July 24, 2017

Poaching and tampering

the promise of success, or trips, or outrageously good times to flatter young players into joining . . . and then sitting on the sidelines for a year or two before they actually get a game.

“I have no problem with people wanting to switch bands, if their intent is to further their playing, and it is their own choice,” says one veteran piper with Grade 1 experience and currently with a lower-grade band, who asked that his name not be used. “My problem is when players are approached who are happy playing in a band that is progressing, and want to be a part of it, and are led to believe that they will make the field no problem with the higher-grade band, and told that the band they are in is [crap] and going nowhere.”

The Hamilton Police Grade 3 band’s bass-section. [Photo: copyright pipes|drums]
Kirkwood continues: “What sometimes becomes frustrating is when a player is approached by a higher-grade band; however, the player is not yet proficient in some or all of the key band elements of musicality, timing, technique, and instrument mastery. It becomes even more disappointing when the player sits on the sidelines and doesn’t play the following year. How does this help either band or the player?”

The situation becomes difficult when a region is not producing enough local pipers and drummers to make the area’s top bands competitive nationally or internationally. The lack of new players is usually the fault of the local bands or association not doing enough teaching but, while they have few to blame but themselves, they have no choice but to recruit heavily and assertively, inevitably ruffling a few feather bonnets. It might surprise international readers that these depleted regions include places in Scotland outside of the Central Belt” between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

But even bands based in that area will take an assertive approach to recruitment in order to keep up the numbers.

“I firmly believe that ‘poaching’ is a non-starter,” said Chris Armstrong, pipe-major of the Grade 1 ScottishPower in Glasgow. “It doesn’t exist except in the heads of the band or organization an individual is leaving. My question in return to a comment about poaching would be this: why did the player leave the band or organization if they were happy in the first place? It’s not a crime to ask or be approached by an individual who wishes to improve and cannot see a way forward for that to happen in their current situation.”

And some might assume that top-grade bands in the Greater Toronto Area are flush with personnel, but it’s still a fight to stay competitive. The Grade 1 Toronto Police Pipe Band is the only one of the four Grade 1 Ontario bands that has an established teaching system, with a Grade 3 band and the Grade 4 Ryan Russell Memorial. The Grade 1 Ottawa Police have elected to sit out 2017 as they rebuild and reconsider their options, while the Grade 1 Peel Regional Police are set to deploy a new training program. In the meantime, it’s a challenge to sustain numbers.

“No doubt there are people out there who feel that the Grade 1 bands should simply go after players who are already at the grade level,” says Peel Police Pipe-Major John Cairns. “I would love to be able to do that, but the reality is that we have four Grade 1 bands vying for the same talent pool in southern and eastern Ontario. Because of this, the number of qualified players who are available, at the grade and want to play in Grade 1 has pretty well been exhausted.

“From a recruitment perspective, there is no point in thinking that any of the existing Grade 1 players will want to change bands – why would they? Why risk relationships, friendships, etc. to go to another band that for all intents and purposes are close in standard? Additionally, with the large numbers needed on an international stage to be competitive, even with the addition of some quality distance players, we are still struggling to have sufficient numbers who are at a true Grade 1 standard.”

Cairns confirmed that his organization has received approval to start a developmental program. They hope to have a formal teaching program in place . . .



  1. I think having a more open rule for members of a lower grade band also playing with a higher grade band would help. I know that the fear is padding a low grade band with ringers is real but the current limits seems to force members who may enjoy playing with and helping a grade 5 or 4 band but can play at grade 2 to leave. In WUSPBA only one piper and one side can be registered as “instructors” and play with both bands. At grade 2, the “instructor” can’t also be the PM or LD. I don’t quite understand this since I would think a grade 2 PM in a local grade 2 could benefit from playing with a grade 1 going to the Worlds? I am a PM of a grade 5 fire department band that does fairly well in competition. I compete solo at grade 1 and have another member who would likely be grade 2 or 1 when he gets back into solos. I am somewhat restricted in what I can do in terms of playing with another, higher grade band and so is the other member. It would only benefit my band to have more than one of us get experience at a higher grade band competition. Maybe a certain number of “training and development” slots can be allowed in lower grade bands to have members compete at a higher grade for a while. This would allow members of lower grade local bands to try out playing with a more regional higher grade band, gain experience, keep interest, and bring that knowledge back to the lower grade. If a grade 4 band gets packed with folks playing up, then they can be regraded by the association.

  2. Very interesting article, great to read and reflects what has also been happening in the scene in continental Europe over the past couple of years – more established higher grade bands recruiting or even poaching players from lower grade bands internationally, primarily to stand the competition at the majors in the UK, but also to compete against said lower grade bands domestically.

    I personally think it is up to every individual what she or he does with their leisure time, but I also strongly believe this presents an opportunity for bands to teach new players, especially young players, values of working hard towards goals and achievement, instead abandoning ship and finding a quick fix. Every established higher grade band was also once a struggling lower grade band.

    What is interesting to look out for these days are the implications that occur to bands without their own teaching system and who seem to rely heavily on recruiting from lower grade bands – the majority seem to fall apart after a couple of seasons at least. The question I ask here is, do bands who recruit really believe this is a long-term solution or is it enough to feel like a rock star for one or two seasons while the social fabric of recruited players still holds together?

    1. Large Grade one bands are certainly impressive to watch and listen to. It seems like larger bands in other grades seem to be happening, as well. While this seems to be good, there are problems: (1) smaller bands find it very difficult to be competitive against larger ones. Being out of the prize list is a significant factor in the demise of a pipe band. A band with eight pipers competing against one with 14 or 16 is like comparing apples to oranges. (2) Starting a new pipe band is very difficult. Sponsors are needed, in most cases, and large numbers can make the costs prohibitive. Marching around in mismatched kilts doesn’t impress anyone. Smaller band sizes may encourage the formation of new pipe bands, by creating opportunities for talented leaders to become pipe majors of new bands, and the potential personnel available to do this, not to mention the lower costs for uniforms and equipment.
      Poaching and tampering can be a problem. As soon as a band seems to be doing well, interest is aroused, and the “sharks” start circling. If the band should have a not-so-good year, the sharks move in for the kill!



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