November 12, 2008

Big MAP attack II

Cutty Sark was spirited and lively.I understand that the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association has decided to adopt the RSPBA’s Musical Appreciation and Presentation, or “MAP,” system for its lower grade band competitions. I’ve thought a lot about MAP, and wrote about it last year, saying, among other things, that it’s a crock.

I’m not sure if I have changed my mind, but here’s what I think now: it might make sense for the UK, but it makes no sense for non-UK associations. This is why:

MAP is supposed to improve musicality in lower-grade bands. The RSPBA identified a decline in standards so, by foisting traditional (and some really hackneyed) set tunes and scores and all-ensemble judging on the lower grades, the thinking three years ago was that these bands would improve, and quality would trickle up the grades.

The UK pipe band scene, however, is very, very different from elsewhere. Solo piping and band piping are two drastically different worlds in Scotland. Bandsmen do their thing and soloists theirs, and the two hardly ever converge. Competitions are almost always at separate venues. There are pipe band-only judges and there are solo piping-only judges. A select few judge both domains. There may be the odd piper in a UK band who “goes in” for the solos, but they too are few.

In the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and actually, I think, everywhere outside of the UK, band and solo scenes are intertwined. The majority of pipers in bands at some point work hard on their solo stuff, and many, if not most, for their entire lives. They spend a lot of time studying the nuances of phrasing, technique and overall musicality. Pipe-majors of non-UK bands are almost always accomplished soloists. They understand what constitutes quality pipe-music, and as a result they work to instill that in the band.

On the other hand, many UK bands, and especially those in the lower grades, are led by pure bandsmen. These leaders more often than not have not dedicated any time to dissecting the intricacies of phrasing, of how to make a 2/4 march “spirited and lively” – at least in a solo way. They may know how to get a sound, but probably have no idea how to make a march swing. I dare say that this lack of musicality can be heard in some top-grade UK bands that are led by pipers who never rose to any heights as soloists.

Further, judges at non-UK band events almost always are also accredited solo piping judges, and, consequently, the musical standards that non-UK pipe band judges measure competitors against are taken straight from solo benchmarks. On the other hand, the preponderance of band-only judges in the UK might have something to do with the fact that in the UK a band that has a good sound but lacks musicality more often than not does well.

Three years after MAP, I see no evidence that it’s making much, if any, difference to the quality of lower-grade UK bands. In fact, I see the standard of North American Grade 4 and Grade 3 bands rising, perhaps due mainly to the advent of Grade 5. Case in point: the Grade 5 Paris/Port Dover band from Ontario competed in Grade 4B at the 2008 World’s and finished second against 48 other bands. Seattle’s Keith Highlanders placed third overall after winning their qualifying heat. The Keith Highlanders are no doubt a fine band, but they were a distant third in overall Grade 4 contests run by their home association, the British Columbia Pipers Society.

These are just a few examples, but they indicate to me that the North American standard has risen, while the UK standard has not. I can detect no evidence that MAP is working. If it were, then wouldn’t non-UK lower-grade bands competing at the World’s be trounced by those bands that have been competing under the system since 2006?

With the UK’s separation of bands and solos, MAP may make some sense for Scotland, Northern Ireland and England, but adopting it elsewhere is a step backward.


  1. Hi Andrew,

    Your interpratation may very well be accurate for the UK scene and maybe it hasn’t improved playing but I do agree with this decission to standardize tunes for the EUSPBA, it will help the lower grade bands. Why do I think that so strongly, well, the EUSPBA has numerous late starting beginners spread through out the country, more so than Canada. These adults do not always seek out proper instruction from judges or qualified teachers, learn on their own or from what ever resource is available thus aquiring horrible habbits in some cases. Because they come from a strong economical back ground, own there own uniform and such, they may be asked to be the leader of the band. They might only know 5 tunes, minstrel boy, wearing of the green, yanky doodle dandy, yellow rose of Texas etc… The band march medley has been created.

    Map tunes are for the most part ones you and I were taught in the early years from our teachers and can play without trouble. We were taught the three basic fundamentals, quality of sound, execution and expression in no specific order. MAP tunes will force the lower grade bands to learn the basic core tunes of which support execution and exspression, something they may not have done on their own. Once they have a handle on the piping score the band can blend drumming, hopefully basic scores and bass-midsection to develope ensemble. When they compete at 52 games next year they will receive possitive comments on those same tunes over and over and over from different judges. This will advance the level of play.

