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.
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