World Pipe Band Championships 2011 Review
Following many months of detailed planning Manawatu Scottish assembled in Belfast on August 1st in readiness for an exciting and challenging couple of weeks, culminating in Manawatu’s seventh appearance at the World Pipe Band Championships. On reflection I feel there are two key questions to ask yourself following a Worlds trip 1) did you enjoy it? and 2) are you happy with how you played? If you can answer yes to both questions then it has probably been a worthwhile exercise, as it proved to be again for Manawatu Scottish.
The band enjoyed a change of scenery this year staying in Belfast for the first time at the very pleasant Elms Student Village, part of the Queens University Campus situated in a leafy part of the City. A significant part of the week was spent on individual corps work with a workshop style focus laying the foundation for the more performance oriented week to come in Glasgow.
Following five days of intensive work the band was ready to compete at the Ulster Championships, held this year just down the road at Banbridge in the familiar surroundings (for a Kiwi band) of a rugby ground. It was a great opportunity to compete against Northern Ireland’s finest, with both Field Marshall Montgomery and Cullybackey also competing in Grade 1. Although the morning was clear, by the time it came to Grade 1 heavy rain had set in resulting in challenging tuning conditions and causing a few hiccups in our preparation. Despite this the band kept its composure and put on a professional MSR performance without any major glitches. Unfortunately given the weather conditions the medley event was cancelled – an understandable decision by the organisers with bands wanting to minimise the impact of the rain on their instruments just out from the Worlds. FMM were clear winners on the day although it was very pleasing to claim the runner-up spot on ensemble preference, with inspection of the trophy revealing this was the first time a band outside of the Emerald Isle had claimed the runner-up prize, so a small bit of history there.
Special mention needs to be made of the terrific reception Manawatu Scottish received at the Ulster Championships and during our stay in Belfast. The organising committee at Banbridge went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and during the massed bands a special presentation was made to the band. In general, the friendliness and helpfulness of pipers and drummers in Northern Ireland left a real mark on the Tu with some even going to the lengths of dropping off free cases of beer to our accommodation, an extremely kind gesture! The pipe band spirit is certainly strong in this part of the World. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable week, and the band crossed the Irish Sea by ferry to Stranraer in good spirits and ready for the hectic week ahead.
Glasgow’s PipingLive! Festival continues to go from strength to strength, with various events providing an opportunity for bands to perform and build profile prior to the Worlds, along with providing welcome relief from heavy practice schedules. Manawatu had a busy programme this year including the R T Shepherd International Quartet Challenge, the PipesDrums Invitational Recital and a full band performance at George Square. All performances were well received and generated positive feedback, and it was pleasing to finish 4th in the Quartet Contest out of 8 bands, including 3rd place in the MSR section. The highlight of the week however was playing to a packed audience crammed inside a steamy marquee in George Square as the rain pelted down outside. Speaking of rain, normally you can expect a bit in Glasgow during Worlds week and we are certainly no strangers to it, but this year it literally did not stop raining for days. The purchase of marquees for practice purposes proved invaluable, and meant we could get quality practice time in outside our accommodation at Murano Student Village whilst the downpour continued unabated.
To everyone’s relief there was a break in the weather allowing us to rehearse on Glasgow Green on the Friday afternoon before the Worlds, and it confirmed that we were ready for the big day. Despite the best laid plans however, the morning of the Worlds always throws up a few tricky moments with the changeable weather a contributing factor. We were pleased overall with our performance in the Qualifier although even more pleased to make it through to the final for the fifth time, and the opportunity to compete against 13 of the World’s best pipe bands.
There has been an overall improvement in the professionalism of bands since Manawatu’s last appearance in ’09, and a noticeable improvement in standard. The grade is tighter and more competitive than ever, and it came as no surprise that the placings in the final were spread around below 1st place – it’s a fair indication with more bands than ever in the mix. In piping terms, the collective piping talent within FMM, SFU, Scottish Power and Inveraray and District in particular is phenomenal – to my mind, four of the most talented pipe corps ever assembled with FMM heading the bunch. They’re huge too, and there is something very imposing about a pipe corps of 25+ playing superbly – how do you beat that? One of the lasting memories in my mind from the Worlds, as I’m sure those who watched live and via the web stream would attest, was watching the FMM behemoth head down the chute and into the circle – 26 pipers, 10 side drummers and 8 in the mid-section. It was like following an army (a finely tuned one at that) and proved a tough act to follow. Notwithstanding their record win at the Worlds in terms of ranking points, FMM have been outstanding all season and are the benchmark all bands should aspire to.
As for Manawatu’s performances in the final, we were pleased with how we played. The MSR was probably our best performance of the day with a good clean run from all sections and it was gratifying to be placed 9th, the best result we have achieved at the Worlds in the MSR competition. I felt the pipes had just passed their peak in the medley, and although still full and resonant the pitch wasn’t quite as bright as the previous two performances. Combined with a couple of minor ‘articulation issues’ (as Bob Worrall calls them) it was enough to take the gloss off an otherwise very enjoyable performance. Although 11th placing overall is a notch down on where we have placed in the past I believe it was our strongest ever showing at the Worlds, and it was satisfying to remain in the mix given the ever improving standard.
It’s an easy excuse for overseas bands or any band having to go through the morning Qualifier to make, but playing three times as opposed to pre- qualified bands only playing twice is unfair, and makes for a very long day for bands coming through the qualifier. Here’s hoping talk of a two day event with qualifying rounds for all grades on one day and finals the next day results in concrete change. I can’t see the qualifier/final format per se changing any time soon, but the RSPBA need to continue their good work in developing the Worlds by moving to a fairer format for the Grade 1 Contest.
Results and personal enjoyment aside, the broader benefits that come with competing at the Worlds cannot be understated – you always learn a heck of a lot from the experience. Also, knowing you will potentially be competing against the best in the world provides a major incentive to individuals to raise their personal playing standard and collectively that of their band. For this and other reasons I believe it is to the large benefit of the New Zealand pipe band scene that bands in all grades continue to set their sights on competing at the Worlds.
Finally, thank you to everyone in the New Zealand pipe band community who supported the band from afar, your support was very much appreciated and really did make a difference. Also, best of luck to all bands for the upcoming season, it should be a cracker!
Cheers and see you at Square Day,
We also have a lot of images being posted up, so keep an eye out on the Image Gallery over the next week or so