Making the jump to a higher competitive grade or a new improved level of playing the Highland bagpipes can mean certain setbacks, frustrations, and failure for some as the demands and challenges overcome them. Does it mean a lapse in nuts-and-bolts fundamentals when that happens? Is a focus on fundamentals really enough to propel us forward?
The beginning of a new year brings with it renewed vigor and effort for one’s personal piping goals. For some (soloists and bands), that means getting ready for a higher grade of competition with new challenges and new demands on our playing. It’s certainly a challenge when folks move up a grade, and even more so to actually stay there. It's not just about "making the grade" and the psychological effect of wins and losses and being competitive. I would say that is a very small and shallow part of the challenge. There are plenty of pipers and bands already in higher grades making a go of it—and keeping it together while doing so. How do they do it?
I think the short video above from Richard St. John at TED says it perfectly.
When 500 extremely successful people share common aspects at the core of their success, it's worth listening. What's striking is, success in any endeavor is never just about the nuts-and-bolts stuff. We bagpipers spend a lot of time dwelling on the quality of our technique, our music, and "what it takes" to play well. All necessary mind you, but pipers shouldn't dwell on "what it takes" to play in a grade above, or whether wins will come their way. They should instead hone those qualities and attributes at the core of their own success, the things that got them there in the first place. Yes, developing the nuts-and-bolts, the fundamentals of it—the sound, the technique, the music, etc.—are important, but those things can't take shape unless the individual is presenting certain core attributes, and committing themselves to those attributes. I think if you looked at any successful piper or pipe band in any grade, you will see all of the eight attributes described in the video in action. Let's take a look:
Passion—Check. Is there any group of musicians who are more passionate about what they do than bagpipers?
Work—No one progresses without hard work, both as a group or individually. Period.
Good—This is where the fundamentals enter. Working on your sound, your music, your technique, seeking instruction and learning, all of these help you become good at this thing we do.
Focus—Singleminded commitment and focussed effort are hallmarks of any successful piper.
Push—Successful pipers are never satisfied with where they are at and always strive for bigger and better things, eager to learn more, and inspire others.
Serve—Successful and experienced pipers are serious about sharing their knowledge and expertise, and serving the artform in some way.
Ideas—Great pipers typically have a unique approach to their effort that works for them and stands out. The best pipers put their own unique twist on the the things most of us take for granted.
Persist—This should be at the top of the list, really. Good pipers take their competitive lumps and move forward and don't even let wins and losses slow them down or deter them from their efforts. Persistence is as much a part of a truly successful piper’s DNA as the color of their hose.
The shorter advice? Working such things as technique and sound are only part of a broader list of things any piper should develop if they wish to be successful. Moving up a grade in competition? Take these eight attributes and make sure you are developing each and every one in some way. If you do that, I would be so bold as to say that lack of success is impossible.