Published: March 16, 2016

The kids are alright – the adults…not so much

The recent highly successful Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships, with its popular almost-anything-goes Freestyle event, has been endorsed by the RSPBA for the last three years, seemingly contradicting its stance on pipe band events not in line with its rules.

The world’s most powerful pipe band association has “supported the event,” according to sources close to the organization, even though that support reportedly amounted to providing the competition with the names of eight available RSPBA adjudicators to judge the traditional pipe band contests, and making RSPBA Chairman Gordon Hamill a “Patron” of the championship.

RSPBA adjudicators Bill Black, Tom Brown, Jim Campbell, John Connor, Alec Dudgeon, Alvis Kerr, Peter Snaddon and George Wilson judged the traditional band events at the Scottish Schools Championships.

Members of the Lochilphead High School Pipe Band competing in the quartet competition at the 2016 Scottish Schools Championships.

Quartets were judged by Harry McNulty and Tom Speirs, and the Freestyle competition was judged by Iain MacInnes of BBC Radio Scotland; Tudor Morris, Director of the City of Edinburgh Music School; and Craig Munro of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Judges for the Quartet and Freestyle events were sourced directly by the Scottish Schools Pipes & Drums Trust, which organizes the championship.

There are few rules around the Freestyle event, other than pipers and drummers combining with other musicians from their school to present a creative performance. The Scottish Schools event also worked with students as voluntary stewards, rather than stewards on the RSPBA payroll.

In contrast, the RSPBA allegedly put pressure on bands entered to compete at the Spring Gatherin’ in Belfast in 2015 when the event wanted to introduce a pipe band contest in which the audience would have a say in the result, which would have been contrary to established traditional RSPBA pipe band rules.

Spring Gatherin’ organizers eventually dropped the pipe band competition when the bands that had confirmed their participation reportedly said that they would have to withdraw due to political pressure exerted on them and insinuated repercussions and even threats of suspension.

The Spring Gatherin’ matter resulted in the resignation of one high-ranking RSPBA official from the association, and the 2016 event again does not offer pipe band competitions.

“[Perhaps] the RSPBA would not want to be seen to criticize an event aimed at school pupils,” said a source who commented on condition that his/her name would not be used. “Maybe they feel guilty that they have not started something like this themselves, or even thought about it. . . . The RSPBA should have been doing much more years ago about teaching piping and drumming in schools.”

“The RSPBA is quite right to let this happen, especially since the Freestyle event doesn’t require full pipe bands,” said another source speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s like a quartet with other instruments, and there are no RSPBA rules that I know of for quartet events, and these happen all the time.”

In Ontario, Canada, the upcoming Kingston Scottish Festival was denied sanctioning, and thus points towards the association’s annual aggregate awards, by the Pipers & Pipe Band Society of Ontario, a popular competition now more than a decade old that uses its own stewards and other tweaks that go against PPBSO mores.

At publication time, RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton had not responded to an invitation to present his organization’s perspective on the topic.

 

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