March 31, 2008

Update 1: Mid-section players up-in-arms over RSPBA decision

The world’s bass- and tenor-drummers are rising up in an attempt to persuade the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association to rescind its decision to eliminate Best Bass-Section prizes at major championships in the UK.An online petition has been launched by House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead tenor-drummer Scott Currie, an outspoken critic of the recommendation made by the RSPBA’s Music Board and approved by the association’s National Council in December 2007.The decision was not brought to light fully until pipes|drums reported the news on March 20, 2008, three months after the resolution was enacted.

Those attending the RSPBA’s March 8th annual general meeting were not aware of any discussion that occurred at the event.Currie’s online petition, entitled “bring back our best bass section awards,” asks visitors to digitally sign their name in support of restoring the awards immediately. The petition also calls for the addition of two new Best Bass-Section awards for the European and British championships, the two RSPBA majors that previously did not offer the prize.

“The players simply wish to present a coordinated case which highlights the level of opposition to the abolition that exists within the membership, seeks an immediate review of the policy change and invites open dialogue between the Association, pipe-majors, leading-drummers and bass-section drummers about moving forward from where we are now,” Currie said. “While the short term decision still baffles and disappoints, everyone supporting the campaign hopes the prizes can return soon, accompanied by a vastly improved set of adjudication criteria that suits the needs of both the Association and the players.”

Pipe band bass-sections, or 'mid-sections,' have become increasingly sophisticated in the last 10 years, as exemplified by House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead's pictured here.

In addition, the petition requests that the RSPBA’s Music Board “invite consultation with serving bass and tenor drummers over devising and implementing a standardized, transparent and accountable set of adjudication criteria for the presentation of Best Bass Section awards.” It also calls for the association to investigate ways to make bass-sections “a measured component of the pipe band adjudication” by adding a dedicated bass-section judge at championships.The past process for awarding the bass-section prize is not clear to many, whether it is the decision of the drumming judge, the ensemble adjudicator, a combination of the two or an entirely different process is not known and not spelled out in the RSPBA’s rules.

Unlike other pipe band associations, there is no formal rule for awarding the bass-section prize, and it has been only an informal policy or tradition to do so. The discontinuation of the custom was, according to RSPBA Music Board meeting minutes, part of an attempt to reduce the duration of the “march-past” at championships, where as many as 240 bands individually parade onto the park.As the hundreds of bands file in one by one, the six Grade 1 prize-winners from the previous year take turns playing sets of 6/8 marches.

March-pasts at majors can take longer than two hours, and band members – most of whom have just had several drinks at a money-raising beer-tent – are barred from leaving the field.When asked if a boycott might be in order should the prizes not be reintstated, Currie said, “While people are happy to add their names to the campaign, some have suggested a variety of methods of direct action. While I truly understand the level of frustration that exists, I firmly believe boycotting is counter-productive for all parties concerned and encourage dialogue as the way ahead. The whole point of this exercise is not to cause unnecessary disruption to the due process of the Association. Their job is difficult enough. There is a structure of protocols in place defined by the Association’s constitution, which we intend to utilise to present and pursue our proposals.”


  1. Interesting responses from some of the World leaders in Piping. Firstly, I’m guessing it would be a rare occurrence when the band that wins the piping, doesn’t end up with the overall band prize. So, you have your piping prize and are well rewarded for it. Many of the Piping world feel that we shouldn’t be rewarded for individual section prizes, and should only be rewarded for the Overall prize”. As for the judging process

  2. Yeah…that’s the ticket, Piper T. Maybe they should just fold up the Worlds altogether, I mean what’s the big deal? Piping and drumming is easy. Why, pipers only have to blow the tone and play the notes [right Bruce?] and snare drummers only have to count and hit. Big whoop. What’s all the fuss about? As the ancients would suggest, there is a middle road in all things [Ovid?]. While it’s entertaining to explore extremes, maybe it’s not productive in terms of dealing with the issue at hand? The dish mops thing made me laugh, though.

  3. I really didn’t want to go down this road but I have to say with all respect Hoss that have been many many times that the best pipe corp did not win the prize. After all this is a band contest, and if they want to put it on paper or the sheets, best this or best that, then fine. My main issue is how the thing is judged anyway. I may be wrong but it’s usually the drumming judge who does best mid sectioni as well so how, does he stand behind a WALL of drummers and really judge the tenor drumming. As I said to my good friend and bass drummner in our band Kahlil, when the drumming judge is behind and can’t really see and the tenor drummners , when not playing are fiddling about adjusting the strings on their sticks, is that actually allowed? I can’t tell you the number of times I would have killed just to choke out for a second and hike up my bag, but in good performance or competition, we’re just not allowed to do it. Deleting history is not a good thing and I do know the value of a mid section but it’s a whole band thing not down to individual sections I believe. Very respectfully yours Bruce

  4. There are many more drummers than just me working like crazy behind the scenes on this. Right now, bass sections have nothing left to take away, so it makes sense to take as much food for thought back to the table. We know the proposals on the form won’t please everyone, but we would still encourage people to take the time to register their opposition by other means if they feel that the form isn’t for them. We have close to 300 submissions received already! An incredible response from pipers & drummers everywhere. THANK YOU!!!

