July 24, 2017

Poaching and tampering

rival bands – is an acceptable and unavoidable and even traditional aspect of pipe bands. But “tampering” – going after players in lower-grade bands – which appears to be on the increase, might be avoided for the greater good of local and national pipe band scenes.

If tampering is indeed a growing problem, what possible solutions are there? A few suggestions:

Establish maximum numbers for sections. We thrill at the sound and sight of the very best relatively massive top-grade bands. But, unbridled, that comes with a cost. Winning bands with large numbers inspire bands in all grades to try to meet that perceived numbers standard. Just as associations have reacted to lower-grade bands attempting to play music above their capability, by requiring them to play from set lists of simpler tunes and formats, so too might associations establish maximum numbers for section sizes in competition and as overall rosters. Maximum numbers don’t have to be radically smaller; but ensuring that a Grade 1 band keeps no more than 22 pipers, 10 snare drummers and six tenors on the books should eventually result in a substantial global trickle-down effect. In time, maximum (and, for that matter, minimum) numbers can be adjusted up or down depending on success.

Add anti-tampering policies to codes of conduct. Most associations will have a code of conduct for members. It’s unrealistic to enforce a hard-and-fast rule, but at least we can stress to members that actively recruiting players from bands lower than their own is unacceptable behavior. Sure, such a policy is difficult to police, but at least we should make it known that members are expected to adhere to policies. Most people abide by the rules.

Players in lower-grade bands who want to move to a higher grade band outside of their organization, must proactively make it known first that they are available. If a young piper or drummer is itching to move up, they would have to make the first overture.

Associations can help bands to establish teaching programs. Rather than seeing themselves purely as contest-running machines, pipe band associations should be directly involved with teaching by providing member bands with advice, assets and even money to jump-start programs. Create a “how-to” manual on developing a teaching program. Provide and/or subsidize the purchase of practice chanters, drum pads and sticks, and teaching materials. Pay for accredited teachers to conduct weekend workshops. Whatever they do, associations should not sit idly by expecting bands to figure it out on their own. Besides, more teaching equals more players, and more players equals more members, and more members equals more revenue, and more revenue equals more money for teaching . . .

While large pipe band section sizes have created the issue of the 2000s, the ancillary effect is more aggressive recruiting. It’s hard to fault bands from doing what they need to do to survive.

But perhaps there’s a better way for the better good.

What do you think? Feel free to chime in with your opinions and suggestions using our commenting feature below. You can also keep your comments anonymous, if you choose.



  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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