July 12, 2013

Mixed reaction from bands to Grade 1 World’s format

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.


  1. If the objective was to be fairer to all the bands I think hit has fallen short of that aim. One heat is heavily laden with potential finalists based on current championship form. Making it very difficult to ensure the best top 12 bands go through especially for those chasing the 5th and 6th spots in the heats. The ultimate aim should be for the best 12 to be in the final – not so sure that can happen with the make up of the published heats.

  2. The new format is definitely an improvement. Just a little puzzled as to why there coudn’t be a randow draw on the Sunday for the 12 finalists in Gr I. Additionally, it would be nicer to have all grades qualify on Saturday and then play off on Sunday. Well, walk before you run….Let’s see how this year goes first.

  3. i dont know why terry lee has to complain about the draw, i heard at the worlds last year that the g1 draw would be done on where you finished in the final (1,3,5,7,9,11 in one heat and 2,4,6,8,10,12 in the other) . if the pipe majors form g1 bands dont like it you know what to do and dont bother turning up and give the other bands a chance!

  4. I can’t see how you can compare apples with apples if you want to use “current form”. As it stands, what appears to have been done is probably the fairest method. It’s done – let’s move on.

  5. Absolute rubbish and amazed terry lee put his name to this. How the grade 1 draw was done is posted on the website, it was done exactly as stated. The seeding was based on the 2012 placings and not on the first two championships for Grade 1. Take a look at last years top 12 and check that the odd and even placings are in separate heats. That must have been some fluke.

  6. For what it is worth,,,,I have read all of the comments regarding the 2013 Grade 1 Pipe Band Competition, and I would recommend the following changes to the format: STEP 1: Divide the 2012 Grade 1 (Top 12) Finalists for each heat using the following formula(s) Heat 1: 1,4,5,8,9,12 (1+4+5+8+9+12 = 39) Heat 2: 2,3,6,7,10,11 (2+3+6+7+10+11 = 39) Both Heats are equally weighted with this fair and equitable distribution. STEP 2: Using a random draw, choose the names of the other bands (non finalists/competitors from 2012) competing in this years competition. First name drawn, Heat 1, 2nd name drawn Heat 2 etc..until all of the names have been drawn. STEP 3: Take ALL of the names in Heat 1 (both 2012 Finalists and 2012 non-finalists/competitors), mix them up and randomly draw for Saturdays order of play. Do the same thing for Heat 2. The order drawn will be the order played for both the MSR and Medley. STEP 4:: Following the Saturday evening’s announcement of the day’s Grade 1 finalists, the top 12 Pipe Majors (or their representatives) show up and will randomly draw an “Order of Play” number (1-12) out of the hat by order of their placing on Saturday….ie The first place band representative draws first, the 2nd place band representative draws second.etc…The order of play on Sunday will remain the same for both the MSR and the Medley. This eliminates any and all confusion, it equals the Saturday heats regarding the 2012 Grade 1 Finalists, and the Sunday Grade 1 Final order of play is a random selection based on the top 12 bands from Saturday. Now may the best band win. Good luck to all

  7. The best band competition in the world has a pretty good plan, still wondering why pipe band societies don’t look here for inspiration… DCI World Championships Schedule Thursday – Prelims (40+ Bands) Friday – Semifinals (25 Bands) Saturday – Finals (12 Bands) First round, top 25 bands move to semis. Semis, bands play in the order of worst score first to best score last. They have to cut to 12 bands for the finals, order of play can change based on the semifinal performance, everyone wants to go last…. Semi’s are shown as a multicast in movie theaters. Finals are broadcast on ESPN.

  8. The RSPBA may or may not have consulted with anyone. But I am sure nobody suggested loading all the previous world champions in the last two decades in the same heat as well as up and coming Inveraray. There is a strong possibility that the band that comes 7th in heat would have made it through in the weaker heat.

