Over the abyss

Published: January 14, 2008

Look out below.Will 2008 be the year in which consciousness about worldwide standards is raised? So far, three North American bands have gone either up to Grade 1 or down to Grade 2 under relatively controversial circumstances.

First, Oran Mor applied to the EUSPBA to be upgraded to Grade 1, and the association approved. Second, Triumph Street waited to move to Grade 1 while the BCPA deliberated for several months. Third, Fredericton Society of St. Andrew requested to return to Grade 2 after a year in Grade 1.

They are each unique circumstances, to be sure, but I do note some commonality.

The chasm between Grade 2 and Grade 1 is a massive leap. It’s also a matter of pride, and, in many cases, the most important event in a top band’s history. In Triumph Street’s case it seemed like the band really did not want to ask to move up. I’m guessing that the band wanted the honour of its association officially moving them to Grade 1. After their very successful record, perhaps to ask to move up would have felt ignominious. I don’t know.

In Fredericton’s case, asking to move back to Grade 2 was completely honourable. When a band is forcibly demoted by an association it inevitably results in the band feeling embarrassed. By requesting to move down, a band saves face by being self-aware and realistic. As hard as it might be to swallow, this is completely honourable and Fredericton should feel good about it.

Oran Mor requested to move to Grade 1. Again, for this band, it must have been the right thing for them to do. I am guessing that the band decided that it was ready for to make that big leap, and simply made sure that its home association knew of their desire. Had the EUSPBA upgraded Oran Mor without consultation with the band, it may have been doomed to fail.

Understanding a band’s desire and self-awareness is so important to good grading. Associations need to know a band’s collective feeling about what they are, what they honestly feel that they can achieve and how they will be able to sustain themselves in a new grade. The jump between Grade 2 and Grade 1 is so wide because there are so many intangibles challenges that only the band itself knows whether it can meet.

Many new Grade 1 bands have died not because they didn’t meet the standard the next year, but because their parent association did not take the time to understand the long term sustainability of the move.

Playing to a standard is one thing; rising to it long-term is quite another.


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