March 22, 2022

Opinion: If there were ever a time to cap numbers, it’s now

Well, we told you so. In fact, we told you so many times, we got tired of saying it and some of you no doubt got tired of hearing it.

And now, the proverbial pipe band chicken has come home to roost.

We’re talking about placing reasonable maximum limits on pipe band sections.

No doubt trying to do something positive, the RSPBA announced that it had “listened to the bands” and reduced minimum player requirements across every grade for the 2022 season. In theory, you’d think that would help.

But minimum numbers aren’t the problem.

The lack of maximum numbers is.

Bands without ample sections, “short of comfortable numbers to compete” – as the Grade 1 Lomond & Clyde said was its reason for going on competition hiatus this year – simply won’t waste their time. Despite the good intention, reducing minimum numbers won’t make one iota of difference.

Instead of announcing paltry minimum numbers only two months before their season starts, the organization could have worked with bands back in November to count their likely rosters. They might have recognized that only the best bands at the top of each grade are plentiful with players.

They could have then made the sensible move that would have levelled the playing field and developed maximum section numbers. Any bands exceeding the roster limits applied to each grade could then have addressed the issue, and let go its pipers and drummers with lesser ability, or who don’t have quite the required commitment, or who might just need a little push.

Those players could then have had enough time to join needy and welcoming bands in the same or lower grades, or even combine with other free agent players to start brand new bands, and prep repertoire in time for the 2022 season.

A top-tier Grade 1 band that reduces a pipe section of 23 or 24 by five or six would make a profound and lasting contribution to the greater good.

But, no. The absolute fallacies that reasonably limiting the size of bands would impact the quality of music, or the absurdity that the problem of big bands will naturally work out itself, continue.

If the RSPBA thinks that a Grade 1 band will actually go out with only eight pipers and three snare drummers, or a Grade 2 or even a Grade 3 band will compete with six and two, they’re living in 1972. Perhaps that’s what they want.

We can predict the excuses now:

“We have to have far more players available in case some get hit with COVID.” Nope. If one person in your band has COVID, chances are your last practice was a super-spreader event. You’re not going out there, regardless.

“The music will suffer.” Bollocks. Are you really saying that the 78th Frasers’ “Journey to Skye” with 14 pipers in 1987 wasn’t spine-tingling?

“It will be too hard to let people go.” We get it, but it’s not personal, it’s reality and you’re helping to sustain a scene currently dwindling.

We’re not suggesting that Grade 1 bands suddenly have to cut their pipe section to 12 and snare line to four. We’re suggesting reasonably large maximum numbers of, say, 18 and seven, respectively.

A top-tier Grade 1 band that reduces a pipe section of 23 or 24 by five or six would make a profound and lasting contribution to the greater good.

We guarantee that bands that reduce size by cutting back their worst players will 1. improve that band’s quality through better unison and tuning, 2. improve the quality of the bands the free-agent players join, 3. make more struggling bands competitively viable, and 4. help to safeguard the future of an art whose survival is increasingly threatened.

If associations wanted to make a real difference, they’d call an emergency meeting with the music boards of the RSPBA, the Alliance of North American Pipe Band Associations, the Royal New Zealand Pipe Band Association, and Pipe Bands Australia to agree on maximum numbers collectively. Do it together so we can avoid the tedious “we can’t do that unless the RSPBA does it” rationale.

But here we are. There are now only seven Grade 1 competing bands in Scotland. Twenty years ago there were about twice as many. We can almost guarantee that similar declines will be seen in all grades.

To stay competitive, bands will more than ever have to bring in players from outside their community. That means further declines in entries at non-championships. That means the town that was once proud of its local pipe band will have to travel to a championship to see them.

It’s a ridiculous state of affairs. We’ve been advocating for a cap on section numbers since at least 2006.

The problem is real. The impact is here and will only get worse until the reality of maximum numbers is addressed.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to add your opinion using our Comments feature below.



Lomond & Clyde sitting out 2022 season

p|d Survey: Almost two-thirds of Grade 1 P-Ms favour size limits

Matter of size . . .

Pipe Band Size Matters Debate: Armstrong and Livingstone take sides

Size matters . . .

The matter of size

Size matters


  1. I agree completely. 18 – 7 – 3 – 1 would free up a number of players to reinforce existing bands, or create new ones without doing any harm. Except maybe to a few egos here and there. Size matters, but only to a point.

  2. I think I would stay away from roster limits and just do “field limits” like a sports team. This way the RSBPA would only control the competition and not the band as a social group. As a baseball team may have 25 guys on the roster only 9 hit the field. Easy enough job for the steward to count up the sections at the line. Bands may hold on to the old time players who can’t commit the full season or bring on young blue chip players slowly very much like a sports team. For concerts, bands could still bring the power to fill large auditoriums and theaters. Imagine FMM or SLOT or Inveraray with 25-10-6-1 on the roster heading onto the field at 18-7-3-1. It would be the highest standard of music we would ever experience in our Pipe Band world.

  3. It would only make things better for the current strong bands, bands on the bubble struggling for some stability, ambitious bands striving to build, and for the spectators who enjoy competition, variety, quality, and a sustainable product. But other than that I can’t think of a reason to do it.



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