    This is optional for 2009 but will be implimented for 2010. Grade 5 will play 3-2 parted 4/4’s from an EUSPBA supplied list, grade 4 will play 3-2 parted 2/4’s from an updated MAP list. The association will also implement the certification exams again through out the country to standardize various levels of individual acheivement. People should monitor the EUSPBA website ONLY, for accurate updates on this and other new administration decissions. It may seem like a step back for some but in the end and in order to win you will need to focus and practice ALL the basic ground work exercises so many of us take for granted.

  2. I’m on the fence with this one. Having been brought up in the UK I have seen my fair share of bad march-medley sets from G4 bands. Couple this with the points Calum made about some players not having ever got good teaching and it’s a recipe for disaster!

    One of the main problems in the UK with lower bands is that the PM is, as you correctly point out, a pure bandsman with no or little solo experience. I know one band who just appointed a 22 year old as PM in G3 who played with that band for a few years and a Novice Juvenile before that. Now he’s leading a band with no tools to help in getting and maintaining a band’s sound, let alone musical expression.

    Something else that happens is the lower bands try to emulate the G1 music, playing complex melodies when their pipe corps may not be able to correctly finger them and concentrate on tone at the same time. A common criticism on the sheets is that bands are playing above themselves. What a lot of these guys seem to forget is a really well played, solid sounding 4/4 is far nicer that a rushed, mistake ridden flat hornpipe. One thing I told a band a few years back when they didn’t agree was if an ‘old’ march is beneath them in G3 why did SFU play a 9/8 as their intro?

    For this alone I think MAP is a good idea but I would go farther and suggest tune selection alone is not enough. The music needs to be enforced by some form of seminar whereby pipers can attend to be taught the tunes by either judges or qualified instructors… much in the same way an Irish Tionol teaching session works – 20 pipers learn a tune at once in an hour and with great ease.

    On the subject of solo versus band work; the two are like chalk and cheese in the UK. Ten years ago as a young whipper-snapper I stood before Jim Wark in Washington St. and passed an audition for the Strathclyde Police PB. That day I was introduced to Don Bradford et al in the band room at Stewart Street Station. The first thing Jim told me in the band room was that if I got in the police (it was that dark period when you actually had to be a copper to play in the band and only Eric was allowed special dispensation as lead tip) I would be teamed up with another young piper for solo work and encouraged to go to the small games to play in solos. That was the first time I had heard of a band pushing solo work to help you band playing.

    Precious few pipers in bands in the UK actually have a tutor to work on their solo music and if they do get coerced into the solos by bandmates on the day, the greater portion of players either toss a set together or just play exactly the same as they would in the band. When I first came to the US the level of importance put on solo playing and correct musicianship was a welcome relief. The RSPBA may be well served by looking at the solo grading system here in North America and perhaps adopting some of it into their system to encourage more players to compete in solo competition by making them more accessible and structured to the lower reaches. That will in itself elevate the level of proficiency of playing in general.

  3. My first band experience was in Grade IV in Ontario back in 1978 (egads!). At that time, the competition requirement was for 8 or 9 parts of quick time march music in any of the following time signatures: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8. 9/8. This allowed for a limited sort of Medley structure with relatively easy and possibly interesting breaks that helped to keep ithe selection enjoyable to play and listen to. I felt at that time (and still do) that this was enough of a challenge for a Grade IV (there was no Grade V then) band as Strathspeys, Reels and Jigs played with any sort of musicality or tempo were honestly a bit beyond us. It really was better for ourselves, the audience, and the judges for the bands to play something that we were capable of handling with some sort of precision and musicality versus slaughtering other more difficult types of tunes and possibly formiing some bad habits.
    I am for the concept of a MAP project, but to keep it interesting and challenging, the structre of the requirements should be thought through carefully to allow for a progression of playing ability through the grades while avoiding the promotion of abysmal or boring performances that no one would want to hear or judge or even participate in for that matter.
    It might be a good idea for the EUSPBA to revisit the tune requirements and realign along the above idea for Grade V and IV for the aforementioned reasons as well as for the fact that playing tunes of the same time signature all in a row can be somewhat dull for everyone involved.
    As for Medleys. leave them for Grade III bands and up as the overall results will be better for all.
    It’s not to say that Grade V and IV bands can’t learn and play Medleys…just please don’t compete with them!
    I’ll anxiously await the barrage attacks and criticism over this one! (I can take it).
    The truly sick guy…….(help me Doc!)

  4. This is a little harsh Andrew. You say that you’ve seen no evidence that the MAP concept has worked. Where have you looked for evidence? Is it simply that UK bands are being beaten by North American bands? Have you considered the possibility that non UK bands that travel to the UK are self selecting high achievers? In addition, it’s very easy for Scottish players who ‘get it’ in a grade 4 band, to move to a better band (which is likely to be a very short distance away from their home). There are so many potential factors at work here Andrew that your piece, whilst thought provoking, takes no account of.

