July 22, 2008

Rules of engagement

Donald Mackay’s resignation as Strathclyde Police pipe-major is, in a word, unusual. Obviously, family comes first, and a pipe band at the end of the day is just a pipe band. But I can’t think of an instance in which a leader of a top (or any, for that matter) Grade 1 band left mid-season, let alone three days before a major championship.

I would bet that, ever the gentleman and good guy, Donald was actually thinking of the band first. Perhaps he thought that stepping down now would allow whoever succeeds him to have that much more experience taking the band on the field before the all-important World’s.

There is the as yet unwritten (otherwise it would be written) book of unwritten-rules when it comes to pipe band etiquette. Most people in the northern hemisphere feel that April 1 is the last date that you can leave a band on certain good terms. Past that, and you risk leaving friends in a lurch.

Unless of course you have a damned good reason for departing, which, knowing what I know about Donald Mackay, he must have had.

In this age of mercurial commitment in all walks of life, I’m actually surprised that the traditional notion of how and when to leave a band isn’t contradicted more often. The extraordinary level of dedication that a top band requires, especially from the pipe-major and leading-drummer, makes playing with and sustaining a top-flight band unbelievably difficult.

Sometimes, real life is more important than the often unreal world of piping and drumming.


  1. Andrew, I don’t know the ins and outs of the thing either, nor do I want to know. I know Donald who is his own man, and a quality man at that. I hope all who are on board considered that before this all came to pass. Good luck to both Donald’s and lets just hope this is the best for everyone involved.

  2. Unforunate as it is, I’m sure Donald had a good reason for this and only those in the know should wage an opinion on this. However, what would happen if a Donald or Richard , or Rab was to have an accident and break a couple of fingers yesterday? These bands are top shelf and the next guy would have brought the band onto the field as they are all hopefully well oiled machines, we saw evidence of that a few years ago when Alistair dunn had to step up withthe Field Marshal and I think they managed okay. don Bradford has lots of experience in this game and I wish him the best of luck and support from the band members so he can execute his new position iwith the fire and determination he is well known for.

  3. I wasn’t going to comment on this, as I have no connection with a situation even close to this, but honestly. This is as bad as the tabloids. Couldn’t we just all sit back and try to believe that Donald is actually stepping down for the very reasons he mentioned? Or is it not possible, that someone would dare give up the opportunity to run a top flight band for his family? My father gave up an opportunity that would have greatly helped the family out financially when I was very young and we desperatley could have used it, but when it became obvious he was missing some of my first, it was no question what he was to do. He quit, took up a night job, and watch me grow up. I would have love to just seen that Donald M. was stepping down for family reasons, and now Donald B. was getting an opportunity to run the police. I love all the other little bits of tabloid like stuff on here, but for this magazine to try and entice people to make judgements about a man and his family(wether it is the reason or not), Is crap.

    I with hold my name for tha fact that I related personal information about myself.

    PS, please answer my style question I sent.

  4. Jamie —

    No one is trying to entice anyone to “make judgments” about anyone. Sorry you interpreted it that way. The fact is that it’s big, extraordinary news about a very public band and a leadership position that is without doubt one of the most famous in the pipe band world.

    It’s also maybe worth noting that the Strathclyde Police contacted pipes|drums first to ensure that the right story would be told without bias or sensationalism.

    I’m only interested in readers’ thoughts on pipe band etiquette (see Poll). Personally, I voted, “Any time you want, if you have good reason.” Donald clearly had good reason: family commitments.

    – A.

    PS: Style Guy says he’s working on the case.

  5. You don’t walk in others shoes -lifestyle -or bed –today many are giving up family for their own pleasures –look at the world around you –not as loving and caring as years ago –I ‘ll give this guy an A++ for his giving up his high time for the family some day his pay may come as love .I know I’ve been there .

  6. I think most of us take for granted the huge commitment it takes to play in a pipe band in terms of carving out time in our busy lives. For those that have been playing in bands since childhood, it’s just a natural thing to play in a band.

    Imagine you wanted to play some casual Darts at your local and a M8 asks you to join the dart team claiming they only play twice a month. Once you are in, now you are told they practice twice a week and all games are out of town and require full weekends for travel time. BTW, you’ll also need to schedule a weeks vacation for the Dart league championships at the end of the tournament schedule.

    Would you be so quick to sign up?

    Finding people that don’t work weekends or nights and not occupied with young families is a challenge for any band. Some bands have accepted partcial commitments in order to fill the ranks, even if it’s for one week! 😉

  7. I have to partially retract some of my statement, unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to see what I wrote until I hit send for some reason. After reading your part again, I notice at the bottom that your thoughts are of the more dignified values. And I may have jumped the gun in thinking that this would open it up for tons of people to pass judgement on here about the situation. A lot of people do that on here. Anyway, good luck to all those that balance the best of both worlds.

  8. Well said Donald MacPhee. I appreciate you for sticking up for this fellow and your taking a stand for his character. You are a lot like your father!

  9. Sorry to repost but as I reread the article, Andrew, I commend you on your observation:

    “Sometimes, real life is more important than the often unreal world of piping and drumming”

    I left the world of piping as a sometimes successful am. Gr 1 solo player years ago and as P/S of the Grandfather Mtn band.

    While I was nowhere near the prestige of being the P/M of Strathclyde, I can commiserate with the choice that he made. I also commend him for having the guts to do it when he needed to. Your family comes first.



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