By A. G. Kenneth

Archie Kenneth.

In these days it seems that in the topmost ranks of competitive pìobaireachd playing, our leading competing pipers get little or no encouragement to play the shorter, lighter tunes in competition. Is this really desirable? The argument usually deployed against such a proposal is on the following lines — it is right that those with pretensions to play in the highest class of competition should be asked to play really heavy and demanding tunes. At one grade lower, the argument is subtly different — it is proper that tunes should be set which will be of utility to the piper in future and which will aid his understanding of the music.

I would not cavil at these lines of argument, if reasonably frequent exceptions were made so that the whole spectrum of the music got a fair crack of the whip. As it is, this doesn’t appear to be happening, and a mass of music remains unperformed from decade to decade, for the reasons mentioned above. These shorter, lighter tunes ask different questions of the performer and are good tests of musicality, if not as demanding on the stamina of performer and instrument.

In this context I remember the wise words of Bob Brown, to the effect that while he had his preferences, there was music in them all. What stimulated this remark was discussion on The End of the Little Bridge and while that tune by no means represents the type of tune to which I’m here referring, the remark was so phrased as to have a general applicability.

In full flow. The Clasp competition at the 2019 Northern Meeting.

In conclusion, there is one remark which I have, I’m sorry to say, heard employed by some hard cases pushing against the setting of unfamiliar tunes for competition. This was — “We have too many good tunes already” — as if it would be a capital offence to unearth, compose, or publicise one more such. I take this remark to be the ultimate treason against the music: although the thinking behind it is against the general principle of setting unfamiliar tunes rather than against short tunes as such.

However, it must be admitted that such a mass of music is now available that the most that an ordinary run-of-the-mill tune can be expected to get is occasional exposure. In the early days of the current series, things were different, and as there were comparatively fewer tunes to choose from, their turn came round with greater frequency.

From the July 1982 Piping Times.