August 16, 2020

RSPBA advocates for pipe band exception to COVID-19 restrictions

According to extensive quotes in an article in the Daily Record newspaper, Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association Chair John Hughes is advocating for an exception for pipe bands to enable them to return to practicing in Scotland.

Contending that the Highland pipes are “‘dry’ and have no vapour discharge,” Hughes advocates for pipe bands not be lumped in with other woodwind instruments when it comes to coronavirus safety protocols.

In a head-scratching comment, the article also quotes Hughes as saying, “If the reeds and drones inside bagpipes get wet, it just stops functioning. We’re trying to get proof of this.”

Scotland will reportedly announce a government report on and guidance for woodwind instruments next week. Most anticipate that Scotland’s safety protocols will be more stringent than those of England, Northern Ireland and Wales, which would allow pipe bands of as many as 30 members to practice together.

The association has reportedly proactively sent a link to the Daily Record article to their member bands, asking them to write to their members of parliament to request official guidelines to enable limited pipe band teaching and practicing rather than a blanket ban.

Hughes is quoted in the article as saying, “There’s a perception that [the pipes] generate an aerosol like a trumpet, where you are breathing in and what is coming out will generate spray. But we don’t believe that a bagpipe is doing that. It’s actually a dry instrument.”

There is no known scientific study about the potential spread of coronavirus specifically for Highland pipes. With pipe bands routinely testing reeds between players when tuning, and saliva collecting in mouth-blown practice chanters, in-person practice would have to be altered considerably.

“No one can speak with any authority about how safe playing is just now because it just hasn’t been proven.”

“No one can speak with any authority about how safe playing is just now because it just hasn’t been proven,” commented one pipe-major of a Grade 3 band in Scotland, who requested anonymity. “In my opinion, the RSPBA have been a bit irresponsible by saying ‘it’s a dry instrument, so we’re fine.’ This article is going completely against the guidance we are getting.”

One piping teacher in the Scottish schools said, “I’m currently planning to use electronic chanters face-to-face for the foreseeable future to try and get tuition up and running. We are awaiting further guidance about the science on everything. So in that regard, research is very much up in the air, hence why I don’t understand why the RSPBA have made such a bold statement.”

“Why not music groups with obvious restrictions and guidelines?”

An RSPBA insider based in Scotland, who commented on condition that his name not be used, said, “Our pubs and restaurants are open with a track and trace system in place. Team sport is happening. Public transport is operating. Schools are going back. All with new behaviour restrictions. So I guess the question is, why not music groups with obvious restrictions and guidelines published?”

Dr. Lachie Dick, an accomplished piper based in Glasgow who is also a medical surgeon, expressed concern: “I would say that pipe bands should not be exempt of the rules, not because they may be aerosol-generating, but because they need to follow the guidance like everyone else. This is just my opinion, some may disagree.” He stressed that virology is not his area of medical expertise.

With the 2020 competition season cancelled, and the 2021 season still uncertain, associations like the RSPBA are facing an uncertain future. The primary function of piping and drumming associations is the promotion and running of competitions. Many associations have organized online solo competitions. The RSPBA runs almost exclusively pipe band contests.

With no bands able to practice and no competitions possible and 2021 approaching, the value of being a member of the association is increasingly questioned. Memberships, competition entry fees and the five major championships comprise the vast majority of RSPBA revenues.

The association incurred considerable debt to complete the £1.2-million renovation of its Glasgow headquarters. The RSPBA reported that they received grants and loans to help sustain its operation.

At publication time, Hughes had not responded to a request for comment.




  1. I don’t usually comment but this assertion by Mr Hughes is nothing short of ludicrous. Is he speaking for himself or for the RSPBA? To claim that the Highland Bagpipe is a dry instrument is laughable. Now whether it is a vehicle for viral transmission is something to be studied, asking for an exemption based on NO studies is making the Association a target for ridicule. If , indeed, this is the position of the RSPBA board, I think mass resignations are in order. Just to be clear, I am not only a piper but also
    a medical doctor working full time in emergency departments. Hopefully Mr Hughes will withdraw this



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