For any of you that follow this blog on a regular basis, you will know that I am an avid NBA basketball fan--specifically the Toronto Raptors. I have been watching the Raptors since the inception of the franchise and have endured many ups and downs (mostly downs) during the past 25 years. This past year the Raptors won the NBA title and that, for a long suffering fan, brought vindication and relief. There were many incredible moments during their title run but one sticks out to me above all others: Raptors centre Marc Gasol consoling Philadelphia 76ers centre Joel Embiid after Kawhi Leonard hit "the shot" (a devastating "buzzer beater") sending the 76ers home in the 7th game of the conference final.
Joel Embiid is a huge man and he was weeping openly. He was beyond upset. His team had come so close only to lose on a last second lucky bounce. Gasol approached Embiid and hugged him, giving him some undisclosed words of encouragement. It was a heartwarming display of sportsmanship that should stand as an example to us all of how to win the right way.
In fact, you see similar displays after most sporting events. Competitors understand the sacrifices it takes to get to a high level in their sport and, at the end of each game, there is an undeniable level of respect on display. High fives, hand shakes and hugs are commonplace.
I've seen similar support between musicians at major music festivals. I've spent lots of time at festivals hanging out with other musicians backstage watching bands play.There are always tons of positive comments flying around or hoots and hollers for moments of virtuosity or the emotional impact of a beautiful song. During all my time as a musician it was very rare to hear comments like "these guys suck" or "how did they ever make it to this festival?". Instead, the positive and encouraging comments flowed. Again, more high fives, hand shakes and hugs.
This past year, our pipe band won the North American Championships in grade 4. While winning was a highlight for sure, my favourite moment happened just before we marched off. Every band from the East Coast of Canada came to the front to cheer us on. These are bands against whom we've competed fiercely over the years but on that day, there was only love and support. Then, in the beer tent, we were surrounded by members of these same bands cheering and screaming their support for us. The feeling of that day is hard to describe but I'll never forget it.
The East Coast of Canada is a large area encompassing four provinces. There are lots of competitive bands but we are separated by long distances. Our band is located in Dartmouth (twin city to Halifax) in central Nova Scotia and we compete against bands based several hours away. Even though we don't get to see each other much during the year we try to take advantage of the opportunity to get together when we can. Whether it's inviting each other to clinics, attending each others' performances or organizing social gatherings there is an effort to stay in touch, network and support each other. There are no bands that "hate" or belittle each other. Everyone on the East Coast understands the most important thing: helping and supporting each other benefits everyone!
Over the years I've noticed a few things about the East Coast scene that have helped to build a culture of fierce competition, respect and support between bands. If you believe that a culture of positivity and respect will benefit your pipe band scene, here are a few things to try that make competitions more rewarding for everyone involved:
1) Seek out an inexperienced band or one that's in a grade below you and offer to help. I have tuned tenor drums, discussed snare drum tuning and even fielded theory questions in the beer tent. Share your knowledge!
2) If you win a contest, take it upon yourself to seek out the other competitors in your grade and congratulate them. Without your fellow competitors pushing you, you would have no motivation to win!
3) Support other bands and cheer them on. It's always fun to play with people watching and I know firsthand how much energy you can get performing in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
4) Stow your cynical attitude. As musicians we need to lift everyone up, not insult and put each other down. Stay positive and support your fellow musicians on the field.
5) Give specific compliments--especially if you see someone discouraged after their performance. Share your experiences. We've all had a time when we've had our heart broken because of an undesirable result or unforeseen circumstance in our performance.
6) Find a player you respect and ask questions (usually done in the beer tent after competitions have ended). Asking people questions is the easiest way to network and meet new folks. And, if you get answers to your questions, you can improve the future fortunes of your own band.
7) Say "hi" to people! This is an often underrated aspect of positive culture building but certainly one of the most important. Creating a friendly social environment leads to friendly competition.
The pipe band world is not so different from the hockey, soccer (football) or basketball world. We compete against each other, sure, but without respect and admiration for our opponents we lose the joy of it all. Competition, support, camaraderie and positivity are the elements that contribute most positively to our pipe band community. If we each take it upon ourselves to commit to these elements the benefits to all will be many! After all, we're all in this together.