There are lots of things I like about playing in a pipe band. I like the practices (mostly); I like the performances at gala days, weddings, and the like; I really enjoy the teaching of the youngsters. I do not like competing, the competition scene or, really, anything associated with that aspect of it. Unfortunately, I don't know how to disassociate the two - in order to be halfway decent, a band pretty much has to compete; without the edge that that gives to proceedings, they just drift, lose players, and aren't really worth the effort.
Saturday was our first competition of the season, and my first competition for eighteen months. The bus was scheduled to leave at 6:15, so I staggered out of bed at 5, made myself ready, and walked down to the meeting point. And then on to Kinross!
Unfortunately, there was a miscalculation of our travel times. We were due to play at 9:45, which meant we really needed to be there about 8:15. This meant that the pickup should probably have been at 7am, or even after. In the event, what it meant was that we got to the competition... and then had to wait an hour for anyone else to show up. Great.
Anyway, we waited, and then we made ready to play, and it was all okay. There was some rain, but it wasn't too heavy, and it stopped before the competition started. Hurrah. Of course, the pipe major wasn't happy, but that's his job. Though what was less than ideal was that, due to a mix-up with the bureaucracy, he wasn't actually registered with us in time, so didn't get to play. But no matter - I'm sure that will be sorted out soon.
Where things really started to go wrong was about 5 minutes before the performance. With the rain having stopped, we decided to go on without capes, as generally gives a better performance. Only when we took our capes off, it emerged that one person had left his jacket on the bus, so at this point we all had to ditch our jackets as well, and that made for a very cold event.
So, we went on, we played, and it was awful. Truly, a woeful performance. Even from the start it was obvious we'd stunk, with a chanter sounding early, which by itself is enough to mean you might as well not bother with the rest. And it got worse from there. Oh dear, it was terrible.
Anyway, we came off, and the pipe major was justly angry.
We had another performance, this one about 11am. Unfortunately, with this one we messed up our preparations the other way - just as we were starting to get ready an adjutant appeared and said we should move to "final tuning". Oops. Though we actually weren't far off ready when we started, so that was okay.
The second performance was better, but still not good by any stretch. In fact, the start was even worse, due to another early chanter. But the rest of it was generally better across the board.
After this, and the inevitable dressing down from the PM, I returned to the bus to wait and to read. But my overwhelming thought was, "you know, I've got better things to do with my summer than to spend it in muddy fields getting shouted at."
Wisely, the organisers at Kinross had the good sense to time their Highland Games to coincide with a local half marathon. So, the bands were bussed down to the 'town' centre, where we were asked to play to send the runners off, and then play again in a short parade along the main street. Which was good for all involved - it gave us something to do in the hours of waiting, and it gave them cheap access to several bands. The parade actually went really well, I thought.
And then there was more waiting for the March Past. At which, to our rather great surprise, we won the very first prize of the day - third in the "marching & discipline" for the parade. (Though it's important to note: I think that was third out of five bands who played the parade! Still, a result.)
That was our one success of the day. We came last in both competitions, and deservedly so. Rather worryingly, there's a suggestion also that one of our settings may not actually be valid in our competition grade (which would be a disaster, since it's really too late to change it). So, we'll need to go back to the drawing board at tonight's practice.
There are two tiny crumbs of comfort that we can take from this. The first is that our performances genuinely were terrible, and egregiously so - it's not as if we'd played well and just been poor; we played truly horribly. On another day, even without major surgery, it wouldn't be so bad. The second is that for most bands the symbolic start of the season is at Dunbar, which is next weekend. This was really something of a pre-season run out. So, in theory, it doesn't really 'count'. In that regard, better to make the mistakes now, and correct them now, rather than next week when things are more serious.
But those really are just crumbs. Mostly, it was a really bad day, and we'll need to do much, much better.
Also, I have better things to do with my summer than to spend it in muddy fields being shouted at.