September 22, 2010

Tapadh leat

Just about all of the recent Grade 1 pipe band comings and goings have been much better communicated to the outside world by the bands and people directly affected. Without going into private and tawdry details, they have been clear and honest with a direct eye to the future. And most have a common element: saying thanks.

I’d imagine that some view these statements of thanks as being insincerely politically correct. Wrong. Plain and simple, saying thanks shows good manners and common sense.

Traditionally, pipers and drummers are often pitifully poor at thanking people. Ours is generally a volunteer-driven hobby, reliant on the skills of those who step forward to commit their talents to some common goal and good – in their spare time. It’s all very well when helpful and talented pipers, drummers, judges, administrators, executives and stewards provide their time, but when they decide to step aside or retire, we so often forget the simple act of saying thank you.

I have noticed that associations are often particularly poor at saying thank you. Often piping and drumming societies and associations are so busy just focusing on the here-and-now that they forget about how they got to the here-and-now – through the voluntary efforts of committed folk.

I have often said that the competition-laden culture of Highland piping and pipe band drumming teaches us to suspect the worst in one another. We often tend to view most things rather cynically: suspecting ulterior motives in others even when they don’t exist. At the heart of what competing pipers and drummers do is simply music and fun. They want to enjoy a tune and hang out with others who desire to do the same. That’s pretty easy to understand.

What’s a more difficult leap is understanding that those who serve with associations as stewards, judges, committee members and executives are doing so because they want to make things better, because they want to contribute to a common good. We mistakenly think they’re volunteering their time for some perceived personal gain, rather than the common truth: that they’re working for you.

Often when I write something like this a few people (ironically cynical, here) ask, “Who are you talking about?” With this I can say that I’m thinking of no one or no organization in particular, but the worldwide culture of piping and drumming as a whole. The general view of those who volunteer is often jaded, even within the associations themselves. It’s no wonder that those who volunteer for association roles are few, since they’re all too often simply cast aside and forgotten without even acknowledgment – let alone thanks – when they’re done.

So, we should all take a cue from the more genteel trend that seems to be happening within pipe bands, that simply saying, “Thanks for all your contributions, your commitment and your time,” goes a long, long way.

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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