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.


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