Dump the Qualifier

Published: August 13, 2010

Is there any band, judge or listener who actually likes the World’s Grade 1 Qualifying system? If there is, I haven’t met him or her. In Glasgow this week it seems like every other person involved with a Grade 1 band has nothing good to say about the round of playing that allows five bands to join those that managed to bypass the process.

Five years ago I wrote about how dreary and interminable all those MSRs are. Last year the first four or five bands played in cold, driving rain, and the other 10 played in relative warmth. This year 16 bands will do the same, so 11 of them, and most of those from places other than Scotland, will head to the beer tent having gone out after four minutes of playing.

The Qualifier has got to go.

There is a definite sense, too, that the Qualifier – as it is now – will indeed go. Band members seem to be optimistic that some sort of new approach will replace the current system, trusting that the RSPBA’s recent survey concluded that no one really likes the unfair scheme currently in place.

And why an MSR? The old saw contending that an MSR “separates the men from the boys” is so unbelievably dated it hardly merits discussion. Today’s bands commit probably at least twice as much creative thought and energy to their medleys, perhaps knowing that they could go out there with phrasing like Angus MacColl only to have it fly right over the heads of most judges, who seem to listen for only tone and mistakes when it comes to the sets.

So eleven bands with sophisticated and often elaborately musical medleys will go home without the opportunity to play them for the judges or the crowd, the majority of whom clearly prefer to listen to selections (just compare YouTube views of MSRs against medleys).

It’s not really clear to anyone I’ve spoken to exactly why the system is the way it is. Whatever reasoning 10 years ago for creating the MSR Qualifier is now forgotten, leaving people to wonder why there’s time to break those 60 Grade 4B bands into three sections for a final competition, and there’s not enough time to have 26 Grade 1 bands each play twice. What’s up with that?

The discussion can’t really be drawn by national boundaries. I’ve heard as much dissension about the Qualifier system from Northern Irish and Scottish bands as I have from pipers and drummers in “overseas” bands. If there’s a good reason for the MSR Qualifier I don’t remember hearing it. If you have one, please comment.

Saying “If you don’t like it, don’t play,” doesn’t wash. The World’s is the World’s. Bands hold out hope that some way somehow they will get through the Qualifier, and then go on to some rather unlikely glory. Meanwhile every year they hope for some better solution, like a two-day World’s, or returning to a system whereby all bands have to qualify for a final, as was the case in the late-1970s and early-1980s, or perhaps even a pre-qualifying system in other countries that allows non-UK bands to have an equitable chance.

Whatever the alternative, the Qualifier as it currently exists has got to go.

22 thoughts on “Dump the Qualifier

  1. Nuff said. Medleys are indeed a lot more hip and sexy than MSRs – and funnier to play too. However I still remember how proud of myself I was when I first played a spotless Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod and LochCarron…

  2. Glasgow has built an entire two-week long industry around those few minutes in the circle. The solitary MSR is truly the sum of a great many parts and cannot be considered as as standalone activity. Pipes|Drums proves this as it fills webpage after webpage with coverage. Glasgow is not a one-day “games.”

    Only when other games rise up (Las Vegas?) to challenge the prestige of the Glasgow show in its entirety will there be any need for change. Until then the totality of the entire show has to be considered and not just the precious moments on the Green, which seems secondary in so many ways. Will Vegas feature a week of performances and events leading up to it? Hats off to the tourism and marketing people who put it all together.

    The Glasgow experience must be considered in its entirety. In reality what happens on the Green is no different then what happens at one-day games held in hundreds of locations. Take away the week of wrappings and you might then be able to effect change as the bands and the crowds simply fail to show.

