Published: November 02, 2006

Seismic shift

So Fredericton’s official promotion makes it 12 Grade 1 bands in North America. There are 14 Grade 1 RSPBA-member bands, by my count.

Over the last 10 years, the number of Grade 1 bands in North America has gone up, while the number in the UK has gone down. I’ve written about this trend for many years, and have thought about it ever since I listened to Jimmy McIntosh lecture impressionable American pipers at a 1980 piping school that Scotland is losing its grip on piping standards, and that “Piping will go the way of golf.”

If the trend continues in a few years there will be more ANAPBA Grade 1 bands than RSPBA.

Why does this matter? In terms of numbers and competition, it really doesn’t. Currently there’s no chance that all of the world’s top-grade bands will meet at one contest. Bands have never hung their hats on anything other than music. Band contests are not the Olympics; bands don’t represent anything but themselves and the music they play.

Where it does matter is in the balance of power. Currently the RSPBA sets the agenda for how band competitions should be run. Because so many North American Grade 1 bands compete at the World’s, they are fairly insistent that their home association’s competition requirements match those that the RSPBA sets for the World’s, since that’s what they want to practice and play before they head across the Atlantic.

But when there are more Grade 1 bands in North America than the UK, eventually they will decide to converge closer to home. Las Vegas in November (cheap flights and accommodation, readily accessible, great weather, commercial involvement) has been suggested by more than a few. Makes sense to me, and I’d bet FMM, Shotts, Strathclyde et al. will be enticed, too, since Las Vegas is increasingly a vacation destination for the British.

Easier said than done. No organization on earth runs pipe band contests better than the RSPBA. They have it down to a science – at least the way they are conducted now. But if the contest format itself is changed along with the balance of power, the whole thing might well be reinvented.

The next few years will be a fascinating, watershed period. As long as North American bands continue to do their thing and raise their competitive standard, there is bound to be a seismic shift in the pipe band world.

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