  5. Calum: you raise a really good point re some areas of the US where bands don’t necessarily seek out tuition or even excellence. But those bands exist everywhere. I doubt they’re going to suddenly start playing MAP tunes now. More likely, they just won’t compete. I hope I’m wrong.
    Philip: good points, also. High-achieving visitors to the World’s and attrition in lower-grade UK bands are no doubt happening. Though, hasn’t that always been the case? MAP is supposed to, I think, improve musical standards and ensemble from the bottom grades on up. But after three years, can anyone point to any real, marked musical or ensemble improvements in NJ and Gr4?
    On a slightly different topic, there is something to be said for the approach taken with MAP judging, with all adjudicators assessing the band as a whole, yet also considering piping and drumming precision separately. I think this new way of judging is going to be the biggest gain from MAP, and it would be great to see associations courageous enough to allow that philosophy to trickle down/up the grades.

  6. I agree with your points about the potentially positive effects of tuniform judging of MAP contests.

    The really critical component of MAP, IMHO, is that Grade 4 Bands are expected to seek out experts who can help them with the interpretation of the set tunes and the construction of sympathetic drum settings. If bands do this I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t improve! If you are correct and MAP isn’t working then the only reason can be that grade 4 bands are not following the roadmap. Have the RSPBA released the findings of the MAP trial??

  7. When MAP was first introduced it cited one of the reasons as being G4 bands invariably playing simple 3/4 or 4/4 marches and progressing into G3. They then found they couldn’t adequately phrase 2/4 marches for their MSR. This wasn’t the case for all but certainly was for many. As a means to combat that, I agree with the concept of MAP.

    However, playing, listening to or judging such a small selection of set tunes is quite simply boring. I said at the start, and still maintain, that the correct way to is quite simply to stipulate that G4 must compete in 2/4 march time. Let them choose their own tunes – there are thousands of them out there – and this would at least give variety to the players, judges and spectators whilst still maintaining the need to adequately phrase 2/4 marches.

    In addition, scrap the ‘qualifying’ rounds – they serve absolutely NO purpose what-so-ever and just unneccessarily draw out the day for everyone concerned. By doing this, there’d be no increase on the number of judges required (and indeed, at times, they’d require fewer judges). Plus – so many bands get through the qualifier and then go into the final playing 3/4s and 4/4s anyway, thus negating the whole MAP concept!

  8. The MAP program is not the answer to poor technique in G4. It makes the tacit assumption that the band leader knows how to teach and can play the tunes properly themselves. If the RSPBA were serious about improving technique they’d have put in place compulsory seminars and teaching sessions for all G4 PMs.
    The other problem with MAP is that if a G4 band are serious about competing it tends to force them to concentrate on quite a narrow technical window just to get past the qualifying. In my expereience MAP actually stifles the development of some of the pipers in G4 bands.

  9. Having observed and participated in RSPBA MAP contests, I have very mixed feelings about MAP. i support the goals of MAP, but…..if one looks at the goals for this program, as proposed by the RSPBA….at best MAP is a work in progress and needs considerable and contiued tinkering… worst it would appear to currently be an abject failure. It was originally proposed to have been applied to Grade 3B by this time, and it has not. They have added a few additional tunes.

    I am sorry to see EUSPBA take on a program that has so far demonstratd no clear benefit to the participants and their musical success. Maybe EUSPBA can disscover the secret to MAP that has elluded the RSPBA.

    Two weeks from now, I will be at the WUSPBA AGM. WUSPBA has had considerable success at the Worlds with multiple Championhips including Grades 2, 3A, 3B and 4B in addition to recently supporting 2 Grade 1 bands (one now currently inactive) and Grade 1 success in the Grade 1 Qualifier on several occasions. All this without a MAP program to nurture Grade 4 bands. I seriously doubt a MAP program will fly in WUSPBA. Grade 4 bands out number the total of all other grades. Grade 4 band members hold senior leadership positions in WUSPBA. WUSPBA has pioneered a different approach. The Grade 4 bands in WUSPBA have demonstrated a very proactive approach to band improvement by going outside their bands and utiliizing instructors with world-wide reputations and success. My band, High Desert Pipes & Drums won a World Championship in 4B in 1999. Band members matriculated at the Piping Centre and the band leadership arranged direct instruction from the senior leadership of SFU, ie PM Terry Lee and Reid Maxwell. Outside quality instruction is the model for WUSPBA bands. I believe, this model, of high-level, quality insrtuction for individual bands and band members has lead to the success of WUSPBA bands

    I believe the flaw in the MAP concept is the proposition that a PBA can “legislate” musicianship and success. I believe the drive to success is individual, within a band and its leadership and the recognition of the need for quality instruction… not dictating “musicianship”.


