“Poaching.” It’s a pipe band allegation that’s as old as pipe bands.
Loosely defined in pipe band terms, poaching is actively coaxing a player from a rival band to join your own band.
Most people think of poaching as recruiting players from bands within the same grade. You simultaneously weaken the competition by strengthening yourself. It’s a part of pipe bands, just as it’s a part of business to go after top-talent.
Poaching isn’t necessarily entirely ethical, but it’s pretty much unstoppable. Making it known that someone is welcome and wanted and would fit in as a playing member should they wish to make a change is simply hanging out your help-wanted shingle.
But with the advent of bigger bands, particularly in the top grades, a whole new level of poaching has emerged: call it tampering with players from lower-grade bands. With the pressure to field large pipe-, bass- and snare-sections in order to be considered competitive, top-grade bands are increasingly going after young pipers and drummers in Grade 3 and even Grade 4 bands.
Impressionable players with only a few years of experience are approached by veterans at the top with the promise of playing in the big-time. Starry-eyed, they’re wowed and wooed, and flattered that a Grade 1 or Grade 2 band would want them and feels that they have what it takes.
So, the lower-grade band that they grew up in, that might have taught them from the beginning, that is struggling themselves to have the numbers to stay together, loses someone who’s inevitably among their best players to a band in which he or she will probably be the worst.
As Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands around the world get increasingly desperate to field strong numbers, they appear to resort to more and more aggressive recruitment tactics. The irritant that used to be fairly limited to poaching players from a rival band is now often tampering with players from the lower-grades.
It’s worth noting that tampering probably occurs mostly with Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands that don’t have a formal feeder-band system. They resort to pillaging the ranks of lower-grade bands. While they are eminently aware that a teaching program would eventually create a developmental band or two, they haven’t started one, so they have to rely on more aggressive means to attract players. More often than not, it’s a matter of survival of the fittest. And “fittest” in pipe band terms generally means “most players.”
But is this sort of recruitment actually a problem? To be sure, it’s not as if top-grade bands are running around raiding every lower-grade band. But the frequency seems to be more pronounced than in the past and complaints are increasing as more bands struggle to stay afloat.
“This is a topic that is certainly not new, and one that is definitely discussion-worthy,” said Trish Kirkwood, pipe-major of the Grade 3 Hamilton Police Pipe Band of Hamilton, Ontario. The Hamilton Police organization has developed a sophisticated teaching program that includes a Grade 5 novice band, but they still experience the frustration of losing their best players to top-grade bands.
“I understand the lure of wanting to play in a Grade 1 band,” Kirkwood continues. “It’s the natural tendency of many to want to progress to the level of ability to be able to make the Grade 1 cut. Coming from a multi-tiered organization, each grade has its standard. Countless hours of instruction and directive are put into supporting players so they develop the necessary skills to not only become proficient band players, but also to strengthen the playing quality for that grade. Graduating players between groups is a natural part of the improvement process within our organization, and it keeps us in constant forward motion and advancement.”
Most would agree that it’s okay for young pipers and drummers to move upward and outward when they feel that there’s no other way to progress. But problems begin when these impressionable players are sold a bill of goods.
Playing well and winning are the best recruitment tools, but, for bands that aren’t regularly in prize-lists – and that’s probably 75% of the world’s pipe bands – they’ll use . . .