July 29, 2009

The noble prize

Fair dues..‘The Gathering’ was a solo piping competition held recently at the National Piping Centre Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. Sponsored by Homecoming Scotland, which is, according to its website, “an events programme celebrating Scotland’s great contributions to the world.” The initiative seems to be doing many things that tie-in with piping and drumming, including the 78th Fraser Highlanders’ August concert in Stornoway, Lewis, and the various Road to the World’s events to draw attention to The Big One at Glasgow Green that every single reader of pipes|drums knows about all too well.

The Gathering solo competition apparently offered substantial (for solo piping, anyway) prize money. Someone doing well at the contest stood to come away with more than £1,500, or about $3,000. That’s right up there with, if not better than, the most prominent invitational events.

Quite right. The pipers in that competition are the very best in the world, our elite musicians. Stuart Liddell, Willie McCallum, Angus MacColl, Greg Wilson, Gordon Walker, Euan MacCrimmon, Niall Stewart and Bruce Gandy I’m sure rose to the occasion before a good-sized crowd of a hundred or so enthusiasts.

But compare that event with the biggest pipe band contests. The 2008 World Champion received £1,000. The first-prize in Grade 1 at Maxville isn’t too much more than that.

I’ve never heard any band once say anything terribly negative about either the World or the North American Championships’ prize-money. No band goes to those events to become rich on the day.

But, considering the overall strides that the solo piping world has made when it comes to prize money and judges’ compensation at its more prestigious contests, something is just not right when the top pipe band competitions lag behind. After all, the big band contests draw crowds and CD sales of tens-of-thousands, and many bands invest tens-of-thousands just to get there.

Overall, the solo piping world is rapidly outpacing the pipe band world when it comes to organization and compensation. Why that is, I’m not sure, but would be interested to hear your thoughts.


  1. As far as organization. A solo competition is generally of a smaller scale vs a pipe band competition: single players vs 50 in the modern “Uberband”, 1or 2 judges vs the newly proposed 5 judges for bands, an auditorium or band shell vs several large football fields, 500-1000 spectators vs 50,000. The logistics speak for themselves.
    When it comes to the prize money, well, that’s a mystery. Do we need to raise gate fees at the band style games in order to increase the payout? IE 50,000 x $2.00 a head would allow for an exrta $100,000 to add to the band prize purse. However, I’d image that games organizers are much like American CEO/CFOs… a licence to steal. I’m sure they would simply reward themselves with the extra revenue rather than spread the wealth to where it belongs or is needed.

  2. The solo competition at the Gathering was sponsored by RG Hardie and the overall winner won a Blackwood Peter Henderson Pipe Chanter with thistle engraved silver sole. This was ommitted from the news story.

  3. Just a little correction to make… The solo competitions in question were not actually held at the National Piping Centre – we organised and managed the events, but they were actually held at Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. ‘The Gathering’ was a sort of highland games, but not quite as you’ll have seen it before. All of the usual sights and smells of the games were present, along with clan pageantry and a main stage featuring Breabach, Battlefield Band, Julie Fowlis, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Dougie MacLean etc. It was estimated that on the first day more than 40.000 people came through the gates! Needless to say then that the majority of people in the audience for the solo piping events were non-piping members of the public. During the light music competitions the marquee was full – over four hundred people!! I’d say that’s good for piping – considering the quality of some of the playing that was going on elsewhere in the park it’s great that the public had the oppertunity to hear the very best that solo piping has to offer.

    Unforunately this competition was a bit of an exception as far as prize money is concerned. Hopefully some day such large amounts will become the norm, but as always it’ll be baby steps…

  4. A shake up seems to be needed right across the piping and drumming fees/prize money board. Given the quality and standard nowadays and the dedication and commitment performers, bands and teachers put in, it’s high time the material rewards matched what goes in. I’ve no idea, of course, how much it costs to host large championship events for bands, but it would be nice to think that whatever profit is made, is turned into prize money for bands. Also, dues from CD sales, returned to bands, performers and composers and arrangers . If the rewards were more relative to the effort and commitment put in by bands, it would encourage quality and standards to rise – just as when a band receives a score sheet with substantial quality feedback on all aspects of their performance, it’s going to encourage them to think that that kind of feedback is well worth getting, so they’ll spend thousands again next year to attend that same event, all the while working on the points raised by the judges/adjudicators who of course will be more experienced than the band members themselves. If you don’t get rewarded in a way that matches your input, you lose heart. Maybe some people can settle for one or the other – substantial qualitative score sheets and feedback, OR decent prize money. Both would be what you’d expect for professional outfits turning out after a year of hard slog, sacrifice, dedication etc – but one or other seems essential, otherwise why would anybody bother at all, far less try to do their best and raise standards! A summer piping school this week has cost me £205 plus the same again for accommodation. I’ve been rewarded with tuition from some of the worlds top piping teachers, heard recitals,had the fine details of my individual embellishments analysed and set straight, been at workshops on maintenance, tuning, canntaireachd, theory, tone, reed manipulation – in other words the rewards are equal to, or outweigh the fact that I’ve used up my only week’s holiday this summer, coming here. Because those rewards are so substantive I know I’ll come back again next year. Not only that, but the quality of the feedback and advice, will motivate me all year in my practicing. It’s common sense. You can’t expect bands to keep travelling 12,000 miles year after year and send them home with a fiver and a couple of words on a bit of paper. End of rant.

  5. The idea that bands should receive prize money commensurate with the effort that is put in is laughable. It can never be a professional activity for anyone but a very few people and I’m glad about that. I like the amateur nature of our art – it lives or dies on the extent to which the participants enjoy it.

    I do agree that bands should be recompensed for the publication and broadcasting of their efforts, as AB is keen on, but it’s pretty clear that any money bands make will be as a result of their non competitive activities – concerts and memorabilia.



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