November 18, 2011

Put a golf tee in it

Just shut it.pipes|drums is all about creating constructive conversation and dialog, and I like to think that over the years many sensitive topics have seen sunlight after having been swept under the rug for ages. We’re getting there.

Reviews are always done by those who have the right combination of objectivity, detachment, respect and expertise to make their words count. People who sell the product or compete with the item or have some other vested interest – real or perceived – are avoided. It’s often difficult to find the right match, and sometimes the best potential reviewers have to decline because they’re too busy or just feel uncomfortable about the task. I like it when they say no, rather than deliver something that disappoints or is well past the product’s sell-by-date.

Increasingly, RSPBA judges are declining the invitation to review products or events. It’s not because they feel they’re biased, it’s because the association allegedly requires  that they get permission in advance to write or speak about anything to do with piping or drumming. So, some of our best and brightest apparently are afraid to share their insights with the piping and drumming world, and don’t want the hassle of requesting advance consent from the association.

What a shame.

In 2007 I wrote about pipe bands veering towards that wrong-headed tack. Fortunately most of them have lightened up a great deal since then, as they’ve realized the communications potential of  Facebook and Twitter and other means to share insights. When an organization disallows members from speaking about their passion, and using their common sense when doing so, they undermine trust. The band or association views it from a strictly negative perspective, cynically thinking that their member will somehow embarrass the group, rather than indirectly vaunting it with their intelligence.

Granted, no organization should have members go out and speak for the organization, but, when it comes to a musical art, all they have to do is tell them to stick strictly to talking about music. Then trust them to do so.

As I understand it from RSPBA judges, they might not be allowed to post anything related to piping or drumming on Facebook, on which most of them have an account. They allegedly shouldn’t post any videos or anecdotes or comment about any band performance anywhere without prior consent, or do any interviews without prior approval. Should they just keep their mouths shut and their fingers off their keyboard? If they play a recital they shouldn’t speak to the audience without clearing things first with 45 Washington Street? Put tape right across your entire hole?

Are their only unapproved comments those that they put down on score sheets?

It’s a case study in how to get the least from your best.


  1. Freedom of speech. Some people are so afraid of saying anything nowadays for fear of negative repercussions whilst others can’t stop expressing themselves. I have experienced both worlds and perhaps been on both sides of the coin as well. So life goes on. As you say, it would be wonderful to hear from those in the know. Honesty and truth are never a bad thing.

  2. Whilst I appreciate that there might be a worry that any comment made by, say, an RSPBA judge, might be taken by some as being representative of the whole organisation, there are ways round it. All the person has to do is precede the comment with ‘In my personal opinion…’ As to the reasons—people often huddle together and remain tight when under threat. Also, if you say nothing, you’re less likely to be attacked for what you’ve said, I guess! Talking’s good. Stand up and say what you think, take responsibility for it, be prepared to change your stance in the light of others’ greater experience, or even just add your voice to the chorus and be interested in the overall sound. It’s a good way of discovering your weaknesses (as well as your strengths) and instead of running away from them, embrace them with open arms. It can only make you stronger as an individual, or an organisation. Remaining silent in order to keep weaknesses hidden doesn’t work imho. It makes them glaringly obvious. I think it would be a great thing if people just told the truth. ‘Hey, I’m fairly useless on the actual music side, and some of today’s stuff I don’t get at all, but I’ve been doing this for thirty years and have a lot of experience to bring to the table’. Now that, I could respect. But to either pretend to have knowledge or to write things off as ‘mumbo jumbo’ or famously ‘not in the Scottish idiom’, doesn’t engender respect. But that’s just my personal opinion.

  3. I don’t there is really a problem with the RSPBA having a policy that prohibits judges from commenting in public forums or online spaces. The way I see it, these judges are employed by the RSPBA (although I imagine most judges do not do it for the money!) and are, hopefully, highly qualified in their acievements and they have (again, hopefully), all walked the walk before. Many major companies have their own policies regarding things such as Facebook and many times prohibit their employees from posting anything related to the company while online. Even the Canadian Federal Public Service recently posted a 25 page document encouraging public servants to use social media such as facebook or twitter while outlining guidelines for use. I do not see this as a bad thing, and I do not see it as a bad thing that the RSPBA has adopted these rules. In my opinion, the most knowledgable pipers in the world are already on facebook, so I don’t really think that we are missing much from these guys!



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