The Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association of Australia has just completed its first test trial in which bands are allowed to enter and take a formation very different from the familiar closed circle set up.
Several bands at the Berwick Gathering over the last weekend took advantage of the trial, including Moorabbin City and Hawthorn City, both from the Melbourne area. Moorabbin won the Grade 2 event.
Trial rules were passed through the VHPBA in 2011 stating that, in addition to a circle formation, bands could choose from several other options that allowed the competing band to face the judges and the audience, although judges were free to roam. Bands could form between two flags four metres from the outside of the centre of the circle, and march into the formation in various fashions.
While judges could move around bands facing the audience, all of them reportedly chose to listen only from the front.
In addition to the Berwick Gathering, the other trial event will be at the Ringwood Highland Gathering just before the Australian Pipe Band Championships at Ballarat over the Easter weekend.
The trial is reserved only for medley competitions. MSRs will maintain a tradition closed circle format. Leading up to Berwick, there was “significant consternation” about the experiment from traditionalists determined to see the closed circle approach maintained, according to one insider, who added that the audience-facing format was “not as hard as the naysayers made out before it was trialed . . . no breakdowns by lower-grade bands from fear of having to actually face the audience . . . the quality, and enjoyment, of the performance not hindered by the drones facing away from the audience.
Most Australia pipe band competitions call for bands to compete in both a medley and an MSR event on the same day, with the aggregate scores determining the overall winner in each grade.
The Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association is a branch of the Australian Pipe Band Association. Established in 1924, the VHPBA is purported to be the oldest pipe band association in the world.