  9. Bands outside of the UK are affiliate members, not association members. The only organisations the RSPBA *should* have consulted (they probably didn’t, which I agree is wrong) are the affiliated organisations – who should have then, in theory, consulted with their member bands.

  10. I completed an RSPBA survey related to potential worlds changes a number of years ago. I reside outside of the UK. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one outside Scotland consulted (a funny thought if so).

  11. I completed an RSPBA survey related to potential worlds changes a number of years ago. I reside outside of the UK. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one outside Scotland consulted (a funny thought if so).

  12. RobbieC…help us all if you are in any way connected with the RSPBA. All bands competing at at an rspba contest have to be members of the assoc!! Even if they were not the foreign bands have made the worlds. Mr Lee not even asked for an opinion…shame shame shame.

  13. Similarly, the foreign bands are not members of the RSPBA so they don’t need to be consulted. This is simply untrue. Any band wishing to compete at the World Pipe Band Championships must become a member of the RSPBA.

  14. Bands were asked for their input. All branches were made well aware of the 2 days world concept, and the planned split of grades, well in advance. We knew about the grade split and plan back in October 2012. The RSPBA has no obligation to ‘consult’ with bands independently – the onus is on the bands to attend the branch meetings. Similarly, the foreign bands are not members of the RSPBA so they don’t need to be consulted.

  15. Plain and simple, the RSPBA can be as tardy and lax as it likes because it can afford to be. It continues to make a number assumptions because it can afford to. So, how do you get their attention? Well, you simply take away the key ingredient ¨C the bands. Who is lining up to do that¡­.? One assumption is that bands will continue to turn up, no matter what, and only offer faint protest because, when all is said and done, the RSPBA knows that most bands are like moths to a flame with this particular event, especially in the top flight. To not

  16. I’ll back RobbieC up on this. I attended the L&B branch AGM last year and the suggested format at that time was explained to everyone present. I would say that I was one of a handful of people to attend. At the meeting we where asked to go to back to the PM/LD and advise them of the format and to ask for feedback which was happily accepted. As I stepped down from the secretary role shortly after I haven’t attended a meeting since so I’m unaware if there were any further discussions. With regards to the way the bands have been placed in each heat, it was highlighted at the time that the RSPBA didn’t want to be seen to seed bands but at the same time, didn’t want to end up with the situation they had recently in the Grade 2 qualifiers at the Worlds where one heat was loaded with bands who could have made the final and the other heat was wide open. Personally, I believe the method they’ve used seems most sensible, seeding bands without seeding them but without having one heat loaded with favourites and the other not. Is Heat 1 the more difficult? Definitely, but if they hadn’t split the bands in some manner people would only complain about that in the same way complaints are being made about this draw. I think the split Drummy128 mentions seems to be a very sensible option and I was shocked that there wouldn’t be an additional draw on the Saturday to produce the running order for Sunday, this is something I hope they bring in next year.

  17. The ongoing tinkering with this contest reminds me of celebrity cosmetic surgery. The more you do, the uglier things inadvertently become. Notwithstanding a disaster for a seeded band in Heat 1, the top 6 appears to be a ¡®fait accompli¡¯. And 4 spots in Heat 2 look like they¡¯re all stitched up. So maybe only 2 spots realistically up for grabs in only one of the Heats¡­¡­ Here¡¯s a radical idea, just go back to what it used to be and have an open contest! Surely this would be easier for all concerned?!! Or is that just too obvious¡­??

  18. Personally,I think this two-day format is a disaster. 1. It sucks out all the athmosphere that the Saturday final creates. 2. I’d say most of the band’s that don’t make the final will watch the stream from the hotel bar – especially if it’s raining. 3. If it rains Saturday – it will be a swamp on Sunday. 4. If they want all the band’s to get a shot, go back to the system we had in the 90’s. 5. There’s not many more band’s then there are at any other major – so it makes no sense to split it over two days. 6. The all important Saturday/Sunday party – is no more !! 7. I could go on, but what’s the point…… 8. Lastly, I hope this experiment is a one-off.



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