Trailing Drones
August 08, 2019

Trailing Drones – special World’s edition

Hey, hey! Hard to believe that the competition season (northern hemisphere) is already drawing to a close and, right now, many minds are fixated on the World Pipe Band Championships and all piping and drumming things Scotland and whatever item might have “world” in its name. With that, enjoy our satirical look at some of that stuff directly and sort of kind of related. Be forewarned, lots of talk follows about money and fair play. Your opinions may vary . . .

Anyone got The Rowing Tune on their iPhone?

Here’s one from the Didjaknow File: Didjaknow that that “overseas” international judges at UK competitions pay their own way to get there? That’s right. For all pipe band contests, the judges actually have to cover their air travel. Same holds true for solo competitions, the exceptions being the Glenfiddich Championship and a very few others. Imagine you’ve worked your life as an expert in your job. A major organization in another continent invites you to provide your expertise at a conference for the benefit of others. Oh, but you’ll have to pay your own way to the conference. Would you accept? On yer effin bike! This, too, is another example of the self-exploitation of our best. Why cover costs when they’ll pay for it themselves? What a terrific business model, and can’t blame a business hiring consultants who are willing to be out of pocket for the honour. So, judges should be grateful to the association just for the honour? What’s more, every non-UK association in the world that we know of has to cover all expenses to bring in any Scottish judge. Asking them to pay their way is a total non-starter. This needs to change.

Pop quiz! Guess how much the total prize purse is for competitors in the RSPBA’s World Solo Drumming Championship? Is it:

a) £2,500

b) £1,000

c) £500

d) £0

Well, if you guessed answer A you’d get points for recognizing that those who are determined to be the six greatest pipe band snare drummers in the world deserve respectable prize money, but, ultimately, that’s worth only special recognition – much like the placings themselves. Yes, the correct answer is D. No cash prize. No pounds. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Shocking, isn’t it? Or, it should be shocking, especially when you consider that each competitor pays a £15 entry fee, judges are paid for their expert services, spectators have to pay to get in, and the RSPBA has more than £1 million in cash reserves. Simple math: if the contest has, say, 100 entries, that’s £1,500; add to that sponsors that would total, say, £2,000; and ticket sales of, maybe, £1,000, one would think that the association could pry open its sporran for at least something. We’re not suggesting that anyone should become rich from it, and fully acknowledge that doing well in the event can open many doors to a professional life as a teacher, but nothing?! “Exposure” as “payment” is an antiquated idea that musicians should no longer fall for. Snared is right.

Anyone else notice the overall decline in entries for the World Pipe Band Championships? We all know that Grade 1 is only 15 bands but, by our count, the 2018 version had 207 bands in total, while 2019 is down to 195 – a 6% decline. This is a 12% drop from the 221 entries to the 2014 event. Could it be that the bloom is off the World’s rose? Or maybe it’s the reality that bands are just not growing fast enough to keep up? Or maybe they don’t have the money to get there? If the idea is to promote the art of piping and drumming, perhaps “promotion” for more and more bands does not involve the World’s. With the competition and Piping Live! depending in large part on the participation of bands at the World’s – particularly non-UK ones – they might want to work to stem this trend. It’s not good for business.

I think that D’s sharp . . . like my hat.

We’ve been enjoying the array of ever-crazier headgear worn by non-UK judges recently. (RSPBA policy stipulates that judges must wear “proper” hats.) Judges are often exposed to the elements for the entire day. Rather than encourage a case of skin cancer, or pneumonia from an icy rain, adjudicators (fancy word for “judges”) are wearing everything from cowboy hats to trilbies to fedoras to . . . just what is that thing? If it’s about protecting ears and nose from the sun, or a waterproof chapeau for the rain, then we say Good. If it’s just a stupid hat simply to attract attention, then you really need to stop that, okay?

Scorching heat. Torrential rain. The piping and drumming world is not exempt from climate change. Isn’t it time we adapted accordingly? How about allowing bands to wear a uniform less suited to the Victorian-era Highlands and more in line with comfort and protection? Dispensing with thick wool vests and breathing restrictive neckties? How about allowing a hat with a sun visor? What about the khaki shorts that the Scottish regiments used to wear in jungle climates like Burma and what not? Even more, how about creating simple covered areas for bands at least to tune up in so they don’t have to run out in the rain or bake in the sun at the last minutes in hopes that they don’t completely wreck their instruments and destroy their chances of playing to their potential, meanwhile not playing to their potential anyway? Maybe the World’s can set an example by converting their giant tea-and-crumpets marquee tent into a final tuning area for bands if they choose to use it? Every outdoor pipe band competition (and solo, for that matter) should provide at least some sort of contingency plan for lashing rain or oppressive sun.

