October 28, 2008

Engendering news

A weighty issue.This is the time of year when piping and drumming news is at a premium. After this weekend’s London competition, results will be scarce and many pipers and drummers and bands will nearly shut down. But every time I think that, something newsworthy pops up.

And so, the news of the vote by the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society to accept female members was leaked last week. Those who care, and many who don’t, know that the RSPS is a male-only organization, and that is as much a part of their tradition as is the requirement that members are “amateur” pipers with some “society” standing. That is, they don’t accept prize-money and, as one famous RSPS member said once in a thick English accent, “You must be a lahnd-oowner – and by that I doon’t mean a bahck gahhhhrden.”

Honestly, at the time, I just thought the males-only vote was another quirky and quaint holdover from Scotland’s deep-rooted piping tradition that pipers from other countries have a hard time understanding.

I have been critical in the past of the fact that some RSPS members are invited to judge important solo piping competitions. My criticism centred only on the fact that these folks, fine and jolly gentlemen that they are, have never demonstrated their playing ability in any ongoing public way, and that many competitors don’t really take their judging decisions seriously. Yet they remain on the approved list of UK judges, as assembled by Scotland’s Joint Committee – the closest thing there is in that country to a formal accreditation process, something that just about every one of the world’s piping associations has had in place for decades.

It was in fact the very first comment to the pipes|drums news story that opened my eyes to the obvious: that female competitors might perceive an element of bias when competing before these judges. Truly, I had never thought of that before, and that was the issue that the Times, Scotsman, Daily Express and other UK newspapers picked up on when they followed pipes|drums’ lead.

The Scotsman‘s blurb has received some interesting comments as well, and this one from “Girl Piper” succinctly summarizes the concern particularly well:

“To me the argument is simple. The club is a private society, but is also used to impartially adjudicate important piping competitions outside their own society. Adjudication requires firstly skill and knowledge, and secondly the ability to remain completely impartial. It is easy for anyone to draw the very logical connection between a group voting out women in their own organisation, and that same group being deemed impartial when judging both men and women against each other in an external competition. This is a clear conflict of interest. It’s logic, not spite, which is at the core of this conclusion. Add this to a musical tradition which has already been historically sexist and you’ll understand why there is a problem.”

It’s interesting to me that any of the world’s piping and drumming associations – including the RSPBA, which has in the past dealt swiftly with matters of perceived racial bias – would have addressed the issue on behalf of its members. On the other hand, the UK, because there is no real unifying governing body for solo piping competitions, can’t really do anything. Competitions and competitors are left to decide for themselves what, if anything, they want to do.

And I expect more winter news eventually to trickle out as people make up their minds how they will address such dilemmas.


  1. I learned of the RSPS attitude on women membership around 5 years ago and was surprised given the moves towards gender equality that this was the case. This is a lost opportunity to get into the 21st century and knowing several of the individual members, I’m surprised and having a piping daughter disappointed. However it is a private club and would any women want to join?

    The bias of the piping world against women has been far beyond the RSPS and I would suggest is something that is iterally dying out as lthe older generation move on. I can think of many prominent pipers/teachers in the 70’s and sadly in more recent years have questioned why girls/women want to learn the pipes, despite the evidence standing in front of them. I have shaken my head usually in disappointment in a respected individual. I’d suggest that there probably has been a more deep seated bias than can pointed at the relatively few RSPS members on the judging list and I hope that this debate will let them know that it is no longer acceptable

    Les Hutt

  2. Well if this really needs to be splained to them, Nuff said!

    Why wud anyone wanna own alot a land anyway, that’s just more grass to cut on tha weekends!

  3. I’m more concerned with the “amatuer” aspect than the anachronistic sexism. I’d have a real issue with a serious contest judged by an amateur who views piping as a club sport. Male, female or other. I haven’t put the time, effort and money into this thing to be judged by amateurs. Even amateur contests should be judged by the pros, not their fellow amateur friends. I can’t think of a serious competitive idiom that does otherwise (I’m sure my fellow bloggers will help me out here if I’m forgetting something).

