October 19, 2017


I can only imagine what it’s like for female pipers and drummers to persevere in what is still a male-dominated – and often dominating – avocation. It’s a topic that has interested me for many years, going back to the 1990s when I worked to pull together a piece on females in piping.

It wasn’t easy then to get women to speak to the issue, and it’s still a difficult subject to discuss openly, many seemingly afraid of rocking a boat or jeopardizing their band’s or their own chances with judges and “authorities” – which are heavily weighted to males.

For sure, much has changed since the 1970s when women were still prohibited from competing at the major solo competitions until Patricia Innes (Henderson), Rhona MacDonald (Lightfoot), and Anne Stewart (Spalding) broke the gender barrier in 1976. Top-grade Scottish pipe bands disallowed female members until Ontario’s Gail Brown courageously stepped into the World Champion Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia in 1973.

It would take another 31 years before a woman would be awarded a Highland Society of London Gold Medal, when Faye Henderson broke the glass ceiling at Oban in 2010, not coincidentally following in the trail-blazing footsteps of her co-pioneering mother.

Back then, I wrote a blog post on the topic of pigeon-holing males and females, but the piping and drumming world remains a disproportionately male-dominated place, replete with its share of crass macho-shiteheads who continue to operate as if it’s an old-boys club. Only 20 years ago there were bands that not only wouldn’t allow women into their ranks, but would not even allow them to get on the bus. Maybe there still are.

The Royal Scottish Pipers Society only a few years ago voted to accept women as members, perhaps recognizing that they risked becoming a complete anachronism in addition to being hopelessly discriminatory. I don’t know how many women have been accepted as members, or have even been invited or applied. They might have jumped that shark decades ago.

If pipes|drums readership analytics are an indicator, about 25% of the world’s pipers and drummers are female, yet women are under-represented in associations’ executives, directors and judges, often woefully so. As far as I know, the RSPBA has one active female adjudicator. Of the Solo Piping Judges Association’s 52 judges listed on its website, a grand total of two are women.

The excuses are many. Well, there aren’t that many women who are qualified. Well, they just don’t seem to be interested. Well, they don’t have time, what with looking after their families. Well, they can’t physically blow a good instrument or carry a heavy drum. Well, their fingers are too short. Well, their wrists are too weak. Well, they’re moody. Well, they’re always complaining. Well . . .

The truth is, piping and drumming is still not the inclusive place that it must be. The challenges that women are faced with are systematic, insidious and, mostly, considered endemic. “Oh, well, that’s just the way it is,” I have been told by some great female pipers, resigned to having to put up with both blatant and tacit discrimination at practices and competitions. We males might not even recognize it, but it is there, often in subtly demeaning ways, and sometimes in quite awful insults – or worse – that probably force women to quit the scene altogether rather than put up with it.

And then we have the audacity to wonder why there aren’t more females who rise to the top.

The #MeToo social media campaign should be eye-opening to any sentient male. Personally, I have been astounded and saddened to see so many female piper or drummer friends of all ages come forward to divulge publicly that they have been the victim of emotional or physical abuse. I can safely assume that at least some or even many of those experiences have been around piping and drumming. Horrifying as it is, I know that there have been Harvey Weinsteins among us.

But, like thoughts and prayers, sadness and astonishment won’t solve anything on their own. We need to take action.

  1. All piping and drumming associations and pipe bands need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy against any member discriminating against any minority – female; non-white; LGBTQ.
  2. Members of associations must sign an agreement to uphold its zero-tolerance policy in order to become members and maintain membership.
  3. Associations must actively strive to reach and maintain gender parity between its leaders and judges and its membership.
  4. Associations must adopt a safe and private process to allow its members to report acts of harassment, bullying or discrimination.
  5. Members and leaders who have been found to breach the policy should be suspended or, if warranted, banned for life.

Some organizations might already have similar policies and rules but, given that it’s hard to agree on obviosities like teachers not judging pupils or family not judging family, I suspect not.

Piping and drumming comes from all-male military roots, but chalking up discriminatory behavior to “just the way it is” is no longer acceptable. It never should have been acceptable in the first place.

We’re a slow-moving and change-averse lot, but implementing these policies, and altering our habitual way of thinking, can no longer wait.



  1. #metoo I was 20 years old, a college student. It was my pipe major, probably close to 50. We were on a band trip. I never told anyone (I had been drinking, so assumed it was my fault). I was the only female piper in the band. Next day I had to stand in the circle next to him. I quit playing and didn’t touch my instrument for almost 20 years.

