Published: June 23, 2015

Pleasanton pares down Grade 1 bands

Perhaps ironically, on the same day that the Virginia International Tattoo American Bagpipe Championship announced that both Scottish Grade 1 bands Inveraray & District and ScottishPower would be flown over to compete in the April 2016 event in Norfolk, Virginia, organizers of the 150th Annual Gathering & Games in Pleasanton, California, clear across the continental United States, revealed a new format to its Grade 1 September 4-6 competition.

By invitation, Dowco Triumph Street of Vancouver, Greater Glasgow Police Scotland and the Los Angeles Scots will compete at Pleasanton, but limited to fielding only eight pipers, four snare drummers, two tenor drummers and a bass drummer, in contrast to bands in the top grade routinely putting out more than 20 pipers, 10 snare drummers and six tenor drummers in their full complement.

“I want to express my disappointment with the economy, the strength of the currency exchange with Canada, and the evolution of the ‘big band’ concept adopted by the Grade 1,” said Pleasanton organizer John Biggar. “These three things are beyond the control of all the games sponsors, and thus the death of the Grade 1 contests in the Western United States Pipe Band Association region. We all know the names of the great-sounding pipe bands hitting the circle with 28 pipes, 12 sides and six tenors. They put on an incredible show, but require a king’s ransom to fly, house and feed 40-50 people, many of whom are out-of- area players that I assume are being subsidized by their band.

“I don’t blame them for trying to balance the band books by asking for the big travel dollars, but unless they are within driving distance, the sponsors just cannot afford to have them. This then is a self-limiting experience, as there are fewer opportunities to compete before heading off to the World Championship. In Scotland, where travel and prize money is thin, most major competitions are a short train or coach ride away.”

“The bands can bring as many back-ups as they want, but can only place 15 members in the circle,” Biggar added. “This concept makes the travel money go further, equalizes the size (helping smaller bands), and allows the pipe-major to feature his best players.”

The Grade 1 event will be part of competitions across a total of the usual five grades, with more than 40 bands in total expected to compete.

The competition is organized by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco.

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