Fall is my favourite time of year. Yes, I long for summer in February when I’m tired of yet another storm blowing through, but I’ve always looked forward to the autumn months. I think it’s the promise of a clean slate, a new year (in school terms) and a fresh start.
Forget Jan. 1, September is my new year. Since starting work at the college, I look forward to returning and new students and the promise of a new season. Working hard throughout the long winter months and then testing ourselves (in solos or band competitions) at the highland games in the summer months. I enjoy watching the progress of new students and how their interest and enthusiasm grows in an unconventional instrument like the bagpipes.
I think fall is also a favourite because it means the end to a very stressful August.
This was the first time in many years that James and I have spent August in Canada. We’re usually travelling around Scotland to the various highland games competing in solo competitions.
James has the privilege to play in two of the top solo competitions in the world. You have to apply to these contests and then you are accepted based on your previous year’s competitive track record, grading from the Competing Pipers Association and by a joint vetting committee from the two contests. It’s quite the process to get accepted.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love the thrill of competing and I know that we are very lucky and privileged to be able to compete overseas, but I just tend to get a tad stressed out.
The Argyllshire Gathering is held in Oban (and is one of the two big contests mentioned above) and I can usually be found pacing the town centre or on the sidewalk by the water as James prepares to compete. A lot of the competitors know that I get a wee bit nervous and try to distract me while James is on the boards.
Our typical August is usually a series of ups and downs (or the month long rollercoaster as I refer to it). There is the buildup to a contest, the actual contest and then the downtime between the contests. Sometimes we have five competitions in five days and by the time the fifth one hits, we are both utterly and totally exhausted.
Never mind that most of the competitions are outside in Scotland in August, which means that the stereotype of getting four seasons of weather in one day is pretty accurate. We’ve been soaked, chilled, sweaty and sunburnt all in the same day.
You also learn to play the waiting game. At most games you enter on the field, so 10 people could show up or 30 to compete. It’s not unusual to play early in the morning in one event and then playing your next event as most people are packing up the field to go home. Highland games can turn into very long days in very trying conditions.
With all my mutterings about competing in Scotland it might sound like a chore or something that I don’t really forward to but I actually love it and wouldn’t change it for anything. Yes, it’s stressful and we battle uncertain elements but we’ve made some great friends from all over the world and it makes for some interesting tales.
I hope that the students at the College have the same opportunities one day – to compete on the Scottish games circuit, make friends from all over the world and have stories to tell of their own.
Kylie MacHattie is a bagpipe instructor at the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts of Canada in Summerside.