School of Hard Knox: a missing entry, a 17,000 km trip, and a $240,000 investment

Published: July 26, 2013
(Page 2 of 3)

attempted to negotiate with the RSPBA to allow the boys to compete at Forres.

On May 29th the band appealed for saner heads to prevail, “We are 100% on the level that our entry was posted on . . . May 1st as advised in our previous correspondence.  Please take into consideration the 1/4 million dollar expenses that we are outlaying to bring a band from the other side of the world to compete at this contest – and the potential disappointment that 32 school age students would endure to travel to Scotland from Australia to not be able to compete! This would be devastating.”

With almost the entire quarter-million-dollar trip bought and paid for, Knox Pipe Band Master Ainsley Hart in a last-ditch effort in a June 3rd message to Embelton stated, “We are willing to do whatever required to achieve a positive outcome and enable our boys to compete.”

The answer remained negative.

Embelton, who necessarily relies on decisions of this nature to be made by his board of directors, attempted to work with the Forres organizers to allow Knox to perform at the opening and closing ceremonies. The RSPBA offered that the band would be “welcome to join the final Massed Band parade and be introduced to the crowd.

Rather than suffer the ignominy of attending the European as the band whose $240,000 entry was rejected, Knox Grammar School opted instead to attend the Ceres Highland Games on the same day, and a few of the pipers competed in the junior solo competitions there.

Sources with the Knox Grammar School Pipe Band said that they attempted to contact the RSPBA in April and May on “no fewer than three occasions” and received no reply.

“Their system of entry has no safety net, there is no confirmation of receipt of an entry,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “The RSPBA is quick to point out that this has happened before, yet there is no suggestion on their entry form that registered post should be used. The charter of the RSPBA is ‘to promote worldwide piping and drumming’? Such a  decision by their Directors was based on precedent (apparently way back when Field Marshal Montgomery was denied entry into a contest), so, rather than learning from a previously stupid and unpopular decision, they replicated it for good order. I am quite confident that no one previously affected by such a ruling would have any problem with a Novice Juvenile band from Australia coming to compete.”

While most of the world’s pipe band associations have moved to more foolproof online entry systems that confirm receipt, the RSPBA still requires bands to submit paper entries to major championships, including the World’s, by mail or courier, along with a hand-written cheque or money-order. Bands must confirm entry on their own. The Northern Ireland Branch of the RSPBA has implemented an online entry system.

Despite the extraordinary circumstances, the story has stayed unusually quiet. The RSPBA suspended 16-time World Solo Pipe Band Drumming Champion Jim Kilpatrick . . .

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  1. AndrewBerthoff

    That raises an interesting point, Colin. What if one of the Breton bands started with, < < Par la droite, rapide, mars >>?

  2. Robo

    The RSBBA Constitution states: Objects 4. The Company¡¯s objects are to promote and encourage the culture and advancement of pipe band music internationally and in furtherance thereto to:- i) create and maintain a bond of fellowship with all pipe band personnel throughout the world; Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but in my view the exec have, on this occasion, failed to uphold their primary objective. Shouldn’t all rules and actions flow directly from this primary objective?

  3. ColinMacLellan

    Rules are rules…. my goodness. That’s soooooo…. small minded. The year after Glengarry were not able to play, we went back again, this time the band was not quite as good due to changes in personnel. I think we eventually ended up fourth, but that’s not the point. Immediately after we had played, the Chair of RSPBA came up to me waving a rule book and said that we were to be disqualified because I, as Pipe Major, had said at the line “one, two” instead of “quick march”. I kid you not. Another 60 grand, 24 people off work for a week, thousands of miles travelled. That mattered not a jot. I did tell him that he would have to come up with a live video of me saying that, which he could not produce. (Thankfully this was in a less technologically adept era). The rules said “quick march”. Not, “one, two”. So, I suppose, Mr “Rules are Rules”, you’d be ok for a disqualification in that circumstance? This is a juvenile band, who spent a quarter of a million dollars, most of it privately fundraised, being denied entry and a trip of a lifetime effectively ruined because of petty, small-minded jobsworths saying “Rules are Rules”. Thank goodness you’re not running the show – although you’d fit right in no bother at all.

