June 27, 2014

Making the grades

The second-most-important role of an association is upholding grading standards. We all know that the first is – or should be – promoting and teaching the piping, drumming and pipe band arts, but since every piping and drumming association that I know governs competition (with many, that’s all they do), the accurate maintenance of grading standards is key to the success of the organization and its members in its own region and around the world.

A reader recently wrote wondering how the whole grading system works. He was confused, since a few bands that won most everything last year and were declared aggregate champions in the association, were not upgraded. This year the bands are competing in the same grades. He tried to find details on the association’s website about how the grading process works, but, as with many pipe band associations, there was no information obviously available.

I have said before that grading should never be based entirely on competitive success within one association. Grading should be based solely on the world standard. It’s all good if a competitor wins everything locally in a grade, but if that grade’s standard is not commensurate with the rest of the world, that competitive success is relatively meaningless.

If the quality of the grade is not as good as, or maybe even better than, the benchmark set on a world stage, then it is the association’s responsibility to correct it by shifting bands or soloists to where they belong, regardless of competitive success. Too often bands and soloists are prematurely moved up when they don’t meet the true quality of the world standard. When that happens, the association just makes works the problem of a weak overall grade, and the quality of their scene is eroded.

But how best for an association to ensure that their own grade standards are in line with the world’s standard?

Start with the grading committee. As a member, you should know exactly who is on this committee, when they meet, and their process for making decisions. Go to your association’s website and look for that information. (If it is not there, your association has a problem, and you are not being served well as a member.)

Each of the members of the grading committee must be:

Experienced – they must have competed successfully at the highest levels. Anyone who has not walked the talk carries little or no respect with the members they assess.

Knowledgeable – competition success is one thing, but a well-rounded and multi-faceted competitive career is quite another. What level of repertoire do they have? Are strictly pipe band people making solo grading decisions (and vice versa)?

Informed – they need to have actually heard the competitors they’re assessing play. Do they have first-hand information on specific abilities, or are they simply looking at a results spreadsheet?

Current – are they listening to competitors in other jurisdictions? Do they travel to the top competitions to listen to the year’s best?

Inactive in competitionno one on a grading committee should be an active competitor. If current competitors are making grading calls at any level, members will be suspicious. Even if they recuse themselves from involvement with competitors in their own band or solo grade, it does not matter. Each grading committee member must not be perceived to be in conflict.

Lastly, it should go without saying (even though it had to be said recently) that no association should re-grade a member of another association. If there is a grading concern, associations must work together to resolve it. If a competitor’s grade is seen to be inaccurate when the band or soloist enters, then pick up the phone and speak with a knowledgeable and respected representative who has the above qualities, and work it out.

Accurate grading hinges on accurate standards. An association’s grading committee is responsible for the monitoring and upholding of those grading standards, and it starts with grading committee members who meet the standard of the committee itself.


  1. nice pipe dream, people with all those qualifications are in short supply sadly so most associations settle for whomever turns up to take the gig

  2. Very interesting comments. We all know that he PPBSO does not promote teaching or the Pipe. Band arts. The only seminars or meetings (aside from the AGM) that the Society has hosted in the last years has to do with adjudication, strictly competition related. If we want to include the Music Board meeting late last year we can, but again strictly competition. They do not provide any assistance to the lower grade bands and players.

    Upholding the world standard is a difficult concept.

    We should all remember the recent outcry when Stuart Highlanders were upgraded by the RSPBA. This is the world standard. In 6 competitions this season (MSR & Medley) they have placed 1st 3 times, 2nd twice and 3rd once. All in Gr2. Are they a Gr1 or Gr2 band?

    The last time an Ontario Gr1 band placed at the finals (knockout competition) at the World’s was 2007 (Scottish Lion 78th Fraser Highlanders). And none placed in 2014, under the new competition format. Since 2003 (the oldest results on the RSPBA site), 78th Fraser Highlanders have placed in the top 14 9 times, including a run from 2003 until 2010. Toronto Police have placed 14th twice, 2003 and 2012, and did not qualify 4 times. Peel Police placed 12th in 2012, and did not make the finals 7 times. 78th Fraser Highlanders have shown they belong in Grade 1, consistently placing. Have Toronto Police and Peel Police shown they belong?

    Then we can look at Ottawa Police in Grade 2. They bettered 2 Grade 1 bands at Georgetown this year. They have not been able to repeat this feat. They have also placed better than the Stuart Highlanders in the one contest they met. Are they in the correct grade?

    Grade 5 does not exists in the RSPBA. There is no world standard at this level.

    In 2011, The Pipes and Drums of Lindsay placed 5th, 2nd in 2012 and 2nd in 2013. They are consistently at the top of the grade and have not been upgraded. This year they have placed 1st twice and 3rd twice scoring 24 points. This ties them with Paris/Port Dover. (1st once, 2nd twice and 3rd once). Both bands are behind Hamilton Police, who have entered one more contest (1st twice, 2nd twice and 3rd once) scoring 29 points. Hamilton Police were the only band of these 3 at Embro, they won the contest giving them the extra 5 points. The Lindsay Band is challenging up in accordance with Rule D-1.6. They are placed 4th, placing in every contest they have entered. Lindsay are leading Chatham Kent Police Services Pipe Band who were upgrading last year after wining Champion Supreme Grade 5 (13.5 to 10.5 in the same number of contests). Is Lindsay a Grade 4 band? Most definitely. They should have been upgraded last year.

    They argument can be made that a band will pick up members between competition seasons. Rule D-1.4 states

    “Based on the pipe band rosters received in accordance with D-1.2, the Board of Directors, as advised by the Music Committee, shall notify any improperly graded pipe band of its proper grade by January 1st of that year.”

    Rule D-1.2 states “Band rosters must be submitted with the master entry form.” And the master entry form “must be received at least 3 weeks prior to the contest date”.

    So, the Music Committee is making a recommendation on information they will not receive for over 4 months. Did the Pipes & Drums of Lindsay take advantage of this? Most definitely! They did not decide to challenge up 3 weeks before Georgetown. It takes time to bring a Medley up to contest standard, and lots more work and dedication to be able to place with it.

    So yes, I do not understand the grading system, but I believe the PPBSO doesn’t understand it any better. If the Society understood the dynamics of a band, rosters would be due much earlier. Yes, a band will grow during the off-season but the decision to construct and compete a Medley is made in November, not May. Proposed rosters should be received no later than the end of January, and final rosters (no more than X% change) due 3 weeks before the contest. This gives the Music Committee the chance to ensure the bands are properly graded, and also gives the bands the time to prepare for the grade requirements. A band should not be upgraded 3 weeks before a contest, and should not be allowed to sandbag by not turning in a roster until it is too late to re-grade.



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