While pipes|drums’ social media efforts have been going on for more than six years now, ever since we started this blog and enabled readers to comment on articles, there are a few more recent developments that people might not yet know about.

The pipes|drums page on Facebook to date has the support base of approaching 4,000 ‘fans” around the world. In addition to the RSS feeds that we’ve provided for the last four years, the Facebook page is proving to be a handy alert mechanism for new stories and other content published on pipes|drums.

There’s also our YouTube Channel, which aggregates video content from various piping and drumming events. If you’re registered on Google and/or YouTube, it’s easy to subscribe to the pipes|drums Channel to get alerts when new content is uploaded.

We’ve been on Twitter for more than a year now. With the other forms of social media, Twitter in the off-season doesn’t get the updates the other places receive, but those will increase along with events.

People may also have noticed that comments to pipes|drums articles are now moderated. We’ve allowed and encouraged reader-comments for years now, and have enjoyed some lively and constructive debates. We felt that most readers preferred a moderated approach to comments to keep things even more constructive. So far it’s working well.

And, of course, there’s Blogpipe – you probably know how to find that!

I hope that you enjoy our various social media efforts. pipes|drums has always been about starting conversations and engaging readers, and we’ll continue to look for more ways to do that as we go along.

The hardest grade is 2

Sticky.History demonstrates that the most difficult pipe band grade is Grade 2. I’m not talking about winning (although that’s hard, too); I’m talking about long-term survival.

This year – in North America, anyway – we’ve seen the demise or apparent demise of no fewer than three Grade 2 bands. Midlothian Scottish, Niagara Regional Police and, most recently, the Hamilton Police all seem to be belly-up. Also fairly recently we’ve seen Grade 2 bands exceed in the grade, get promoted to Grade 1, and then eventually crumble or recede back into Grade 2.

While many Grade 2 bands may have had a lengthy history before dissolving, their struggles to maintain and continue might be harder than bands in any other grade. If you consider that most pipers and drummers’ ultimate goal is to play with a successful Grade 1 band, the pressure on a Grade 2 band to hold on to personnel and keep things glued together is enormous.

And now with pressure on Grade 1 and 2 bands to field a pipe section of at least 15 quality players to have a fighting chance, it’s even harder. A Grade 2 band might have a feeder system, but often the best pipers from Grade 3 bands leapfrog Grade 2 to get to the premiership. And the days of sticking it out with a Grade 2 band, resolutely waiting for or dreaming for years about when the band might go to Grade 1, seem to be all but over. Grade 2 players increasingly just don’t have the patience or loyalty. (Those who do are to be admired, and eventually they will become known for their dedication, commitment and principles.)

There are exceptions, of course, and the obvious example is Inveraray & District. But there, too, time will tell if that band can withstand the pressures of Grade 1, especially when the group comprises so many young members, some of whom will inevitably go on to college and university or move away. But placing ahead of House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead in an event in your first competition is a very good start, as nothing maintains a band like winning.

And of course there are Grade 3 bands continually moving in to Grade 2 (see Aughintober, Howard Memorial, Killen, Linlithgow, Penatangore, Stuart Highlanders, Williamwood . . .) but they, too, will face the extraordinary pressures of the grade.

I’ve said before that Grade 2 is, perhaps ironically, the most entertaining and competitive grade. There bands have the ability to stretch out their creativity with a lot less risk, and generally there are far more bands than Grade 1 that have a realistic chance of winning the contest. Just my observation, but personnel in Grade 2 bands also seem to have more fun – maybe because they know it might not last.

The solution? There probably isn’t one. I think that perhaps limiting the roster numbers of Grade 1 bands would help the world pipe band scenes, but that’s unlikely to occur until the RSPBA does it first. Besides, the pressures of Grade 2 didn’t start when Grade 1 bands began fielding pipe sections of more than 20; but they did seem to get worse.

Today maybe the best way to survive as a Grade 2 band is not to be a Grade 2 band for long. The bands that can race through the grade in one, two or, at most, three years, and carry the winning momentum and enthusiasm into Grade 1 may ultimately be the only bands that endure.

Culture club

Travelling recently to Australia I couldn’t help but notice the similarities with North America. Generally speaking, there’s sameness now around the world in the way people dress and the things we eat. We can thank (or blame) “world markets,” cheap manufacturing, electronic communications and air transportation for that.

There are differences, of course, but they’re small, and I don’t think I saw a single item – even stereotypical Aussie oilskin coats, boomerangs or Vegemite – that couldn’t be gotten with a mouse-click and some shipping and duty charges. I can even get kangaroo steaks from a butcher a block away. I knew that going there, of course, and the visit was nonetheless completely enjoyable and culturally enlightening.

World homogeneity isn’t limited to fashion, food and other merchandise; it’s true of the pipe band world. With rare exceptions, no matter where you go every pipe band plays essentially the same kind of content. There’s really no such thing as a “style” of playing any more, and perhaps there never was one, since the idea has always been to ape what was started in Scotland. Bands may have their own subtle approaches to playing, but I can’t think of any consistently distinct national or regional style of playing anywhere in the world.

The Breton bagads of course play completely different music for their Breton events, but for the Scottish MSR and medley competitions they do what they hope will win in Scotland. St. Laurence O’Toole is said to play in an “Irish” style, and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) seem to do a certain Cape Breton thing when it comes to jigs and reels, but a solitary band doesn’t a harmonized national “style” of playing make.

Whether fashion or music, it all comes down to acceptance. Styles change only when people feel they’re acceptable in a widespread way. Trendsetters are the courageous, those willing to counter the conventional and do something different, indifferent to the ridicule.

But at some point someone decided that the Highland pipe could be used to play traditional Breton folk music (sacrebleu!), so why couldn’t that happen elsewhere? It would be great if other national or regional pipe band musical styles could emerge, but it has to be encouraged and nurtured. Maybe if associations created special events, like the Bretons do, for their own bands something might gel.

The imitation of the familiar Scottish format can still go on, but there’s nothing wrong with inventing new looks and sounds and allowing new national styles that each country might call its own to gradually take shape. All it takes is a bit of courage and acceptance.

Down under

Australia is a large, rich and diverse country with a large, rich and diverse piping and drumming scene.



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