April 30, 2011

Update 2: USPF restricts championship to North American pipers; CPA weighs in

The annual solo piping championship run by the United States Piping Foundation since 1988 has decided to restrict the event to contestants only from North America. The move comes after it was announced that the Glenfiddich Invitational Championships, probably the world’s most prestigious solo piping event, would no longer consider the USPF and the Silver Chanter at Skye as qualifying competitions.

Organizers informed prospective competitors about the change in eligibility in the past week, and on the USPF website that “The Professional competitions are open to all North American players.”


Maclean Macleod, head of the USPF, when asked if the move was in response to the Glenfiddich Championships no longer accepting the USPF Open event as a qualifier, said, “No . . . The reason our Open competitions are restricted this year is simply a matter of finances. The stated object of the [USPF] is to improve the standard of play. We are now well aware that in Scotland one’s face must become familiar on the competitive circuit. All Americans are not millionaires and it is the Board’s opinion that worthy American candidates may find the burden less wearisome with the assistance of financial aid. The total Open prize monies total $6,000 each year plus an Atlantic air fare.

“Do we deprecate the fact that in recent years the Glenfiddich has canceled the Canadian and U.S. venues as qualifiers? Of course we do. We find it difficult to understand why a company that derives a substantial portion of its profits from North America should isolate itself when it comes to the arts. In 1995 I was privileged to act as Fear-an Tighe at Blair Castle and noted that five of the 10 contestants were from Canada, the Antipodes and the U.S. Surely this indicates that piping is not the prerogative of the Scot.”

Winners of the USPF have not always gained an invitation to the Glenfiddich, and the competition was not considered an automatic-invite event. USPF aggregate winner Ann Gray of Calgary (2006) did not receive an invitation to Blair Atholl.

The change has been met with some consternation on both sides of the Atlantic.

“As an anonymous observer, I’m disappointed and saddened that not one contest in North America is considered rigorous enough to merit qualifier status,” said one prominent piper who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But I also recognize the relative thinness of the field here. We have I believe, only two gold medalists actively competing in Canada and the US, and they are a continent apart. We probably should not be surprised, but it continues to mean that pipers who want to prove their merit, must invest the time and money for the annual Scotland pilgrimage.”

The competition has attracted competitors from the United Kingdom on several occasions, part of an overall trend that has seen Scottish and Irish solo pipers frequent prominent North American competitions.

Macleod said that Competing Pipers’ Association contacted him by e-mail about the matter.

“The President of the CPA . . . wished to know why our organizing committee decided to take our present course of action. [He] further states, ‘This would be helpful so that we can advise any CPA members who are intending to enter.’ Do we detect a veiled threat? We would hope not! While in investigative mode, the CPA might redress an egregious situation which occurred in 2006. The USPF Open contests fielded 13 players that year. Six were former Gold Medal winners and seven were Regional winners from throughout the U.S.  The adjudicators, one Scottish and one Canadian were highly respected Senior Judges appointed by the Joint Committee for Judging. To our astonishment, Glenfiddich rejected our overall winner on the grounds that the contestant, a Canadian, was ‘not known to the piping audience.’ Unbelievable – but true! In all fairness, the administrative staff does a tremendous production job each year and are masters in the art of producing usque-beatha, but I know of no staff member who is a piper. Whoever is their piping adviser/s should hang their head/s in shame, shame, shame.”

“As with any other issue in piping, we simply represent the interests of our members,” CPA President John-Angus Smith commented to pipes|drums. “I wrote to Mr. Macleod and asked for clarification on behalf of CPA membership as many of our members have competed at the competition in the past. There is no veiled threat or any other intent other than to communicate clearly the entry conditions of each piping competition that is of our interest to our members, and to promote an open, meritocratic piping infrastructure. Clearly we are disappointed that a restriction based on geography has been applied, rather than more qualitative criteria, but we also recognize that entry criteria are at the discretion of the competition organizer.”

“This is a disappointing decision and certainly goes against the building of a worldwide piping community. It will undoubtedly make the competition weaker,” said one UK-based piper who also spoke asking not to be attributed. “What would happen if the Argyllshire Gathering  or Northern Meeting decided only UK players could take part?”