  3. I agree that the current system is far from ideal – all the more so given the amounts of money that bands are investing in their trips to Glasgow Green. I’m not so sure there is a problem with the MSR aspect.
    I’ve not really heard it said that MSRs separate the men from the boys, rather, the MSR is the foundation of pipe band competition. It is the ‘bread and butter’ of pipe banding if you like. From a judge’s point of view (I assume) it is easier to assess a band on an MSR. They will know all the repertoire very well and they will be able to hear clearly how each band interprets the form in relation to the other bands. In a sense, there is nowhere for a band to to hide in an MSR. I for one generally prefer listening to the MSR than to the medley competition.

  4. You make so much sense it’s scary……….this is a no brainer. Why did Inverary qualify???? I believe the Windsor Police would still be alive and kicking had we made the qualifier 4 years ago. We got home from our trip and the wheels slowly started to fall off. Guys jumping to bands who didn’t have to go thru that morning mess.

  5. I see nothing wrong with playing an MSR followed by a medley but I do have problems with this qualifying nonsense. These are Grade1 bands, the elite, so in my opinion they should be playing twice and being in the “hunt” for a prize at the end of the day. All it takes is one of the top 6 bands to have a nightmare of an MSR or Medley and who knows perhaps one of the unfancied bands may enter the prize list and how refreshing would that be for all. Of course if you keep them segregated from the finals then this will never happen. We have 25-26 top grade bands so there is no excuse for not allowing them all to have their day and justify the money which the overseas bands will have spent on getting here.

  6. The current system is definitely unfair and should be changed to improve the quality of the overall event. Everyone should be subject to the same set of conditions (more or less) to make it fair and just for players and listeners alike. Either everyone plays in the qualifier(s) or no one plays in the qualifier(s). Either way is fair and equal. Also, this business of playing in sub-arctic conditions has to go. Forget about the “man up and play in the sleet!” arguement. Who wants to listen or play (judges included) in those conditions? And what kind of performances result from it. I’ve said it before….Have a full participant qualifier on Friday starting around noonish and a final 12 or so on the Saturday starting at the same time. And don’t even try the “I have to work Friday” arguement….how many Aussies put in a full day Friday before arriving to play at 9:00 am on Saturday in Scotland? If it has to be one day only, then scrap the qualifier and go back to the system from 90’s.

  7. I also don’t see why there has to be a qualifier for gr, 1.
    I watched the qualifier last year online and it was such a struggle to sit through.
    And for most of the bands it was all for nothing.
    I also like the idea of all in one pot and may the best band win.
    If we ever end up with 60 gr. 1 one bands as in gr. 4 we might considder a qualifying thing. But as for now let all have a shot at the title playing a MSR and a Medley, and see who comes out on top. It will be so much more gratifying for especially the long distance traveling bands.

  8. Well written and overall, I agree, but the only reason, and a very bad one at that, is that the qualifier separates the really truly Grade 1 bands from the other “Grade 1” bands that are actually, in reality, competing in a higher sub-grade similar to open

  9. @ Brent McLaren…Lol, are you kidding me!? The trip to the world’s stopped being a holiday the second time over. For those that have made the trip more than once, it is a unique style of business trip. You can keep the ferris wheels and ballons. It’s not why we go. Frankly, there are many reasons to consider boycotting the World’s…but the threat of eliminating the pageantry certainly isn’t one of them. With that consider most of the festivities leading-up are realtively new. I remember when the build-up to the world’s was nothing more than two-a-days in Kelvingrove Park and knocking back cans of beer somehere in the labryinth of Maclay Hall. I really think you have the value of the contest completely upside down. @AB…Great piece Mr. Berthoff. It is nice to see you spend your political capital in such a constructive and honest way. Keep it up.

