By Andrew Berthoff
(Continued from Part 1)
The pressure to attend every year
In truth, the World Pipe Band Championship is not much different from any other pipe band competition: any band can enter any grade. There are indeed qualifiers and finals so as to deal with the large entry, and two different events in Grade 1, but that’s it.
To participate in just about every “World Championship” competition, whether in art or sport or other domains, only national champions are allowed to compete. There is a natural narrowing of the field, and the public is treated to the very best of that particular year.
As it is structured, the World’s puts pressure on top-grade bands to return every year so as to improve on their competitive position and gradually work their way up the ladder – or at the very least not slip down. While this yearly pursuit helps to retain and attract players, it also stifles other, perhaps more productive, expansion, and simultaneously does nothing to help regional or national pipe band scenes.
“It seems to me that for the Ontario scene the World’s hasn’t helped our overall development or forward movement,” said Michael Grey, pipe-sergeant of the Toronto Police. “Where once only a few bands would make the commitment to travel and test themselves against a UK standard (and the bands that made the trip were almost always outstanding in their grade) bands of the last five to 10 years, of every level of ability and experience, routinely travel to Glasgow. A lot of our bandspeople know Glasgow like they know their own neighbourhoods.”
While non-UK bands strain to get to the contest every year to improve or at least retain their standing on the world scene, UK bands often see it as just another major.
“From my own perspective, and maybe I can speak for some of our band members, the World’s is one of five majors,” said Allan Low, pipe-major of the Grade 2 MacKenzie Caledonian Pipe Band of Dundee, Scotland. “I would agree it is the biggest one and the one that we most want to win, but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Perhaps in Grade 2 it doesn’t have the same circus around it as Grade 1, with the grandstands and huge TV screens, so competing in it feels pretty much like any other major.”
Seemingly the raison d’etre of the World Pipe Band Championship in the eyes of the RSPBA and Glasgow Council is to attract as many competitors as possible, rather than facilitating an event that attracts the best quality, the proven elite, in each grade. It’s not a true World Championship; it’s a bigger contest named the World Championships.