April 06, 2019

Mac-Cal appealing sudden upgrade attempt by RSPBA

The move from Grade 2 to Grade 1 is generally made with utmost care and planning, after careful deliberation and debate, as rising to the ultimate grade prematurely can result in an organization’s frustration, decline and even outright failure. Pipe band history is littered with sad examples.

pipes|drums learned from sources within the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association that the organization abruptly decided to move the Grade 2 MacKenzie Caledonian of Dundee, Scotland, to Grade 1, leaving the band scrambling only a few weeks before the UK season begins.

According to sources within the RSPBA, the decision to elevate MacKenzie Caledonian was due to the addition of a handful of new members who had had some experience competing in Grade 1, including new pipe-major David Wilton and piper Clare Wilton, who last year served in those roles with the Grade 1 Lomond & Clyde of Glasgow. Other new members with Grade 1 experience are allegedly mainly in the band’s bass section.

MacKenzie finished second in overall Grade 2 Champion of Champions standings after the 2018 season, with Closkelt of Northern Ireland taking top honours. Closeklt also was not upgraded and is apparently not being considered for elevation to Grade 1 at this time.

Founded in 1918, MacKenzie Caledonian is one of the world’s longest-running pipe bands. The organization maintains a highly successful teaching program that includes a Novice Juvenile band.

The band reportedly immediately filed an appeal to remain in Grade 2, and pipes|drums has learned from RSPBA sources that the appeal will almost certainly be granted by the organization’s Grading Committee, but that the band would be “monitored” in competition. The recommendation apparently has to be approved at the April 12 meeting of the RSPBA’s Music Board, and then officially by the RSPBA’s main board of directors, which is generally a “rubber-stamp” formality.

David Wilton did not respond to a request for comment, and RSPBA insiders spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The RSPBA’s Music Board has been working under interim chair Kevin Reilly, who sits on the RSPBA’s Board of Directors. Reilly was put into the role after the sudden resignation of Music Committee chair Bruce Cargill in February.

Regarding upgrades before a band can be heard on the field, one RSPBA insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “It makes a mockery of the requirements to achieve Grade 1 status.”

With the British Championship on May 18 in Paisley, Scotland, the first RSPBA major of 2019, any band in any grade upgraded at this point would mean they would have only a few weeks to prepare competition material. While Grade 2 bands have to submit two MSRs, the British is a set contest, pulling together a new medley in time for the UK Championships in Belfast on June 15 would be a daunting task.

Technically, bands can be regraded mid-season, but examples are rare. The RSPBA downgraded several Grade 1 bands after the 2018 season, but, surprising to many, did not upgrade the City of Dunedin of Florida to Grade 1 after the band won Grade 2 at the 2018 World’s. City of Dunedin’s home association, the Esatern United States Pipe Band Association, subsequently elevated the band to Grade 1. City of Dunedin is not planning to compete at the 2019 World’s.

With no more than 15 Grade 1 bands likely to enter for the World Championships in Glasgow in August, the RSPBA itself has scrambled to determine the best path forward for the normally two-day Grade 1 competition. After surveying bands, judges and unidentified “others,” the organization decided to maintain the contest as a two-day event, but the actual format is still to be determined. Many are expecting the RSPBA to have all Grade 1 bands play twice on both days, eliminating the need for a qualifying round, the results aggregated over both days determining the final list.

In a pipes|drums poll of Grade 1 bands, 90% said that they preferred a one-day World Championship.


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City of Dunedin promoted to Grade 1
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RSPBA keeps World’s two days; pipes|drums survey shows 90% of bands favour one-day
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