June 08, 2009

Enemy lines

Up to the line and under the ice.I’ve noticed a lot more cross-band friendliness over the last decade. In fact, it seems that competitors in most competitive genres no longer get too worked up over rivalries – not like they used to, anyway. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing or a completely ambivalent thing, but it is a thing.

Thirty years ago I know that Major League Baseball players (here he goes again with the baseball) would hardly speak to one another. Back in the 1970s and even ’80s a guy would get on base and he wouldn’t even acknowledge the opposing team’s infielder. This was serious business. They were the enemy, and professionalism then meant you don’t consort with the other team. In fact, you’d punch them out given half the chance.

Same with pipe bands. There was a time when members of other bands would not be allowed in your band hall, the scores for the music were secret and you were quite sure that the competition had horns under their hats.

I heard the other day that an established Grade 1 band had the pipe-major and leading-drummer of a top Grade 1 in for a weekend workshop. A few weeks ago someone with more than 40 years pipe banding experience told me that he recently felt uncomfortable when a young member of a rival band sat in and listened to his practice, oblivious to the old-school etiquette when years back you’d have told the kid to Get tae . . .! before he could even sit down.

What’s caused all this Milquetoast laid-backness?

In pro sports, the age of free agency and big contracts has meant that a player staying with a single club for his/her entire career is rare. This year’s opponent might well be next year’s teammate.

So too in pipe bands. Where once it was common for a player to stay with the same band for 20, 30 even 40 years, today it’s extraordinary. The erosion of pipe band loyalty has been bemoaned for a few decades now. Robert Mathieson discussed the loss of loyalty in his interview, accepting the migratory attitude of modern players as simply the way people do everything these days.

I don’t know. It still irks me to see ballplayers yucking it up at first base during a close game, just as it seems strange when I see blatant camaraderie between competing band-members. But perhaps the Facebook generation has learned, thankfully, that life is too short for such trifles.


  1. I support and encourage the friendliness and cross-band camaraderie, probably a little more than many because I’m coming at it from a youth band perspective. The fact is that at least in the BCPA region, we see each other almost every week for three months out of the year, and if soloists do off-season events, in some areas; about monthly almost year-round.

    Why should you be enemies with someone you have to spend that much time with?

    Maybe it does lead to a culture of being pipe band disloyalty, but I have a feeling there are many other cultural changes that have contributed to that much more than people being willing to be friendly to each other.

  2. It’s the best thing to happen in the world of pipe bands in the last 50 years. When you’re in the circle, you compete, when your done…..well. we’re all in this together. The pipe band world is just to small for old style provincialism. Besides, when my band wins, I want to beat the other bands at their best and if I lose I want to know I played my best. It’s a matter of respect and self-respect.

  3. I think it is different in this internet age than back before. And, at the end of the day, isn’t it the best at the end of the day?

    Then come’s the beer tent and “how the hell have you been?”

  4. It was never really clear to me why hostility (perceived or otherwise) existed between the pipe bands that I was involved with and competed against. It wasn’t something that I personally welcomed. Friendly rivalry and a few guarded secrets are one thing, but rudeness, lack of respect and even open aggression towards others is quite another. I would imagine that the whole thing comes to life due to the bad behaviour, ego and the attitude of some individuals towards others which then fuelled by competitiveness leads to the aformentioned demarkation lines. This immature behviour and societal infighting is certainly something that we can all do without.

  5. Amen Scott. We have always been told, “you don’t have any friends in the morning.” Mainly because you don’t want members getting worried about what someone else is doing. At the same time my band has and still does feel the effects of hostility set from the mid 80’s. For some reason people think the band has this “too good for you” additude, and that we are not open to outsiders. Completely false. Anyway, don’t talk to me until 4:00 thank you.