    Now, sitting down with the amateur clubsters and having a pint at the pub and playing a couple 6/8’s for laughs – sure. Even if they are sexist pigs. I’ll let them buy, as they’re all “landed” 🙂

    But keep ’em away from any boards or circles where serious players are competing….

  4. I think perhaps their is some confussion as to what Amateur player truly means. I realize that the modern view of the word amateur is reflective of the idea that the person does it as a hooby and not truly “seriously”. The real idea of amateur players is a bit old itself. Basically the premis is that a “gentleman” chooses to do an activity for the love of the activity rather than needing the motivation of monetary reward. The whole concept of an amateur never spoke to the ability of the player, it is really just an archic practise that puts social class into activities. An amateur player can be equally as good as a professional player, the difference being he makes his bread from his inheretance or other “job” not from the activity he is participating in.

    The classic example of this is boxing and golf, the only two sports where the social class structure is really maintained. Amateur boxing, such as that found at the Olympics, is administered by a body that strictly enforce the rules that amateurs may not accept monies for their abilities, while at the same time life time “amateurs” rise to the ranks of judges and do in fact officiate in the Olympics. In terms of Golf one of the greatest players of all time was an amateur, Bobby Jones. Now Mr. Jones after his career passed him by continued to act as a rules official at the Masters, again an amateur judging. Even in figure skating the elite level skaters are amateurs, it is when people retire from amateur competition when they go to the icecapeds for an easy ticket.

    The point being, don’t judge a person based on whether they take money to what they do judge them on their own merit. Amateurs may have put more time / money / effort into it than other pros, and guess what….every pro was an amateur at some point.

  5. I agree with Mr. Kimball. Granted, amateur status does not inherently imply incompetence, however piping is strikingly different from the Olympics. The fact of the matter is that, unlike in Olympic competition, in the piping community the most highly skilled and knowledgeable competitors and judges are professional players and judges. Perhaps if there was an incentive, akin to the Olympics in sports, which encouraged the best players and judges to maintain amateur status the story would be different. However this is not the case.
    Further, the bigotry is simply too much. I mean, how could any self-respecting competitor; male, female; professional or amateur allow themselves to be presided over by someone who represents so backwards an organization as the RSPS. As has already been said, we put the time, effort, money and emotion into the art and, frankly we deserve better than Lord Longbottomfellow-Wurthrington IV. And I don’t care how much bigger his bahck gaahhhhhhhrden is than mine.

  6. I am not trying to defend the RSPS, just simply trying to clarrify that being an “amateur” does not necessarily reglate someone to being incompetent.The RSPS really represents a minority in the world of amateur players, the RSPS is not the end all be all of being an amateur. The point with the Olympics is that there are other world class organizations that still use this model justly. As to your comment that “…we put the time, effort, money and emotion into the art…”, whats to say that whoever else has. Maybe your fictious person has poured thousands of hours and dollars into perfecting his playing, but at the end doesn’t see the need to play professionally. You can’t talk about unacceptable biggotry and then use a broad brush stroke to paint an entire class, that is a form of biggotry in and of itself. My point is that a judge, like a competitor, should be assessed on their individual merits and not on their “classification” because frankly being “pro” doesn’t guarentee that someone is highly skilled it just means they have competed for money it doesn’t assess their merit in the least. As far as non-pro players go what would you call a band player that has never played solos for money but has won multiple world championships? Technically they would be an amateur, are you saying they would not be qualified to judge, i think probably not. I mean there are some P/Ms out there that have always focused on band playing and not solo, so they would likely still have their amateur status but I bet you would be lined up to chat with them.
    Again my point here is a judge can’t be evaluate on a broad basis, it should be done on an individual basis based on their merit, not if they’ve won $50,000 or if they are a member of the RSPS.