  10. I am a little bit spoiled for choice here with the recent advent of Live Streaming. I really want to keep seeing Medley Finals like yesterday! Fantastic Contest. If people don’t think attending the Morning Qualifiers is fun, who do you think would watch much of a SETS’ Final with well over 26 Bands in it? The point is – people want that quality. We will dispute how to achieve it. Bands like LA and Aus have shown they can play much better in the Medleys. But again, we don’t want to sit through some of those MSRs. Just a few years ago the level of the Qualifiers was more abysmal – I know the old skating argument for keeping “Figures” to maintain standards in the rudiments. As a result we sat bleary eyed through some dodgy finalists – TWICE more. International Bands want the action of the Worlds’ as a testing ground and to showcase their music. Change it to Regionals (horrific logistics) or Medley Qualifiers but don’t think RSPBA is going to sweat details with less than 10% of the day’s Bands in that one event we get so twisted on. Judging complete strangers in alien music is impossibly risky. The system and keen participation has assuredly upped the Worlds’ level the past 13 outings. Why stop now? And I do sympathize with the agonies, having been there.

  11. ive written to the rspba several times about the issue of qualifying at the worlds via e-mail,letter and phone without a response from them. just on a different issue about the worlds, i was at the piping centre at piping live and got told from someone who works there that the worlds will be moving from glasgow after 2012!

  12. I find the MSR to be the foundation of the pipe band competition. And I can see many other places where qualification systems are a way to show a great final run for the audience and the competitors. What about the 100 meters run at the Olympic? Would you like to have 254 runners in one single run? Would you have 64 snooker players at one table for just one game? No. The MSR is a great way to find out, who will compete for the title. It is an old and honest way to play and if a band cant play the MSR in great style, I dont realy care about their Medley. This is not a circus or a bagpipe-pop-music-concert. This is The Worlds,- play your MSR or make a DVD. If I could change something, I would make MSR the only competition,- no qualifier or ranking. All Gr. 1 bands play their MSR and the winner is……. I know medleys are more fun and entertaining, but that is not the issue. Classical piping competitions are build on MSR.

  13. There are valid arguments for both having a qualifying event as well as not having one at all. But from the point of view of someone (of the countless many) who has been through the process, the issue I have with it isn’t so much bands travelling a long way to attend the worlds, or not getting to play creative medleys, its purely the fact that ON THE DAY, which can be any weather you like, previously qualified bands only have to go through 2 warm/tune up sessions with 1 sorting out of instruments before the next performance and 2 actual performances compared to a band that has to qualify which involves 3 warm/tune ups sessions, 2 instrument sort outs and 3 actual performances. Its not so much thats its heavy going, its more that its heavier going than what a pre-qualified band has to go through. For me its this that is what makes the whole existing system hard to understand, as there is next to no hope in hell of being able to compete with pre-qualified bands…..and as for the weather aspect which affects absolutely everyone on the day……although its admirable for someone to say “you just have to deal with the conditions….its just the way it is”…….other than genuinely feeling that way……its something that you absolutely have to say to avoid coming across envious of bands that fluked more stable weather during their tune up/performance as well as not sounding like a bad loser and blaming everything but the band for a bad run. These instruments are surely the worlds endless champions of being affected by numerous external variables and yet we have to get them sounding their absolute best in a multitude of changing conditions. While it sounds like im going down another road, I will bring this back to the qualifier and say that this is what makes it hard to swallow for bands travelling from afar to have to deal with. Its a lot of time, effort and money for a band to hope not that its not rainy or too sunny, but that it doesn’t change from one to the other as they go into final tuning…….which isn’t an unreasonable possibility in scotland.

  14. I’d be curious about the logistics of a “Premier Grade”. An idea:

    For 2011, take the 2010 Top 6 in Grade 1, and let them fight it out amongst themselves for the Premier Grade title, while the balance of the 2011 Grade 1 entrants compete.

    The winner of the 2011 Grade 1 gets to play in the Premier Grade for 2012, while the 6th (last) place Premier band plays in Grade 1.

    There aren’t enough Grade 1 bands in most associations for this to be viable outside of the Worlds, but other than having a few more judges on the day, I don’t really see a down side.

  15. This may be sacrilege but I think the RSPBA should do something about all of the tune repetition in MSRs. The MSR can be more than a tad stodgy but after hearing Highland Wedding, Susan MacLeod, and Mrs. MacPherson 10x each, I’ve heard enough.

