Published: July 31, 2008

Crazy, hazy days of summer

Rosebud. Rosebud. Rooooosssssebuuuuud. Let’s shake up the snow-globe to see what’s all the buttlescutt in the world of piperin and drummerin . . .
 
The Scottish solo scene so far this year is overrun with competitors. Some games are like Inverness circa 1975 with 40-plus entries in the piobaireachd events. Inveraray and Roseneath were split into two heats of as many as 20 in each, with six from each going to a final. Now who in their right mind wants to play two piobaireachds in one day in the rain? I predict that the Competing Pipers Association will be busy in the off-season lobbying events to add C-Grade competitions. But, you know, when you have a hundred-odd-years of “tradition” stifling progress and no governing body to set uniform standards for competitions and judging, it might be hard to get anything done. Time for a wholesale reformation of the Scottish games’ competition structure, methinks. It’s all very quaint, but the Scottish solo structure is 40 years behind the times.
 
And the numbers problem goes further, even to places where there’s a formal grading structure for solos. Ontario’s solo events are bursting at the seams, with amateur events often split into two and even three sections, requiring more judges. It’s becoming quite an assembly line. This is a good problem to have, of course. But some events are at a crossroads where they either have to put a limit on entries, reduce the number of events or hold solo contests on a totally separate day. Watch for changes worldwide to deal with the popularity of competing.
 
Funny how pipe band section sizes were all the talk last year. This year? Not so much. Bill Livingstone‘s private army of 2007 has been reduced to a mere battalion in 2008, and I’m not seeing other bands growing past the 24-piper mark, if even that. Could it be that Richard Parkes‘s off-season pipes|drums Interview, in which he says that 24 pipers are the most he would ever want to compete with, hit home with a few folk? I think so.
 
Congratulations to Ron and June Rollo, one of piping’s most well known couples, who just enjoyed their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Fifty of anything is an accomplishment these days, and for a half-century of wedded bliss amid the hurly burly of the pipe band world is a rare feat. I understand that June was awarded a platinum medal at the Cambridge Highland Games, where the couple celebrated their special day.
 
So far, the 2008 band season has been, in a word, rather insane. (Okay, that’s two words, but who’s counting?) Let me see . . . reigning World Champeens Field Marshal Montgomery compete without a pipe-major playing at two events, one where he just decided not to play, the other where his stock came away from his bag. When’s the last time that happened to any piper in any Grade 1 band, let alone the Pipe-Major of the World Champions?! The Toronto Police play a selection unlike anything ever heard in competition before, causing great debate and controversy. Donald Mackay resigns as Strathclyde Police pipe-major three days before the European Championships. Unprecedented!
 
Am I the only one to notice that North America’s Grade 4 band standard is getting better fast? I think this is due primarily to the addition of Grade 5 band competitions. The Grade 5 category routinely is the largest grade now, and it might be training people at an earlier age, paying dividends for the overall standard on the way up. Grade 5 partly started with an eye to increasing membership in associations, but it has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, with bands at the top of the grade that easily meet a Grade 4 standard of 10 years ago.
 
Can the same be said of Scotland’s MAP system? The main objective of the MAP approach was to improve fundamentals in young pipe bands. By that token, the UK’s Grade 3 should be reaping the benefits about now. I’m not sure if that’s happening, since “overseas” bands continue to come over there and do quite well.
 
Speaking of crazy, the Grade 1 Oran Mor Pipe Band – Grade 1 by its home association, anyway – is competing in Grade 2 at the World’s, at the RSPBA’s insistence. Huh?! There are so many issues here, I don’t know where to start. 1) Oran Mor won its Grade 2 heat at the ’07 World’s then had a first and eighth in piping finished seventh in the final. 2) The band asked the EUSPBA to be put in Grade 1, and the upgrade was approved. 3) The RSPBA several years ago after the Prince Charles and Robert Malcolm schlimazels agreed to respect other associations’ grading. 4) Why aren’t UK-based Grade 2 bands up-in-arms about having to compete against a Grade 1 band? If Oran Mor proves that it is in indeed Grade 1 quality and wins the Grade 2 event, then a large can of whoop-arse is being opened. It’s the reverse of the Spirit of Scotland decision. Had the Spirit somehow been assigned to Grade 2, then other Grade 2 bands would have had a conniption. Why they don’t have a fit with the Oran Mor case surprises me. Perhaps the UK just doesn’t take the North American standard seriously. And what happens at Maxville if – that’s if – Oran Mor places ahead of an established Grade 1 band competing at the World’s? Hmmmm.
 
What is an Oran Mor, anyway? Big something or other, I think. Be sure to send me, Harry Tung, your scoop and inside dirt and I will guarantee your anonymity.

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