Striving for perfection – a futile effort

Kylie MacHattie
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Celtic Connection column

In less than eight months we will have approximately eighty-five people board an Iceland Air flight headed to Glasgow for the World Pipe Band Championships. For the band members to get there, countless hours will have been spent fundraising and practising. June and July will have been spent travelling around the Atlantic Canada Pipe Band Association highland games circuit competing and hopefully improving on each performance.

This past month we’ve had four people join our Grade 4 College of Piping Pipe Band from a Halifax area pipe band. They come from a parade pipe band and their experience has been largely non-competitive. They have been meeting twice a week for a couple of hours at a time to go over our repertoire and have been busy learning our competition sets. I met with them last week and with the hard work that they have put in, they are up to our standard of play without having even come to a band practice yet.

The plan was for them to attend practice this week, but on Monday I received an email letting me know that there was a change of plan. They would see us at our next weekend practice in February, but not this week because they felt like they were still too accident-prone and didn’t want to throw off the group or have a bad first impression at their inaugural practice.

It’s funny about how much pressure we put on ourselves to be “perfect”. There is really no such thing as perfection. Each of us has our own definition of it and rarely can we agree that something was “perfect”.

Playing the bagpipes has quite a few frustrating variables that can make a performance imperfect. The instrument is very temperamental and little things like weather can even affect our tuning or even the nimbleness of our fingers.

I do understand their trepidation of coming into a band and feeling anything less than perfect. We’ve all been working together since September and they’re stepping into the circle five months in from when we started. It can be a daunting task.

James and I will face that very same thing at the end of February when we will play with a top tier band in New Zealand at their championships. They too have been practising for months and we will step in two weeks before the championship day. It’s a daunting prospect that has made for some sleepless nights. How can we be anything less than perfect stepping into the circle so close to a big competition?

While our players from Halifax aren’t coming in right before a big contest, it can still be a stressful experience. You question yourself whether you’ll be good enough or whether you’re up to the task of what it takes to be in that particular band.

After thinking about the email for a while, I finally wrote a response. I wanted them to not worry about being perfect and that playing with the band at one of our practices would be more beneficial than playing on their own as a small group. That putting off coming over to our fair isle wouldn’t reduce their stress. That they would find that nobody is perfect and we all have our own imperfections.

In a less than a month’s time when I strike up my pipes for the first time at our first practice in New Zealand I hope I remember the advice I gave to our Halifax players. I know I’ll need it.   

Organizations: Grade 4 College of Piping Pipe Band

Geographic location: Halifax, New Zealand

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