July 28, 2015

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

It could be the issue of our piping and drumming times: should there be size limitations on competing pipe bands?

In 2008 the 78th Fraser Highlanders took 30 pipers onto the competition arena at the World Pipe Band Championships and, since then, Grade 1 bands have routinely competed with more than 20; the current World Champions Field Marshal Montgomery typically with 23 to 25.

In 2014 Field Marshal Montgomery won another World Championship with 24 pipers.

Around the world bands in every grade seem to be trying to attract as many members as possible so that they can compare well against other larger bands in their grade. More and more there appear to be “have” and “have-not” groups: those with lots of personnel and those without. Judges are tasked with comparing bands competing with a smaller pipe- and/or drum-section, even those with minimum numbers, against those that bulge at the circle, frequently with numbers double or even triple the minimum requirement.

There are of course minimum numbers. But the question remains to be resolved: should there be maximum numbers? Should there be a limit on the number of competing players in each section? Or should there be a limit on overall band roster size?

Since no organization seems terribly interested in investigating let alone resolving the matter, pipes|drums took it . . .



  1. Andrew, you are incorrect in that ‘no organization seems terribly interested in investigating let alone resolving the matter’. This matter was discussed by the RSPBA Music Board at the back end of 2013 and early 2014, at some length, from the reports our Branch received. This was taken to the branches and was dismissed by a number of those. I think you sometimes forget that the Association is made up of ALL the grades and not just Grade 1. Some of the comments at the time were that if someone didn’t get a game with the band of his/her choice then they wouldn’t necessarily find another band, either in Gr 1 or Gr 2, or3. Also, as per your sample, no one system could be suggested that everyone could agree on, and so as a result of the negative results from the Branches the matter has been deferred to be loked at agin at some future point

    1. Thanks for that information, rancam@camfam.demon.co.uk. We ask and we ask and we ask the RSPBA for information and radio silence is the result. It would help if that organization shared developments like that with us, or at least responded to questions. Grade 1 sets the tone for the rest of the grades. If they play bigger sections, the rest will, too. Grade 1 defines what pipe bands do. We would love to survey every pipe-major and leading-drummer in every grade. That’s not feasible, unfortunately, so we went with the 30 leaders of Grade 1 bands. We know of no organization that has actually polled its members on this matter, or sat down to consult with them in any meaningful way. To us, that indicates their not terribly interested in investigating this. So we did. Thanks for reading.

  2. This has been going on for years, Of course there are advantages to having a bigger band. Potentially better harmonies, and one thing I know is that if you only have 8 people in your wee grade 3 band( as we often do) and there’s a slip, that’s 12.5% of the total volume of the band, and every judge, by band size alone will be closer to that error where as a slip in a corp of 20 pipers and you’re on the other side, there’s a good chance that you miss it. That doesn’t necessarily make it right that they didn’t get caught.
    However, as I know it and I”m sure i”ll be corrected, I do not know any other sport/competitive event where you can just throw out as many as you want. If you could, well lets just say that the Toronto Maple Leafs have enough money in their organization that they would bring in 3 or 4 goalies and that would hide any hole in the net. Or look at the Yankee’s in their big days in the 80’s , Steinbrenner would have bought up every good player he could with his money and would have had 12 people in the outfield.
    There’s a reason why they have limits, and that is to make things fair, person for person. This argument is silly, the top bands obviously pull their weight around and as a result, we’re losing bands all over the place now, compared to the numbers we used to have. It can be 20 ( my choice) or 23, don’t care, just put a limit on it. As for roster, I’m not bothered as if you’re the 32nd piper on a list and you don’t get to play, then you’ll leave to find a band that will have you. Or if you’re one of those folks that likes to tell everyone that they “play” in band X, but they just don’t compete on the field with them, well, enough said. Rant over
    Bruce Gandy

  3. What Bruce Gandy said!

    It wasn’t all that long ago that PM Terry Lee said, in an interview on here, that 17 pipers was the limit. Anything over and the theory was it would start to get a bit untidy and present more risk. Well, that isn’t the case, but the situation is that the ‘have vs. have not’ issue is creating a gulf of inequity that the majority cannot possibly bridge. Of all the rules and regulation that associations have, no thought has been given to creating a level playing field in terms of maximum allowable numbers. We make all bands go through the same rituals on the line etc., yet we facilitate a situation where one band can be twice the size of the other. It corners nearly all judges (whether they admit it or not) and the game is already won and lost (barring some sort of calamity). The elephant in the living room, literally! Capping would also help to address the ‘distribution of wealth’ issue. For the love of the game, fix this now. It is a big problem (no pun intended). One we don’t see because we’re too busy marvelling.



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