  2. Same story here, promoted to a grade 2 band when I was 13, easy prey for creeps. Unfortunately I was sexually assaulted more than once and left feeling like I was a ‘tease’ and even that I was lucky to get attention like this. Never told anyone. Left when I was 15 then didn’t pick up my pipes again till this year (I’m 41)

  3. #MeToo I was 21 and at a piping/drumming summer school. A very well-known and well-respected instructor, at least 40+ years my senior, grabbed me and kissed me after we all returned back to our dorm from a night out. I had another full week of classes to go and was mortified. He did apologize, but it was shocking none the less. I was never able to look at him the same way again, after idolizing him for years.

  4. This issue is wide spread in many areas. I have heard rumor and been told of many young males, under the age of 18, being taken advantage of by so called people with a “peter pan complex”. I have seen many people turn a blind eye because an individual is well known throughout our pipe band world. When will people wake up and not tolerate this behavior? These people may be good at pipe band related things but they are still scum and should not be given a pass. I hope these pipers, drummers and tenor drummers know that the days of this behavior being acceptable will soon be over.

  5. Me too. Late 7Os, Southern Ontario. But I also know, looking back, that there were also many fine people keeping an eye out for me and keeping me safe.

  6. I passed out after drinking too much with some girls from the college pipe band I was in. I woke up to discover my mouth being used by a male bandmate. A couple weeks later I was mortified to find out he’d told everyone about it. It took me a long while to call it rape, but that’s exactly what it was. And we had a male pipe major, so it’s not like I could tell him about it. He had his own issues with touching some of the girls in ways that made them uncomfortable. It was a hot mess all around.

  7. #metoo – not one, but two chronic ass grabbers (and one occasional ass grabber) in my last band alone. And before you ask, no, I did not give any vibes or invite it, I made it more than clear that it was not f*@king okay.

    1. Sadly, the American pipe-band scene has a significant number of Fox News Republican types who’ll tell you it’s the fault of liberals and feminists for brainwashing women into thinking sexual assault is not f*@king okay.

  8. I can honestly say that I’ve been treated with nothing but respect by my bandmates. I consider them friends, male and female. One of our pipers calls us a “framily.” However, I am (sadly) not surprised to hear of others’ #metoo stories. I stand with you.

  9. I’m shocked to read these stories and it’s no way acceptable and should be delt with in the strongest fashion but i can honestly say as being a band member since I was 14 and nearly 20 years later I have never witnessed any discrimination of any sort EVER in the band scene but if I did i would have something to say about it. But also we have to be careful because this could open another cab of worms say for instance a woman/girl at band practice makes a mistake and is challenged on it they could end up saying this is discrimation because I’m a female. But 100% support for action to be taken against anyone who sexually mentally or physically abuses anyone

  10. #metoo Summer school, one of the instructors – someone I respected and thought I could trust. Too much to drink and I woke up with him on top of me. The worst of it was his attempts to convince me that what happened was consensual and romantic. So much guilt and shame.

  11. Me too.

    Apparently being an important drummer and having a pedigree means you can do whatever you like to your bandmates and their wives and nobody will say anything.

  12. This is shocking the stories of grooming and assault and I’m all on for punishing people who have committed crimes. But you have to be careful here painting all men with the one brush. also this PC culture now is crazy, people are getting too soft if someone says something to them they get offended and cry. This is a big bad world. People say they need a safe space. Think of all the men and women in the armed forces or who fought and died defending this country did they get a safe space???? NO maybe it’s just time people harden up and realise that people will say things to annoy or hurt them. It’s part of life. Now don’t get me wrong any sexual assault or grooming needs the police involved but anything else just grow up. Seems like a bitter witch hunt to Me after reading this and an insult to women

    1. @ shocked, with all due respect, stick to what you know, and if you don’t have anything constructive to say keep it to yourself. As the spouse of a uniformed officer with two other Navy officers in the family, and having been posted overseas with one of the US Missions, I’d say I have a good deal of experience in that culture. It might come as a shock to you, but awareness of sexual discrimination is on everyone’s minds, and it’s taken seriously. The truth is that we’re all fed up with the status quo that people like you aim to uphold. I’ve played in pipe bands and as a soloist for twenty five years, in addition to being a working musician in other genres. As a man working in and observing this field for a long time, I can attest that the comments I’ve read this morning are both true, and probably understated. I find it incredible that your version of ‘being soft’ seems to mean that you don’t get to harass people. I’m a big, strong person, but if not engaging in harassment and not being willing to sit on the sidelines while it happens means I’m ‘soft,’ I’ll happily wear the label. I’m confident in my abilities as a musician, and I work in the service of my country in the hope of creating a more perfect union. I doubt you can say the same.

