July 18, 2023

Who’s on first? Grade 1 pipe bands bewildered and irate at confusion with World’s draw and playing requirements

Abbott: I say, Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third and then you…
Costello: You the manager?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: You know the guys’ names?
Abbott: I’m telling you their names!
Costello: Well, who’s on first?
Abbott: Yeah.
Costello: Go ahead and tell me.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The guy on first!
Abbott: Who!
Costello: The guy playin’ first base!
Abbott: Who!!!

Most people are familiar with the famous Abbott & Costello routine of hilarious miscommunication, but our own pipe band world seemed to have encountered similar confusion about the Grade 1 competition for the title of 2023 World Pipe Band Champion.

In piping and drumming’s equivalent of baseball’s World Series, the all-important draw for the order-of-play was made by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association and published on July 12th. The confusion started when Grade 1 bands noticed that there was no order-of-play for the Medley and MSR events on the Friday.

Who’s on first, on last, on second-last . . . it matters a great deal to competitors who devote a huge part of their lives and livelihoods to their pipe bands and, especially, the World Championships.

Inquiries were made and, according to copies of correspondence, bands were told by the RSPBA that the same draw published for the Saturday would hold true for the Friday, only to have the statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page deleted.

The globe’s most powerful pipe band organization then decided there would be a separate draw for the Friday order-of-play, which would be made on July 13th. Following the random draw of the 16 bands entered for the Grade 1 competition, the existing order-of-play for all grades of bands and drum-majors was quietly augmented with the Friday draw.

Further confusion reportedly exists around which day Grade 1 bands will compete with their new all four-parted tunes MSR requirement.

The association published a document stating that the maximum four-parted tunes MSR would be on the Friday, only to later post a document stating that it would be on the Saturday.

“The thing’s a shambles,” said a Grade 1 band member who spoke on condition of anonymity.* “No one emailed our band secretary or myself with the information [about the MSR] or the draw. They can’t get anything right.”

“I just seem to be shaking my head more often these days,” said another member of a competing Grade 1 band who also asked that their name not be used. “Not very professional, is it?”

At publication time, a response to a message to RSPBA Executive Officer Colin Mulhern asking for a comment on both the Friday draw and MSR confusion had not been received. The organization has not yet published a public clarification or apology.

Outfitting a large pipe band today requires huge commitments from members and ample financial resources for travel and accommodation, not mention significant membership dues and entry fees.

Bands from New Zealand typically will spend more than $150,000 travelling to, staying at, and getting around Scotland for the World Championships, and North American bands invest more than $100,000. Apart from groups with significant sponsorships, bands hold fundraisers throughout the year, or even years, to raise enough money to compete at the World Championships.

The monetary prize for winning the Grade 1 2022 World Championship was reportedly £1,500.

* Why do we use anonymous sources? In the politically fraught and hyper-sensitive world of competitive piping and drumming, it is extremely difficult to find active participants to speak on the record for fear of retribution in competition to them or their band. We wish this were not the case, but it’s an unfortunate reality. The use of anonymous sources is sometimes crucial to the news. But we recognize that it strains our most valuable and delicate asset: our trust with readers. Granting anonymity allows us to reveal the opinions and perspectives of those directly involved to provide important context to the story. When we reach out to trusted sources for their input, we encourage them to put their name to their words but make it clear that, if they so choose, we will not disclose their identity.




  1. Dear Editor. Would you consider writing an opinion piece on the organisation, or lack thereof, of the RSPBA. It really is an embarrassment and surely cannot continue in its current form.



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