The Music Board of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has made a policy change that will see the elimination of awards for Best Bass-Section at RSPBA championships. According to sources the matter was up for debate by the RSPBA’s Music Board and was subsequently ratified by the RSPBA’s National Council in December 2007.
According to minutes from the RSPBA’s Music Board meeting of November 17, 2007, obtained by pipes|drums, the Music Board forwarded to the National Council:
“Drum Corps Awards: This subject had been raised by the Adjudicator Liaison Meeting and again had been referred to Music Board by the National Council. T Brown gave the historical background to the award of drum corps prizes. The current review of the time taken at closing ceremonies was raised and whether these would be shortened with the deletion of the drum corps prizes. A suggestion was made to award prizes in only grades 4 and Novice Juvenile in order to encourage lower graded bands. However, it was felt that the existing trophies, etc. that are in circulation at present that the Best Corps of Drums prizes continue to be awarded but that any other drumming awards be deleted from RSPBA major Championships.”
A trophy for Best Bass or Best Bass-Section has been awarded at the World Pipe Band Championships since 1985. The current holder of the award is the mid-section of the Scottish Lion-78th Fraser Highlanders. The award is also given at the Scottish and Cowal championships. Cowal started the tradition in 1939, based strictly on flourishing. The Best Bass-Section prize has not been a formal RSPBA rule, but simply a trophy given out at the march-past if there is in fact an actual trophy to be awarded. It is not clear which of the judges has been responsible for making the actual decision, whether drumming or ensemble or a combination of the two.
At the RSPBA’s annual general meeting on March 8th, the voting membership agreed that the Best Bass-Section prize at non-major contests would not be awarded to bands without at least one bass and one tenor. Whether this vote changed an actual existing rule is not clear. The policy change has been met with shock and derision by the world’s leading bass- and tenor-drummers. Tenor and bass players are formulating their plans to appeal the policy change if it in fact occurs.
“I fail to see the sense in pruning back on the rewards for the section within pipe bands that is simply exploding in membership growth, innovation and enthusiasm throughout the world,” said a piper with a Scottish Grade 1 band who spoke to pipes|drums on condition of anonymity. “This decision may be a major mistake by the RSPBA that will simply throw more focus, spotlight and support for the bass-sections. It also suggests an ignorance of the talent or worth of these members and their craft.” While the RSPBA has not had a formal rule for allocating mid-section prizes, most associations have and currently make it an aspect of all competitions. In the 1990s, the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario dropped the awarding of the prizes in a formal vote and rule-change at an annual general meeting.
The award was reinstated at the organization’s 2000 AGM. The Best Drum Corps prize was originally started by the then Scottih Pipe Band Association to help raise the standard of drumming overall and to encourage more players to participate. Of all aspects of pipe bands, few if any have enjoyed the increased popularity and sophistication of bass- and tenor-drumming. Only 15 years ago, bass-sections were on the brink of elimination altogether, as flourishing tenor-drummers were increasingly uncommon. Originally led primarily by tenor drummer Tyler Fry of Kincardine, Ontario, tenor-drumming in particular has seen a dramatic resurgence.
“I’m scratching my head over this decision and saddened that decades of history and musical development have consigned to the bin without any consultation with those who would be affected,” said Scott Currie, a tenor drummer with the House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead Pipe Band, winners several times of the Best Bass-Section prize at the World’s. “I know that many players, myself included, had hoped that the established infrastructure of presenting Best Bass Section awards, although not perfect, could have been built upon and improved in consultation with our peers in the Association.
Plans were already approved amongst Grade 1 drummers to donate two ‘The Players’ Cup’ trophies to the Association for the British & European Championships. “I hope some positives can come about as a result of this decision. Perhaps the time is right to investigate ways in which the bass section’s contribution can be incorporated into the overall result in a competition performance.” Currie added that drumming prizes have historically presented goals for drummers to “raise their game to stay ahead of the competition.” He cited drumming prizes as a major factor in the advances in pipe band percussion and ensemble.
“Gone are the days where the bass-section is the sanctuary for the failed snare-drummer or cape-carrier,” the anonymous source added. “I don’t believe this is what the bands want. It sends out a ‘don’t care’ signal from the powers that be. All the bands need to stand up and say, ‘You have got this one wrong’ and vote it back in. To eliminate the bass-sections from the rostrum at this point in time is showing arrogance and lack of musical – not to mention business – understanding by the officers of the RSPBA.” pipes|drums will continue to follow this story and include comments and further information from the RSPBA if they are provided.