      1. Again I’m writing this in reference to the short bio the writer of the article had at the top of this post. When I’m saying for people to stop being so soft I’m referring to the attitude of people who are talking about snide comments and other forms like that. As I’ve said in my other posts I think that any form of sexual assault or sexual abuse should be reported to the police immediately and if I ever saw anything like that taken place I would deal with it straight away. I’m also from the military and play in the pipebands. So I have a great understanding about the protocols about sexual descrimation. My comment about soft people also refer to people crying everytime something is said to them that they don’t agree with. In NO way does it refer to any sexual or abusive. I’m also a seasoned musician have travelled the world with several orchestras and groups and never once have I seen anything of that nature. The question that needs to be answered is why have these people not been outed and reported to the police?? And for you to assume you know me and how I think is laughable

  13. Shocked, did you even read the comments above? Women aren’t saying “Oh, he looked at me funny,” or “He said something mean about my gracenotes.” They are saying “I was raped.” That is a big damn deal. Nobody above said anything at all that blamed all men or that said all men are rapists.

    1. Yes i saw the comments about the assaults and rape allegations but I’m also commenting on the story itself. Calling the band scene a boys club and saying about a lack of women qualified to judge and the verbal and emotional abuse. It’s painting a picture that women are less thought of in the band scene. Just take a look round the band’s and see how many women play and compete in the drum majors. This is enough evidence to void half the article. And for the people who are saying these awful assaults happened to them they should go to the police and out these people. I’m in no way making light of these comments people are making. I hope they have the courage to pursue these allegations with the police and justice is done. But from what I see the lady who wrote this [comment] may have a personal vendetta within the pipeband scene.

      1. Shocked, judging from your responses, you would do well to take a class in logic and critical reasoning. Learn about scope and when your arguments fall outwith. To reiterate, no one attacked you or all men. However, your defensiveness might give some readers pause. If you have some of your own stories to share, please feel free.

  14. Dear God! The above comments make it clear that this a serious problem. I simply cringed at reading them. We’re not talking about off handed and inappropriate comments here. We’re talking sexual assault. This is so wrong at every level and there are no excuses. Thank you, Andrew, for addressing this and giving people a voice, especially the victims whose accounts we are reading here. This may be the most impactful subject you’ve ever brought up and my hope is that it does some good.

  15. So Sad to read the above…is it the norm…I hope not….been in the same PB for near on 40 years with the same girl/woman and never ever has it gone there..great friends..tuition with pupils is always in an open an accountable environment…truly hope what we do is main stream and not the other…we do really like what we do and respect one another…so disappointed to see the above

  16. My teenage daughters, who were accomplished highland dancers from a young age transitioned from a female dominated activity with rules and structure protecting them to take up piping. As their father, I supported their decision knowing that it could provide a lifetime of enjoyment and a way to carry on our family tradition of pipers and drummers after dancing ended.
    They joined a local youth pipe band already quite proficient at their instruments. Not only were they instantly the target of salivating boys, but even worse, the instructors ranging in age from early twenties to fifties. My girls had the savvy to deal with the boys but weren’t prepared for adults in positions of authority or power. Thankfully as sisters they looked out for each other, communicated, and had each other’s backs. This may not be true for a young woman or girl all alone in a band. They continued to excel at solo competition and became an integral part of the band but as time went on their enthusiasm to attend band practices waned. I suspected something was awry and they told me they were tired of dealing with the boys. They left the band after eighteen months.
    Afterwards, I discovered there were serious issues with the instructors. These were adults creeping on underage girls who were minors at the time! I took the proof including electronic evidence and confronted the instructors. In hindsight I should have gone to the police and taken the instructors and the entire organization down.
    Fortunately they are talented and passionate about playing their instruments and enjoy the solo scene. One has returned to dancing, one has laid down her instrument for now and has entered university and the other, still a teenager, competes solo and has declined offers to join other youth pipe bands. They may never join another pipe band even as adults. Who could blame them!

