Is the World’s killing the pipe band world? Part 2
The demise of small contests and regional scenes
The rising pressure in the last decade to field larger sections has meant that Grade 1 bands must pick and choose where they can compete. They might prefer to compete every weekend, but the reality of a widespread roster is that such a commitment is not realistic.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in Scotland itself. With few exceptions, “minor” competitions that once attracted more than 10 Grade 1 bands are now happy to get two or three. Most Scottish Grade 1 bands compete at the five majors and maybe at most two or three other events. Gone are the 15-competition summers that were expected as recently as the 1980s.
The far-flung membership of today’s bands is to the point where even UK bands can’t get all of their players in for local contests. The could play with a smaller band, which would not be full-strength, and so potentially weakening their standard, risking losing the event and undermining their “buzz” for – you guessed it – the World’s.
“I think we would be a more rounded – if not travelled – band without the World’s,” said Grey. “It’s easier to venture further afield and with projects that require different sorts of planning when the World’s doesn’t hang over your drones every August.”
“The World’s impacts our regional scene both positively and negatively,” said Duncan Millar, a snare-drummer with six-time World Champions Simon Fraser University of Vancouver. “The overall standard in our area is raised when even a few bands plan to attend the World’s as all seem to inflate the perceived standard overseas and prepare to compete against the top bands overseas. This leads to harder practice and more team mobilization and the fact that everyone is paying $3,000-plus to go and compete makes them take the mission seriously.”
Top-tier bands will sometimes avoid competing at smaller competitions for fear of being beaten by perceived lesser bands. With judges often splitting hairs between bands at major competitions, any possible benefit-of-the-doubt that can be preserved is good. Why attend small events at less than full strength and jeopardize the positive perception judges at the World’s may have for you?
“The focus on an event overseas and the costs of attending it mean that bands sometimes forgo a local event to save money, or do not focus as much on earlier events,” Millar added. “Bands tend to focus much more attention on the single day in August at the expense of other performances through the season, not flying in out-of-town players until later in the season. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a more regional event were given pre-qualifying rights, such as Maxville or Seattle Highland Games.”
What would non-UK associations look like without a World Pipe Band Championship? Would there be more participation in local events by member bands?
“There is no reason to believe that there would be more competition within our own organization as we already run contests on the day of the World’s,” said Pipers & pipe Band Society of Ontario President Charlie MacDonald. “However, if there were no World Championships, there would likely be pressure from the best bands within our organization to find opportunities to compete against the best bands in other organizations, and possibly to lead to more competition. In my opinion, the best bands would be more inclined to participate in more contests to reward themselves for the hard work that they put into becoming the best. On dates that [the PPBSO] does not provide sanctioned events, it would be expected that bands would seek contests being offered elsewhere. If such contests are not available, participation in concerts, tattoos and parades may provide an alternative.”
“I believe that the World’s has been both positive and negative, to our scene,” said Graham Davidson, British Columbia Pipers Association president. “As bands improve and get bigger the talent pool can get smaller, making the lower grades fight very hard to keep members. However the flip side can say that because of our competing bands, the solo standard is rising.”
“The monetary pressure has made other, more local, events suffer since the travel budget of bands and their members is maxed out on a big overseas trip,” said Grey. “The whole thing generally burns out bandspeople and because of that we see band memberships continually change. I think the World’s has become hard-wearing on our scene – and our people. New people in bands are wet with excitement to go to the World’s while more seasoned people tend to want to try a change – unless the band is firing on all cylinders . . . then go!”
The 2008 occasion of the Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band was perhaps emblematic of that burnout and desire for change. [Disclosure: the author of this article was a member of the band.] Most of the band’s members, while being top-flight players,