Interview with Stephen Rooklidge – Shasta Piping Society (Part 4)

Stepping back, how do you view the current state of pibroch composition, the bigger picture? Did this competition show you something about it that resonates with you?

Indeed it did. Pibroch as a traditional form of creative exploration is alive and well!

With the variety of composer backgrounds and the breadth of submissions, I think these types of contests will only show what is already out there: composers interested in exercising their creative muscles by following and expanding the art. Pibroch competitions are becoming common now, and the listening public can certainly get an earful year-round if they seek out venues and are willing to travel. It seems that by increasing the number of venues, expanding the audience setting beyond the rectangular boards in the far corner of games locations, and rewarding production of new music, the state of pibroch can do nothing but flourish.

There are certainly uncomfortable noises coming from the more conservative players who believe the world of pibroch as it existed during the 20th century has done them well and there is no reason to modify what has worked for them. I respect the concern that introducing new ideas to pibroch composing may be somehow diluting the tradition, but I don’t believe there is anything to fear of introducing good music to the established canon. I don’t feel the tradition is threatened in any way by introducing new styles and new audiences.

Do you think there is a demand for listening to pibroch? Do you think there much of an audience? True, more pipers are learning it. But what about audiences?

When you look at the audience at games for pibroch, it is usually other players, which is no surprise because to an unfamiliar ear the experience can be boring or confusing. If there is a causal link between educating the ear and audience interest, the best possible outcome of any event is to educate the listener.

We found that during the prize pipe event, the audience experience was bolstered when the emcee spoke about the player and the tune history. In that way, the audience was able to use their imagination to build even more of a story during the event. Although we know many older pibroch names are not related to the actual music, the audience responded with enthusiasm to the romantic tales.

Giving short presentations before the players begin educates the audience and holds interest that otherwise could flag as they witness a player slowly walking in a circle staring at their feet. New tunes presented could be even more exciting to an audience if the player could accurately describe what the composer intended. Even if it is a simple feeling of inspiration, as in the notes of the Donald MacLeod collection, understanding the music in the context of human interaction makes it more personal and far more relatable. We’re not talking about dumbing down the music in any way, simply making it more accessible to an unfamiliar ear.

It’s understood that sort of pre-play explanation will never be a part of pibroch competition because of time constraints and the audience of players is already educated. But holding recitals and contests, even in the remotest of places, will only encourage the enjoyment of the art. And for as few venues that players have to express themselves, we found a lot of interest from soloists during the off season to play pibrochs that are rarely heard. With an audience who participates in regular recitals or contests, the bonus is they start to know the players and their work, which is the best way to grow a music movement.

More to follow…

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