July 17, 2008

45 singles

What would White Jock do?I’m not sure if other associations do it, but the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario has traditionally offered occasional solo piping competitions for those 45 and older. (It used to be 50 and older, but that was changed for a reason I can’t remember three or four years ago. Strangely, there aren’t equivalent events for drummers, who always seem to demand equal billing to the pipers.)

I’m not sure what I think of this. On the one hand, I wonder why these players don’t just compete in the grade that matches their skill. If they play to a Grade 2 amateur caliber, then why not play in Grade 2?

On the other hand, I’m also undecided about older competitors competing against little kids, which is what often happens mainly in the lower amateur grades in North America. Part of me thinks that there should be an age limit to events, which I guess suggests that the “45 and Over” (sic) MSR event makes sense.

A major distinction, of course, is that 45+ competitions offer cash for prizes, whereas the amateurs get medals. But the money really isn’t much, and the handful of talented players who enter these events don’t seem to need the money that badly. I guess it pays for a few litres of gas, but the money isn’t by any means increasing commensurately with the price of pe’rol.

I’m still not eligible to play in the category, but I’m certain that I’ll never consider it next year. I’m not sure why I think that way. Why haven’t eligible top-players like Bill Livingstone, Bob Worrall, Jim McGillivray and so on ever entered these events?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy listening to these players. They almost always have a very good instrument, and a certain maturity to their playing that you don’t hear much in the amateur grades.

I’d love to hear your arguments for and against solo competitions for older pipers, so fire away!


  1. I was going to “hold my fire” on the subject of “older beginners” but since this is the second consecutive blog on the subject here goes…
    Before I start, I would first like to point out that the EUSPBA “split” the beginner (amateur grade 4) solo piping and drumming grades 15 years ago into 17 & under and 18 & over categories.
    Now, when I started (1962), ALL the non-professional contests were based on age and there was a general assumption that competition was based strictly on good playing and the potential for better playing. Once one turned eighteen, you had to play against the best adult players. Solo adult amateur competitors did not compete.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t yearn for the good ol’ days. I don’t believe the overall standard was better way back when. However, I do believe if you were to poll the professional grade solo pipers and drummers today, or 25, 50, 100 years ago, I doubt if you would find very many who did NOT begin before reaching puberty.
    I personally have no quarrel with anyone at any age fulfilling a lifelong dream to learn the pipes or drums at a later age. But I’m not sure we should be catering to their solo competitive needs.

  2. As one of the older competitors who frequently finds himself competing against kids, I’m curious as to what you think is the downside of this? Would an age limit (I assume you mean a maximum age…) somehow protect the kids from something? (If so, what?)

    Not so much in Canada, but in the US, an age limit would only mean that small competitions would get much smaller. Getting more people playing more bagpipes and drums and playing them better, regardless of age, has to be a good thing for everybody involved. I can’t see how this is helped by preventing older people from competing.

    In regards to Mr. McMullin’s comment, here’s a quote from Article 1, Section 2 of the EUSPBA bylaws: “…the Association shall engage in such activities and programs as will improve all aspects of bagpipe music, piping and drumming with respect to both pipe band playing and individual playing…”. It doesn’t say “for young people” or “for people who are likely to play at the professional level someday”.

  3. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting for a second that anyone should be prevented from competing. The focus of the Blogpipe post was on the PPBSO’s 45 and Over category at some games, and why it is, where it came from, does it make sense, and so forth. I always enjoy listening to the players and in the event, and I would enjoy listening to them compete just as much in Professional, Grade 1, Grade 2 or whatever category they would otherwise enter.

  4. Out of curiosity how is it that this 45+ competition doesn’t void the adults status as an amateur?

    Just a quick search of my own home society and the rule is as follows:
    “4.1.5 A Professional competitor is one who has competed in a professional competition
    at any time, or where cash prizes are offered, notwithstanding Clause 4.2.3.”

    Really doesn’t leave too much grey room to me, there is prize money for these 45+ categories so how is it that an old guy could play this and then go play a grade 4 event too? Doesn’t seem right to me. In that regard I would say that in this specific instance people who do play in the 45+ category should be denied from playing in the grade 4-1 catergories as well since they violated their amateur status.

  5. A very good point and the topic of another thread, maybe soon. Being involved in grading decisions, I can tell you that the “professional” and “amateur” issue can be a a dilemma, at least the way North American solo events are structured. Scotland’s quite straightforward, with its simple “Under-18” and “Senior” approach. To me, there’s something to be said for doing away with the old Pro and Am. notion. It’s just a grade differentiation, and one happens to offer prize-money. I think there should be facility to downgrade someone who does not meet the “Professional” standard.

