August 31, 2001

The Prince Charles Matter: What now?

The revelation on Sunday, July 29, that the MacTarnahan’s Prince Charles Pipe Band of San Francisco, California, had been assigned to Grade 2 by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA) Music Board’s grading committee has been one of the more controversial matters in the last year.

The RSPBA denies that it “relegated” Prince Charles to Grade 2, and instead says that it never recognized the band as being anything but Grade 2. The organization contends that the band’s grading status was discussed by its Music Board in October 2000, and a formal decision was made not to upgrade the winners of Grade 2 at the World Championships. It is unclear whether this was ever communicated to the band or its home organization, the Western United States Pipe Band Association (WUSPBA), but, judging from the confusion that ensued in the last two weeks, it does not appear that that ever happened.

Here are the facts as we known them, corroborated by the associations and pipe band directly concerned with the matter:

  • August 12, 2001: Prince Charles band wins the Grade 2 event at the 2000 World Pipe Band Championships.
  • October 2000: RSPBA announces that three Grade 2 bands under its jurisdiction – Lothian & – Borders Police, Bucksburn & District, and Grampian Police – are officially upgraded to Grade 1.
  • December 2000: WUSPBA officially upgrades Prince Charles to Grade 1. The news is well publicized.
  • Spring 2001: Prince Charles submits entry to 2001 World Pipe Band Championships as a Grade 1 band.
  • Spring/summer 2001: Prince Charles competes in North America as a Grade 1 band, twice placing ahead of accredited Grade 1 band, the Los Angeles Scots.
  • July 28, 2001, Dumbarton, Scotland: Grading Committee of RSPBA Music Board – comprising Robert Mathieson of Shotts & Dykehead and Tom Brown of Dysart & Dundonald (both Grade 1 bands) – meets at Scottish Championships, rejects Prince Charles entry to Grade 1.
  • July 28, 2001: Draw is re-made for both Grade 1 and Grade 2 events at 2001 World’s.
  • July 29, 2001: Piper & Drummer Online first to publish Grade 1 World’s draw.
  • July 29, 2001: Prince Charles band learns of grading issue by reading Piper & Drummer Online story. Band then discovers it is in fact drawn in Grade 2.
  • July 31, 2001: Piper & Drummer Online discusses issue with RSPBA, which relays its version of the facts of the case.
  • August 7-9, 2001: Prince Charles’ appeal to the RSPBA is rejected.
  • August 11, 2001: Prince Charles competes in Grade 2 at World’s, finishes fourth.
  • The issue here is not whether Prince Charles is or isn’t a Grade 1 quality band. The issue is how the RSPBA and the WUSPBA have handled – or mishandled – the situation.

    Why didn’t the RSPBA’s Music Board address the Prince Charles entry months earlier? Why didn’t the RSPBA make an effort to contact the Prince Charles band as soon as it was decided that the band would have to play in Grade 2? Why didn’t the RSPBA contact the WUSPBA, an organization recognized by RSPBA, with its concerns in December when the band was officially upgraded?

    One can only wonder what the answers are to those questions. Perhaps people just weren’t thinking. Perhaps no one in the RSPBA actually realized that Prince Charles had been moved to Grade 1 by the WUSPBA and that it was intending to compete in that grade at the World’s. Maybe the WUSPBA are also to blame for not communicating the upgrading well enough.

    The RSPBA over the past year has worked hard to overcome a catastrophic 1999/2000, when the association reportedly nearly went bankrupt and was beset with numerous administrative embarrassments. To the RSPBA’s credit, it has made tremendous strides towards regaining its status and credibility as the world’s most important pipe band organization, the association upon which others are based. In particular, the implementation of the RSPBA’s visionary Millennium Report has been an incredibly positive step forward. It appears to have found an intelligent and well-spoken Executive Office in Ian Embelton.

    Prince Charles finishing fourth in Grade 2 at the World’s is a tricky situation for both the band and the WUSPBA. Does the WUSPBA now officially downgrade the band? Failing that, should the band request to be downgraded? Does the WUSPBA keep Prince Charles in Grade 1, citing the fact that the band beat the Los Angeles Scots – a band officially upgraded to Grade 1 by the RSPBA – not once but twice in 2001? Or does the WUSPBA also now downgrade the LA Scots?

    The reality of the grading system is that, in most cases, the bands at the top of each grade can play as well as bands in the lower half of the next grade, and vice versa. That is, Queensland Highlanders, Niagara Police, Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, and Prince Charles could probably on any given day beat the likes of Glasgow Skye, Bucksburn & District, Los Angeles Scots, and Grampian Police, and vice versa. Everyone knows that a top Grade 2 band can put on a great performance and beat even the reigning World Champions, if they catch them on an off day.

    At some point, though, bands have to be assigned a grade by their home association, and that assignation must be respected by all other organizations with the same pipe band competition structure. Prince Charles was assigned to the grade that the WUSPBA thought appropriate, only to have the RSPBA seemingly tacitly decide that decision was wrong. A band can have only one grading, otherwise, as in the case of Prince Charles, chaos ensues.

    While the situation might be embarrassing to the WUSPBA and Prince Charles, they’ll get over it, because, in the end, as the pipe band world has suggested, they did the right thing. The RSPBA, however, should learn from their mistake to ensure that such an extraordinary fiasco never happens again.


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