Opinion: Extend an invitation, don’t wait for a secret knock on the clubhouse door
Competitive piping and drumming stopped being “ethnic” when the UK military brought them to Commonwealth countries. Seumas MacNeill, the legendary piping missionary, travelled the world setting up workshops, evangelizing the instrument, indoctrinating males and females of all nationalities to our glorious affliction.
While piping and pipe bands have Scottish roots, they have branched globally and today boast an industry and subculture with many millions in revenue and tens of thousands of participants.
But, for all that, we still treat it as a special club. Rather than proactively reaching out to communities, we take an almost entirely passive approach to anyone and everyone. Associations and bands certainly welcome anyone who comes knocking on the door, but how often do we actively recruit, much less recruit in non-traditional communities?
As with everything, there are exceptions, but our tack has been traditional-exclusive-club-like. Whether consciously or not, we tend to put up subliminal indicators that communicate that we welcome only certain people. We are perceived that way because we look and act that way.
That is, of course, not what we intend, but it is nonetheless what we do.
If we are going to be truly diverse and sustain our art, we need to break the habit of passively waiting for people to come to us.
This traditionally passive approach to recruiting will be fatal to the art if we’re not careful. By our estimation, the number of competing pipers and drummers has plateaued in most places outside of Scotland. The ready-made audience of first-generation immigrant Scots gave way to the second generation. Today, with the third and fourth generations not caring too much about their Scots heritage, Highland games are dwindling in many places as they search for an audience and struggle to be less ethnic and more accessible to all.
When the general public sees mainly white males playing pipes and drums, those who don’t fit that description will understandably be reluctant to get involved. Seeing not a few but many who “look like me” in management and the workforce of a company, or a congregation, or participating in a hobby or club, communicates that, yes, you will be welcome, that it will be a good fit. It gives you confidence that you will enjoy your experience.
This Pride Month, pipes|drums considers the LGBTQ+ community, including the proactive and altogether novel approach that the new City of Angels Pipe Band is taking to welcome those who identify as non-heterosexual or non-binary. The band is also reaching out to BIPOC communities to let them know that you don’t have to be Caucasian to join our club.
Indeed, there are LGBTQ+ and BIPOC pipers and drummers. Again, no one suggests that bands and associations do not reactively welcome all people, regardless of sexual identity, race, religious background or political stripe. We want everyone to become part of our family and discover the camaraderie and fun of piping and drumming.
But if we continue to passively wait for learners to come to us, it will be at our peril. And, as came to light in our Women In Piping and Pipe Bands video panel, we need to work to keep them involved once we have gained new players.
Just as we have strived to have intelligent conversations about females in piping and drumming and have looked at the challenges that exist with Black players, it’s time to have a similar open dialogue with those who identify LGBTQ+.
If we are going to be truly diverse and sustain our art, we need to break the tradition of passively waiting for people to come to us. We have to reach out to non-traditional communities to let them know that piping and pipe bands are not only for white guys with a Scottish surname, that enjoying the instrument has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, and that everyone is welcome.