  4. anon

    The article states that the school tried to contact the RSPBA in April and May, to no avail. So how could they possibly follow-up on their entry? This is the wrong decision by the RSPBA once again. ToneCzar: that is an awesome idea but who has the guts?! Stu: cheeky!

  5. Joan

    Small minded, ignorant, tunnel vision. Why do all these stories end with ‘pipes|drums asked for a comment from RSPBA’ or similar, and none is ever forthcoming. Music is all about communication. They just don’t get it. The talent of the entrants has surpassed that of the organisation and all it entails. Admit it, move over, and let the thing flourish, not die a slow embarrassing death watched by the whole world. Reflects really badly on Scotland. Compare with Piping Live – chalk and cheese.

  6. Swanny

    Contrary to what kiegelmann says we don’t all hate the RSPBA. I dont think its a lot to ask to submit an entry form on time. 2 things that have been said I do agree with ie confirmation of receipt of entry and online entries. In the meantime rules are rules.

  7. Churchill81

    As unfortunate as the situation is I’m afraid I can’t agree with the general theme of the comments. The only person to blame here is the band Secretary. They should have ensured receipt the same as any other band. The association were stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. Let them play and the RSPBA are seen as breaking the rules again and you can bet there would be an article criticising them for it – same old RSPBA. Don’t let them play and stick to the rules, which everyone called for after the Brieg fiasco, and they’re all the bad yins. They couldn’t win in this situation. And for me, as harsh as it seems, it was the right call, the rules are there for everyone regardless of age, money spent or distance travelled. Should this situation prompt a review and change of entry procedures? Most definitely. That’s the discussion we should be having, not if it was right or wrong.

  8. bake

    Another pathetic example of an organization that adopts to the “new world” at a paleolithic pace! We should have invited them to Maxville!

  9. Pipesergeant

    This is completely ridiculous behavior…..I am bewildered and ashamed. How can this be justified? I think the whole committee needs replaced.

  10. DanBell

    Why do we have pipe band associations if it’s not to help promote the music that we play? I don’t see any way in which this decision does that. A bureaucracy that’s so inflexible that the enforcement of its rules actually prevents it from serving its stated purpose has outlived its usefulness. If competition is so important, why wouldn’t we want every potential competitor to get the opportunity to play? Obviously, having many bands field-enter would create logistical chaos, which is why it’s not allowed. However, showing flexibility in the face of adverse circumstances wouldn’t undermine the association’s authority to make rules. It would only re-affirm its commitment to its only legitimate purpose.

  11. ulsterman

    its about time ian embleton, mr usher and the rest off the rspba committee stand down and lets have people (ex pipe majors, drum seargents, judges) take over the running off the association

  12. kiegelmann

    Everyone hates the RSPBA. Why does’t someone just start up a new organization that’s run properly? Based on all the hate, it sounds like everyone would move over. Start fresh – new rules, new policy – no BS.

  13. kjunbill

    I think it’s time that the RSPBA had a total revamp on it’s practices and procedures. If they want to be transparent then they should act so and have they proper procedures for receipts of entries in place. It’s an autocratic little empire that needs to shook up. How to do it? Hit them in the pocketbook!

  14. Lugnuts

    So lets see. The R.S.P.B.A denies these boys in nov juv entry so that they won’t get in trouble for not following the rules but then they create a whole bigger trouble by following them. ITS NOVICE JUVENILE!!! Brilliant that.

  15. ToneCzar

    I remember that, Colin. Your band was sounding so excellent that year. It was a real travesty. I didn’t know the second part about a slot opening up and STILL being denied. Just terrible, the small-mindedness of some.

