The order of play for the World Pipe Band Championship is always anxiously anticipated, but the announcement of the draw and format on July 10th for this year’s contest was met with mixed emotions by Grade 1 bands, ranging from approval to consternation to all-out disappointment.
It seems that bands were never informed before Wednesday about how it all would work, let alone asked for their opinion before the changes were made.
This year’s Grade 1 competition takes place over two days, with the 24 bands entered split into two heats, each playing an own-choice MSR and, later, an own-choice Medley, The aggregate top six from each heat go through to a 12-band Final on Sunday, where each finalist band plays the MSR and Medley that it did not choose to play in the Saturday qualifier. The best overall result from the two events determines the ultimate prize-list.
Bands have been seeded based on their result in the Final of the 2012 World Pipe Band Championship. Those that did not make last year’s Final were drawn randomly and drawn again for which heat they would compete in. The essential order of play for Saturday is carried over to the Final, meaning that if a band drew first in Heat 1, it then competes first in each of the Final events.
“I understand that the RSPBA did not carry out the process as they said they would in the past week,” said Terry Lee, pipe-major of the six-time World Champions Simon Fraser University of Vancouver. “I believe on the day [of the draw] that it changed. For example the two heats were to be based on current form and not last year’s World’s result. Apparently, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing.”
The move to two days of competition for Grade 1, with every band having to qualify for the 12-band Final, replaces the previous system that used a “league table” approach that tallied results from the current year’s RSPBA championships. Non-RSPBA-member bands that placed at the previous year’s World’s automatically qualified for the 14-band Final.
John Cairns, pipe-major of 2012 World’s Grade 1 finalist Peel Regional Police Pipe Band of Brampton, Ontario, welcomes the new format.
“We did not like the old format,” Cairns said. “Playing in the qualifier always meant that we might have to play at some dreadful time of day. If we did not qualify, then we were only able to play once and never had a chance to play one of our medleys against the top bands, and, if we did qualify, then we had to play three times, which was an extremely difficult thing to do.”
Cairns cited fatigue, stress and the toll on finely-tuned and temperamental pipes as being the major problems of playing three times in one day. “This created an unfair platform, as the bands who pre-qualified did not have to contend with any of these issues.”
“It is interesting that the whole rearrangement of the Final was first cited as to be for the benefit of overseas bands and making the playing field fair,” said another Grade 1 pipe-major who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I think [the RSPBA] have taken a step in this direction, but blundered in the execution. The system is skewed from the get-go.
“If you were to allocate one point per placing (i.e., first place is one point, fifth place is five points, etc.) for the bands that placed at last year’s World’s, Heat 1 makes up 36 points and Heat 2 is 42 points. Immediately Heat 1 is stronger. You could argue it is stronger by six places. This may balance out by the random placement of other bands, but those are the bands that did not place last year.”
The fact that all four potential plays have the same order-of-play is troublesome for Lee, especially since his band had the misfortune of being drawn first in Heat 1 of the qualifying round.
“For SFU it is thousands of miles every year – near-on $100,000 – and while we are okay with the idea of having to qualify along with all the other bands for the first time in many, many years, we find ourselves playing ‘first on’ four-out-of-four times. It doesn’t seem quite right does it?” Lee said.
“As far as the division of the bands into two heats is concerned, we feel that this is a fair way to approach it,” Cairns added. “Not only will it give the judges a manageable number of bands to evaluate, but it will also allow every band to be compared directly to the standard of the top bands.”
The idea of a two-day event is both welcomed and unwelcomed.
“I like the idea of a two-day World’s and have for some years now,” Lee said. “The only downside to me is that potentially four plays are now very demanding and if the weather is inclement the performance quality for all is at risk. I like getting the number down to 12 a lot. It could be lower still, and the importance of the draw is lessened. With the introduction of a new format clearly it is fairest to do a random final draw at the Saturday finale for the next day. I understand Grade 1 was done differently than other grades.”
Peel Regional Police’s John Cairns said, “We come to the World’s every year in an effort to climb up that ladder and improve as a band. If it ends up that we don’t get through to the finals on Sunday, then we will have to accept the harsh reality that we are simply not quite good enough yet. But we will do so knowing that we had a fair chance to play for one of the spots in the final and were asked to play under the same conditions as every other band.”
That anonymous Grade 1 pipe-major quoted earlier said, “If they were interested in maximizing fairness and enjoyment of the traveling player in Grade 1, they would have gone to the old system. Everyone plays. Do your MSR take 20 minutes then play your medley. There is enough time, and few enough bands. My prediction, this will be a one-off and never spoken of again.”
But it appears that the RSPBA did not consult with competing bands about the format for the event, and many it seems that many, if not all, did not actually know how this year’s World’s Grade 1 competition would be executed until little more than a month before the event.
When asked if the July 10th public announcement of the format was the first time that he had seen it, Terry said, “Absolutely.”
“I only heard rumours,” said another Grade 1 pipe-major who asked that his name not be used. “It’s amazing that they accepted entries prior to announcing the format of the event. Even more amazing is that we entered before knowing that format – not that it would have changed anything!
“The format of two days seems to be a money-grab and nothing less,” he continued. “It requires essentially every non-Scottish bandsperson to take another day of holiday. Worse, it eliminates the all-important post-World’s Sunday party. That Sunday is more important than the RSPBA may have considered. Who is actually going to attend Sunday? Those that do not make the Final are likely to be in a bar Saturday night and more comfortable watching the Final from their hotel room. Centre bands will be sparse and anti-climatic.”
At publication time, RSPBA chief executive Ian Embelton had not responded to an invitation to provide his association’s perspective.