Vickie Gray from Nova Scotia is a student of Margaret Dunn at the National Piping Centre (NPC). Last year, feeling ready to compete for the first time, the pottery maker who lives near the town of Lunenburg in the province’s south-west, joined the NPC’s Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP) … but COVID-19 prevented her from competing live and in person.
Every piping competition Vickie [pictured] has competed in, therefore, has been held online and submitted in advance.
In order to prepare herself for the forthcoming live online CLASP competition, Vickie decided to play in public for 100 days. So far, she has played for 30 days consecutively and is well on her way to completing the ‘ton’ of public performances in parks in and around Lunenburg where she lives with her husband.
Vickie told Bagpipe.News: “When Margaret told me the next competition would be ‘live’ I thought, ‘Uh oh!’ I get very nervous performing. I have sung in choirs and played musical instruments in ensembles all my life, and the experience is always the same – a tight throat, feeling faint, hyper awareness of things that I’ve never previously noticed. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to play the pipes was to force myself to play an instrument that couldn’t hide. There is no quiet corner!
“All of my competition to date have been pre-recorded and it’s become, if not comfortable, then at least familiar. So the upcoming live CLASP competition, with a real person watching and no do-overs, is right back in the terrifying zone!
“I knew intellectually that some day I was going to have to be ready to play live, so the upcoming competition is actually a really good next step for me. I knew if I was going to do reasonably well, I had to start exposing myself to the live piping experience well ahead of the competition, so I set myself a challenge: play pipes in public every day for 100 days.
“My piper husband came with me. The first day playing at a local park was pretty nerve wracking. I played my competition jig, forgot transitions, forgot how to play C, played one part three times, and that was it. If I hadn’t set myself this challenge I would have given up right then. As time has gone on, I’ve played for longer, played duets with my husband, and played in places where lots of people might watch. I’ve played by invitation at the end of a school day where kids were getting on buses, at various local parks, school grounds, harbours, and for neighbours. The tunes I play are standards, ones I know well, which reduces my anxiety about making mistakes out of unfamiliarity with the tunes. As time goes on and my new competition tunes become more familiar, I will bring those to the daily event, too.”
The reaction has been positive: “People have been genuinely kind and supportive. Whenever I’ve played badly it’s because I suddenly became aware of people watching and I became distracted. People have graciously ignored my fluffs and applauded. And I’ve begun to get requests to play at specific places, which ups the pressure a little bit and becomes more like a performance. I assumed I would get at least some hecklers, but so far so good.
“I am definitely feeling less anxious as I expose myself to this experience over and over. Things I think have helped include having an idea of what I’m going to play before I start, playing very familiar tunes first, visually focusing on one spot so I don’t get distracted by people moving around or coming up close to me with cameras, and listening to the tune in my head, or humming it before I start. Having my husband there has been good moral support, too. He’s a good piper, and a good person, and supports me unconditionally.”
Vickie says that once she has completed 100 days she intends to continue playing publicly. “The competition day will be just one more day of piping in public,” she said. “I hope!”
On behalf of the National Piping Centre, we wish Vickie and all competitors in the forthcoming CLASP contest the very best of luck. If you would like to find out more about The CLASP – the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers, head to their website: https://theclasp.co.uk/