  5. Guys, I think we have missed a crucial point in this discussion. The RSPBA did not abolish the Bass & Tenor prizes from the majors. It was a topic up for discussion and voting at the RSPBA agm. It was voted unanimously by the 40 member bands who actually attended the meeting. It was the MEMERSHIP who abolished it by voting it out!! As far as i am led to believe this item was put forward by the national council to the music board, who in turn have to present it to the membership. This wasn’t a music board idea. And although i think these guys in the mid section of the band are very talented and great at what they do, they have to realise that there has never been a recognised mid or B&T section in the rspba rule book describing what constitutes at PIPE BAND. I do agree with one other comment that maybe we should have it only at the worlds, afterall, if you are world champions…. who else is better?? But i would also do it over all the 6 grades, it gives the novice and the juvenile kids as well as lower grade players something to strive for.

  6. Oh dear. This has got people upset! I think it’s great!!! So very often, pipe band world-headlines seems to fly over heads with no comments from the guys who are right at the top of the game. It is nice to hear what everybody thinks. I do not know what the answer is. I only hope the RSPBA takes everyone’s comments/opinions into account when they finally re-consider their decision. – keep up the good work Scott. I will not disclose my name as I am worried what consequences posting on these websites may have for my band. B

  7. Again, the Cowal Best Bass prize has been in existence since 1939. What’s new about that? Or have you guys hated this thing from the beginning. The judging format isn’t soon to change so get over it. The dropping of the any sectional prizes will not change the divisiveness nor will it fix Bruces’ fidgety mallet strings! Just go ahead and announce the band winners over the PA in the beer tent, maybe you’d like that better. Bigger Picture boys, bigger picture. HOSS

  8. After being in the international competitive field for many years at the grade one pipe band level, and four world pipe band championships to my name. I have witnessed first hand the evolution of mid & bass sections… from their beginnings of not hitting the drum and just flourishing, to just hitting the drum (no flourishing), to today’s evolving midsections of multi toned voiced rhythmic displays. I have read with interested and open mindedness of the comments made regarding this topic on the various forums and although I am not a percussionist I fully appreciate and admire their contribution to the pipe band world. As a competitor, I have to admit that I hold the opinion of my respected peers much higher than that of anyone else. I would like to think that if Tyler Frye was to tell you that you are a good tenor drummer that would have more weight than if I told you the same thing. With that fact in mind, I would ask the following questions to the various mainstream mid-section / bass competitors out there and they are: As a competitor how can, you cherish a prize or award if it is not based on substance? If there is no foundation of qualifications of who is bestowing these accolades, then how can you give them weight? If there is no standardization of the techniques and styles of the music the mid/bass sections are displaying, then how can you hold these awards with such reverence? In its current unrecognised adjudicated form (the fact that there are no standards to gage properly your performance), some could argue the unstructured award of best mid/bass section currently has the musical equivalence of the award for best dress and deportment. I can find no fault with any musical board or association that removes “empty” awards from the competitive arena. That is not to suggest that bass/mid sections do not warrant merit and recognition of their medium, but rather I suggest they are deserving of a controlled and structured critique same as the other mediums in the pipe band world. I believe that the mid/bass sections will continue to go through “growing pains” for years to come, simple because there has not been any stability in the foundation of your medium. Simple put your medium has changed too much, too many times in a relatively short time-frame (in relation to pipe bands) to allow the adjudication process to adapt to the quickly evolving medium. In the pipe band world, we are still playing catch-up in regards to the adjudication of ensemble. We still receive just another “snare drum or pipe sheet” depending on the adjudicator, as opposed to a true ensemble sheet. There are still very few true ensemble adjudicators out in the pipe band world, but it is getting better with time. It would make sense that proper recognition of bass/mid section will take considerable time to be fully recognised in the competitive pipe band arena. In order for your medium to be properly adjudicated and appreciated, collectively you are going to have to do exactly what pipers and snare drummers have been doing for years and that is get people on the various music boards and judging panels that support your medium and style. Please continue to support outspoken and recognised advocates such as Tyler Frye and Scott Currie and other respected leaders that promote your medium while playing in progressive bands. Respectfully, Robert N MacLeod (No not the drummer)

  9. Kenneth Hiner….hook, line and sinker! Sorry man, but you’re in need of some chill pills. Talented that fella may be, but any physio will tell you he has a shelf life with that ‘style’. This is all about B&T sections complaining that the sky will fall in if they don’t have a trophy to play for. Period. Forget the side issues coming out of this. Well how is it that the pipe sections have always got by without a trophy…? I think B&T sections are in pretty good shape to survive this ‘catastrophic’ event, and the people leading the way would do well to accept the umpires decision for now, suck it up, rise above it all and just get on with it. Ensemble related judging etc will eventually catch up. Until then, keep practising your note and play for the team result. All will be well and the sun will come up tomorrow.

