Published: February 29, 2000

Our Very Own Age of Enlightenment

[Originally published as an Editorial]

Coinciding with the new century there are, perhaps not just coincidentally, several positive moves forward in piping and drumming around the world.

The Competing Pipers Association (CPA) has taken the extraordinary step of surveying its members on their opinions of prospective judges. The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) has taken the unprecedented initiative of soliciting recommendations from an ad hoc committee of members on how it can improve for the future.

Not to be outdone, the numerous pipe band organizations in North America have commenced unusual dialog on the feasibility of converging, possibly into a North American Pipe Band Association.

Extraordinary? Unprecedented? Unusual? What’s truly curious is the fact that what really are fairly fundamental business procedures are in fact extraordinary. What sort of organization does not routinely ask for and encourage input from its members? How can any association or any person improve and learn without asking questions and learning from the answers?

It’s indeed sad that, for whatever reasons, so many piping and pipe band associations operate in a veil of secrecy. Members are afraid to make their opinions known largely because of the repercussions they fear in competition.

For too long competitors have simply been told what to do by those with relatively little knowledge or experience in the competitive trenches. Judges are placed on panels with little or no input from the membership. Decisions are made at meetings sparsely attended by anyone but executive officers. In many organizations, post-meeting communication between executives and members is almost non-existent, thus breeding suspicion and contempt.

With all due respect to it as the ultimate parent organization, we dare say that the RSPBA has the furthest to go in terms of encouraging dialog. If world piping and drumming are to reach their potential, the tradition of back room whispering and beer tent bellyaching must come to an end. Even though it’s the world’s leading piping and drumming publication, the Piper & Drummer has received one—yes, that’s one—piece of mail from the RSPBA in the last 20 years, and that was information on the Millennium Group in late 1999.

Members of organizations must be made to feel confident that what they say will be used constructively, and if it is used against them in the contest arena, then judges and other people with power will be heavily reprimanded.

We have said it before: piping and drumming, relative to what it was 30 years ago, is big business. Today’s successful businesses collaborate. They trade ideas with their employees, and they talk to their business partners. Most of all, they recognize and learn from their mistakes. Organizations that operate in isolation are destined at the very least to underachieve and, at worst, are doomed to fail.

It’s frightening that many ethically minded pipers and drummers are afraid of expressing their opinions, for fear of a corrupt judge slamming them not for their music but for the views they previously expressed. Somehow, some way, somewhere, this ridiculous tradition has got to stop.

The CPA, RSPBA, and North American pipe band associations have each in its own way taken significant positive steps to create open dialog, to ask questions and to consider and learn from their members. If they’re smart, they will continually encourage their members to provide input, and create a forum for their opinions to be freely and safely expressed.

There’s a long way to go, but we can see that the era of fear and silence in piping and drumming may be coming to an end, and a new era of enlightenment is just beginning.

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