April 18, 2016

A gap with teeth

The demands on pipers, drummers and pipe bands become greater every year. So do the requirements of association executives, administrators and volunteers.

And as those demands become greater, the two sides grow further and further apart, creating more and more tension every year.

Let me explain.

Piping and drumming – especially at the higher levels – is increasingly the domain of the young. To support these hobbies to the extent needed to excel, complications like, say, a job or family are simply not conducive. Add to that the demand to maintain larger and more complicated repertoires, and most Grade 1 bands are rich with teenagers.

Where once the wiz-kids of Dysart & Dundonald of the late-1970s were the exception, and the Strathclyde Police of 40 and 50-year-olds the rule, the exact opposite is the case today.

Competitions and associations are more complicated and time-consuming than ever. With very few exceptions, executive and administrative roles are unpaid. Those who volunteer for them will be out-of-pocket financially, spending evenings and weekends to pursue their extraordinary passion to help. Pretty much the only people who can fill these roles are the retired and well-off – usually 55 years or older.

The younger playing-members side loves change, they embrace technology, they want things now and they want to move on to the next today. Allegiances to brands and customs are not yet established, and might never be. They communicate and interact in ever-new ways, and just as easily abandon one band for the next like they change social media platforms or smartphones.

And then on the association side these older folks are – in general – change- and risk-averse. They don’t want to deal with gizmos, learn social media, or adapt to new things. They dig in and some of them work tirelessly to preserve the past, the familiar and the safe – even though that’s exactly the wrong approach to take if they are to represent the will of the members, which is of course their core function.

The kids meanwhile can’t understand why new things can’t be tried. They get royally pissed off when they are told that an obviously good and generally harmless idea can’t be test-flown, while those in power try to suppress them, for reasons hard to fathom. Make a critical comment about the association or its people on social media and you risk being suspended. That totalitarian tactic might cool the comments, but it just creates more resentment and divide.

The old folks like their little paid trips and sandwiches at the games. They like being in charge. They like keeping these kids in their place. The old ways are the best ways. Don’t complicate things. Prop up the past. Long live “Corriechoille”!

So, we have two groups often at odds with one another: the kid competitors and the ancient governors, and while the members storm the technology gates, the “leaders” listen to 78s on the Victrola.

I exaggerate and, as with everything, there are exceptions, but exceptions are ever-harder to find.

The division between younger members and older officials will only become greater. It is not going away. The demands on each side will not become any easier or less time-consuming.

What can be done, then?

Keeping in mind that pipers and drummers are the associations, then it is the responsibility and role of the officials to respond to the demands and ways of the members, regardless of how old, young, intransigent or open-minded they are. The officials should work to adapt by at least appreciating and even embracing the new, and, most importantly, realize that they – the officials – are not the association.

An association is the pipers and the drummers, and the executives, directors, administrators all serve them. Members must demand that association leaders present a plan for the future and commit themselves to at least appreciating and respecting new ideas. Smart change is hard work. It takes courage and conviction, but it can come with great rewards. Doggedly adhering to the safe and familiar might seem easier, but it only widens the gap.

If anything is going to change, the members need to control their fate. If you are a competing piper and drummer and you are ever made to feel that you are serving those in power, then something is dreadfully wrong. Oust the fuddy-duddies and the conflicted. Force them to change through action. Attend meetings, vote out the laggards and suspected money-grubbers and bring in those who are more in tune with the times.

If that fails, then band together, and vote with your feet. If not reform, then revolution.



  1. The different “world views” between the “boomers” and the “millennials ” is seen in every profession and avocation, whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, pilot, whatever…..it’s quite real…..boomers still fill the ranks of PM, PS and DS…..but that will be changing soon. I’m interested to see what that brings.

    1. Agreed, however the last year of “Boomers” was 1964, and relatively few competition bands have leaders 52 and older. P-Ms, mainly because of the huge time commitment, are getting younger and younger. Overall, perhaps partly due to the trend toward larger sections, players are younger, and serving a decade in the lower grades before hitting the top grades has been proved unnecessary. Players are getting younger; executives and admins are getting older. The young will no longer learn the wise ways of the old, so it’s mainly up to the old to get on board with the young . . . or get out of the way.

  2. It’s about attitude not age, and any use of the phrase “but we’ve always done it that way” should immediately disbar anyone from any position of authority no matter how old they are.
    Those I associated with piping innovation and change when I was a teenager in the 1980s are now likely in their 50s and 60s. The recently reported fall outs at the RSPBA seem to me to indicate that at least some of them are still railing against institutionalised inertia and mediocrity.

  3. I just love the niche you have carved Andrew, that allows you to point out such things with impunity; be a tall poppy and report what all with the eyes to see it know, yet in such a way that no one gets hurt or starts hurling cowpats. You alway seem effortless master of the social revolutionary comment; strong enough to show people there is indeed an elephant in the room, hard enough to motivate them to start shoveling as the excrement is rising, yet not so hard that you take away their ‘God given right’ to launch a load into the aircon… or similar.



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