August 24, 2008


As Harry Tung alluded to recently, the decision to put Oran Mor into Grade 2 at the World’s has received a lot of post-contest discussion. Promoted to Grade 1 by its home organization, the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association, Oran Mor was subsequently asked to compete in the penultimate grade by the RSPBA, which the band then gamely accepted.

Oran Mor went on to gain a fourth prize in Grade 2 at Glasgow Green. Some people seem to think that this is confirmation that the band is in fact Grade 2 standard and the RSPBA made the right call. It’s not.

I didn’t hear Oran Mor or, for that matter, any of the Grade 2 bands at the 2008 World’s. But I do know that it’s not uncommon that the bottom two, three or even four bands in a larger band or solo competition would not gain a prize in the next grade down. Conversely, the top two, three or four bands in a big contest often would easily meet the standard in the next higher grade. That’s why grading committees go not only by the results they see, but also by the sound they hear.

I heard the Grade 5 band contest at Maxville this year and thought that the Paris/Port Dover band on that day actually met the Grade 4 standard. A few weeks later, the band finished second in Grade 4B at the World’s. Similarly, I heard one or two UK-based Grade 1 bands at the World’s and thought that they might not win a Grade 2 contest in Ontario.

But the issue at hand is not the grade-standard that the band meets; the issue is that of reciprocity between organizations. If one of those bottom-tier UK-based Grade 1 bands decided to make a trip to compete at the 2009 North American Championships, then (assuming it’s still in Grade 1 next year) I am certain that their entry would be accepted unconditionally. There would be absolutely no question as to their proper grade: it’s the one assigned to them by their home association, in this case, the RSPBA. End of story.

When Oran Mor entered Maxville there was never a question as to the grade the band would compete in. It was Grade 1, the grade assigned to them by the EUSPBA, and the grade the band entered. It was well known that Oran Mor would be competing in Grade 2 at the World’s and that it would be competing against very successful Grade 1 bands at Maxville. It did not matter.

Oran Mor finished last in Grade 1 at Maxville, but it still won’t matter in 2009 if a Grade 1 Oran Mor enters Grade 1 at Maxville. Their entry should be accepted.  Likewise, if Cap Caval, Ravara or Torphichen – the bands that finished ahead of Oran Mor at the World’s – come to Maxville in 2009 and enter to compete in Grade 2, then that is the grade they would compete in, provided they were assigned to Grade 2 by their home association.

I’ve read the arguments for and against the decision to put Oran Mor into Grade 2 at the World’s. What I haven’t heard, so far, is the reaction of Bagad Brieg and Buchan – the bands that finished, respectively, fifth and sixth, or, for that matter, Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, which would have gained a prize had this Grade 1 graded band not bumped them from the list.

Who would really care if Oran Mor had competed in Grade 1 at the World’s? If they didn’t qualify for the final, then that’s their problem. If they did qualify, then the other bands would at least be able to say that they were beaten by a band legitimately graded Grade 1 by its home association.

The same cannot be said by the Grade 2 bands that finished behind Oran Mor at the World’s.


  1. Hear, hear. THIS is the banner I’ve been carrying in the “discussion” on Dunsire. You said it succinctly and correctly Andrew.



  2. I couldn’t agree more with your point, Andrew. And given that the RSPBA respected the upgrading of The Band Club Sydney by their home association, it’s hard not to see the RSPBA’s decision as a particular snub of US piping and drumming. Clearly, Band Club Sydney have proven quite successful in Grade 1 this year, but, again, the point is not the playing standard, but why their upgrade was honored, and Oran Mor’s wasn’t.

  3. Can anyone see the logic of why the RSPBA should agree to place an Also Ran gr2 band in 2007 into gr1?

    Does the RSPBA usually upgrade bands that don’t place in grade 2 to gr1 status?

    The World’s contest is legally “owned and operated” by the RSPBA, why does the rest of the world think they can impose their own policies and practices on a private organization?