    PS the WUSPBA AGM will be in Las Vegas, NV as usual. The location certainly helps attendence and participation!!!!

  10. Perhaps I am a little pig-headed (or thoroughly American) but I would rather fail miserably with tunes of my own selection rather succeed with music that was shoved down my throat by some “committee”. I could also be missing the point….?

  11. BTW, the Keith Highlanders are recieving instruction from Jori Chisolm of SFU.

    Two of the most successful North American bands at the Worlds are Robert-Malcolm Memorial Juvenile and St. Thomas Episcopal Juvenile. They have huge turn over because they’re “kids” with age limitations…..but they are instructed by Jack Lee (RMM) and Michael Cussack (STE). I hope neither the RSPBA or EUSPBA tries to put these “juvenile” bands into a MAP program!!

    Anyway, just a few more examples of why I believe the point is quality instruction and not rules, that make for better bands.


  12. OK….my very last example.

    The LA Scots are the first American Grade 1 band and still the most successful and stable American Grade 1 band. The players and leadership responsible for the renewal and success of the LA Scots were all trained by Jimmy McColl. The impact of recieving instruction from a gold Medalist and former Shotts member can’t be overestimated.


  13. To me, the MAP levels the playing field, but not in a desirable way. The bands that put out the thought and the effort to construct selections of good, tasteful tunes that are appropriate for the skill level of their musicians have that advantage diminished. The bands who can’t or won’t choose good tunes get a leg up by having them chosen for them. And as a player, judge, or listener, the end result is boring and repetitive.


  14. If the point is Musical Appreciation and Presentation, it seems that there are many things that should be addressed, lots that come before the tune selection. I have been to the World’s for the past 15 years as a player in a grade one band and as a teacher to juvenile, novice juvenile and numerous grade 3 and 4 bands. All of these bands want to play good music and ALL of them find the highly bureaucratic, schedule-focused approach of the RSPBA to hinder rather than help. If you really want to get the bands playing better music, make the event about Musical Appreciation and Presentation rather than the in-the-rain, rush-job, success measured by tight scheduling event that we now endure.
    If a G4 band can’t handle picking simple tunes, how are they going to sound in the rain at 9am?
    The first year of MAP, the drumming judge in one G4 circle never left the starting line and wrote several sheets that focused on the look of the drummers and did not mention the scores or tunes. Now, maybe some of the corps affected looked bad and that was distracting, but there is no room in a contest with Musical Appreciation in the title for the same old negative approach to adjudication.

  15. I can appreciate the concept of the MAP program and will of course abide by the requirements, but it seems as if it will at best prop up the bottom end of the grade 4 standard rather than serve as a vehicle to help the top end bands achieve grade 3. With all associations having limited resources at their command I think we’d be better served to have the focus on helping the “best and brightest” – those that demonstrate they are striving for excellence. I would much rather see that than trying to badger the bottom feeders into conforming. As has been stated previously those bands would seek quality instruction if they had a serious desire and commitment to improve. It’s never a fun thing to be held down to the lowest common denominator – especially with our hobbies and passions.

  16. Some of you people need to look beyond your own geographical interests. MAP was setup by the RSPBA to solve an issue that they had identified on their patch – poor performing grade 4 bands in the UK. They deserve credit for doing something constructive. They’re not forcing anyone else to do it (leaving aside the whole ‘where should the world’s be held’ argument) , but the EUSPBA think it’s got potential and have apparently decided to give it a go.

    The implication that MAP is somehow a replacement for good tuition is idiotic. There is no substitute as we all know.

    Playing march tunes well was never meant to be the end of the story – it was quite rightly decided that good march playing is the best starting point for getting bands onto the right track. Does anybody really care that some judges might get a bit bored judging the event!

    The MAP concept relates to contests, nobody is stopping bands playing whatever tunes they like at every other occasion.

    Like everyone else here, I don’t know if it’s working or not, but that hasn’t stopped people going off half cocked! I can find no information about whether MAP has been a success, so my real criticism is that the RSPBA appear to be keeping this information (I’m certain that they’ve done an assessment) to themselves, but it could be that I haven’t looked hard enough, and I’d be in good company on that front.

  17. I think Philip owns shares in the RSPBA. 😉 Seriously, my original point is that MAP may make some sense for the RSPBA, what with Scotland’s separation of bands and solos, which seems to drift wider every year. As Calum astutely pointed out, it could actually make some sense for some EUSPBA bands.
    Inside information that I have is that the very smart survey that the RSPBA did after the 2007 season to try to gauge the popularity of MAP came back not very positive. A big problem, actually, was that many bands did not even respond, so silence, as usual, is treated as acceptance. However, I think silence, in this case, was probably mainly due to bands being afraid to say something negative for fear of political reprisal.
    Over the years of the numerous online discussions of MAP, there have been precious few positive commentary.