  10. Dry your eyes, people. There’s a lot of stomping and whining going on here. Tenor drumming, if it’s really heading in the right direction, will survive this little spanner the RSPBA have thrown in. Surely you don’t need a trophy dangled before you to do your job in the band, do you…? Maybe this is a challenge..? Perhaps it is there to put even more importance on the drumming trophy for all the drummers, not just the snare line..? Maybe it might sink in that looking like a cross between a puffy-chested, rubber-necked pigeon with a broom handle ‘lost’ somewhere round the back, whilst twirling dish mops in the air like some crazed calisthenics/marching girl ain’t the all-important thing that some might want to believe it is in the overall scheme of things. You have a right to be upset, no question. But respect the fact that others have the right to remind you that it is only the tenor drum. You have had trophies on offer when you are but the smallest component of the band. If you play for the team, what is the issue?

  11. Scott, you may fall over when you read this but I’m a fan of B&T sections that get it right, musically speaking, however I don’t care for the aerial sideshow/gap filler. I have watched a certain person, whom you might know well, and have found it difficult not to laugh with the body movements and the posturing, if truth be known. It all looks a bit special to me and is catching on. To me, less is more in that caper – a point lost on some people. Time will tell on this. The simple question I ask: what is the point in having a B&T award when it is but part of the drum corps, which is but part (the complimentary/support role part) of the PIPE band? B&T is judged on what – unison, ensemble…all the usual suspects. Isn’t that what the ENTIRE drum corps is trying to get right? Why then does the B&T need to have a stand alone award? Play for the team and enjoy those rewards. The progression of B&T will not abate simply because bragging rights are lost. You still get your sheets from the judges, and the places will be there for all to see. I just see petulance and toys beinf thrown out of cots over something that is far from the end of B&T progress. The hysteria this is causing demonstrates how precious people are about this (perhaps insecure?). All power to you, but keep a lid on it and try not to make too much of special awards for the smallest part of the band. Just play well, as you clearly do.

  12. These complaints seem to centre around the removal of something that has previously satisfied egos and given kudos to a very simple instrument (in relative terms), more so than it appears to be about strategic and long term benefits for pipe band drumming. Let’s get real here. A sub section within a drum corps of the band gets it’s own trophy? Of all ‘instruments’ in the band the tenor drum is ‘played’ the least and all other time (whilst the rest of the band continues to make the music) is devoted to self-serving aerial gymnastics and showboating in pursuit of some silverware. Give a tenor drum to a piper, and a set of pipes to a tenor drummer and tell each of them that they have six months to learn what they can. We all know who would be more advanced in 6 months time. And yet the tenor drummer gets a special and specific award in the band/team context and the piper does not…? I think all this complaining from those who consider themselves the pacesetters is clear indication of what this is really about – elevating a section of the band that could so easily be removed altogether with minimal disruption to the band idiom. If it means that much to you, the trophy should not matter. Those who know will still tip their hat to you. This is about egos.

  13. Me, oh, my !!! Ths sure has gotten crazy. I’ve kinda tried for the last while to see how this thing develops before jumping in ( if at all) on this comment thread. But I would like to say a couple of things…. First – I don’t really see how this has become an issue about a trophy or trophies. I mean, yes….it KINDA is, but really….it’s more about recognition of what the mids are contributing to the overall sound of the bands these days. So, I guess what I’m saying, is that it’s always been about MUSIC……. ensemble…….. the BAND. Somehow people are twisting it into this crazy thing about hardware or the mids chasing around their precious bling! Honestly…… what a load of ********! The hardware is in itself a symbol of the recognition. Recognition means that you’re contributing to the overall sound. Surely to God, people can hear the difference of what a good midsection can add to the band!! ALso – Piper T. – man, you’re comments are really smug, I’ve got to say. I particularly enjoyed the comment (in your last post, I think) about ‘us’ practising our ‘note’ . THAT was good. It’s comments like that, that further divide our community, etc. , and create more dissention between pipers and drummers. Well done. But, this IS a debate and I have to give you credit…’re certainly stoking the fire and for that I commend you. Good discussion or debate is, well, good. ANd it WOULD be awfully boring if everyone had the same opinion. I’m sure this one isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m eagerly awaiting who’s gonna take pot shots at ME now……… ….whatever!!!! Respectfully, johnny.



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