June 19, 2016

PPBSO launches Grade 4 investigation

The 2016 competition season in Ontario has seen a sudden decline in the number of Grade 4 bands entering competitions, and the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario in embarking on an investigation as to possible causes.

The first two sanctioned outdoor competitions this year have had only five or six bands enter Grade 4, whereas in recent years those numbers were routinely two or three times that number.

There have been nowhere near the number of upgrades of bands to Grade 3, so one possible or even probable cause could be the organization’s membership voting in the adoption of a “Mini-MSR” at its 2013 annual general meeting, the motion coming from a branch of the organization, rather than via the PPBSO’s Music Committee. A Mini-MSR comprises two parts each of each genre of tune. The grade also calls for a three-to-five-minute medley. The Royals Scottish Pipe Band Association requires bands in Grade 4B to submit a selection of marches totalling two parts of four prescribed tunes, and, in Grade 4A, an MSR of four parts of each genre.

The PPBSO’s President Chris Buchanan has worked to launch a “gap analysis and requirements review” of the situation. A gap analysis is the comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance in an organization.

“Over the past couple of years, a noticeable trend of bands vacating Grade 4 has occurred,” the organization writes. “The PPBSO has decided to perform an analysis of this trend to discover what (if any) adjustments need to be made to the grading structure and/or the requirements for the grade in order to promote the growth of the grade.”

The organization is distributing a questionnaire to Grade 4 and Grade 5 bands with results considered by its Music Committee and Board of Directors.

The organization introduced a Grade 5 category to pipe band competitions more than a decade ago with an objective to attract less-proficient and experienced bands to compete, with an ancillary benefit to the organization of attracting new members. The move has proved successful in terms of participation, with games routinely having 12 or more Grade 5 bands competing.

But the desired trickle-down effect on other grades has not so far significantly occurred, with no appreciable growth in terms of higher grade bands. Grade 2 has been particularly hard-hit in recent years in Ontario, and only one or two bands in recent years competing in the grade.

One success story is the Paris Port Dover organization, whose “big band” has climbed to Grade 2. But the group has also been hit hard with a decline in numbers, only 12-13 pipers on the field after several players were wooed by and subsequently joined established Grade 1 bands.

Jumps to higher grades can be difficult for any band at any level, and associations carefully set requirements to ensure adequate preparation and reasonable chance that bands will not be over-matched. Currently, the PPBSO requires a simple March Medley of two minutes 45 seconds to four minutes 30 seconds of quick-marches in any time signature for Grade 5 bands.

“We have a situation where there’s no clear path from Grade 5 to Grade 4 because they have to go from a March Medley to the Mini-MSR and a Medley, which is a lot to take on in that first year,” Buchanan said. “Our assumption is that if we provide a better transition path for bands, more will play in Grade 4 which will, hopefully, mean that we narrow the performance differential in Grade 5. Having said that, we don’t want to make assumptions or only listen to some of the voices. With a situation like this, there’s a real opportunity of running into confirmation bias.”

Ontario’s Grade 1 bands have not necessarily felt the benefit of expanded competitions and requirements to any extent. Only one Ontario-based Grade 1 band has qualified for the World Pipe Band Championship Final in the last three years, with the 78th Fraser Highlanders last achieving it in 2014, ultimately finishing eleventh in the 12 band event.





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