  7. You raise a valid point with your broad brush stroke comment. Allow me to defend…
    I don’t mean to judge an entire class of people. That’s not what I’m saying… I’m not saying every single member of the RSPS is a bigot. I’m saying the organization itself has proven its own ignorance by voting to exclude female players. I didn’t paint them as bigoted. They did that unassisted.
    And I do believe that anyone, regardless of how much piping experience they have, and regardless of how successful they’ve been in solo or band competition, who identifies with ignorance so unparalleled as that exhibited by the RSPS in this recent vote should be allowed to judge other players. It’s simply not right and I don’t see how anyone can claim that the society is not ignorant. Further, I don’t see how anyone can deem members of such a society, who agree with its policies of ignorance by virtue of their membership in the society itself, to be good judging material.

  8. It is ludicrous to compare the RSPS to either amateur golfers or Olympians, unless one takes into account the actual standard of competition. We have all seen the various Pro-Am contests on TV and the Olympics attracts television audiences of billions. How many RSPS members play in amateur competition and when was the last time we heard someone say “he’s a great player, but he’s never accepted a prize in his life”.

    The main point is not about amatuer status, or even whether any right-minded woman would actually want to join, but the fact that the “brotherhood” of the RSPS voted, by majority, in favour of excluding women from their organisation i.e. the organisation voted in favour of bigotry.

    In some ways, most of us are amateurs as we do not rely on prize money alone as our “bread”. However, competing pipers do put their heads above the parapet and fight on the front lines.. We are right to question whether an organisation such as the RSPS can be truly impartial when it comes to judging any kind of piping event, amatuer or professional.

    A shot in the foor for the RSPS, old chap!… All be over by Christmas 😉

  9. Just the appearance of bias in a judge is a matter of concern, let alone the issues brought up in regards to the RSPS.

    I’m thinking of what a scene it would make if all of the distaff pipers would show up in the parkng lot at Augusta, or Troon or St. Andrews!!

    An Anachronism wrapped in Inequity. A truely sorry commentary!


  10. In every other place but Scotland, we measure accredited judges first by their success as competitors. If a judging candidate does not meet the competitive-track-record criteria (e.g., in Ontario, minimum 10 years of success at Professional level) then they aren’t even considered. Scotland has no certification process, unfortunately, so there is no formal criteria for getting on a panel. The judging “system” in the UK is rife with cronyism trumping proven ability.

    There are many, many people who talk a good tune, but if you haven’t done the business, you don’t judge . . . except in the UK.

  11. Andrew, bingo. Thank you. Certification, and “you’ve done the business and everyone knows it”. In our world, that’s the “professional” piper and drummer.
    And as to the sexist business – that’s easy. I’ll gladly trust Gail Brown with the clipboard (among many others you can all think of) before any clubbing amateur. Why? She’s been there, done that, in actual competition against other recognized professionals, calls it like she hears it…she’s a “pro”‘ and has a public track record to prove it. So I respect her. And these other people aren’t and don’t – so I don’t respect their opinion for a second in an actual “contest”. Credibility…
    The fact that Gail’s a woman, why, that’s just a plus in my book.

  12. Alright, what about the argument that the RSPS isn’t biased towards female pipers and just fancy a “No Girls Allowed” type of stipulation when it comes to getting together over brandy in the smoking room and debating the application of “The Scottish Idiom” in judging comments?
    …a kind of haughty version of going to the pub with the boys?
    This, after some thought, though perhaps a tad old-fashioned, seems fair enough to me.

  13. Going back to the golfers analogy for a moment, many golf clubs still adopt an attitude of no ladies in the bar. However, unlike the zero-tolerance attitude of the RSPS, they do at least allow women to join their clubs.

    Can anyone think why a group of presumably ex-public schoolboys (privately educated chaps) would not wish to enjoy the company of women at their meetings? Also, if women are excluded, then who dances with whom at their Christmas party?



Forgotten Password?