  16. piperjde

    Lets see. The empire builds a space station and the only weakness is if someone with good aim can squeeze a shot into a tiny hole. In that case, it blows up. So next time we’ll build it but put the reactor in the center of it all that way no one can get to it…unless the have impeccable flying skills and can squeeze something as large as the millennium falcon into that space and squeeze off a couple shots. In that case it would blow up too. When will the RSPBA stop building space stations with big stupid holes. This was a golden opportunity to make themselves look incredible! Overall they hold and run nice events, but update your system, accept snail mail as well invade there is someone who fancies using their dirk inspired letter opener still.

  17. ColinMacLellan

    It happened to us, in about 1995 with the Glengarry Band in Grade 2. In our case we actually had forgotten to send the entry in, and pleaded with the RSPBA a few days after the entry deadline had passed. The draw had not been made; no programmes had been printed. We had spent around $60,000 on non refundable airline tickets, and had booked accomodations. The actual response I got on the phone from RSPBA, which I will never forget, was “ye can go to yer lawyer, son, to yer MP, tae anyone ye want. It’s all been tried before. Ye’re wasting yer time”. That was it. A week or so later, after the draw had been made, I learned of another overseas band who had withdrawn, and pleaded once more for us to be just inserted in their place. Similar response. The final ignomony, and this I found the most small minded thing of all, (the contest was at Bellahouston Park -not exactly cramped for bus parking) was when I asked for a bus pass as we had no option but to just attend and watch. “Oh, we can’t do that; bus passes are for competing bands”. Twenty five years later nothing has changed. What an attitude an image to present to other countries and bands.

  18. Wink

    WOW, 95 % of the respondents to this article have serious issues with the current state of affairs in the RSPBA. I wonder if this precentage reflects the overall dissatisfaction and discontent towards the RSPBA world wide. Yes, the RSPBA executive officers may be correct in thinking and having the attitude that they are the center of the piping universe. But if this general feeling of dissatisfaction continues and the resentment continues to grow towards the organization I believe they are on a very slippery slope that will eventually be their demise.

  19. Lawrie

    Cruel, mean-spirited and completely void of any pragmatism and common sense. What a disgraceful display of behaviour from an association that is supposed to encourage, facilitate and find solutions. Would the sky have fallen in if they had to accommodate one more band? The RSPBA had two choices. Either find a solution, or be a part of the problem by doing nothing. They must be so proud of themselves.

  20. Lugnuts

    Have anyone noticed like me that these threats and disqualifications and penalties almost always seem to be with overseas bands? Hell of way to treat guests!!

  21. bobross

    How many time have we seen draws bent to allow Irish bands who have apparently missed ferries play when ever they feel like, how many time have we heard certain bands play msr’s in a fashion that is anything but musical yet they still seem to win, what about the what happened in Birmingham a few years ago. etc etc. Yet the rules cannot be changed on this occasion…….

  22. uilleannonlooker

    wouldn’t it be great if the pipe band community took this occasion to stand up to the rspba and finally show them that pipe bands are made up of persons and individuals, people that have a voice when it matters most. Nothing will change unless the grade 1 bands make a stand and lead the way, imagine if fmm, slot and sfu etc were to tell the rspba where to stick it when it comes to tbis year’s worls? then and only then when the rspba see their commodities are made up of humans, and humans that deserve a little more respect than to be treateted so poorly, that was clearly an administrative error on some part that could have been rectified. So, which band would like to start the ball rolling? say i

  23. KirkJ

    I have never entered a band in a Scottish contest but I am wondering; does the RSPBA CONFIRM that an entry has been received?

