September 10, 2014

Bands take over cancelled contest with grass-roots solution

Goshen_logoReduced or outright cancelled piping, drumming and pipe band competitions are a disturbing trend in many parts of the world, as many Highland games struggle to make ends meet, find new ways to attract ticket-buyers, and question the value of pipe band contests.

But when the pipe band competition in Sussex, New Jersey, was nixed only weeks before the scheduled September 14th date, bands took matters into their own hands to re-fill a void left in the calendar, and an important run-up to the eastern United States’ final competition at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

“Several bands got talking and we thought we could pull together our own contest on the open date without any of the trappings of your typical Highland games . . . and importantly keeping our costs as low as possible,” said Thomas Burnham of the Firefighter McPadden Pipes & Drums. “We took the initiative to make a late push to find a location, hire judges, recruit bands and get the contest sanctioned by the EUSPBA.”

They started with three Grade 4 bands who committed to playing both mini-MSRs and Medleys, and then figured out the costs to put on the contest and divided them up equally.

“The Goshen Pipe Band Challenge” will take place on September 14th, in Goshen, New York, and could be the first sanctioned public pipe band competition fully funded by the competing bands themselves.

“In many ways starting small is a blessing so we can work the kinks out and set this up for bigger success in the future,” Burnham continued. “We believe that if we can show this is a viable event, we can draw sponsorships that will support a larger event in the future.”

As piping and drumming at many traditional events, even in Scotland, are increasingly marginalized or eliminated, competitors and associations will have to be more creative and entrepreneurial if their regional scenes are to continue to thrive – or simply continue.

“A disturbing trend, at least in the US, is a drop in the number of bands attending contests,” Burnham said. “One possible reason for this could be Highland games marginalizing piping, drumming and pipe bands at their events by moving them to some distant dusty corner of the field where no one ventures. At the same time, many have also shifted a greater share of financial burden onto the backs of the bands by having them pay an entry fee while also asking each member to pay full admission prices which can quickly top $500 when all is said and done.”

At least for the Goshen Challenge, the entire focus will be on the bands and the pay-for-play event is cost-effective for the competitors. Burnham stressed that “the EUSPBA, the judges and the pipe band community has been extremely positive and supportive, and the Village of Goshen has been very accommodating. Can an event like this change the trend of declining band participation and contests folding? We don’t know but it is worth trying.”

They have even worked a deal with the local Catskill Brewery to provide the winner with beverages that have a tagline, suitably positioned with the participating bands: “Honest, hard-working beer.”





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