  17. This culture of established men making women in a ‘scene’ feel uncomfortable, power structure relevant harrassment, assault… it’s not unique to any community. I’m heartbroken for the people who shared their stories in this thread. However, it is any community’s responsibility to stamp out their own. Instead of taking offense to men being painted with the same brush because of these sorts of exposes why don’t we all skip a gosh dang identity crisis step and work on the problem instead of freaking at pc culture. Anyone who has done any research on sexual assault statistics and instances knows a handful of reasons why getting authorities involved is both difficult and oftentimes not fruitful. I was assaulted when I was younger and let me say, I was confused for a long time and did not go to the police. A friend of mine in a similar situation did but left when she heard them laughing at her in the next room.

    I’ve been lucky with my surroundings in the piping community overall, however I stopped going to the first pipe band I joined after two weeks of the same man insisting he could give me a ride home even though I lived far away and in an opposite direction. I spent an entire week miserable at a piping summer school because a man 30 years my senior followed me everywhere and told me every day he’d been listening to me practicing. It’s the uncomfortable world women live in oftentimes even if it’s not traditionally violent and to have efforts at changing that pushed aside for a fearful male ego and overemphasis on the law and order system isn’t acceptable.

  18. @Shocked:

    I imagine you have been in the piping world for quite a long time, as I have, so I am not going to use my long experience to bludgeon you with. However, my position is as someone who has been in pipe bands since I was 8 years old, first with a youth band, briefly in the orbit of a Grade 2 band, and for the past decade with Grade 3 bands across the length of the continental United States. I typically do not comment here on Pipes Drums, but on this issue I find it necessary.

    There are significant issues with appalling behavior from men in the pipe band world, both directed at women, but also when women are not around. Growing up I watched teenaged boys (16-18) hitting on and fantasizing about female highland dancers who were pre-teens (13). As an adult, I have heard men in their 50s reducing talented teenaged girls (again, 15-16) to what potential sexual pleasure they can give said men. No matter where in the country I have been, it’s there. In every instance, these boys and men seem to assume the men around them will be a-okay with this behavior.

    I have witnessed direct sexual assault by men toward women in public venues in the piping world. If men feel that comfortable in public with that sort of grotesque behavior, I shudder to think what they think is okay while in private with the human beings they’ve reduced to objects.

    I know of at least one pipe major in the Southern U.S. who will tell Grade 1 female pipers that he does not allow women pipers in his band, and that she’ll have to pick up the tenor drum if she wants to play in his band. It’s common knowledge down there, from what I understand, who it is. But he’s still the pipe major. This isn’t a low level band, either. It’s not just the “dumb local yokels” who are doing it.

    I don’t take much stock in the pearl-clutching about the creeping PC domination of our society. I’d prefer to see people err on the side of politeness – it’s just the sort of world I’d rather live in, and I tend to respect the capabilities of human beings to behave like respectable people, even if our baser nature sometimes encourages us to not do so. I also understand the desire to not see folks tossed under the bus for allegations which may or may not be true, but the pipe band world is very much still a “good old boys” club, despite progress made in the past several decades. It’s something I believe we all have a responsibility to address, and it boils right down to the behavior of individuals, but also the formal positions of our institutions. It’s a culture problem, in the same way the outright discriminatory stance of the pipe band world in the 1960s and 1970s was a cultural problem.

  19. The problem is people in power abusing it.

    There is one well known person out there that has done it to me, I’ve seen him do it to other young girls, and the more women I talk to now it is becoming obvious it’s been going on for years. Nobody says anything because this person has the power to remove them from the band, and then lie and ruin their reputation afterward.

    It’s pathetic, it’s about power and control- but some day some how it will eventually come out what pieces of slime these wee men really are. Because they won’t be in control forever.

  20. Unfortunately writing on this post will not do anyone any good. For people who have been assaulted report it and if enough people come forward then it will get delt with. I agree with everyone who has posted so far but times are changing and if you don’t report these crimes you may never get relief from your experiences or the offenders get what they deserve

  21. Why is everything the Republican’s fault. I’ve been a part of the pipe band world for 20 years and I have not seen any of these issues in our band. We have female pipers and drummers, and over the years have had minority players. We’ve had conservatives and liberals in the band. It was never an issue. If you can play up to our standard, welcome aboard. Maybe our band has just been lucky.

  22. I was in a pipe band in the 90s the only female teenage piper, I was touched many times by males who were all older than me I didn’t want them to, I thought it was only me it happened to until the other girls both drummers in the band told me it had happened to them too, after that we stayed together as much as able we told some of the guys in our band who attempted to protect us. the band members who did it still remain in the band to this day nothing was done



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