, get a programme of events, and generally relax a bit. At this point, we found that the ground was pretty much a swamp. However, it wasn't raining, which was good, and the high winds that had so battered us last year were likewise not in evidence.

Eventually, time came to get ready, and then to perform. And it was good - a good start, a good performance throughout, and then a really good stop. We were happy with it throughout. Even the issues with tone that we had identified from the previous week were gone, due in large part to replacing all the chanters and reeds. Huzzah!

And then, the wait. Never fun, this was made worse by the cold, which wasn't quite numbing, but which just sucked. Plus, I'm extremely tired - the last two weeks have been vicious. So, I went for a little sleep, which was a mixed blessing. I ended up a little less tired, but much stiffer.

And then the march-past, which went okay, although we were one of the first bands on and got the 'enjoyment' of watching another 100+ bands parading onto the field. It seemed to take forever.

We didn't win a prize. And, that established, I was dispatched to get the results sheets. We came 12th overall, out of 21 bands in our grade. Not a great result. Worse, we came 14th and 18th in piping, which was very disappointing. Rather better, we came 10th in drumming, and 6th in ensemble.

Unfortunately, at this point I find myself wondering what the point of continuing with this season is. We're simply not going to dramatically improve, and it definitely seems that what we're offering is just not what the judges are looking for. Worse, it looks to me like we could actually do really well - all we would need to do is identify our 8 strongest pipers, drop everyone else, and we would jump up the rankings. So, if all we want to do is win, we have that option. Problem is, we really don't want to do that - we have a lot of kids in the band, and they genuinely are improving at a rapid pace. Dropping them would stop that progress. And yet, as Alex Ferguson has said, "you don't win anything with kids."

So, tough times for the band. On the other hand... two years ago, we were one of the best bands in Grade 4B. Last year, we were one of the worst bands in Grade 4A. And this year, thus far, we're around the middle of Grade 4A. Perhaps what we need to do is stop worrying about making a big 'breakthrough', and instead just carry on making incremental improvements year-on-year. Problem is, each year that passes my fingers get that little bit slower and less controlled. I don't know how many more years I can continue competing even at this level, never mind taking the step up to a higher grade, and I think I would like to see how far we can go before it's too late.

(And, just to head off the inevitable question - I'm not inclined to leave this band to go join another at a higher grade. The disappointment of competing aside, I'm generally enjoying playing with this band. More importantly, I feel I'm making a very significant contribution to the advancement of this band, and by extension to my local community. For me, the rewards of doing that outweigh any potential rewards of being able to compete at the next grade up, which is probably my limit anyway.)

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