  4. No matter how political the decision to upgrade Oran Mor to Grade 1 by the EUSPBA was, or how anyone feels about it, it happened. Either the rest of the world will recognize this decision and thereby the EUSPBA as a legitimate piping organization or, if they do not, they are treating American piping as second-class.
    The RSPBA should have allowed Oran Mor compete in Grade 1 and let their musical ability decide the matter. It is evident that a band does not have to win Grade 2 at the World’s to compete in Grade 1 as witnessed by the decision to let Spirit of Scotland play.

  5. I think the comparison between Band Club Sydney and Oran Mor is apropos here. To label Oran Mor an Also Ran Grade 2 band based upon their final placing at the 2007 Worlds is a pretty narrow perspective to my mind. Regardless, I think the point suggested here is the prevailing “Logic” that ought to be employed by the RSPBA is that of reciprocity between pipe band associations across the globe, over and above these questions of performance standard.

    And I don’t think anyone is trying to impose control over the RSPBA. It’s not dominance that’s sought, but rather cooperation. It seems to me that it’s a matter of respect for non-scottish pipe band associations and also a matter of encouraging piping and drumming world-wide. Undeniably, non-scottish pipe band associations are producing pipe bands capable of competing successfully in Scotland. Shouldn’t we then trust their judgments about the grading of their bands?

  6. Pipe Band Assn Rules

    Rule 1
    All pipe band associations are created equal

    Rule 2
    Some pipe band assiciations are more equal then others

    I thought ANAPBA had an agrement for reciprocity with the RSPBA? Yes, a PBA does have the independence to deal with bands as they wish. But, if you,ve agreed to the principle of reciprocity you have agreed to honor other PBA’s decisions on band gradig.

  7. Although there has been much discussion and speculation about the initial decision to upgrade by the EUSPBA and the subsequent overruling of that upgrade by the RSPBA, I have not seen any official comment by the EUSPBA. Maybe I missed something but I sure would like to know why the EUSPBA appears to have not supported a member band as well as its own Grading Committee.
    Andrew, have you tried to get an official explanation from the EUSPBA’s Executive Committee? Specifically, to what extent did the EUSPBA go to in order to preserve the integrity of its grading system?

  8. I can understand the points that people are making here. However the RSPBA have had their fingers burned in the past, by accepting gradings from overseas affiliated associations. Some of you may remember the Withwaterrand Rifles band that played in grade 1 at Scotstoun not that many years ago. Graded by their own association. It was rather embarressing for everyone as they weren’t even grade 3A standard.

    Affiliated associations can often have domestic reasons and criteria for ugrading bands. It has been known for overseas bands to be upgraded internally because their is a shortage of bands in that grade within that country and the branch are trying to raise the profile to the public and potential sponsers, or the branch may be out of sinc with the global standard. The grading decision by the RSPBA music board is not made behind closed doors without consulting other relevant opinions ( IE overseas adjudicators that have judged the band and judged in Scotland.
    I think in the case of this particular band it must have been a close call. I personally might have gone for the Grade 1 option but to have accross the board seperate internal grading in each country to operate a global platform would not work effectively.

  9. I had doubts about Oran Mor being in grade 1 but for the reasons you said should be the only acceptable ones. How they sound. I was in Scotland last year when they were charging through the gr.2 contest. Right on past us unfortunately. I thought they really had something going. I listened to their qualifier, and when the argument came up about if they would be upgraded by the New World Order, I thought they shouldn’t be yet. There are standards with in the grades. When I think grade 1 I think of SFU, Shotts, and FMM. I also think of Toronto, and Peel for that matter. There is just a different sound when those bands play, it’s in the tone and in the unison. Same with the other grades. I think grade 2 I think of bands on the cusp of becoming grade 1. I believe that Oran Mor is on the cusp. It took City of Washington and Windsor a few cracks at the Gr.2 contest before they got upgraded, and ultimately the next year, you could hear they sound of the band change. I play in a gr.2 band, that I believe is a good gr.2 band but not close to winning the worlds, and or moving up a grade level even if we did. With that said, it would be nice for the RSPBA to respect the decicions made by others. By over turning the EUSPBA ‘s grading of the band, they simply put it out there, that they felt they were not capable of making decision of that magnitude, and that they had gotten it wrong. So they intervened. Not cool.