  18. As a New Zealander I understand why the RSPBA generates complaints. It seems to me that underlying most of the complaints centre around the World’s and the need to play to Judges who are almost uniformly middle aged Scottish men.

    However, the amount of transatlantic bile spat in their direction is way out of proportion to their inadequacies. This thread is a case in point. It gives next to no credit for an honest attempt to improve standards in grade 4 (UK).

    Harmless criticism you might say, but there is a serious problem with this and that is the RSPBA will ignore reasonable suggestions from this quarter because they think that they are invariably negative.

  19. I’m with Seamus Og, find/write your own tunes, exercise some creativity and win or lose on that basis, no matter what grade.

    What will be next from the great stodgey ones: “all grades lower than one will play Scotland the Brave, Wings, Loch Rannoch, and Sandys’ new chanter, in that order. This will help all judges get the results correct, and leave the interesting/creative playing for those in grade one, since no other players can possibly get it right!! ”

    We’ve got rules for our contests, and a framework for what we can play, restrictions on what tunes is pure rubbish!

  20. I don’t agree, Phillip. This thread has been anything but bilious. Andrew noted previously, that the RSPBA’s MAP program has drawn a lot of questions and critiques since it’s inception. Those questions and critiques have been restated in this thread. What is new, is that a member of ANAPBA , EUSPBA specifially, has now institued a MAP program. The first outside the UK. Andrew and others have made the point that there are band issues in the UK that are quite unique and whether well or ill-concieved or of demonstrated effectiveness….MAP was an attempt to address them. Now EUSPBA has changed that argument with their institution of their own MAP program. This opens the issue up to a new discussion and set of issues. For example, one thing that EUSPBA’s decision will immedialtly do is make it much more problematic, complicated and difficult for Grade 4/5 bands from any other ANAPBA member to compete in a EUSPBA sponsored contest, because of the “approved” tune list restriction. One thing is sure, the experiment will continue and we will all witness its success or failure.


  21. Mike,
    Many times in the past when honest efforts have been made to address changes with the RSPBA, the response has been patronizing, defensive and self-righteous. If there was a mechanism to really allow affected people to have a say, this type of constant complaining would not occur.
    The RSPBA have a lot of power in the pipe band world only because all pipe bands treat it as legitimate and correct. When a band wins, it is happy to legitimize the result by reporting the win to everyone. The only way to affect any real change will be to treat the World’s less like Mecca for pipe bands and demand more transparency and equality.
    I wish Piping Live! would hold some less traditional contests the week of the World’s to give bands who travel a long distance another reason to go, eventually taking some power away from the one day of the year that has us all transfixed. It would be nice if foreign bands could say they are going to be in Scotland for other reasons, and will play at the World’s.
    The decision by EUSPBA to institute MAP is ratification of the tune selection and judging program, and that by itself is harmless. Over reverence for the RSPBA – an organization that does treat all affected participants equally – is the problem, not MAP.

  22. It’s important to remember that MAP was something imposed on the bands. They did not ask for it. That said, it is partly an association’s music board’s role to ensure that the best musical interests of its membership are considered and represented. MAP is the brainchild and, some would say, obsession of one person: Bob Shepherd. Certainly, MAP has along the way been influenced by others in the RSPBA. But I believe the most crucial element has been largely ignored: the players. They were asked for their opinion of MAP a year ago, but, to my knowledge, the results of that survey were not made public. (If they were, I would appreciate someone directing me to them.)
    And this, I think, is where an association, organization, business, political party, religion, or whatever fails. If an association’s leaders don’t represent the membership – their customers – and constantly tell them that they know better and just do what you’re told, they are in for trouble – or at least criticism by those on the outside with nothing to lose.
    But unfortunately, that kind of power breeds fear. People often say, “Well, if the membership doesn’t like MAP (or the elimination of best bass section prizes) they can show up at the AGM an overturn it.” Sadly, when there’s a culture of fear of political reprisal the membership is loathe to confront those in power.

  23. Dougie, I disagree with the notion that EUSPBA’s decision is harmless. It directly impacts on other ANAPBA, nonEUSPBA Grade 4/5 bands that commonly cross PBA borders to compete in EUSPBA sanctioned contests. They will be forced to use only EUSPBA-sactioned tunes for 2009…or….do something, that up to this juncture, no band association has required of any bands outside of Grade 1, and that is to prepare multiple sets for competition in a single year.