“I do wish we (meaning everyone on this side of the pond) would continue our efforts to present first-class piping events without caring one way or the other about what is going on on the other side of the pond,” the well known American -based piper and adjudicator Albert McMullin responded when asked for his opinion.  “If the only events getting attention are over there, it lessens the chances of events over here ever getting the interest and competitors they deserve.  Very few North American people have the funds to go to limitless events.  Most would do just as well and get just as much experience competing against the best over here, beating them and then going over there.”

Macleod added: “With the proliferation of contests in Scotland and the relatively short distances round the circuit, we really wonder at the CPA’s interest in our affairs. The likelihood of a piper crossing the Atlantic with the sole purpose of competing at the USPF Open is extremely remote so why all the fuss?


The USPF competition will be held this year on June 18th at the University of Delaware’s Amy E. du Pont Music Building.

Maclean Macleod was awarded the Balvenie Medal for services to piping at the 1995 Glenfiddich Championships.


  1. You are not the only one who thinks that this is the dumbest thing. I can’t see how it helps the overall situation by reacting to a questionable decision made by one party by doing something even more questionable in retaliation. It’s kind of like, Oh yeah? You think that you are stupid? I can be even more stupid than you! Watch me…How do you like that

  2. Nice try with the spin, but I’m still not buying it. What has finances got to do with entry restrictions? Is the venue rented by the hour? The solution is simple. Entries should be open to outsiders” with the stipulation that the contestants from overseas make their own way there and back (no travel monies?). Seems fair enough to me. I may be wrong

  3. Andrew Bonar has it right (I’m guessing that’s boney”). A reminder you can google your local red cross as to how best to give to support big problems in the world like those in Haiti

  4. Am I the only one who thinks this is the dumbest thing the competition could have done? What were they thinking!? Yeah, lets improve the standard in north america by banning players from accross the pond! Brilliant! Pardon me while I go punch myself in the face. Btw, there are more than two gold medalists actively competing in north america.

  5. Mac MacLeod is a first class gentleman, and if he says it’s a financial matter, then that’s what it is. If you geniuses think you know so much better, start your own **** competition and run it the way you want.

  6. When I read the article I understood that the financial consideration was essentially that restricting the competition to North Americans means that prive money and airfares will go to a North American to use to compete in Scotland. In essence, it ensures that the money is invested in the development of North American competitors through funding their trips to Scotland. Makes a lot of sense to me.

  7. Still not buying it. If the intent is to provide the NA based highest ranked player with air fare and expenses for competitions in Scotland, then award an airline ticket + accomodation to the best placing NA based player who competes in the contest separate from the prize or trophy, which could be non monetary in nature (to save money, which seems to be ther point here???). This would allow the top placed NA player the opportunity to travel and still allow foreigners to compete for first place keeping everyone happy. There could also be a condition regarding the bursary (ticket + hotel) that stipulates that if the top NA player doesn’t want to go to the UK, then the bursary could be withdrawn and awarded to the next ranked player. After all. if you give someone cash, there is no guarantee that the prerson will spend it the way that it was intended, thus totally defeating the prupose of restricting the contest in the first place. Banning non-NA based players is prejudism bordering on racism, pure and simple. Why not extend this further and become sexist by banning women? Or put an age restriction on it?

  8. The Canadian Highland Dancing Championships is restricted to Canadian dancers. The US Highland Dancing Championships is restricted to US dancers. If the USPF wants to restrict their championship to US pipers only, that should be there choice. Cowal has piping events that are restricted to pipers that live in Argyll. How is that any different?

  9. Re: Boney & RWilson, I agree with both of you. At first it looks as if it’s a reaction to another action, but when you read the gentlemans words I can’t see it being anything then making sure that the North American pipers are being watched after a bit more. And clearly making the money available to them. While paying for airfare is nice, it’s the accomodations, time off and meals that ultimately keep people from going over. If one were to receive an invite, it would be great for him/her to have that extra money to attend a few other games before a big contest such as the N/M or A/G. Just my thoughts. No fun if you put up a contest that provides prize money that is hopefully used to compete over seas, only to have it snatched up by some one over seas. You want a prime example of how the other way doesn’t work out, just watch NASCAR. And all of the people in the top flight, racing in the lower grade races. Sure, it might make those lower drivers better, but now their money is being sucked out, and their teams aren’t able to run full schedules to get to the top.



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