  10. PM — I understand what you’re saying, but, by that token, should the PPBSO have rejected the same grading reciprocity agreement and insisted that Oran Mor compete in Grade 2 at Maxville? Not on your life.
    A lot has changed since Withwatersrand entered the World’s in the 1990s. One major accomplishment of ANAPBA has been to strive for unified grading standards across the North American continent, with member associations trading notes on debatable or border-line upgrades. This is a good thing. I am not aware of the RSPBA asking other associations’ Music Boards for their opinion on grading cases that they deem borderline. Perhaps improving communication – as usual – would avoid a lot of confusion and angst.
    This issue is not about whether X band is of a Grade 1 or Grade 2 standard; it’s about reciprocity and dialog between associations and striving towards grading standards worldwide.

  11. The thing I find interesting about Oran Mor and standard of playing is that there is a band in the EUSPBA that has been flying under the radar for a number of years. The St. Thomas Episcopal Pipe Band from Texas has won grade III at Maxville a number of times along with the world juvenile championship. They could easily play in grade II, but the EUSPBA does not up grade them and niether does the RSPBA.

  12. the rspba governs contests here in the uk, including the worlds, therefore ONLY the rspba should be assigning which grade bands should be competing in at that contest.
    when it comes to contests in other countries throughout the world, then it is entirely the decision of the home association where to place their bands (or any other ‘visiting’ bands) in order to make the contest as fair as possible, afterall, that is the whole purpose of having different grades.

    im not familiar with the story of the withwaterrand rifles band or where they are from, but obviously relative to the standard of competition in that country, they were grade one and were duly placed there to keep the contest fair. as it turns out by rspba standards they seem to have been only grade 3 at best. were a grade 3 rspba governed band to compete at one of the contests in that country, the home association couldnt possibly allow them to compete in grade 3, instead they would need to ask them to compete in grade one, relative to the competion field.

    there is no place for reciprocity and honouring the gradings of other associations, just like there is no place for a standarised global grading system. let home associations grade their bands wherever they like, but when it comes to the worlds the rspba must call the shots.

  13. Andrew, I think what we are saying is that an international grading group is required to cover global events. I think that would solve the problem of discontent. Possibly championship grading should be seperate from domestic grading. However in the meantime nobody has officially proposed that and the RSPBA are protecting their event.
    In the bigger picture of grading, bands arrive in Scotland with guest players for the trip sometimes players from higher grade bands clearly raising the level of the band to make an impact at the worlds. I don’t hear the affiliated association or ANAPBA trying to address that grading issue.

    The RSPBA bands are closely monitored with regard to higher to lower player transfers subject to regrading assessment. This year I watched overseas players compete at the worlds that had competed at Maxville with a different band which totally breaks the RSPBA player 14 day registration rule. I think Scotland are more than fair when it come to grading and player traffic globally. How can we accept a grade for a band that is full of ringers when they come to Scotland. Its very difficult. If the RSPBA were blatantly getting it wrong then take the responsibility away from them. However I think they do a pretty good job. The only answer is global individual registration and an international grading committee.

  14. PM – I agree almost entirely with you. The trouble is, the RSPBA doesn’t seem to think that the World’s is a global event; they appear to think that it’s an RSPBA event. That’s the association’s prerogative, I guess, but it comes across as arrogant and short-sighted. There is little or no dialog between the RSPBA and other associations when it comes to grading or membership.

    A common example is when non-UK Grade 3, 4 and 5 bands come to the World’s. They seem to take it upon themselves to enter 3A or 3B, 4A or 4B, and the RSPBA accepts their entry willy-nilly. This should be monitored by both the RSPBA and the band’s home association, with a formal grading assignment agreed upon.