  24. Andrew…..are you expecting a transparent process? LOL!!

    Hopefully, this will be a topic at the annual ANAPBA meeting, because it does impact bands outside of EUSPBA.


  25. NB: when I say it was imposed on the bands, I’m talking about the RSPBA’s case, not the EUSPBA – an open and candid organization – whose membership apparently wanted and voted for it.

  26. >> This link is where you’ll find this statement below.

    “It is emphasised that these tunes are not TEST pieces and therefore bands may customize the music by adding or deleting embellishments as they see as appropiate to suit their ability.”

    This is something that really has bewildered me ever since I read it. How does this statement above help bands become better in competition. Could you imagine Brown Haired Maiden without any D throws? Could you imagine Brown Haired Maiden in a competition event? “Correcholies, Mhari Bhan, Brown Haired Maiden, Teribus” What a Medley?

    As a P/M of a new Grade 4 band in the EUSPBA, I’m not thrilled that this is the direction my new association is going. Our band has decided that we’ll only attend Medley games in the EUSPBA, but not MAP contests. This could have a potential negative impact on Highland Games if numerous bands took the same approach. With the incredibly expansive geographical size of the EUSPBA, trips to Highland Games can be quite far, and not nearly as much fun when you know it’s MAP. I’m sure I’d hear a new bag of excuses why band members couldn’t make that trip. I find it hard to believe the Stone Mt. Highland Games would continue to attract bands from the west coast and Texas to play in a MAP contest. Our band has discussed booking more gigs in lieu of MAP and possibly taking some time off to make that elusive CD.

    The EUSPBA had an excellent workshop for their adjudicators within the last few years that brought in J Reid Maxwell and Jack Lee from SFU. They were asked about March Medley construction, and they listed some great tunes such as Kilworth Hills and Heights of Dargai, and some others. It was something I took to heart and our band and many others have benefited immeasurably from those teachings.

    There have been many great things said on this blog and dunsire’s forums about MAP and most of the general public does not like it. It’s very remarkable to have someone like Andrew Berthoff take a stand on this subject, and reflect what most of us feel about it. In this industry, that seldom happens. It’s apparent that since most people have to use these blogs to convey their feelings, the associations really haven’t reached out to the general membership and asked for feedback regarding MAP. I’m certain that the P/M’s have not been polled regarding MAP either. If playing a 2/4 is the only way to improve piping, if that’s truly the underlying goal here, then why wouldn’t a viable solution be to make one of the four selections at a minimum a mandatory 2/4 March. I think an earlier recommendation in this blog was to make mandatory different time signatures, such as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8. Another benefit of this is to have clear transitions between time signatures just as you would in a Medley or an MSR. That would be what you call a compromise. Compromises are usually good.

    I heard someone say that this would benefit North American bands going over to compete in Scotland. I imagine the percentage of bands that travel to Scotland whether once or frequently is less then 20%.

    Associations should not take away the P/M’s & D/S’s musical creativity and dictate music selections. It’s a hobby, and hobbies should be fun.

  27. Andrew, you’ve brought out the biggest problem with the RSPBA as I see it. The unit of membership of the RSPBA is the band, not the individual. So when I, the individual, go to speak at a RSPBA meeting, it is the band speaking, not me. This means I both censor what I say, and what I do say is taken to be the position of my band.

  28. I would like to make two points both a little off the issue, but, I think pertinent to the discussion. First, I disagree with Andrew’s assertion that a band instructor need come from the ranks of the solo player. Indeed, many solo players struggle to find quality tone and frequently struggle with musicality in a performance. I think you need not be a prize winning soloist to understand what is required to instruct a lower grade band. The set of skills necessary has nothing to do with those needed to be a quality soloist. Secondly, I need to educate Mr. Argubright about his statement that the LA Scots were the first and most successful Grade 1 band in the US. In fact, the first Grade 1 band in the US (and arguably the most successful American band over time) was the Worcester Kilti Band from none other than the ESUPBA association. As a former member of that band I can tell you that some of the finest pipers in the world played in that band; names you never heard of id you didn’t know the band because they did not play solos but contributed immeasurably to the success of the band. Now I will leave the discussion about MAP to my betters and hope you solve the dilemma here before the sky falls and shame of all shame someone tried something new to improve the quality of lower grade bands in the US.

  29. I only had one experience as a member of a competitive pipe band. Although we didn’t fare well, we all learned an amazing amount. We still learn by looking back on the bands that were successful, listening to the tunes they played and the way they played them, and incorporating what they did in our next endeavors. With that:

    The success or failure of band play in the lower grades will depend on how badly they want to succeed. As with any endeavor where victory is the ultimate prize, you’ll want to arm yourself with all the tools to achieve your goal.

