March 01, 2013

No thanks

Piping and drumming associations have a problem with manners. They struggle with the most important and basic politeness: saying thank you.

Over the years I’ve known dozens – no exaggeration – of good people who have given their time and energy and intelligence to their association – sometime many years of it. And when they finally decide to move on what thanks do they get? Absolutely nothing. Not a word of appreciation. Not a peep. Radio silence.

It’s no wonder that associations struggle to attract and keep good people. You’ve got to be mad to voluntarily agree to do this stuff with only an altruistic “giving back” M.O.

So, what happens? With too few exceptions, you get people volunteering for positions of power whose M.O. isn’t giving back at all. They too often volunteer by reason of something disturbingly self-motivated, whether it’s a competitive edge for them or their band or some convoluted means to make money.

I was speaking to someone the other day who served his organization on various committees and such like for almost 20 years. He finally gave it up to devote time to other things. It was by all accounts an amicable departure. The thanks he received? Zilch. What will he say if he’s asked to help again? No thanks.

You might guess where this is heading. I faithfully edited and published the quarterly print magazine for my association for nearly 20 years, and volunteered for its Music Board/Committee for 12, seven as chair. Not a word of thanks from any of the five different presidents I worked with over that time. I never did these things for the thanks or anything else, but it still miffs me when the only resolution is none. Radio silence.

Perhaps there are piping and drumming associations that remember their manners and do the right things. There might be an organization or two out there that puts a priority on thanking those who work to make it work. But if there is, I haven’t heard of it.

That’s all. Thanks.


  1. While the society may not be thankful, or at least be able to show it, I’m sure I can speak for many when I say your work has been a tremendous support for players like myself and I am truly thankful for all the inspiration and the wealth of knowledge your magazine has given me over the years. At the end of the day I don’t think there are too many people out there who would be able to say that their piping/PipeBand society ever provided them the inspiration to become a better player or person, but I know your work has done just that. Thank you.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if envy comes into it. And maybe some bitter grievance borne out of some past ill. Or a feeling of ‘we’re important people and people should be bowing and scraping to be allowed to associate with us’. And if those things were ingredients for a cake, think of the poison it produces. No-one would want to eat it. Some people are clutching their own selves so tighly they just can’t utter the two wee words. It would mean giving YOU something. It would mean an acknowledgment that they had NEEDED something (heaven forbid) and that YOU had been the one giving them it. It isn’t much to ask, and yet for some it’s the hardest thing to say. Shame, really.

  3. I know how you feel. I never participated to the level you have in the PPBSO, and far less than many others, but I did serve on several committees and executives back in my time. I have also been involved in other organizations and this seems to be a common situation. In addition to those on the executive or various boards, the people I always felt sorry for were the stewards. They would have to be among the first people at the park, work all day, often in blazing heat or rain, deal with dozens of competitors and most did it with such composure and cheerfulness; even in the face of sometimes less than polite and cooperative people. As others have mentioned, I truly do appreciate your work and this magazine. It lets me stay, at least marginally, in touch with the piping and drumming scene. So, I want to thank you for your efforts and hope you continue for a long time.

  4. Thanks for the thanks, everyone. The point of the blog is that associations systematically neglect to thank people appropriately, and then wonder why it’s a struggle to attract and keep volunteers. When it comes to pipes|drums, I receive thanks just about every day from readers in some form, and that is always appreciated. I consider it a perk of the avocation.

  5. what bugs me also about associations is the sense of entitlement they have… that YOU HAVE TO JOIN US, THERE’S NO ALTERNATIVE (trust me, I’ve looked).

    Not a lick of customer service in any of their bones – worse than politicians.

  6. Hello Andrew. I suspect you already know I agree with you about the thanks thing.
    My experience with my association leads me to conclude there are generally three types of people who get involved with the administration of piping associations.
    The first type has no clue about what they are getting themselves into. They are talked into running for an executive position (usually unopposed). They either sink or swim when they find out they don’t have a clue. They usually don’t run for a second term.
    The second type has a clue but see their involvement as a way to hold their authority over those who would rather play music…The type twos enjoy saying “no” to anything not fitting their small minded vision. They quickly identify the type ones and either sweet talk them into becoming their ally or make them feel stupid for not knowing as much as they do.
    The third type tends to be individuals who have the experience in the field of competition AND the organizational skills attained via their “real” jobs. They are not always politically correct in expressing their vision or opinion. But they have been around long enough to know first and foremost musical organizations should be about the development and playing of good music.
    Because the “twos” feel threatened, the “threes” rarely have the chance to lead and encourage the “ones.” “Threes” don’t brag, they try to do the right thing only to end up getting frustrated as well as burned out.
    Meanwhile, the general membership has no idea about the internal machinations of their organization. Result? They won’t think any sort of thanks is necessary. And the “twos” will do their best to erase the contributions the “threes” made. Sound familiar?

  7. It’s not just Pipe Bands – I’ve been involved heavily with sporting organisations and it’s exactly the same there. I think the main problem is that people are involved…. yep, take the people out and it’d be great 🙂

  8. Hi Andrew:

    Just wanted to add my thanks too…what an impact you’ve made, very visibly with the magazine, but also important and not so “visible” with all the music board work.

    Mike Baker

  9. Every Association on the planet, for pipe bands or other, exists to serve its members by taking away the burden of admin, dealing with third parties, insurances, registrations, facilitating contests etc. It is not sexy stuff by any stretch. I agree with this blog 100% – that gratitude is often not forthcoming and the wrong fit for each role can result. But if we, the musicians, won’t get in there and change things, we can’t complain about the types of people who are allowed to get into such roles via necessity. It is voluntary after-all.

  10. Over the years I’ve learnt that although a thank you is nice, what’s even better is the good feeling that comes from giving to others, without need or expectation of anything in return. Perhaps self-satisfaction and self-reward is what doing the things in our lives is really about.

  11. I haven’t been a member of any piping organization for many years although I did serve on various commitees and executives in my time, and I have only glancing knowledge of what’s happening out there through sites like this.
    There’s also the canibalistic nature of any volunteer organization. The vocal few who will always find fault with, and attack, those that do seek to serve. Those organizations will often see only recent members running for office, or those with self-promotion as their MO. Some definitely volunteer to serve others, some volunteer to serve themselves. It’s not always easy to see which is which and many get burned in the process and never return.

    I echo the statements of Tim Murphy.



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