December 23, 2022

Competing Pipers Association gets tough on members playing for their teachers

Several years after implementing a formal policy, the Competing Pipers Association is getting tough on members competing before and accepting prizes from their teachers.

The association has sent letters to members whom they have identified as receiving awards from instructors informing them that these prizes will be expunged from their competition track record.

The CPA has had a policy for many years that all of its members should refrain from competing when their current teacher or teachers are judging. A similar policy was implemented in 2017 by the UK’s Solo Piping Judges Association that called for its adjudicator members to avoid judging their pupils. The association adopted the policy in a unanimous 17-0 vote by members present at the meeting where the policy was tabled.

Until now, neither organization has penalized scofflaw members, though several SPJA members have expressed their displeasure at the policy, and at least one even resigned from the organization purportedly over the policy.

The background to this is quite simple: for as long as I can remember and before I was a CPA member myself, we have had a Code of Conduct that people ostensibly agree to when joining. – CPA President Derek Midgley

“Letters went out to a handful of CPA members informing them that submitted results where a prize was taken with a teacher judging would not count for grading,” CPA President Derek Midgley said when asked about the matter. “The background to this is quite simple: for as long as I can remember and before I was a CPA member myself, we have had a Code of Conduct that people ostensibly agree to when joining. The Code of Conduct consists of four points and can be found in the About section of our website. The first point in the Code of Conduct asks that out of respect to their fellow competitors, members not play in front of their teachers. In the notes of the same page we have defined a teacher as someone whom a piper has received instruction from in the preceding 12 months.”

In the UK, any piper 18 or older must compete in the “senior” category. The CPA’s membership comprises only senior pipers, and their recent track record in competition plays a vital part in determining their grading, with C-grade being the lowest level and the top being Premier. Each of the A, B and C grades are subdivided into plus and minus levels.

A piper’s grading generally determines whether their entry to the prestigious Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting competitions at Oban and Inverness, respectively, will be accepted, even though neither of those events requires competitors to be CPA members. (Many Premier-grade pipers reportedly don’t bother to maintain their CPA membership because their entry to the Clasp, Senior and Former Winners events are guaranteed for life by merit of winning a Gold Medal or qualifying light music contests.)

The Highland Society of London Gold Medal and Silver Medal competitions at each event are tightly restricted to approximately 25 spots. Getting in to either event is coveted, and over the years a single season of fewer prizes or inactivity has put paid to many pipers’ hopes and dreams of winning these history-making awards.

It is not known how many or which CPA members received a letter about their teacher-awarded prizes being erased from their track record.

We are trying to do the best we can to make it as meritocratic as possible for all of our members. – Midgley

“We have been regularly informing people for some time that these type of results wouldn’t count towards their grade,” Midgley continued. “Over the past several years the overwhelming majority of the membership considers this a good thing and takes every step to avoid playing in front of their teacher. Indeed, the amount of communication is such that I’m also given to understand that some teachers try to avoid judging a certain event or grade to give their student the free rein to compete as much as they are able. As prizes in piping are strongly coveted, our membership feels that awards should be based fully on merit. Thus, I think the policy helps every piper try to avoid even the appearance of nepotism. The policy of our grading committee to omit prizes where a teacher is involved is there just to make sure we are holding up our end of our Code of Conduct. The handful of people who received these letters were simply reminded of that policy and we are trying to do the best we can to make it as meritocratic as possible for all of our members.”

The SPJA has reportedly sent letters to their members in the past regarding incidents of their members judging pupils at smaller UK competitions.

Responding to pipes|drums’ request for comment, SPJA Chair Colin MacLellan said, “Since the 17-0 vote six years ago to my knowledge there hasn’t been a single case of a teacher judging his pupil at Oban, Inverness, or London. That’s remarkable.”

Conflict of interest policies and rules are inconsistent with associations around the world. Most associations ask members and judges to declare any teaching, family and pipe band interests and then work to ensure competitions are conflict-free. Exceptions are routine, though, with associations often citing conflict-free judges being unavailable as the reason.

Although it does not have any rules prohibiting teachers judging their pupils, the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario is one of few major organizations with a firm conflict of interest rule of any kind, prohibiting family members from judging their direct relatives and spouses in either solo or pipe band competitions.

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association has no known conflict of interest policies, let alone rules, and relatives and instructors routinely judge their family or students with impunity.

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