    The practice of players migrating temporarily to lower-grade bands competing at the World’s is certainly not confined to North America. In that regard there needs to be common rules put in place worldwide to address the issue. The next ANAPBA summit is in Toronto in January, so perhaps this should be on the table, with invitations to other world associations – including the RSPBA – to take part in that Music Board discussion.

  15. The “Worlds” and the “Europeans” are RSPBA events, just like the “North Americans” and the “Canadians” are PPBSO events. No one consulted any other organization(s) when creating the titles. They are just that…titles. I am not aware of any international organization that sanctions these events and arrives at these grandiose titles.
    Be that as it may, it is a wonderful thing to see bands from around the globe getting together and competing at a single competition called “The World Championships”, which is, at present, an RSPBA sponsored event.
    Perhaps in the future there will be a globally sponsored, sanctioned and organized event which would then be accountable equally to all global pipe band organizations that take part.

  16. On the rare occasions when UK-based bands have competed at PPBSO-sanctioned events, if there were any difference in grading (e.g., a band graded Juvenile by the RSPBA) then the question of what grade the band should appropriately compete in was asked. When it comes to RSPBA-member bands graded 3B, 4B, Juvenile and Novice Juvenile wishing to compete in Ontario, then I am certain that questions of the specific band’s standard would be asked of the RSPBA’s Music Board. No questions I think would be asked when it’s a common grading: PPBSO Grade 1 = RSPBA Grade 1. PPBSO Grade 2 = RSPBA Grade 2.

  17. RSPBA grading in Scotland is as follows at minor contests where there might not be novice or juvenile events. Novice = grade 4 and juvenile = grade 3 based on compatable playing standards. The B element of grade 3 and 4 only applies to major championships. A and B are combined at minor contests. Therefore any Novice or juvenile band would expect to compete in these comparable grades should there not be a novice or juvenile contest available to compete in.

  18. I think what PM said about Novice and Juvenile answers the question above regarding St. Thomas. They should be considered a Juvenile band first. They are all school kids, and the personnel changes to some degree every year. They get first class instruction, practice hard, and play great. If they beat Grade III bands, I think the Grade III bands getting beaten need to get better instruction, practice harder, and play great and let the judges sort it out.

    When St. Thomas goes over to Scotland, they are Juvenile. And they win. I think they are a model for excellence.

  19. PM — right. So, it’s cut and dried? That’s great. Then ANAPBA member bands will expect the exact same unequivocal grading from the RSPBA, no questions asked.

  20. All super interesting stuff but does any one know how to contact the rspba by e-mail? They only have a fax and telex number on there web site!

  21. Good job Ken, you have just insulted every grade III PM and lead stick that St. Thomas has ever beaten:) The point being is, how many times do you get to win Maxville and the world juveniles before getting promoted. I can’t remember a North American band that has won grade III at Maxville, other than St. Thomas, that has not been promoted. Now, that is not to say it has not happen, but they have won both, I don’t know how many times and are still in grade three.
    Why should loosing players be of any concern of any society? Every band has players that come and go every year but they still are able to maintain their grade and playing level, and these bands do not have a whole school system dedicated to teaching piping and drumming to back them up.
    So the questions is still WHY are they not promoted? Why can’t they play in grade II in North America and still play in juvenile at the worlds since they meet the criteria for that grade?

  22. ANAPBA member bands can only expect the same unequivocal no questions asked grading when they are operating the same grading standards as the RSPBA. IE Grade 2 worldwide = grade 2 RSPBA, grade 3 worldwide = grade 3 RSPBA etc.
    The RSPBA currently receive first time entries for the worlds from bands asking to be put in 3B, for example Ulster Scottish. Now if you track back the results of this band they have featured high up in the prize list at Maxville, Bethlehem etc. Now the fact that they are requesting 3B at the worlds suggests some or all of the following.
    1) That they have not consulted there own branch for grading recommendation.
    2) The band themselves feel that top prizes at these events ( Maxville etc) does not equate with 3A and therefore the grading system is not consistent accross the water.
    3) The band and their association would prefer them to compete in a lower graded section and secure a prize.

