March 31, 2008

Update 3: RSPBA eliminates Mid-Section prizes at majors

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.


  1. I am truly disheartened by this turn of events. I firmly believe that the level of play in bass sections has increased exponentially over the years, adding an enhanced musical dimension to the ensemble sound of pipe bands. To suddenly, and without discussion or input from mid-section players, eliminate this award appears to devalue the contributions of these players made over the last two decades. Up until this ruling, the only tangible recognition of sectional growth and accomplishment has been the Best Bass Section” award. Can we really imagine a time when there will be no separate scores for piping and snare drumming and only a total band score deciding contests? One might imagine that there would have been a focus within the RSPBA to find and promote ways to encourage the level of play and musicality in mid-sections. With the growth in the overall size of bands in recent years I can understand the challenge that drumming and ensemble judges must encounter when trying to effectively assess the level of play in each section of the bands. To address this I would have expected the following: adding a bass section judge to not only decide the ranking of mid-sections

  2. This action by the RSPBA has certainly stirred up a hornets nest. The decision should be repened and reconsidered. If there has been this much discussion on a web board….it begs the question about how the measure passed in a brief hour-long AGM. A few thoughts for consideration: It’s the pipe sections and their leaders that have pushed the musical boundrys with their interpretations, harmonies, bridges, etc. One can argue that it’s the pipe sections that opened this musical Pandora’s Box and the midsections are just following their lead. Tnere is a generational aspect to this that shouldn’t be discounted. Does the midsection deserve a voice” in the Music Board? Is the real issue

  3. Woah…this issue is really exposing some overwhelmingly unenlightened opinions of pipe band midsections. Incredible and very troubling. Of course there are some loud

  4. Andrew…can you provide any more detail as to how this boneheaded move was presented. It appears, at least from the reports so far, to have been flown in under the masquerade of a benign motion about local contests, with no obvious application to the Majors. Was it openly discussed or did it simply slip under the radar? Your sources in the field can help out here I’d bet. In any event, this is a terrible retrogressive step. What distinguishes the best bands now, are great tone and precision in the pipe and snare sections, and recently, extremely sophisticated and attractive enhancements from the midsections. These people are amongst the most literate, musically, in pipe bands. They think in proper terms of key signatures, and understand rhythmical subdivision beautifully. What they do is incredibly clever and difficult. If any one doubts that, I invite him/her to strap on a tenor drum and learn to play say the 5th 1/16th note in a bar of 6/8 time, after having been at rest for 4 bars. This is completely new and refreshing development in our art, and it should be welcomed, not trashed. And BTW, the answer to a great closing ceremony is to get rid of the endless march past. A recent ruling has added to the sadisitic nature of it….no one is supposed to leave the field. This after a long stretch in the beer tent. Burst bladders anyone?

  5. I never meant to suggest that you missed the boat on a revolutionary development. I was simply alluding to your sardonic wit, which frankly I have missed since you left the band. More or less taking the ****….a well known Scottish game. And I do indeed understand how everyone in this game runs scared of cosequences. But this is an important issue, and some comments cannot be tolerated without attribution. No-one has more at stake in attaching his name to this dialogue than I do, but sometimes we all just have to suck it up and say what we think needs saying, and to **** with cowardice. My oh my how interesting it will be to hear what actually happened when this change went through.

  6. If you want individual recognition than play solos, if you belong to a BAND I say there is no I in BAND. I don’t think that the discussion is about getting rid of mid sections or there importance I think it is about getting rid of prizes for each separate section, I do not see the problem with that. in an Orchestra there are numerous instruments and they get applauded equally together what is the difference with pipe bands other than each section wanting to be noticed. Funny stuff in this pipe band world.

  7. Well, No one knows better than Billy Deadrock what it’s like to have band music influenced by the mid-section. He more than any PM in history as his band has won it 5 times! I’m truly hoping that JM will be convinced after a season with the Spirit of Scotland mid-section. Here’s to moving forward! HOSS

  8. Colin Cleanse commenting about intestinal fortitude! How poetic! The concern I have is that Jim, Blair, Bill, et al, have such strong and opposed positions on this issue. I am waiting to hear how this progressed through the various RSPBA channels. Universal agreement just doesn’t make sense. Damn, it would take them an hour just to agree on the shape of the table! Cheers, Kent Argubright PS Andrew, I seem to be having IT problems and lost several attempts to post. So… previous post has numerous typos that I didn’t take the time to correct t. Please feel free to correct them!!!!

  9. I think the only bands that should be allowed to march on at the march past should be the prizewinners from that championship the year before. They should be marched on in order from 1st to 6th starting with Novice Juvenile down to Grade 2, with Grade one bands already on and playing. This would cut down the time at marchpasts and also give one last chance for the crowds to recognise and applaud last years winners before the new price list is announced – thus making a bit of a show out of it and making the marchpast something that bands want to be involved in. Thoughts? and lets keep the mid section prize!!

  10. It’s all about Pipes Drums and Bass. Mid section/tenor sections were positions that were created for people who were not good enough to crack the drum corps or so that family members could be part of the band. In my opinion it’s gone way too far.

  11. In Pipe Band contests there should be only 1 type of prize awarded, BEST BAND” PERIOD. Giving individual prizes for each section does nothing to help a band move forward. It only serves to point out the bands weaknesses and as a result drum corps have become very nomadic and hop as a unit from one band to another whenever they percieve their pipe section to be dragging them down. The other problem is that these individual prizes tend to make lead drummers treat the contest as a flourishing competition often jamming too much into the score thus sacrificing the accompanyment that they are providing to the pipe section. Now back to Mid sections………………………………………..I have heard countless bands on the contest field playing well together with the side drum scores complementing the pipe music only to be distracted by unnecessary ping/pang/pong sounds coming from the tenors. I really think this stuff should be left for the concert format.”