    In this age of the internet, emails, BMW, CD’s, on-line tuition, all the tools are there for
    the taking. As to the tune selections and the way they’re interpreted and presented, a band should look for help from players in successful, upper-grade bands. Tunes will be selected because the members are excited about them, like the way they sound together, have a certain lilt of swing, and because they can play them well TOGETHER, not because they were told to play the ‘old standards’. Yawn! Don’t restrict the selections!

    If a band fails or falls short of their goal, they will (or should) look at what the winning bands did, and incorporate those ideas in next years selections.

    If RSPBA really wants to help, then provide a set of instructions on what a band needs to succeed, and within a short period of time, we’ll know 1) who can read, and 2) who can follow instructions.

    Tips for the Successful Pipe Band

    a. Find a good player from an upper-level band willing to teach (provide list)
    b. A list of what judges look for
    c. Some basic ideas on medley and QMM construction
    d. Tips for successful exectution
    e. Proper deportment and protocols
    f. etc.

    Give them the tools WITH the freedom to make their own choices.

    Just my two cents worth.

  30. It seems to me we have a very good opportunity here to measure the success of the MAP program as the EUSPBA will not implement it until the 2010 season. Can we not define some concrete measurements whereby progress can be determined? For example, if the intent of MAP is to improve the grade 4 standard wouldn’t that result in more grade 4 bands moving to grade 3? Maybe not – I’ll leave that determination to those more knowledgeable than me, but perhaps this is the ideal place to monitor and publish statistics that will demonstrate the success of the MAP program. As you stated previously Andrew the EUSPBA is an open and candid organization and the membership would be very interested to see these results.

  31. Steve — if I understand MAP correctly, musical standards and upgrades are supposed to increase, and that I think is the best measurement of MAP’s impact. My original point stated that I personally have not noticed a substantial improvement in either in the RSPBA after three years of MAP. Then again, perhaps the RSPBA wants to adjust the Grade 4 standard overall, so could be resisting upgrading bands. Who knows? Philip Mair suggested that Grade 4 bandsmen/women leave their band for the higher grades, so the impact of MAP can’t be measured. I don’t buy that at all. Pipers and drummers who develop their individual piping and drumming talents have always looked for opportunities to play in Grade 1. But I find that the bands that win consistently tend to retain and build their membership, no matter what the grade. Winning makes great chemistry, not vice versa.

  32. Anyone…..
    RSPBA MAP is currently only directed at the “Majors” and only in the Grade 4A, 4B and Novice Juvenile Qualifing rounds. In the Finals general QMM rules apply and there is the usual corps of piping, ensemble and drumiing judges. Is EUSPBA’s MAP program to be selective, like RSPBA, or universal?


  33. The pipe band world is nothing if not unpredictable. EUSPBA is the second PBA to institute a MAP program and now the PPBSO is considering a return of the Grade 4 MSR!


  34. I appreciate all your interest this proposal, but with 21 (?) proposals of your own in PPBSO, and who knows how many in WUSPBA, why don’t y’all ( how’s that for a southernism) worry about your own backyard.

    Jimmy Bell

  35. OK I’ve got it now. MAP’s a dog, designed by a Shepherd. The RSPBA is a dictatorship run by the same Shepherd. No grade four players want to play in higher grade bands as they improve. RSPBA programs can’t help any band. The RSPBA doesn’t consult it’s constituency bands, who are in any case too scared to tell give their opinion. The RSPBA should be make up of individuals not member bands ….

    In spite of owning shares in the RSPBA, I’m well aware of their faults. I’ve argued with Bob Shepherd and have the scars to prove it. Having lived there and participated in the culture I think I have a good feel for the way things are done in Scotland. But some people need to get a sense of perspective – it’s not all bad and change is taking place, albeit at a pace that can be frustrating..

  36. Food for thought…….
    If a Grade IV band is capable of playing a 4 parted MSR, then shouldn’t they be playing in Grade III? After all, what use is a grade structure if it cannot be used as a measurement tool and has no consistency to it? You don’t change the overall length of a foot or centimeter just because the average height of people being measured is increasing or decreasing!

  37. President Jimmy….you is kiddin aren’tcha? That ‘tude will go over real well at the next anapba meeting.

    Angus Ritchie

    Of course I am kidding my northern and western cousins Angus.

    Info to appear shortly on the EUSPBA site, which is as Calum pointed out the ONLY place for official news on our activities and plans. I am aware that change sometimes (usually) is met with concern. I would just advise keeping the cool head till our actual policy is posted, then fire away. I will say without reservation, that I believe what we have planned will lead to better band playing. Having said that, I welcome constructive criticism.