  6. I was just thinking I’d nothing much to say about this subject, but found myself thinking about it off and on all day. And I remembered someone telling me that while his Grade 2 band was in their Hall practicing, a player from another Grade 2 (rival) band was outside the hall recording on his mobile phone. I also remembered going to a Grade 4 band, at which night after night, they’d waste half the practice time, talking about and fishing for gossip about another band in the same small town. It struck me as a monumental waste of time and I thought their bitterness came through in the music they produced. But on the other hand, if things have become all palsy-walsy, and everybody’s everybody’s friend, and there’s a lot of movement between bands, I wonder what that DOES do, to the individuality and character of this or that band. Some bands seem to have more individuality and character all of their own, than others. It could be interesting to ask people which bands they thought had most character, loyalty and individuality, and then see if the top scorers were bands which had had a more stable membership over the last ten or more years – also to see whether bands full of ‘travelling-between- bands’ members had lost some of their individual character. Maybe showing their hands, means that other bands ‘up’ their game, and standards rise all round? Or maybe showing their hands, means that the edge, the punch, the competitive oomph, is turned to a mushy goo that just sits around not really going anywhere.

  7. I’ve seen 3 Street bands here that can’t get along, so competition really has nothing to do with it. What’s funny, the second band just tried to merge with the first band that they originally broke away from and the first band said no thanks. Neither of these bands can play which shows the level of stupidity involved.

  8. just would like to add that while I think overall for piping it’s better that “We all get along”. That I miss a little of that fierceness that people would have when playing against other bands. I think it may have driven many people to be better players. It also sickens me to see first baseman and base runners high fiving and chatting. Michael Jordan never gave his opponents the ability to think they might be on the same level as him until after the game, when he would tell you how awesome he was.

  9. While rivalries are a great thing in my opinion, most of the old day stuff came from personality conflicts and power struggles. Cross-town bands not getting along because their PM tried to steal our players or whatever. A lot of that stuff still goes on today, at least in my town it does. But it’s mosty due to a few bad apples. More appropriately, a lot of players get along across band lines because we are peers and co-combatants. We are not each other’s enemy. The adjudicator is the real foe…real or imagined. We all stand and be judged and that means we share a common bond as players.

  10. I recall in Ontario in the 1970s and early ’80s, the rival-band socializing you would see on evenings after the games was between the solo competitors, and with them the band boundaries disappeared. With those who were purely bandsmen, the rivalry — sometimes bordering on hatred — was fierce, and even today when I’m around those people I’m conscious of the way it once was even though all is ‘forgotten.’ You just know that with certain people it’s probably wisest not to bring those days up in conversation. In these days of ‘free agency,’ travel is a breeze. It’s easy and accepted to change bands and there is the underlying feeling that it’s best to stay on good terms with the ‘enemy’ because some day soon you might want to go play for them!

  11. Or maybe, and hopefully, it is because the whole point of this game is to strive to make better music at a higher quality than ever, and there’s a lot of respect for rivals? Sure, I’d like us to come out on top every time the band competes, but even if I don’t particularly care for a rival’s style, I still appreciate the quality and their ability to hone their playing in the manner they are striving for… We know how difficult it is, so why not respect what others are doing? There’s certainly a competitive edge, but why hate someone for playing music well (or even poorly, for that matter!)? Maybe the focus in bands (and perhaps reflecting the influence of a higher number of solo players now that also compete in bands than previously?) is more about emphasizing the music and the performance – rather than hating a band because they waxed your own last weekend and appeared to be having a good time in the beer tent afterwards? Good for them – they earned it – more motivation for me to work hard. Plus, the vast majority of pipe band folk just love the same genre of music, understand the dedication and sacrifices, and are simply dern good people.
    James MacHattie

  12. It’s people like you James, that have created this whole fun loving atmosphere! Please stop! Just kidding. Great points. Even bands whos styles I don’t like too much still play amazing music. We can’t get any better if we stay locked up in our own band, never initiating contact and or asking for outside opinions. Afterall it’s the outside opinions we are trying to please on Saturday, is it not?

  13. I find it quite ironic when I hear about competition bands in the past having such rivalry. Around my area it is between street bands and between street bands and competition bands that there is rivalry, and not between competition bands. Part of what I love about the competition aspect is going to the games and getting to hang out with players from all over the country. We’re going to Maxville this year and can’t wait to meet some of the other pipeband forumites that might be there. I’ve always thought that the larger pipeband community camaraderie was one of the things street bands were missing.

  14. I’ve always found that for the younger pipers coming up through the ranks, we have never really felt that feirce rivalry against other band members. For me at least ive always felt the competitive rivalry against other bands but have always approached other members on a person by person basis and generally feel a bond given our rather unique choice of hobbies.



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