As we reported on Tuesday, this year’s Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial Piping Competition will take place behind closed doors at the National Piping Centre (NPC) and broadcast online at a later date.

Last month’s Silver Chanter competition was the first major solo event to take place in a broadly similar way. It, though, was broadcast live.

At the Silver Chanter, the NPC staff had conducted a Risk Assessment prior to the event taking place and everyone adhered strictly to official guidelines. Only a handful of people were actually in the NPC’s auditorium. The live broadcast, however, proved very popular, with global viewing figures in the thousands.

The feedback we received was hugely positive with some suggesting that the experience of actually being there would have been quite surreal. So, we spoke to some of those who took part to find out.

Firstly, let’s hear from the man who judged the event and who has won it five times, Murray Henderson: “Arriving in sunny Glasgow all seemed ‘normal’. I parked my car then walked around the corner to the NPC. It was nice to chat outside with a few familiar faces. Again, all was very ‘normal’. But then the reality hits – mask on and enter the building …

Stuart Liddell and Murray Henderson having a socially-distanced chat in McPhater Street before the event commences.

“Purposely, I chose to sit at a table at the back of the hall rather than nearer the front which would’ve possibly made it feel very much like player versus judge. I thought that would be better for the players.

Being placed discretely near the back, I felt the players would get more of a ‘playing to the sound table’ feel, so that it would be a performance rather than an exam.

“It was hot wearing the mask for the duration of the evening but that simply went with the territory.

“Otherwise, it was business as usual for me as nothing had changed from a normal judging engagement. I was there to be entertained, and make sure the positives from each performance were recognised and balanced against any negatives. I take my hat off to the players and all at the NPC for making this event happen.

“Having judged a few of the online competitions I have to say that there is no substitute for being in the same room as the performers for an up close listen.”

What, then, did the competitors make of it? We spoke with three of them. Fred Morrison said: “It was a great experience, certainly a different experience! I didn’t focus too much on there not being an audience as it’s not really that type of event, unlike others where I think the pipers do need to feed off an audience.

“I had my tunes prepared and I really just concentrated on that. It’s worth doing again, actually. All these things are. We need to keep the piping going and the people at the National Piping Centre on the night were all great.”

Six-times Silver Chanter winner, Iain Speirs said: “It was, maybe inevitably, quite an odd experience from the outset: being given a specified time to arrive, having to sit apart from the other competitors at dinner and not having an audience. That said, every detail of the organisation seemed to have been considered by the team at the National Piping Centre so we were all clear on what we had to do. Well done to them for that.

James Beaton prepares to welcome the online audience.

“As for performing, knowing there wasn’t to be a live audience took some of the pressure off. However, the Silver Chanter is a very prestigious competition to play in so there’s always a desire to play well and the nerves were certainly there. It was just a different kind of pressure knowing that people were tuning in online. I did really miss the atmosphere and feedback you get from a live audience. It reminded me of watching football on the television at the moment; without a crowd it just feels a bit flat.”

Sarah Muir, who was competing at this iconic event for the first time, said: “I felt it was a little surreal before and after the competition, i.e. at dinner and at the prize giving with the social distancing in place. When performing on the stage, however, I found it easy to zone out as I would normally do on a competition stage. With the competition being held in a familiar venue as soon as it was time to start tuning it felt just like any other competition day to me.”

* The Glenfiddich takes place on October 31. The ‘Donald MacLeod’ is on November 27.

• Read Gill Cairns and Bob Low’s thoughts after stewarding at two recent online competitions.