Interview with Stephen Rooklidge – Shasta Piping Society (Part 1)

You just held a highly successful competition for original piobaireachd compositions. A large number of people from all over the world submitted, some of whom are world-renown composers of pibroch. Congratulations!

What was the impetus behind this?

When the idea occurred to us to sponsor a contest for new pibroch compositions, it was through a search to find a way for our limited resources to affect the most people. We considered sponsoring another prize pipe event like the one we had in Redding in 2016, but that had limited reach and as anyone who’s sponsored an event before can tell you, the experience can be problematic with only a small cadre of volunteers.

The ultimate goal had to first be decided to determine the direction for the next year, so it came to us that the folks out there struggling the most to succeed and have their work appreciated were not the players in pipe bands, who have a relatively wider audience, but the solo players and composers who have few avenues to express their creativity.

The idea of a composing contest solidified when I read Seamus MacNeill’s 1996 introduction of the Glenfiddich Collection of Ceol Mor. I realized we could sponsor a contest, and that it had been some time since this was done. We had previously sent out requests for assistance with the next year’s prize pipe contest to several well-regarded institutions and received no replies, so I knew we had to think a bit outside the box to get people interested.

Giving amateur players a chance to perform in a relaxed and supportive setting was the goal of the prize pipe competition, and we wanted to give composers much the same opportunity. However, the composers who may be interested in submitting entries are not centered around a specific location, so we felt we had to reach internationally to get enough contest entries. We eventually discovered that wasn’t necessarily the case, but we believe the pibroch tradition is worldwide now and the limited composer community should be encouraged to exchange ideas globally. The PS and APC are reaching out to international players through the web and this activity should be better supported and encouraged.

We approached Graham Burley, who was set to make the 2017 prize pipe for us, with the idea of joining us in sponsoring a pibroch writing contest. I had been working with Graham to develop a pipe that happily plays at a lower pitch with modern synthetic reeds without drone reed extenders because of my preference for staying away from the higher band pitches so popular today. When I started playing pipes a few years ago, I wanted to try to recreate the sound from my time as a drummer in pipe bands in the mid-’70s, when Hardie and Sinclair chanters set the standard. Graham readily agreed to join us in support of the contest.

Once it was firmly decided to pursue the writing contest, I contacted Robert Wallace of Piping Press and asked for his opinion on the endeavor. He not only offered his advice but he said he would convene the judge’s panel for us! Of course, we were so thankful for his generosity, and the other judges; Bill Livingstone and Mike Cusack, could not have been more gracious. When we eventually received 26 submissions from 7 countries, I think we just about pushed the limit, but we are so grateful for the effort they spent. It really shows how committed these gold medalists are to passing the knowledge forward.

More to follow….

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One Reply to “Interview with Stephen Rooklidge – Shasta Piping Society (Part 1)”

  1. Very interesting to hear something of the thinking behind the competition, and what a great entry from so many countries. There was an interesting table – perhaps on Piping Press which showed how many entrants from which country, and I think how many performing prize winning composers, how many men/women, and other statistics. It would be interesting if more could be milked out of the data. Feedback for the composers – from which topics could be extracted to discuss and learn from, for instance. And not knowing enough about the individual judges, do they all read from the same sheet, are they all looking for the same sort of thing, or is there a mix of preferences and styles and influences? Interesting to ponder whether in performing competitions, players play slightly one way if Judge X and associates is judging and slightly another way if Judge Y and co are on the panel. Could/should the same apply with composing competitions? Then there’s the whole question of judging anyway. How can people judge other peoples music at all. I have difficulty with the question. When my wee wheelchair bound person is struggling to breathe at all, struggling to move a muscle and yet through a sheer and desperate attempt to communicate, manages against all the odds to come out with a vocal sound, it would of course be impossible to say or think ‘sorry, not a good enough quality of sound’ – instead, anybody’s music, coming straight form the heart of them, is surely the most precious thing in the world. Not sure how to generalise about composers. Do they set out to write a ‘good’ composition. What on earth IS that? Do they have a story in their head they want to tell and do that through the music? If so, and the judges don’t know the story, how easy is it to judge it? I remember when writing Song of the Yellow Jessamine and people said ‘ew, discord, are they playing wrong notes??!!!!’ NO, that was the Yellow Jessamine plant strangling other plants and tree trunks and everything in its wake!!!! That’s NOT NICE!! So this interview has sparked many many thoughts and wonderings, and many thanks for that. Long may we wonder and ponder………….

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