Think of a famous bagpiper. In fact, think of anyone who is famous in any pursuit you follow – a musician, athlete, businessperson, anything – who you admire. Who springs to mind?
Generally, these kinds of people achieve that level of "status" – along with the respect, admiration, fame and praise that go along with that – because they achieved something great. They're exceptional at something, and became renowned and admired for that.
But all too often, the idea of having that respect, fame, and praise is so attractive that people start to crave the "status", rather than the skill or achievement that would give them that status in the first place.
They want to be someone, but don't want to do something that would help them achieve that.
In the bagpiping world, tying your piping "identity" to an arbitrary "status" – rather than your actual musical and performing ability – is not only alarmingly common; it's also a trap that can drastically stall your ongoing improvement and development as a musician... and by extension, your ability to actually enjoy playing music.
"Hey! But I worked really hard to become a grade 3 player! Why shouldn't I tell people that?"
In our piping system, being graded at a certain level - which is applied pretty subjectively across competitions by associations, let alone between countries - relies on your performance relative to others who showed up on the day, not an objective criteria. So what does being Grade 3 (or any other grade) even mean? Especially if you can't keep time or show a solid understanding of other musical and instrument fundamentals? If you play well consistently and are enjoyable to listen to, then that's great – but it's also because of your musical ability, not your grade level. Let your actions lead people to ask you what grade you are – not the other way around.
"Ok, but my teacher was a world champion - and if they say I'm good, why should I listen to you?"
Well, I can't force you to listen to me… but here's why you should. Your teacher's pedigree is a reflection of their hard work, not yours. If they say you play well, I'm not going to question their motives. But if you can't demonstrate that you are good, consistently, every time you play, then those people that you seek to impress by name-dropping your famous tutor will quickly realize your actions and your claims don't match up. Plus, you'll still be unsatisfied because you can't express yourself freely through your music.
"Psshh, I've been playing for 46 years, young man - I think that deserves some credit."
Unless you’ve improved considerably each and every year, this is a confession, not a badge of honor! A musician with a growth mindset realizes that every day should be a learning and honing experience, not a victory lap. Whether you’ve played for one year or for 100, you should look on every single day as another opportunity to improve - not another notch on your ‘status’ belt to boast about.
"Well I only play for the pure and noble reason of honoring fallen heroes."
Remembrance and celebration are definitely honorable reasons to play the bagpipes, but they are not excuses to sound bad. Now, that doesn't mean that service pipers need to sound like a Gold Medallist - but it does mean that pipers and drummers for a cause should honestly work towards producing the best possible sound, music, and aesthetic before they perform for their causes. Anything less than this standard, in my opinion, dishonors those for whom we play. Who would you rather for your funeral? A devoted, passionate musician, or someone dressed up and wrestling with their instrument to make noise, whose ulterior motive is really padding their own ego (or wallet)? I'd pick the musician every time, not the person clinging to a fake ID of status.
I call this mentality 'bagpipe status disease'. That may sound harsh, but it's fair – because this mindset is far too abundant in our tiny community, and it's a debilitating mentality that does impair your ability to improve. It may feel great when you're getting the attention, praise, and admiration you crave... but if you care more about the praise you'll receive from any of these arbitrary 'statuses' than the skill that should earn it for you, you'll rely far too much on others' opinions of you – on a judging sheet, or giving us the 'respect' we feel we're owed (but haven't really earned by continuing to improve and grow as a musician).
Plus, you'll be embarrassed when your ability doesn't match your claims and you fail to live up to your reputation – which can actually discourage many of the afflicted from seeking out help to actually improve their skills. It can be very hard on the ego to be real with yourself and admit that your fragile status pedestal is built on wafer thin foundations that you need to go back and address before you can put your money where your mouth is.
So cast aside all the quick fixes. Fall in love with the process of learning, ditch your obsession with status, and feel happy about your successes but especially your failures, because they offer the most opportunity for growth.
You'll soon find that status will be a natural byproduct of focusing on developing your own musicianship and aiming to true creative freedom.
If you're a Dojo student, you can explore how to realign your mindset for success as part of our 11 Commandments of Mastery course, or browse our many related articles and resources on the Dojo U blog.
If you're not yet a Dojo Student, we'd love to welcome you! You can take the 11 Commandments course, which covers the 11 essential mindset tweaks you'll need to prepare yourself for mastery, or explore our monthly membership options and join us as a student, where you can access our world-champion teaching faculty as part of your own challenge network, along with hundreds of other pipers around the world cheering you on!