  24. summerdrummer

    This is the issue of the secretary of the band and noone else, end of story. So let me see, you book flights, spend $250,000 on travel, and don’t actually check to see your entered, you don’t email or call to check on that, you don’t email the entry form which they will accept and forward the payment. What I’d like to see if the missing pieces of the email that you’ve quoted . . . as I heard from someone on the Directors that this isn’t really what happened. The band applied for a bus pass but had no entry, and then the RSPBA contacted them as to why a band who hadn’t entered needed a bus pass, then there was all the nonsense that followed, but the bottom line here is the secretary is responsible for entering the band and I’m sorry if I was spending that sort of money I’d have made a phone call, but then apparently the secretary never entered the band as they had someone living in the UK do it (or not do it as it turned out) on their behalf. Should there be online entries YES, will there be PROBABLY after this. As Churchill states the RSPBA is caught behind the 8 ball on this one, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I checked the entries for the PPBSO events including upcoming Maxville which clearly states that “Band entries MUST be received at least 3 weeks prior to the contest date, except Maxville, which is 6 weeks before”, so they also have rules, it’s just how you decide to interpret those rules. [edited]

  25. Churchill81

    Good post Bigpiper and I do agree that discretion would have been the way to go normally as has been done in the past. Problem being that after the criticism the RSPBA received for the Brieg fiasco is it any wonder they didn’t? In this instance they’ve clearly stuck to the rule book as was demanded of them after Brieg and still they are slated. As I said before damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Definitely a time to look at contest registration procedures though, really need to online entry sorted ASAP.

  26. BigPiper

    In 1987 (I know, it’s the dark ages) My band didn’t appear in the draw for Cowal, and we spoke to the then head of the RSPBA, Bob Nicol, and as it was a military band, and we had proof of postage, we were allowed to play First… and again in 2009 with my dual registration, both bands I played with qualified for their respective finals at the exact same time, and I was allowed to play in the Grade 4 final first, to help both bands….. On both occasions, a little bit of discretion was used… Rules are Rules, I accept that, but common sense would have worked a lot better on this occasion…. I can think of some huge bands that this has happened to RUC L&B police to name a couple…..

  27. Churchill81

    KirkJ, the simple answer is no. They will confirm receipt if you contact them though, I can state that through personal experience.

  28. Churchill81

    Well put Andrew, no argument on that point at all. Guess that the chief exec has his hands tied with what can and cannot be said sometimes. I think that this is a good opportunity to mobilise members to push for changes to the contest registration procedures. Using the voice you have with pipesdrums.com to help with this can only be a good thing.

  29. AndrewBerthoff

    It’s PR 101: when you refuse to comment or provide your side of the story you leave it to others to fill in the gaps. Silence is treated with suspicion. When the RSPBA refuses invitations to comment, it is inevitable that some readers interpret pipes|drums’ reporting on sensitive and important RSPBA matters as one-sided. Ultimately, we’re only interested in bringing news to light and reporting the important issues that others won’t or can’t. We will continue to invite the RSPBA to provide their side of the story and guarantee that we will then report it accurately. The RSPBA is a great organization in many ways. They would be even greater if they simply communicated, and trusted its excellent Chief Executive to speak on its behalf without having to vet every word.

  30. Churchill81

    Would there have been any harm in letting them play? Probably not, except you’d be setting a precedent for this to happen again in the future and anyone who has lost out playing at a major because of a application which wasn’t received would no doubt question why their case was any different? That’s not even the point of the damned if the do, damned if they don’t point I made. If you read the articles about the Brieg carry on of if you remember all the chat on multiple forums about it, everyone was slating the RSPBA for not sticking to their own rules. I think we can agree on that? Now, here’s a situation where they could have broken the rules again and let this band play. Whilst there might not be the same weight of criticism towards the RSPBA for not sticking to the rules, there would have still been criticism. Call me a cynic but that’s my belief. Some people will take a pop at them no matter what they do and this is a prime example. On this occasion they’ve actually listened to their members and stuck to the rules and STILL they’re criticised. Summerdrummer seems to have more insight into this and it seems that the original article may not be the correct story, which is the case more often than not when you only get one side. And why would the RSPBA provide comment to pipedrums.com when the majority of articles relating to them paint them in a poor light? Granted, they don’t do themselves any favours sometimes but I can still understand why no comment would be provided.

  31. Doc

    Interesting…..RSPBA chooses to enforce this rule “to the letter of the law” but chooses NOT to enforce the Timed Medley time limit in Grade 2 last year…….the arguments for and against after last years Worlds are pretty much the same. [edited]

  32. ColinMacLellan

    They are not “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”. Do you really think there was any harm in letting this band play in a juvenile contest? Who is going to be harmed or bothered by that? Common sense and decency. The only thing the RSPBA are damned by in this instance is their own lack of both.