    The top 3A band in Scotland would normally comfortably win the grade 3B event. Now if you throw in a couple of ringers and maybe a tutor for the trip you would expect this band to smoke the 3B event. If they don’t it strongly suggests a different grade 3 level in each country.

    The RSPBA tries hard to stop any playing standard anomolies corrupt any grade wether it be Spirit of Scotland or a composite band from overseas that on paper looks like a national team trying to sneak into a lower grade. They get alot of stick at times as witnessed by putting SOS in grade 1. But guess what they were right, not just a grade 1 band but a worlds finalist.
    I have enjoyed listening to the overseas point of view but its clear that work has to be done on both sides of the water. The problem is that we generally do not have problems in championship grading when it comes to RSPBA bands. The overseas bands enter the worlds direct to the RSPBA maybe entry should be through their own association to ensure that the band performing in Glasgow is the same players that have been graded in their own territory. Andrew I think that you and I could probably sort this out accross the globe without much problem. Sometimes democracy can get in the way of a good decision. Hope all you guys out there get the appropriate grade in the future.

  23. I like that idea of Association Sponsored Entries as it prevents stacking the ranks for the sake of trying to win a title at any cost. The danger of stacking is a band might receive a very good result, but then get upgraded and then try to claim their roster can’t support the upgrade when the ringers are gone.

    Much of the responsibility has to be put on the leadship of the bands to honour the grading system and play in the right grade where they belong. Jumping the que or stacking does no one any favours, it’s not fair to other bands and your own band can suffer too.

  24. If I was trying to insult someone Mark, I’d just say their kilt made their butt look fat.

    I don’t see where getting beaten by a better band is an insult. St. Thomas wins because they do the work to win. If everybody else worked that hard, maybe St, Thomas would win less often. Not to say the bands they beat don’t work hard. Just not hard enough to beat St. Thomas. And they are still kids. And it’s a different group every year. I wish that after graduation there, more of them would come here and keep working. Then people would gripe about us. I’d like it.

    Back to the Worlds, I’m pretty sure Lyon joined the RSPBA before we went over a couple of years ago, and were assigned a grade at that time. Does everyone do that? If so, then the Oran Mor question is moot I guess. If they joined RSPBA as a Grade II, then it was their decision. They’re still Grade I as far as EUSPBA is concerned though, and if RSPBA simply placed them in Grade II and didn’t honor our grading, then I see it as a bad move.

    As for stacking ranks, if a band has to stack with ringers to win, it’s not the band they represent themselves to be. I don’t see where it’s that important to win. Without looking it up, who can tell me who won the Grade II in 2005? Did they cure cancer, or ease world hunger by winning? There ya go.

  25. Drambuie-Kirkliston were 2005 G2 winners. They disbanded later that year and one of the most notable members died tragically. Why’d you have to drag that up?

  26. Ken, I can assure you that every competition band that I know of works very hard to be better than they were the year before. Unfortunately they do not have the facilities or the financial backing that ST. Thomas has. Not to mention the world class on staff instruction.
    Again, as I pointed out before, why do you think that it matters to other bands that you have a turnover of kids every year.
    Your insistence that the band is made up of “just kids” just does not hold water. Pipe bands are ageless, it matters little if you are eight or eighty, your status in the band, or as a band, is based on your playing ability. So, being , just kids, does not precluded them from being a good grade II band.
    So, the question still remains, why would a band that could play at a higher grade nationaly and international not want to?

  27. Why did I have to drag that up? Are you kidding me? Because I’m a heartless bastard.
    I picked a grade and a year out of thin air. I figured SOMEBODY would know, because SOMEBODY always knows everything, but was just giving an example. Why does everything in piping have to turn into “Why did you have to drag that up”? Get a grip.
    Or a Lemluath.

  28. I think this topic has been played out. I’ll try to connect with the mysterious “PM” and get some dialog going. We may not cure cancer (my wife is now working on that, btw), or ease hunger, but I hope we can improve communication and lessen confusion and upset.
    Comments closed.

Comments are closed.


Forgotten Password?