    The guy that doesn’t listen to other opinions is a fool.


  38. John – see the very first objective in the RPSBA constitution.. “To promote and encourage the culture and advancement of Pipe Band Music internationally”. Emphasis on the ‘advancement’. I’d be very surprised if other associations don’t have the same or similar objectives.

  39. 1st – The Map survey, I believe is on the agenda for this week’s Music Board at RSPBA HQ. As ever, the results should be interesting, not only in what is said, but how large the response was. I suspect interesting comments, but poor response level, (this is the RSPBA after all) but I can be proved wrong!

    2nd – Bob Shepherd is not on the Music Board, nor the National Council so any influence he has can only be second hand.

    3rd – MAP creates a level playing field by prescribing tunes (is that 20 now?) so performances /competitions should not be boring, at least judges can compare apples with apples. Better that than UK brass band competitions where all bands play the same set in the same order. At least the drum corps have some flexibility about what they play.

    4th – One of the aims of MAP was to prevent bands overstretching themselves musically, which it only partly achieves by allowing finalists a free choice of tunes. IMO it would be better to maintain the MAP tunes in the final, and make this the format for all competitions, but back to piping and drumming judges, as, although the MAP judges tend to be a piping and a drumming judge, but MAP trained, I have found their comments a bit general and not specific to give pointers as to where you should be focusing your attention

    5th – qualifying rounds – Yes – if you can play well enough to catch the judge’s ear, then you should be given the chance to come back and try again, when they can give you better attention in a 12 band final rather than trying to pick you out of 30-40 bands some of whom will be mediocre to diabolical

    6th – where do you get good teaching? Not all the good players are good teachers, not all the teachers are good players, and may be doing it for the wrong reason, any number of reasons. Successful teachers will more than likely be in succcessful bands, and few are willing to teach other bands/players. Some bands/PMs will not ask as they perhaps see it as a threat to their authority/standing when some outsider comes in and shows that the PM/DS does not know everything – it’s probably an ego thing.

    7th and final – yes the RSPBA is trying to change things, and yes they sometimes get it wrong, but we can all criticise. Can you suggest a better solution? Then get your butt along to a branch meeting and give them your tuppence worth. This is where it all falls down – bands don’t attend meetings, don’t voice their personal or band opinions so so the RSPBA thinks it’s doing a great job because nobody has said otherwise. the AGM earlier this year was poorly attended and yet bands say they have no say – well turn up !!

    Rant Over

  40. Jamie, don’t think advancing the music means the RSPBA is supposed to break out the chanters and teach good tempos and doublings, think it’s more about getting bigger prizes, better venues and promoting the music to the general public to create awareness and attract students.

    Only an instructor can help to improve the playing on a weekly basis!
    Perhaps the RSPBA can find a way to provide more instructors to advance the quality of performances.

  41. Map cuts out true competition and diversity. Nothing we say can change the fact that its going to that however I believe it will be very boring on the field with every band playing the same tunes. People wont be hanging around to listen anymore wither. Whats next.. solo maps? Yea it makes it easier on the Judges, the main goal but it takes the fun out of it. No more waiting to see what “that band” has been working on all winter. I say blah

  42. Hmmm….solo maps you say? As in, perhaps, the set tunes for the piobaireachd competitions?
    We have to have some sort of structure and consistency. And there needs to be some sort of guideline as to what tunes are of a particular playing difficulty for a specific grade level. As I stated before, it works for the REST of the structured musical world. Why not us? Are we special needs people? Primadonnas who know it all (compared to that “rabble” at the Royal Conservatory Of Music)?
    MAP isn’t supposed to make it easier for the judges. It is supposed to make it easier for the players (you).
    As with anything, the concept of a MAP system is sound. It’s the implementation of it that will determine whether it is working to expectations or not.

  43. Hi Art, this message may be completely out of touch with the comments on this site. I just found you by chance on this site.
    May be you remember your old room mate from the beginning of the 90ies.

    If you the Art Irvine of Coxwell Ave., please give me a note.


  44. I’ve just started learning in a Grade 2 band in Australia under a Pipe Major who is a very accomplished solo player and i completely agree with Andrew’s comments about Pipe Majors with a strong solo background having an almost advanced sense of musicality. There is a lot of lessons when it comes to tune selection, phrasing, composition, and the tuning and playing of the GHB that i have learnt from him which have been heavily influenced through his solo career. As a result a large percentage of the comp band competes in solo comps as well as band comps which i think helps to produce a very well rounded and capable player who is more sensitive to both the history of piping as well as being able to adapt to the modern changes which are seeping through constantly into the Pipe band community



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