by Michael Grey
Piping Today #65, 2013.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy; fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. Great words; in fact, great lyrics from George and Ira Gershwin. And while it’s our standard holiday season, with weather that’s light on the back, summer isn’t really all that easy for pipers (and I don’t know about you but where I live the highest cotton might just be clothes on the line). 

And along with high cotton, summer’s the high piping season and for anyone interested in playing well and doing the business, time that’s spare is usually taken up with practice and preparation. That, and excuses for not practicing and prepping.

And I’m no different.

Today I’m lazing out; recklessly languid and enthusiastically idle. On this day, the mid-day July sun heats and the pipes sit. And I bring you the shamelessly shiftless scribe’s contingency prose of choice: a list. 

Lists are everywhere.  The internet is stinking with them: top five reasons to get married, top 10 reasons couples fight and three reasons to hold an offshore bank account. Google’s database even shows directories of listing websites: top 10 of top 10 lists. You get it.   

Mind you, I might shift my tongue-in-cheek a second and remember the main reasons people like lists: they bring order, they help us remember, multi-task and think of other things, and, sometimes, they even save lives — think Schindler’s. 

It seems to me, too, that lists are usually based more on opinion than fact. I mean, what else could they be? Even a geeky scientist’s list, say, “the top five world-changing algorithms” (and all due respect to geeky scientists — they’re the ones who really matter in this world) would only be a learned person’s list built on assumptions.  

Opinion, said that clever one-named Greek guy, Plato, is the medium between knowledge and ignorance. And opinion by way of lists is a one-way public proclamation of a person’s assumptions, their truth. Isn’t it always the way that the person who shouts their opinion the loudest, most clearly, is most likely to have their opinion perceived as truth — no matter how flimsy the facts? It is true. 

The 19th century American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, suggests that people are quick to pass along opinion yet aren’t able to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character. Dead right — in my opinion. 

So on that, a character confessional, my indolent summer’s day list: Grey’s Random List of Piping Truths (aka “stuff I’ve learned along the way”).

1. In a big contest, last on is the best draw for band or solo piper.

2. In any contest, first on can be a good draw if you are first to follow a lower grade that has already competed (i.e. a favourable comparison).

3. The senior solo piping judge sits in the middle of a bench of three; be wary when this fails to occur (i.e. a suggestion of potentially unpleasant bench dynamics) .  

4. The ability to create excellent sound is one of the hardest piping skills to impart.

5. Doing it differently, even when it makes sense, is not easy.

6. Good tunes played on steady, bright, in-tune pipes (with a synthetic set-up) will trump good tunes played on bright, harmonically lively not-quite in tune pipes (with a sheepskin/cane set-up) every time.

7. Pipe band judges serve themselves best by avoiding post-competition gatherings where the people they have recently judged meet (see: Viz magazine’s dictionary for “fist magnet”).

8. People generally default to thinking the worst of something or someone rather than thinking the best.

9. Pipers and pipe bands often flatter themselves by assuming a bad contest outcome is the result of a judge’s personal vendetta.

10. From time to time there are instances of judges who carry “heavy personal bias” aimed at those they adjudicate.

11. It is highly unlikely the way you were taught to play is the only way to play (see: Robert Reid).

12. People know way more than you give them credit for.

13. Some people really do play the bagpipes so they can wear a kilt with impunity.

14. It is especially painful for males to run with over-packed sporrans (see: the need to put mobile phone, wallet, sunglasses and car keys somewhere).

15. To win big in bands and/or solos your instrument(s) simply must be in tune.

16. It is not a disadvantage for a person to set off on a piping career with pipers already in the family.

17. Most pipers are terrible singers. 

18. Great pipe bands are great teams. No individual member can match the impact of the combined ability of the group (see: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). 

19. To win with humility and lose with grace is much easier said than done (see: look twice at those who suggest otherwise).  

20. It is unhelpful for the piping world for those with shallow backgrounds of experience and knowledge to insinuate themselves to be something other than what they are (see: Masquerade from Phantom of the Opera).

21. The three pace roll to the bagpipe note E is the most musically naive convention in the pipe band world.

22. People can say terrible things when they think no one knows their identity (see: the internet).

23. Every pipe band is a living thing; it has a life span (see: Ecclesiastes 3:1, “to every thing there is a season”). 

24. Drummers view pipe music differently from pipers.

25. Pipers view pipe music differently from drummers.

26. Pick your battles — there’s no time to play if you’re fighting all the time.

27. You get what you give.

And finally, when it comes to opinions, assumptions and truths: just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true; that is, 67% of the time. •