July 24, 2017

Poaching and tampering

improve, and – most importantly – the standard in existing bands would get even better and altogether new bands would start.

The argument is sometimes made that players cut from Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands because they don’t meet the standard will outright quit might be true, but we believe these cases would be rare. It’s more about pipe-majors and lead-drummers simply wanting to avoid difficult conversations. And that cast-off Grade 1 piper or snare drummer is the next pipe-major or lead-drummer of a new or existing Grade 4 band.

Non-UK bands competing at the World Pipe Band Championships is at an all-time high. There is not an association on earth that will put limits on section sizes unless their members want it, and their members will never want it unless the RSPBA does it.

Drums are only good as chips tables without drummers to play them. [Photo: copyright pipes|drums]
Generally speaking, as the RSPBA goes, so, too, goes the rest of the pipe band world.

The RSPBA knows this, but they have so far done nothing, and they have the rest of the world over the proverbial barrel. “No one is forcing you to compete at the World’s,” is often the counter-argument by those in the UK. That is indeed true, but they need to realize that, with rare exceptions that usually involve money and jobs, bands around the world – especially at the Grade 1 and Grade 2 levels – can’t sustain themselves these days without competing at the World’s at least every few years.

A trip to Scotland with the band to compete at Glasgow Green is a carrot to attract and keep players. Again, there are rare exceptions such as the Grade 1 Western Australia Police Pipe Band, but if a top-grade band doesn’t have plans to compete in Scotland, they simply will not attract or keep players.

The RSPBA proclaims itself “the heart of the pipe band world.” If they were true leaders with heart, they would do what is right and place limitations on sections sizes and/or rosters. These limitations can go up or down as the competitive climate dictates. Grade 1 bands could eventually swell to maximum numbers that are seen today, but only as the market dictates. Once the RSPBA adopts such guidelines, the rest of the world’s associations will come into line.

Most major sports leagues have strict “tampering” rules. Players under contract can’t be lured with offers from other teams. Players and teams aren’t even allowed to discuss compensation or contracts or even the intentions of those on other teams without a formal process.

As much as they sometimes seem like it, pipe bands are not professional sports teams. Very few pipers or drummers are paid to play. Not since the 1980s, with the demise of police bands employing essentially full-time pipers and drummers, have civilian-band members been on a payroll. Ours is still very much a hobby or, at most, an avocation. But we still strive to play and act with professionalism.

Should there in fact be a rule or policy against tampering with members of lower-grade bands?

“It would be nice to see some form of standardization of player advancement in bands, like what is present in the solo grades,” Kirkwood suggests. “Developing and instituting this would be very difficult, I would imagine. How would you accurately assess and evaluate the developmental level of a player in order to determine in what grade band he/she would be eligible to play? Perhaps the onus then should be on Grade 1 bands to understand fully the nature of the developing player and how it affects the quality and standard of play, not only for the individual, but for bands in all grades.”

It’s worth noting that in a recent pipes|drums Poll that asked, “Should associations have a policy against top-grade bands proactively recruiting from lower-grade bands without permission?” resulted in only 33% saying Yes. We can only speculate on the reasons for this stance. It stands to reason that bands would not want to be restricted from recruiting from the lower grades unless all associations adopt such a policy.

We might agree that “poaching” – recruiting players from . . .



  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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