  12. We know what the real issue is here but nobody has addressed it directly. In a competotion ,out of 100 possible points the Pipe section gets 50pts and the drummers only get 25 directly with the other 25 being ensemble . The ensemble points are really for how well the side scores accompany the pipe music but we still have pipers judging ensemble which further infuriates drummers. The Best Bass/Drum Corps/mid section prizes were brought in as a partronizing move to pacify drummers. This is why you don’t see a best pipe section prize.

  13. The work that guys like Tyler Fry, Scott Currie and others have done over the past few years has been outstanding. Given the number of contributions and depth of opinions it would be great to hear that the RSPBA will review this situation transparently. Andrew has invited the RPSBA to comment – will someone please do this? Paul McComish

  14. I must respectfully disagree with Jim. This award stands for tradition and history! It’s a way to honor the past and present greats of our idiom. The award is a tribute to those who laid the groundwork for what pipe band drumming has become today. We should always be striving to remember the memories of players like Luke Allen, Alex Duthart and many, many others. How special it must have been for Drew Duthart to win the sash that his father won before him. Certainly that was worth the five minutes it took to hand out the award. For drummers this about preserving and promoting the art which all love. That can’t be wrong!

  15. Why should the fastest progressing discipline in our art form not have its own adjudicator? I am really curious to know what people think. I NEVER post comments on these forums because I feel that people unjustly criticize what is said. I also feel like some things can be taken out of context…well, this time I don’t care. I am going to go out on a limb and explain WHY there should be a specialized judge at every contest (OK…fine… maybe just the majors to begin with). In the past 15 years the tuning of the drums, the rhythmical playing, and (I can’t believe I am saying this…) the visual aspect of the Mid-section has expanded in its technique and creativity to the point where, without a judge who has a vast knowledge of this, they cannot be properly assessed. 15 years ago it WOULD have been an easier task for a judge to judge what the drum corps AND the Mid-section were doing (Mid-section wasn’t even a widely used term until around 2003!!). Things were a lot simpler 15 years ago. I am not trying to take away what Bass and Tenors were doing up until then, but let’s be honest – it isn’t even on the same planet as what they are doing now. Also, (to be clear) I am not talking about individual tenors here – I am talking about what the ENTIRE section can add. One tenor drummer playing on their own in a band doesn’t do much. However, when you have 4-7 (or 8, or 9…) tenors all tuned to a different note on a chanter and voiced and split correctly, it can GREATLY enhance the overall sound of the band. Today, the best Mid-sections are supporting the piping tonally and the snare section rhythmically, making them an essential part of the band for serving those functions. No – it would not make sense to have them play on their own, like a solo snare or piper would or even snare sections or pipe sections would, simply because their playing is an extension of both (if its done properly). However, critics out there – be real! A band with a knowledgeable and talented Mid-section has the ability to do so much more with sound then a band without one. A snare drumming judge should be able to focus on the snare drumming. A judge for the Mid-section would focus on how the section is enhancing and supporting the sound from the piping and the drumming sides of the band as well as properly critique what is going on with technique and all of the details that are so regularly missed. Any of you that have ever looked at sheets after a contest will know that there is only ever one, MAYBE two comments about what is going on with the Bass and Tenors. Is this fair? Does this urge Mid-sections to improve? I am not sure if a Mid-section judge should award points? Ultimately, they are an extension of the other parts of the band and therefore already play a part in determining the band’s outcome. I do not think anyone would support a system that would make the Mid-section the determining factor between first or second place at a major. Either way – I think that there should be a system in place to recognize what the section is doing or what they SHOULD be doing. Continued next post

  16. If you are going to argue that an extra judge is not necessary, then there ARE still changes that need to be made in judging to accommodate the advancement of Mid-sections. Drumming judges need to have a greater understanding of what Mid-sections are doing NOW and so do ensemble judges so that both can make comments on how the Mid-section is adding or detracting to the drumming and piping in a performance. Today, the lack of appreciation for what a good Mid-section can offer seems to be due to a lack of understanding about what is going on, maybe because there is little time to focus on it in the circle. It is common that judges will mention a Mid-section if an audible mistake is heard and detracts from the overall performance and that’s about it. If we are moving towards improving band sound and creativity in the years to come, why punish the Mid-section by offering it little to no impetus to improve? Lack of a reward through a best bass section prize and lack of commentary will not push midsections to try harder to support drumming and piping. I personally prefer that Mid-sections get better, not worse. Incase you haven’t noticed, yes, I am a big supporter of Bass and Tenor drumming. However, there are times, like others have previously mentioned, that a Mid-section can totally detract from a performance. This should be one of the biggest indications that we need separate adjudicators who specialize in this discipline to help us point out these problems and offer suggestions to improve what they are doing! For those who don’t agree… I am going to be frank. There is a seriously snotty attitude amongst pipers and drummers in regards to tenor drummers. I know what you’re thinking – it takes years to even come close to perfecting technique for piping and snare drumming and that dedication demands respect…in your eyes, more respect then a tenor drummer who is in a grade one band after playing for a shorter amount of time. I personally give tenor drummers a hard time ALL the time (ask Tyler). But, let’s get real – why waste time being a snob about your art form? Ultimately, in a BAND environment a good Mid-section can GREATLY support and ENHANCE your craft!! Who wouldn’t want that? At least this is opening up some dialogue and getting people to think! Blair T. Brown



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