    No one earns a living from solo piping competitions. In Scotland, until about 1930, it was actually possible for a piper to make a living from competing, the prize-money was that good. John MacColl I believe did that for a time. “Amateur” in Scotland denotes mainly a class distinction today, with the Royal Scottish Pipers Society holding to the tenet that competing for money is not something that those from the aristocracy should do.

    Somewhere along the line we adopted the old idea of “amateur” and “professional” solo piping. In North America, anyway, I think Open/Professional is just another grade, regardless of money being awarded, and there should be facility to downgrade those who don’t meet the standard, regardless of age.

  6. I would tend to agree with you Andrew, the Open class is just another grade in North America. However, regardless of what the reality of the situation may be, the rule is in place and should really be enforced or else scrapped.

    I thought that most associations had rules enacted that would allow them to regrade a competitor. Here in Alberta we have good old clause “4.2.3 The Society shall have the authority to re-grade a competitor at any time.” I just assumed that most other societies would have a similar rule.

    I would hate to have that job…..especially in something so subjective as piping.

  7. I have competed (periodically and sporadically) in the Over 45 grade for the past four or five years. Having not competed in a solo contest for some 25+ years the grade seemed to be appropriate for me.

    I had last played in Ontario in Professional, as have a number of the players who show up for the “Old Farts” contest. We do it for the enjoyment, to help keep our form up, for the fun, and for the camaraderie. (Quite often we pool any prize monies won and head off to the beer tent!)

    Our approach to these contests, at least mine and some of the friends that I compete against, is not done with the same level of intensity and commitment that might be seen in the higher amateur or the professional grades. I don’t think that the PPBSO is catering to our solo piping needs, but rather providing us with a venue to continue playing, and continue to receive feedback on our playing.

  8. Mr. Snow, if you would take the time to re-read what I wrote, there was no hint whatsoever that I was in favor of barring adult beginners from competing. I did not suggest returning to the old age grade system.
    I think if a little research was done, the Ontario “old farts” event was established for “retired” professional grade players. I agree with Andrew that an awful lot can be learned and enjoyed from listening to these players who have professional level experience. It was NOT set up to give the adult beginners another competitive event.
    I think there is a lot more to this whole touchy subject than meets the eye. I was trying to honestly state my opinion which is what I thought this blog was all about. As immediate past president of the EUSPBA who has never hidden behind pseudonyms, rest assured there are a hell of a lot of highly respected players and/or judges who have far less tolerance than me for adult beginners…Unless, of course, they are being paid to teach them.

  9. Al,  Upon rereading my post I see that it’s a bit unclear.   My comment about age limits was directed not at you but at Andrews original entry, in which he said “Part of me thinks that there should be an age limit to events…” Sorry for the confusion.

  10. I can’t help but notice how no one is touching on WHY these associations have their rules set the way they do. I play in the SUSPBA, where the grade 5 and 4 solo comp. are spilt up in to two different age groups. On is for the 29 and under, the other is for 30 and over. Being in Florida, we have a lot of older players, around along with a whole wack of “hobbiest”. If I recall correctly, when I was younger, there was quite a lot of tempertantrums being thrown by the much older players in the grade 5 – 3 contest about all the “kids” always winning. It didn’t help that most of the kids winning came from the Dunedin Schools either. I believe it was split to help level out the playing feild with out down grading players, that may have at one point been fine grade 3 players, and to also rule out any “they win because it’s cute to have a kid win” ideas. It has worked great, and now the older seasoned players, and those that just enjoy the pipe they recently took up can have fun competing, without having to deal with a 13 year old who swears he’s Chris Armstrong. Also we do not pay the older level, they get the same shiny medals. To conclude, I am for the above mentioned age splits. Hope this helps you out when you come down here and can’t play with the kids.


  11. Jamis, I can pretty much give you the reason “WHY” the EUSPBA split grade 4. Whether those currently running the EUSPBA remember or not, rest assured I do remember.
    The age split had nothing at all to do with complaints/comments from older competitors. It had everything to do with encouraging the younger players.
    When the EUSPBA dealt with this issue, very few young players were “sticking with it.” We did not know if splitting would help but it was worth a try. Also, we had not addressed the issue of splitting large entries into “heats.”
    Although the younger crowd found themselves playing against people who were old enough to be their parents or even grandparents, “protecting” kids was not a concern.
    Maybe I am old fashioned or whatever, but I still believe young people have RESPECT FOR THEIR ELDERS. Therefore, an argument could be made that competing against, even “beating” older players might be counter-productive and/or discouraging to the development of younger players. (as far as I am concerned, this is the ONLY way the standard of solo playing will continue to improve)
    Like I said, we did not know for sure if splitting would help but it was better than doing nothing. It would be very interesting if we polled our more recently promoted professional graded players AND their instructors to see if it helped.



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