November 03, 2010


Associations have no business re-grading non-members. In fact, doing so is counterproductive and throws a proverbial spanner into the delicate works of piping and drumming protocol.

The only association that I know that does this is the RSPBA, and every time it happens it results in needless confusion and ill-will. Some in the pipe band world have come to accept that the World Pipe Band Championships are the RSPBA’s “sandbox,” so they are free to do what they want. That is very true – except when it comes to re-grading bands.

The pipe band outside of Scotland world has become pretty sophisticated. The 10 North American associations and those in New Zealand and Australia have a clear grading system administered by those who monitor world standards and make recommendations based on their considerable knowledge. North American, Kiwi and Ozzie competitors who are members of one association often travel to events sanctioned by neighboring associations. Their grade at home is their grade on the road. As a guest, they must adhere to any different rules and policies, but they are accepted with a respectful understanding that they meet the minimum standard required to compete in the event.

There is reciprocity in grading across North America and, I am pretty sure, the antipodean associations. These groups have worked for the better part of the last 20 years to ensure commonality in standards and grading, as well as adjudication and rules. There are constant adjustments, and re-gradings are made using a map of the season as a whole, and never on just a single competition.

Re-grading a non-member guest competitor who played at just one event, without consulting the competitor’s home association, immediately undermines and belittles the association. It implies that the association’s sense of the standard is incorrect – a serious charge in today’s piping and drumming world.

If an association has a problem with a guest competitor that it deems is playing in the wrong grade, then it should work directly with the competitor’s home association first. If it is thought – after careful review – that a piper, drummer or band exceeded or didn’t meet the standard of the grade, then the competitor’s home association should be contacted. By simply expressing the concern of the association’s music board that a band or soloist competed in a grade that was above or below their ability, it allows for a more considered review and a lot less aggravation and acrimony.

The association and competitor can then consider their situation, take measures to correct or explain problems and then, in an equally diplomatic manner, report back to the association that expressed concern — should the competitor wish to return.

Ultimately, associations should deal directly only with their own members or the officials from other associations. To do otherwise is not only meddlesome and confusing, it’s disrespectful.


  1. I have had recent involvement with the New Zealand regrading system. Your assessment of our system as being sophisticated is I think correct. However, there is an on-going discussion in NZ between the, sometimes competing, goals of providing a balance of numbers in the various grades and international grading standards. In the past we have got a little out of sync with the Australian grades 3 & 4. At other times we’ve had a dearth of grade 2 bands and have had to bring bands into the grade. Our rules do not make an assessment of international grading mandatory, but I do think that we have now achieved grading that provides a good spread of bands between the grades and are close to the international standards. The key to all of this is that the bands play well and make the decisions of regrading committees difficult. We also need to avoid our bands attending international competitions for which they are out of their grade.

    Philip Mair

  2. This reminds me of the slogan turned on its head: We’re AT&T, we don’t care, we don’t have to. No other event comes close to the Worlds for prestige. The RSPBA owns it. They are royalty. They don’t need to be polite. This is the way it’s going to be until another international event challenges it in terms of prestige, authority and excitement.

  3. Andrew hit the nail on the head pointing out that bands shouldn’t be regraded on one performance only. Ever heard of having a bad day? Or a lucky one? It happens…and it is a bit incomplete to regrade a band or solo player on a lucky or unlucky day.

  4. It’s not the first time the RSPBA has done this, and I very much agree with Andrew’s overall assessment of the situation; one association has no business re-grading a band from another jurisdiction. Given the time, effort and expense it requires to take a band on the road, it makes no sense for bands to enter contests in grades elsewhere if they are unlikely to be at least comparable in standard.
    Let’s not forget in the mix that travelling bands are often ‘padded’ with guests for major (overseas) events, and therefore, do not necessarily reflect the same band in its normal, ‘local’ setting. On these grounds, making a decision based on one contest somewhere is a bit rough.
    I can also agree with Philip Mair’s assessment of the grading experience in NZ. Andrew is right that we do have sophisticated grading procedures ‘down here’, but we Aussies, too, have been showing signs of tweaking notional ‘global’ grading standards to give better local contests and more even grades.
    Shame on the RSPBA for making yet another farcical call. They should be utilising their ‘power’ and prestige in positive ways. When will they learn?
    – Stephen

  5. I agree that this was a disrespectful, unnecessary move. There could have been so many ways to handle this. Why the most unilateral one was chosen is dumbfounding to me.
    Downgrading ANY grade 1 pipe band based on one MSR performance goes against the grain of what a grading committee’s job should be.
    The City of Washington Pipe Band is one of the most stable, most respected pipe bands in the EUSPBA. They have a long history of excellence and have set a great example for other EUSPBA bands to follow. I am afraid I can’t say the same about the RSPBA’s decision to downgrade COW.

  6. It’s the equivalent of FIFA relegating teams in their domestic divisions because they performed poorly in the Champions League competition. Regrading an overseas band on the basis of performance at a single event is unfair and lacks parity with Scottish bands, whose competence tends to be measured after an entire season in competition and analysis of a broad selection of results. ‘The RSPBA is the recognised Centre of Excellence for the promotion and development of Pipe Band Music internationally.’ What this does to promote and develop pipe band music internationally is anyones’ guess.

  7. Very good article Andrew. Solid point and solid statement. Totally agree and maybe in time Seumas Mac Neil’s statement “the center of piping will be in NA” will come true and we won’t have to worry about things such as this.

    Calum Mac Donald

  8. By the same token that overseas bands are willing to accept a promotion by the RSPBA, they should accept demotion as well and they also have the right of appeal.
    The RSPBA, I believe, is following a maxim of maintaining standards, and those demoted bands are deemed to be below the standard for that grade. If they are as good as they think they are, then they should come bouncing back within a couple of years, or upon appeal to the RSPBA, when their track record of wins in their current grade will show they are fit for promotion.
    Perhaps the various Associations need to liaise and agree on some sort of common standard to be applied internationally to remove this mismatch of grades.



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