Okay, so the Cardinals won in five. Sweet victory for anyone waiting and hoping since 1982, who suffered through the 1970s, Steve Swisher, Vern Rapp, Gary Templeton, Don Denkinger, and all of the post-season let-downs of the last decade.

Sorry Stu, Steve, Joel et al. Your Tigers just ran out of gas and “lost the bottle,” as they say. It was like the hot new Grade 1 band at the World’s dropping sticks, missing attacks, chanters falling out, pipe bags and heads bursting. Chalk it up to lack of experience, but know that Detroit will be good and better for many years.

Leyland taking the full blame is extraordinary: a pipe-major has to assume that pipers will properly hemp their instrument and play on auto-pilot when they hit the field. Not a dang thing he can do if they don’t execute like they have been trained and know how to.

“Bottle” is something that cannot be taught, but can only be learned through experience. But Cardinals fans’ bottles have been corked up for decades, and how sweet the champagne rain was early this morning.

Making the grade

The news of the RSPBA upgrades was more interesting than usual because the organization took it upon itself once again to grade four bands that aren’t members of the RSPBA. It’s especially interesting given that the RSPBA agreed not to grade ANAPBA bands, and to respect the recommendations of their home associations.

The agreement stems back to 2001, when the RSPBA informed the Prince Charles band that it would have to compete in Grade 2, not Grade 1, two weeks before the World’s. Prince Charles had been upgraded by its home association, entered Grade 1 at the World’s, and then was relegated months after the band had submitted its entry.

What if the tables were turned? Let’s say an RSPBA member Grade 1 band travels to North America – something that happens once every 20 years of so. The band competes at the biggest pipe band contest in North America. Let’s say the band, which let’s also say is a recent World Champion, has a few poor runs on the day because they couldn’t handle the heat. The band finishes last in one event and second-last in the other.

That winter, the Music Board of the association that sanctions the event recommends, based solely on the band’s performances at that contest, that the band should be downgraded, and the organization’s Executive then approves the re-grading, insinuating that the band should now be Grade 2.

Imagine the upset.

But it would never happen. First of all, it’s not right. Second, the guest band is a guest; it is a member of the RSPBA, and it competes in the grade assigned to it by its home organization. Grading should be done only by a band’s home association.

Why the RSPBA has taken it upon itself once again to interfere in the grading processes of other associations is a mystery. If RMM or the Gaelic College, for example, were not upgraded by the BCPA or the ACPBA, and those bands entered an RSPBA contest in their 2006 grade, then one would hope that the RSPBA would raise its concerns with those bands’ home associations, and work towards a resolution – respectful of the decision-making capabilities and high standards of others.

Credible accreditation

Last Friday I went through a full day of written and oral examinations for the Canadian Public Relations Society’s Accredited Public Relations (APR) program, a lengthy and exhaustive standardized test for the profession in which I’ve worked for 15 years. It was a terrific learning experience, and, inevitably, I connected it back to my alter-world of piping and drumming.

Public relations is not an exact science. Some would call it an art. The challenge of creating an accreditation program for PR professionals is actually similar to the examination processes that I’ve seen and been through, and now help to develop and uphold, for judging solo piping and bands. Piping and drumming are musical arts. We constantly struggle to measure them in competition. And we constantly struggle trying to create standards and certifications for adjudicators, so that competitors can be sure that they’re being assessed by those who not only have played to high-competency, but understand the theoretical and fundamental aspects of the art, and are able to communicate their judgment in writing.

In piping and drumming, even those with little playing ability somehow end up judging in unregulated regions. Even after all these years, Scotland’s solo scene is rife with jokers on benches. In PR, anyone can hang out a shingle and declare themselves “professional.” It’s a primary reason why many piping contests and the PR industry overall suffer from credibility problems.

In the PR industry, relatively few practitioners actually go through the APR process. Often it is considered unnecessary by those who are already successful in the business. There is a tendency by some to be suspicious of trying to put an inexact science into a pass/fail test, assessed by those who may well not have near the breadth of professional experience and success of many of those taking the exams.

The world piping and drumming community is full of great competitors who are unwilling to go through judging exams. At any RSPBA major, the audience is dotted with former world champion pipe-majors, leading-drummers, pipe-sergeants and long-serving members of top Grade 1 bands. Sometimes they just don’t want to judge, but many out of principle refuse to adhere to certification standards. It’s a shame that they don’t understand that such a process is not intended to bring their experience into question, but is designed to create credibility through standards – something that every discipline needs if it wants to be taken seriously.

Despite my 15 years in the PR business, working with one of the country’s most successful firms and having a few dozen industry awards to my name, I may well not pass the APR accreditation exam. Regardless, I accept and understand the value of accreditation to uphold a standard for a profession that is inherently inexact and unregulated. But if I pass, those to whom I provide counsel have more assurance that I actually know what I’m talking about. It will help to differentiate me from the jokers.

When it comes to certification for solo and band judging, I wish more potential piping and drumming and ensemble adjudicators felt the same way.

