The pipes|drums Return to Competition Survey
After a two-season hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for much the piping and drumming world 2022 promises to mark a return to pipe band competition.
Much can change in 24 months, especially when it comes to pipe bands. When the UK’s bands hit the field on May 21st at the British Championships in Greenock, Scotland, it will indeed be interesting.
What might we expect? Will bands be larger, smaller, or pretty much the same size? Will they play all-new music? Will they be using new chanters and drums?
pipes|drums thought we’d ask the pipe-majors of the world’s Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands for their insights. We heard back from all but two of the leaders of the globe’s 25 Grade 1 bands (92%), and about 85% of the 49 (by our count) Grade 2 bands.
Here’s what we found out.
Our first question, “What’s your plan for competition music?” wanted to find out the degree to which changes, if any, had been made over the last two years.
Grade 1 and Grade 2 combined, we see that 61% said that they have made “Many changes since we last competed (medley and MSR content), while 33% have made “some changes,” 4% are coming out with 100% new competition material, and only 2% have made no changes at all.
When we break it down by Grade 1 bands only we see that 64% have made “many changes.” Only one band said that they are coming out with totally new MSRs and medleys, and only one band said they’ve made no changes at all.
And Grade 2 saw similar numbers, but no bands that responded said they have made zero changes to contest music.
The next question looked into roster numbers: “Any change in competition numbers since you last competed?” and here 86% of bands reported some change. Clearly, the last two years have caused instability.
But 93% of Grade 2 bands report changes to roster numbers:
So, for bands that answered Yes to roster changes, we sought to understand the degree to which numbers have altered, positively or negatively:
Some 29% said that numbers have “Decreased slightly,” 29% also said numbers have “Increased slightly,” and 17% said that they have “Increased substantially.” Alarmingly, a full 26% of Grade 1 and Grade 2 bands said that their numbers have “Decreased substantially” by five or more players.
Grade 1 breaks down with 24% saying numbers up substantially and 18% saying they’ve decreased substantially:
And 12% of Grade 2 bands said that numbers are substantially up, while an alarming 32% said they’re substantially down:
For those bands that said their numbers have decreased substantially, we want to know if they’d considered folding, gone on hiatus or folded altogether.
While numbers are down, 45% said folding was never a consideration, while 36% said they have considered it. 18% said that they will be on hiatus from competition in 2022.
For Grade 2 bands, 32% of those who said numbers are substantially down said that they have considered folding.
And what about equipment? “Have you made significant instrument changes in the last two years?”
Overall, 71% said Yes, and 29% responded No.
Grade 1 breaks out with 77% saying No to instrument changes, slightly more than Grade 2:
And by contrast, only 33% of Grade 2 bands said Yes that they have made substantial instrument changes over the last two years, almost the exact opposite of Grade 1:
And of those that responded Yes, these were the types of instrument changes they made, 71% listed new pipe chanters, 50% have new drums, 36% a new brand of reeds, and 29% a new brand of pipe bags.
Broken out by Grade 1 only:
Grade 2 only:
Despite 2020-21 producing little or no income for most bands, most of them made significant instrument equipment changes. How many of these were gratis as part of sponsorships, we don’t know, but the disparity between Grade 1 (77%) and Grade 2 (33%) indicates that free gear is likely a big factor.
So, all told, we can expect most Grade 1 bands to be marginally bigger, while Grade 2 band will be on average smaller, some substantially. Almost all band will be coming out with new music, many substantially, and one Grade 1 band said that they will be debuting all-new MSRs and medleys.
There will be many Grade 1 bands playing new chanters and/or new drums, Grade 2 bands will have relatively few substantial changes to their instruments.
One thing is certain, it will be an exciting year ahead for the world’s pipe bands, provided things hold up and in-person competitions will continue to be possible as hoped.
Our thanks to all pipe-majors who participated in our survey.
Pipe Section Gear Survey: what the world’s top 12 bands played
January 5, 2019
Pipe Section Gear Survey: comparing Grade 1 and Grade 2
December 17, 2018