September 14, 2023

How pipe bands should manage a significant change

Competing pipe bands, like just about any other public-facing group, are delicate things, chock-a-block with sensitive egos and strong personalities that are ironically part of the generally shy and introverted personnel who populate them.

So, when a band makes a significant change, it’s crucial for things to go smoothly. Personnel changes are usually tricky, and it is rare that anyone departs, and both sides are equally pleased.

With that in mind, getting the communications right is vital so that a challenging situation does not become worse than needed or even untenable.

A pipe band is essentially a small business with between 20 and 50 volunteer workers. They don’t have to be there, and in these days of talented player and worker shortages, pipe bands and businesses should do all they can to retain their people and reputations.

Pipers and drummers who voluntarily offer their skill and time to your band are precious assets. If they are not treated well or feel disrespected, they will leave. Like work, they won’t put up with bullying, shouting pipe-major, or leading-drummer “boss.” And in these days of far-flung distance players, they have plenty of options.

That’s the same as many jobs: workers have options, and many can work remotely in high-paying roles for companies far away from their home.

Right now, it’s both a player and worker’s market. So, the exact same communication tenets that apply to businesses apply to pipe bands.

Right now, it’s both a player and worker’s market.

So, the exact same communication tenets that apply to businesses apply to pipe bands.

So, when there is a significant voluntary or involuntary change to a band’s personnel, here are the essential communication steps to take:

The first step is to create a plan of action. This might sound like overkill, but it’s really quite simple. Sketch out the who, what and when of the process, and prepare to follow it to the letter:

  1. Prepare the materials. You have decided that a change must be made, so now is the time to draft three statements: to those coming in or departing, the balance of the band, and the general public.
  2. Be ready to tweak those statements depending on how things go.
  3. Determine a date and time to inform the person or persons directly affected by the decision.
  4. Meet with the members being dismissed in person. This is critical. It’s fundamental in business that a manager meets face-to-face with an employee or employees who are receiving bad news. Anything else is unprofessional. If meeting in-person is impossible, at least arrange a video call.
  5. Once you’ve informed the affected piper(s)/drummer(s), inform the rest of the band immediately. It’s absolutely crucial that they are in the loop as quickly as possible. Doing that in person is ideal but unlikely, so try to schedule a Zoom call. Learning of it through the piping/drumming media or, worse, via social media will make the situation with the band far worse. It will also undermine the trust your band members have in you as pipe-major or leading-drummer. Also, assume that whatever you send to members in writing will become public. It might not, but it’s prudent to create a message that you would be okay for everyone to see, even if it’s not desired.
  6. As soon as the whole band is informed and you’ve provided some time to answer questions or address concerns, issue your prepared statement to the media and post it on your social media properties. Make sure that statement aligns with what you have told the band. Contradictions won’t be received well. Don’t wait to send this message because, if you don’t, it’s virtually guaranteed that the news will get out no matter how much you stress to current and now ex-members not to say anything.
  7. In today’s communications world, an hour is an eternity. Steps 4-6 should be completed in 30 minutes or less if you want to be ahead of the story. Setting the agenda is crucial.
  8. Be ready to respond to questions. Another tenet of communication is that silence is considered acceptance. You might think it’s best to say nothing, but it’s actually the worst move. Credible piping and drumming media simply want an accurate story. They don’t really care who’s right or wrong; they simply want all sides of the story.
  9. Keep tabs on the chatter and respond professionally. Correct inaccuracies and repeat your side of the story repeatedly.
  10. Be gracious. Burning bridges by bad-mouthing ex-members who, again, volunteered their time and skills to your band is a bad look regardless of how contentious the departure might have been. Suck it up and move ahead.

Whether a pipe band or a business, no one with any humanity likes to confront bad news, much less hurt anyone’s feelings or damage their ego.

That’s why effectively communicating will mitigate potential damage to your reputation.

The above steps don’t guarantee that the disgruntled won’t come out with their version of the story. The main thing is that the band or the business gets out first so they can lead the agenda and the conversation. If they’re late, they are immediately on the defensive, playing catch-up and correcting. That exacerbates, rather than calms, the situation, which might have been avoided with an orderly and proactive approach.

If you look at leading bands in the recent past who have made newsworthy but mainly uncontroversial significant leadership moves, it’s almost always because they handled the communications process in an orderly and effective manner.

All of this might feel too “corporate.” But understanding that a modern pipe band has to work like a highly effective and productive business if it wants to attract and retain talent means that it must take the steps necessary to reach its potential.

In addition to editing and publishing pipes|drums for the last 35 years, the author enjoyed a 33-year career in communications, consulting for clients such as Microsoft, eBay, Xerox, Toshiba and Panasonic with Hill and Knowlton and as Sr. Vice President at Environics Communications (now Proof Strategies). He recently concluded an 11-year tenure as Chief Communications & Marketing Officer with SOCAN, the largest organization in Canada’s music ecosystem, which administers performing rights licenses and distributes royalties to songwriters, composers and music publishers.  



  1. You’re 10 point plan is great in practice but it would not happen in the vast majority of bands. Maybe some grade 1 bands would implement it, but the remainder are just hanging on for dear life trying to stay above water. Also for example, I would suggest that the recent appointment of the new L/D of Field Marshal Montgomery was not done on the back of a 10 point plan or a committee, but was made by one person. No consultation necessary.



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