Published: March 23, 2008

Something like a phenomenon

Sign here.Although the RSPBA’s decision to drop best bass-section prizes occurred several months ago, it only came to light in the last few days after people actually had the common sense to ask and seek answers. But what happened within only hours of learning the truth about the policy change is fascinating.

Bass- and tenor-drummers are the most connected people in pipe bands. They’re all over the net, communicating with Blackberrys, text messaging and over social networking sites. Not a day after the story ran on pipes|drums (a story that the RSPBA has yet to comment on, by the way), an online petition was posted and hundreds of people had enlisted their support for overturning the shift in policy.

Whether this petition will ultimately influence the RSPBA’s Music Board and National Council to act, I don’t know. But I do know that it will get their attention and at least start to understand the thinking of the constituents that they purportedly represent. To mix metaphors, it’s an online Boston Tea Party for mid-sections, and has opened a big ol’ can o’ tenor drummin’ whoop-ass.

What really amazes me, though, is that all this action is occurring over largely symbolic awards. The Best Bass-Section prize so far has no bearing on the ultimate pipe band result, after all. It’s a token, traditional acknowledgement that one aspect of a band was the best. People aren’t even sure which RSPBA judge decides who gets it. The prize is something for them to hang their glengarries on. It’s obviously important to mid-section players, but I doubt that many or even any pipe-majors obsess over carting off the Bass-Section trophy.

Meanwhile, courts of international law have determined and, after appeal, determined again that those who perform on live commercial recordings are entitled to fair compensation. That means that every piper and drummer who has played on CDs, DVDs and even vinyl LPs should be rewarded in some agreed-to manner. This fact was made clear on pipes|drums almost two years ago and, since then, what has the pipe band world done or even said? Nothing.

What is it about our pipe band world that makes some of us hell-bent on restoring a symbolic trophy, while others stand idly by when money that is rightfully theirs is pocketed elsewhere?

Some might say it’s fear. But why should a band’s bass- and tenor-drummers have less to fear from rocking a political boat than the leaders of the world’s Grade 1 bands? It’s all political and competitive hot-water. But the issue of whether there should be a best bass-section, best drum-corps or best-anything-that-is-not-the-pipe-band-overall prize is debatable. There are pros and there are cons. There is no clear right or wrong.

The issue of performers’ rights is not debatable. It is a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of upholding the law or not. And the fact that bands are so far unwilling to stand up for their legal rights, or even start an online petition, confounds me.

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