  33. ColinMacLellan

    What, Churchill, does the Knox situation have to do with Brieg’s situation? Y Nothing. Completely different issues. Not even on the same page.

  34. ColinMacLellan

    What, Churchill, does the Knox situation have to do with Brieg’s situation? Y Nothing. Completely different issues. Not even on the same page.

  35. Churchill81

    Colin, the article mentions the Brieg situation “The RSPBA faced considerable controversy following the 2012 World Pipe Band Championships after it was discovered that the Grade 2 Bagad Brieg of Brittany exceeded the maximum six-minute medley time in Grade 2 by six seconds, and went through to the Grade 2 final, in which it placed third and won the drumming prize. Some consider the stringent Knox Grammar School ruling as a cut-and-dried reaction due at least in part to the Bagad Brieg situation when the organization allegedly knowingly made a rule exemption, only to be caught out in numerous videos posted on YouTube.” I am simply using the same reference as the article to make my point.

  36. Churchill81

    Colin, the article mentions the Brieg situation “The RSPBA faced considerable controversy following the 2012 World Pipe Band Championships after it was discovered that the Grade 2 Bagad Brieg of Brittany exceeded the maximum six-minute medley time in Grade 2 by six seconds, and went through to the Grade 2 final, in which it placed third and won the drumming prize. Some consider the stringent Knox Grammar School ruling as a cut-and-dried reaction due at least in part to the Bagad Brieg situation when the organization allegedly knowingly made a rule exemption, only to be caught out in numerous videos posted on YouTube.” I am simply using the same reference as the article to make my point.

  37. Lugnuts

    The R.S.P.B.A. seem very good at hiding things so could they not have done the usual and just quietly allowed the entry. Who would know. If somebody leaked than all they have to is say nothing like they are so good at doing. Everybody is happy. They tried to hide it anyway so why not try to hide doing the right thing.

  38. Wexford98

    Rules are, indeed, rules. But not all rules are equal. There is a law against murder. There is also a law against not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The enacting agencies know they’re different: the penalties are different. You might even get away with a warning for that failure to stop. For murder, not so much. The rule in the Brieg situation is more important because it goes to the heart of the contest. That’s why they’re called timed medleys. The timing is part of the essence of the contest. Don’t bands time their medleys early on in the season and tweak them to fit where necessary? Ours always did. That rule shouldn’t be overlooked by the governing body. In the Knox case we’re talking about administrative convenience. How inconvenient would it have been to admit the school band? Draws already done? Programmes already printed? If the request is made a few days before hand and everything is already in place, then the school shouldn’t expect an exception to be made. If there was plenty of time as it appears there was, it really looks very small not to make an exception.

  39. Lugnuts

    The R.S.P.B.A. seem very good at hiding things so could they not have done the usual and just quietly allowed the entry. Who would know. If somebody leaked than all they have to is say nothing like they are so good at doing. Everybody is happy. They tried to hide it anyway so why not try to hide doing the right thing.

  40. Wexford98

    Rules are, indeed, rules. But not all rules are equal. There is a law against murder. There is also a law against not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The enacting agencies know they’re different: the penalties are different. You might even get away with a warning for that failure to stop. For murder, not so much. The rule in the Brieg situation is more important because it goes to the heart of the contest. That’s why they’re called timed medleys. The timing is part of the essence of the contest. Don’t bands time their medleys early on in the season and tweak them to fit where necessary? Ours always did. That rule shouldn’t be overlooked by the governing body. In the Knox case we’re talking about administrative convenience. How inconvenient would it have been to admit the school band? Draws already done? Programmes already printed? If the request is made a few days before hand and everything is already in place, then the school shouldn’t expect an exception to be made. If there was plenty of time as it appears there was, it really looks very small not to make an exception.

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