    Could the RSPBA institute some sort of “draw” for MSRs? Say after the last contest of the season, bands draw individual tunes like a lottery. This would provide a lot more variety and, I think, interest in watching the MSR. However, I will be the first to admit, this is Big Brother all over again and takes all of the personal preference away from bands.


  16. The tune repetition was really tedious. I found all the morning qualifier MSRs and then the MSRs again in the afternoon far too many MSRs. It felt a bit like being forced to walk at a slow pace through a museum, before getting to what you’d come to see/hear. Not so bad if the exhibits in the museum were rivetting, which they might have been if we hadn’t been hearing the same things over and over and over again. I can live without Susan MacLeod for a long long time after that- shame to do this to the great old tunes- sicken us of them I mean.

  17. Irrespective of the general gripes about the Grade 1 Qualifier there is
    something morally wrong with bringing bands thousands of miles or
    any Grade 1 band to practice to such high standards to perform for 6/7
    and then dump them.

    On Saturday some 50 bands at 4B,4A,3A and 2 Grade level played twice by
    of qualifying for finals for goodness sake hence my suggestion below.

    If bands reach the standard for Grade 1 then recognise that and let them
    twice but still sort the top from the bottom as follows:

    Seed 6 or 8 bands [or more] and then divide them into two groups -say A or B

    then place all the rest of the bands into the two sections and let them play
    in two Qualifier’s [MSR pick from two sets].

    The top 7 or 8 from each Qualifying section go forward to the Grand or
    Final [to play for the World Championship]
    [own Choice MSR and Medley pick from two sets]

    The remaining bands go into a Grade 1 Final and play for a set of
    trophies.[Medley pick from two sets] to keep the competitive element

    The judging panels used for the Qualifiers could be used again for the
    events [or split up].
    It would also mean that they would be judging Grade 1 all day.

    Seeding – The current system of using Majors [except the Worlds] is unfair
    bands outside the UK and Ireland so it should be scrapped.

    However the first 4 from the Worlds the previous year should be
    seeded automatically next year as a reward / prize.

    Further seeding could take place but based on the general quality of the
    Grade 1
    bands based on perhaps previous records at the Worlds.

    Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and USA have a track
    record of
    good Grade 1bands so they could all be allocated a seeding spot[s] for their

    National Champions. That may encourage an improved attendance at some of
    National Championships if the stakes were higher.

    Grade 1 had about 26 entrants [18 Qualifiers and 8 exempt] this year. On the

    basis I am suggesting there may be no need for a 9am start with 13 in each

    Other points
    No Recording needed for Qualifying but record both the Premier and Grade 1

    Crowd at Grade 1 or sale of tickets would not be affected that much – there
    wasnt a massive crowd present for all of the Qualifier anyway.

  18. Hmm..yes, the repetition of the set tunes. It does become a bit much. Hard to avoid, though, as there are certain tunes which are favoured by bands for competitions.
    One thing that would be nice to do away with is this business of an individual band playing the same set year after year after year. If we have to put up with repetition, let’s at least introduce a revolving tune selection list similar in design/format/intent to the “Set Tunes” (no pun intended) posted every year by the Piobaireachd Society. IE the 2011 MSR set list would be 6 marches, starthspeys, and reels that are to be used to create 2 MSR sets composed of different tunes from the list. in 2012, all of the tunes would change with the new list being posted, etc. At least this way, there would be variety from year to year. We’d also get to hear tunes that are rarely, if ever, played today. Mind you, the drummers would absolutely hate this system…….well, at least until scores had been written for all of the tunes that exist today.

  19. If there is to be a qualifier why not have a seperate comp.for the non qualifiers,[a plate]so that traveling thosands of miles for a few minutes,only to find they are in the beertent,I would actualy like to see the qualifier binned.But there we go the tweed jacket green sock wearing fraternity seem to keep on with these things.Andrew Gallagher


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