And then there’s the Scottish Championships. At least one Grade 1 band with a strong chance of doing very well not only had to compete against the horizontal rain, they also had to battle with oppressive feedback from the public address system, which at times was louder than the band itself. Did the band get a chance to play again? Could any exception be made, considering the judges and audience could hear them for a long swath of time? Nope. This one apparently falls under the similar absurd and unfair rationale that many teachers use when they judge their pupils (saying they judge them more critically), that the band in question will actually get extra points for having to play through the screech. Whether that happened or not, we can only assume. But sometimes shouldn’t we use common sense and allow a do-over? We can hear it now: “Aye, but what if a band brought a siren to the contest and with a nod from the pipe-major if the medley’s going badly someone in the audience starts it up so they get a replay?” Or, “What if a band brings a plague of locusts to swarm their band just when they hit the tricky jig?” We can hear it now . . .

Here’s an idea: scrap the listing of home country of Grade 1 bands. With the desperate need for players, personnel are from all over the place. One band at the World’s apparently has barely any people from its supposed hometown on its roster. Let’s just call all Grade 1 bands “International.” That’s more accurate than trying to pass off a band as made up of players from the area.

The pipe band grade that is most thriving in North America? Well, that would be Grade 5, as it always has. That’s great, until you realize that numbers in just about every other grade are declining. Grade 5 is supposed to get more bands competing, practicing harder so that they either move up the grades and produce players who get good enough to join higher grade bands. This does not seem to be happening, which makes one wonder, is Grade 5 doing its supposed job, or is it just another way to gain more entries and members? With respect to these folks who are doing their level best, but Grade 5 are not the best bands. Are we doing this so that every piper and drummer who can make a sound simply gets a chance to compete? There’s certainly some merit to that, but, after almost 20 years of Grade 5 as a thing, we have to question whether it’s for the best, both within the art and outside of it. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But it’s time for a review. There. We said it.

All the way tae the bank . . . Jings! [Photo: M.J. Richardson]
Alms for the poor! Alms for the poor! Here’s your chance to be a “charity bucket collector.” You get to stroll around Glasgow Green looking for 50p and pound coin donations to “raise awareness of Glasgow Life and RSPBA as charities that support everyone in the city to experience and enjoy live traditional Scottish music from events and concerts to trial sessions and family ceilidhs and raise funds for our music programmes.” While you’re volunteering, others will be enjoying finger sandwiches and chilled sauvignon blanc in that huge tent over there. (You can tell how much we love that thing.) Remember, publicly available RSPBA financial statements show the organization as having more than £1 million in cash reserves. Now, the World Champion gets £1,500, so we can see why coffers are running low. But, wait, the RSPBA puts on concerts, trial sessions and ceilidhs? Sign us up! But don’t stop there. How about giving a bucket to every steward, and they can collect from bands at the starting line. Why not? You’d have them over a barrel. No two-pound coins from each member? No play! Cha-ching!

If anyone has watched the live-stream of the World’s they’ll know that it’s better listening than being there. We still don’t understand why it’s given away for free, considering that there’s an admission charge to get into Glasgow Green. Why not convert it to pay-per-view? We’re certain that enthusiasts will pay $10 or something for all-day access. Those funds could then go to a pot of money that can be divvied up equally between all bands. If the BBC is not permitted to do pay-per-view streaming (not sure why not, since UK citizens pay a BBC license, which is essentially the same thing), then maybe another organization would pick it up. Giving it away for nothing is generous, but it also detracts from the incentive to see it live. And all the watch parties around the world can just take a few nickels from every person to cover the onerous $10.

Seriously, folks, we love it all, and we’re all only human, unless of course you’re not, and we fully expect robots and automatons to take over much of this subjective art, just like they’re going to take over everything else, leaving only the programmers in control. Just like that piper who made the two-bar scrabble-fingered blooter in the third part of the march, it’s important to know about these things so that they can be discussed and fixed if needed.

Good luck to all!

Want to make a donation to a great cause? Send us your tips and trends and we’ll look into them, promising to keep sources anonymous.


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  1. Although I appreciate the free broadcast, I would absolutely pay $10 to watch the livestream if the money were going to support prize money for the bands, or travel money for international judges.

    And as much as I love, and value the pipe band tradition, when it is 100 degrees and 75% humidity out it is STUPID to wear a dark-colored wool hat, and perform strenuous activities. Why can’t ball caps or something suitable be worn by bands, at least as long as they are uniform? Same for solos, for that matter.

    1. It would also be great — in the US, at least — to be able to wear a breathable cotton polo shirt during competitions July-September. A smart polo shirt with the band logo, perhaps?



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