The Boat Time

The Boat Time.

Nothing like being at the back of the canoe with my two favourite paddlers. I’ve posted shots of the Humber River, which flows right through our Toronto neighbourhood, and here’s the lovely Annabel surveying the still vibrant fall colours.

I could easily connect this image to piping (since it’s ultimately how it came about), but I’ll spare the details for now!

Funky hot Molina

Yadier Molina's blast in the ninth.

Okay, so it was in seven, not six, games, but what a game it was and what a Series it will be! (Cardinals over the Tigers in seven.)


  1. Pecan. The king of all pies. The Albert Pujols of pies. The GS McLennan of flans. The Willie McCallum of tarts (um, wait a sec . . .).
  2. Key lime. Must be made with real key limes.
  3. Rhubarb + strawberry. Not big on mixed fruits, but this really works. Easy on the sugar.
  4. Meat. Nothing beats a greezy meat pie with HP, mushy peas and a bottle of Irn Bru (except of course for pecan, key lime and rhubarb-strawberry).
  5. Pumpkin. None of that canned stuff, either. Real poached pumpkin, please.

The business of publishing

I’ve thought a lot recently about the notion of piping and drumming associations being in the business of serious publishing. Every print magazine for the piping and drumming world is connected with some association or business. In fact, the market is severely over-served, given the relatively small size of the potential audience.

With most pipe band associations and organizations feeling that they have to produce a regular print magazine, per capita it’s akin to the City of New York having a few thousand daily newspapers, or a thousand magazines vying for the world’s cycling audience. It does not make sense.

Twenty or so years ago there were the College of Piping’s Piping Times, the RSPBA’s Pipe Band and the PPBSO’s Canadian Piper & Drummer. Today, I can count at least 10 print publications, each connected with an association.

Associations of course need to communicate to their members, and there’s significant intangible marketing value in a well put-together magazine. But many organizations seem to be bogged down with producing these periodicals.

I assembled the Piper & Drummer for 18 years, and the publication was considered by many to be the best available. But I know how much it cost to produce it. I know how difficult it was to attract paid subscriptions. I know first hand that an expensive, high quality print magazine is frequently a convenient scapegoat for financial woes.

The business of piping and drumming associations is piping and drumming. Sure, communicate with members, but leave the serious publishing to those who know the business of serious publishing.

Play ball

Mets vs. Cardinals: Cardinals in six.

A’s vs. Tigers: Tigers in four.

Tigers vs. Cardinals in a reprise of the ’68 classic: Cardinals in seven.

Do the hustle

I’m always amazed at piping and drumming judges flying all over the place, especially those who have a non-piping/drumming job. I can see getting to a judge a high-level event with stellar playing, but so many contests are made up of lower-grade competitors, one after another, all day, with largely the same problems to critique. It’s hard work and the pay is usually not much of an incentive.

But obviously to each his/her own. Go for it, and maybe using up vacation time to judge is satisfying to some. If I ever retire from work, I’m sure I’ll change my tune.

What really amazes me, though, are judges who actually go out and advertise their services and availability to events and associations, hustling judging gigs. Seriously. This happens. Again, to each his own, but that’s just a bit unseemly. It’s like a competing piper asking to be invited to a contest. It’s not the way it works. Invitations to competitions, whether to competitors or judges, are based on excellence and reputation, no?

Sure, eager and available judges should make sure that events and associations know how to reach them. But they should also wait for the call. I’d be really suspicious of a judge who tries to hustle up judging jobs. It speaks volumes.

Reap what you sow

After three full days I guess I should talk about the how the launch of pipes|drums has gone. So far so good. Paid subscriptions already number in the hundreds, and there are about twice that number of readers who have registered, I hope so that they will use the Comments feature available on the majority of articles.

I’ve received many messages about the name change, which only two other people in the piping world knew about before it was unveiled on Monday evening. It was difficult to part with the previous name, a brand that I had created, designed, trademarked and fostered for 18 years. But after consulting with one of Canada’s top trademark and intellectual property lawyers the decision was to take a different direction.

And it seems to have been the right thing to do. The “value” of a brand that is solely on the net is perhaps much less than what I had imagined, especially since redirecting visitors to the pipes|drums URL is invisible. No one appears to care too much about what it’s called, and the content, as always, is the key to its success.

That pipes|drums is independent, as I’ve said before, is very important. Even if the publication had retained the Piper & Drummer name, it would carry the baggage of the PPBSO’s print publication, which the organization’s executive administrative group contends it wants to produce in some print form in the future. It’s actually a relief to be free of that misperception of association that some people inevitably had with Piper & Drummer Online. I can only assume and hope that the PPBSO’s executive based its decision after polling its members.

But the whole success of the name-change makes me think of pipe band names. Top bands used to cling to their titles, often refusing to allow sponsors to encroach on their identity. The thought was that judges would be confused and they wouldn’t get the results they deserved. Bands, too, have shown that it’s the content that matters. No one really cares what the name is.

Produce the goods: reap the rewards.


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