May 09, 2011

Consorting with the enemy

Play hard. Win. Do it again.Not too long ago it was almost unheard of for pipers and drummers to consort with the pipe band competition. The band you competed against was the enemy. They hated pipe band music, and sat there in their practice hall hovels scheming about ways to cheat. They were out to steal your music, drink your beer and ransack your bus.

I was reminded of this when I read about my childhood hero, Joe Torre (St. Louis Cardinals, #9, 1971 MVP and near-Triple Crown winner – I sobbed when he was traded, along with Tommy Moore (??), to the New York Mess in 1975 for Ray Sadecki . . . but I digress) setting out to cut down on baseball players from opposing teams goofing around and even hugging one another during games. Team athletes today hobnob with players with the opposition all the time.

So do pipe band people. With athletes it’s no doubt a result mainly of players shifting from team-to-team. An athlete spending five, 10 years – never mind their whole career – with one team is a rarity nowadays, and so too with pipe bandsmen and women.

A few decades ago you’d commit to one band and that was it. People who do that today are extraordinary. It used to be that it took everything in your powers of etiquette to suck it up and go over and shake hands with members of the winning band. Ugh. Now I see losing pipers and drummers actually celebrating with the winning band.

Major League Baseball doesn’t like the appearance of socializing between teams. Presumably it diminishes the intensity of the competition and undermines the product. Will you really buzz a batter high-and-tight or slide into second spikes-up after joking around with the guy? Isn’t the intensity of the contest reduced? And how committed are you to beating the Airtight out of that Kiwi band when you spent part of the winter competing with them?

Call me old-fashioned, but competition is competition. The enemy is the enemy. You can be civil and magnanimous and respectful on the day but, after the pleasantries are over, it’s competition, and a little loathing goes a long way.

Or maybe not. It’s art, after all, and perhaps it’s possible to play hard against the opponent on the field and party hard together after the results.

Where do you stand on socializing with the competition?


  1. probably because we don’t compete, and geographic isolation – but our bands used to have big animosity – i’m hoping to change some of that over the next few years

    but also here, it’s pretty common still to start in and finish in the same band – very few ‘walk across the aisle’

  2. It may be a case of wanting to win (or place as highly as possible) without specifically setting out to beat a certain player or band.

    Or, as I can often be the case in sports, if you have friends on the other team, you want to have bragging rights and you actually try harder *because* they are your friends.

  3. A few factors, I think. We’re all better connected than we used to be, both with the internet and stuff like summer schools, etc. Much harder to hate someone you know well.

    I also think it speaks to the improved quality of judging transparency and clearer standards. With that comes greater professionalism and a sense of “competing against yourself”, just as the solo players do. Gordon Walker doesn’t sit at home stewing over that dastardly Angus MacColl.

  4. The camaraderie and celebration between competitive pipe bands and soloists is one of the things I most love about competitive piping. It’s one of the things I don’t see much the street bands. While they might be friends with another band in town or one they see at their local festivals/games, several times a year we get together with dozens if not hundreds of people that share a passion for our hobby. I’ve never understood the competition bands that don’t seem to want to socialize.

  5. I’ve moved alot for my career and hence, have spent alot of time in alot of different pipe bands. Have alot of friends spread out all over Ontario and Alberta and now even in Nevada and Utah. If the animosity thing was true throughout band members, I wouldn’t have any friends at all. I’ve seen the animosity up close in some cases and chose to ignore it. I found most of that animosity was perpetuated by the pipe band leaderships. Everyone else in the bands would sneak a beer together and laugh about it.

  6. Deep down we have all realized we don’t play against one another as much as against ourselves. Like golf. But instead of 18 holes…4 adjudicators.

  7. With the advent of Facebook, Skype, email, chat rooms and web sites we have all come to know our collegues in other bands much better. Their horns have fallen off, as Pogo famously stated, “we have met the enemy, and he is us!”. I believe the new global neighborhood is a better world for this new collegiality. To see what Bill Liivingstone and Robert Mathieson are doing with new bands is a remarkable expression of the the brave new pipe band world.


  8. As a long-time player (and occasional P/M) in lower-grade bands in the same geographical area, I’m friends with a lot of our competitors. I’ve been in bands with many of these folks in the past (and could well be again at some point). I’m all about working hard throughout the season and bringing the necessary intensity to the competition field, but I don’t see any point in fostering animosity outside of that context. We’re all trying to play our best and only one band gets to win on any given day.

  9. Since when did being friendly and well-mannered become a foreign concept…? I find that the pipe band caper has a number of people who tend to get well ahead of themselves and maybe overestimate their standing. The same people who, in a day-to-day setting, would just blend into the background and be spectacularly unspectacular. But put a kilt on them and the chest puffs out and the ego starts to bristle!

    There is nothing more sad than watching people look down their noses at others, or bounce around like they’re rock stars, or be spiteful and resentful for reasons that rarely ever rate a mention. It’s childish, plain and simple.

    And I’ll never play in one of those bands that arrives angry, plays enraged, hits the beer tent to vent even more anger, and then goes home to cry itself to sleep before it undertakes to repeat this stupidity.

    This is really just a hobby that 99.99999% of the world couldn’t care less about. I’ve never lost sleep over the big egos in this caper, or people who incessantly want to make the whole thing bigger than it really is. The fact is, a big ego does not make a big person in a scene that is so small. Talk to anyone who wants to chat, I say, and give the sad gits and egomaniacs a wide berth. Those who keep score and see logic in basing all things on results and hype in a subjective pastime need to obtain a life.



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