Published: December 22, 2021

Video: New Zealand association embraces change in a changing world

“If you don’t adapt, you’ll die,” says Royal New Zealand Pipes Bands’ Association President Iain Blakeley in his brief video interview with pipes|drums as the group embraces technology and improves communications with members in partnership for the future.

While most pipe band association have executives and boards made up of many, even dozens, of individuals, the RNZPBA is governed by a board of only three: Blakeley, Allister Macgregor and Stuart McHale, perhaps fostering flexibility and nimbleness to get things done along with six Group Managers with specific roles and expertise.

It also helps that Blakeley, who returned to the role in 2019 after serving as president from 2004 to 2016, is an accomplished piper and judge. He’s been a member of Grade 1 bands in New Zealand, so he’s able to bring a player’s perspective to the position.

Indeed, Blakely says that “The best ideas come from the bands and the individual pipers and drummers who have reacted and pivoted during lockdowns,” and his organization works to be keenly attuned to the interests of the members, who comprise both competing and non-competing bands and soloists.

‘Why would you have an association if it didn’t make bands’ lives easier?’ – RNZPBA President Iain Blakeley

While the RNZPBA does not teach, it strives to help bands with recruitment with things like professional-quality promotional videos that they can share on their social media channels. A lawyer by profession, Blakeley and his team offers assistance to bands with grants and access to government assistance of which they might not be aware or know how to apply.

Crucial to the RNZPBA’s strategy to attract new pipers and drummers is its National Youth Pipe Band. Comprising top young players from around the country, the band tours the two-island nation exposing new audiences to the unexpected cool factor of a modern pipe band.

“Why would you have an association if it didn’t make bands’ lives easier?” Blakeley says, as he and the RNZPBA board taps members for their opinions, even calling them up personally encouraging them to attend meetings so that their opinions can be expressed and votes cast.

One of the most recent changes is the launch of a new website and a new brand identity that reflect a more modern organization, one that saw the possibilities of technology well before the pandemic, and now uses its member “hub” for all sorts of communications and information.

Thanks to effective health and safety measures, New Zealand was the only pipe band rich country to hold a national championship in 2021. The New Zealand Pipe Band Championships took place in March and were livestreamed worldwide to an appreciative audience, hungry for live pipe band music after being starved for so long. Ironically and unfortunately, New Zealand was the first country to cancel its 2022 championships due to the rise of Covid-19. With the advent of the Omicron strain, the piping and drumming world is again on edge about the 2022 competition season.

We were pleased to connect with Royal New Zealand Pipe Bands’ Association President Iain Blakeley for this informative glimpse into the organization, the challenges of the present and the opportunities for the future.

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